I got an inspiration from a National Post story about some francophone parents in beautiful British Columbia that are suing the provincial government because the French schooling being offered is allegedly grossly inadequate.
The Rose-des-Vents Primary School parent advisory council and parent Joseph Pagé are suing the B.C. Ministry of Education, Attorney General and francophone school board because of a so-called “failure” by the government and school board to provide facilities equivalent to English-language schools and to provide “adequate travel times” for students (…) They are relying on Section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees minority-language education and facilities where numbers warrant. (Source)
That got me thinking. If these parents are prepared to sue the government because they can’t get decent education in the language of their choice, why couldn’t we consider something analogous for the sake of faith education, which is so much more important? Of course, we wouldn’t direct our efforts towards the government because they couldn’t care less about Catholic education, but more importantly because it makes no sense to bring Church problems before secular authorities, as St. Paul taught us (1 Cor 6:1-6).
The Church has her own legal mechanisms. Did you know that Canon law obliges each bishop to provide for Christian education is his diocese? There’s actually an extensive section on education in Canon Law. Here’s an excerpt:
Can. 802 §1 If there are no schools in which an education is provided that is imbued with a Christian spirit, the diocesan Bishop has the responsibility of ensuring that such schools are established.
§2 Where it is suitable, the diocesan Bishop is to provide for the establishment of professional and technical schools, and of other schools catering for special needs.
Can. 803 §1 A catholic school is understood to be one which is under the control of the competent ecclesiastical authority or of a public ecclesiastical juridical person, or one which in a written document is acknowledged as catholic by the ecclesiastical authority.
§2 Formation and education in a catholic school must be based on the principles of catholic doctrine, and the teachers must be outstanding in true doctrine and uprightness of life.
§3 No school, even if it is in fact catholic, may bear the title ‘catholic school’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.
Can. 804 §1 The formation and education in the catholic religion provided in any school, and through various means of social communication is subject to the authority of the Church. It is for the Episcopal Conference to issue general norms concerning this field of activity and for the diocesan Bishop to regulate and watch over it.
§2 The local Ordinary is to be careful that those who are appointed as teachers of religion in schools, even non-Catholic ones, are outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their Christian life, and in their teaching ability.
Can. 805 In his own diocese, the local Ordinary has the right to appoint or to approve teachers of religion and, if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed.
Strong language. Do you think that our publicly-funded Catholic schools meet these requirements? Do you think a bishop could be prosecuted in a Canon court for failure to ensure that the schools meet these requirements?
I know, I know. It sounds like a long shot. I don’t claim to be a Canon lawyer. Maybe I’m just being silly. But I think it’s an interesting question. It’s not as though this is a new issue and that bishops simply haven’t had time to realize what’s happening. The decay in our schools has been going on for decades and our complaints to bishops have fallen on deaf ears. Could this be our last recourse because we’ve run out of options?
I understand that the bishops can’t fix the schools with the snap of their fingers. But are they doing anything at all? Attempts to reform existing government-funded Catholic schools would likely fail for at least two reasons. First, the government has too much influence on curriculum. Second, the existing establishment of the school hierarchy and staff, which is dominated by liberals, would block attempts at reform.
The only way we can really fix this problem is to emancipate ourselves from government funding and go it alone with private schools. Some courageous lay people and religious have tried to fill the void by founding various private Catholic schools. May God bless them. But the low enrollment makes tuition quite expensive. If we had a larger participation of families in private schools, tuition could be reduced dramatically and made much more accessible. And why couldn’t each diocese take up a special collection once a year to support the private schools?
All that being said, Canon Law also places a heavy burden on the parents to raise their kids with sound Catholic teaching.
Can. 798 Parents are to entrust their children to those schools which provide a Catholic education. If they are unable to do this, they are obliged to take care that suitable Catholic education is provided for their children outside the schools.
Can. 799 The Christian faithful are to strive so that in civil society the laws which regulate the formation of youth also provide for their religious and moral education in the schools themselves, according to the conscience of the parents.
Can. 800 §1. The Church has the right to establish and direct schools of any discipline, type, and level.
§2. The Christian faithful are to foster Catholic schools, assisting in their establishment and maintenance according to their means.
I’m not sure that all Catholic parents are meeting these requirements either, even among parents that take their faith seriously. I think there’s a temptation to delegate faith formation to the school, even when parents know that the school isn’t providing sound teaching. Maybe the bishops should be prosecuting the parents?
There’s no magic solution to this conundrum. It will take blood, sweat and tears to get out of this mess. But for the sake of our children, let’s start doing something. Our ancestors and the Saints left us valiant examples. Why can’t we do them proud and live up to the greatness of the heritage they bequeathed to us?