Teaching public issues in Catholic schools

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I was in a lecture recently where there were 50 pre-service teachers preparing to transition into the profession. We were talking about the three school systems as they operate in the different states and one student spoke up saying he was afraid to teach in Catholic high schools.

Chris Johnston cartoonHe was under the impression that he would be reprimanded if he said 'the wrong thing' on public debates where the Church takes a strong position. There was a murmur of agreement in the room as others spoke up with similar impressions, some brought about by experiences on placement. Supervising teachers had made gestures from the back of the classroom trying to close down discussions which turned 'controversial'.

This exchange stirred my thinking and I made an intervention.

A church school comes alive when teachers and students breathe an air of freedom. If pre-service teachers believe Catholic schools are authoritarian regimes governed by fear, then there is a problem. Schools cannot 'share the good news' if teachers are afraid. Teachers are held back if they are afraid.

Parents and students are formed in their society's democratic citizenship, and as such they expect rigorous, free and open conversations in the classroom. Such conversations are a key part of a teacher's great vocation to help students be at ease with themselves, think critically, listen to their conscience and walk the way to life. In Catholic schools teachers can prepare students for responsible lives informed by faith.

A spirit of inquiry and curiosity, and an ability to dialogue with views different to one's own, should be basic dispositions for teachers. In the best classrooms, teachers can model considered discussions on all sorts of issues. When teachers ask helpful questions they can draw out the thinking of students so that they can engage with public debates at depth.

Our students will then have their own questions as they uncover the principles at work in various publicly advocated positions, including those proposed by the Church. With the confidence to chair conversations, teachers can encourage students to think critically about public debates in an open, reflective, respectful, principled and evidence based manner.

 

"Teachers are ethically bound to encourage critical thinking within classrooms, modelling the kinds of conversations which will advance responsible, open and honest civic engagement."

 

The way teachers guide conversations in the classroom helps to either illuminate or cloud public debates for their students. As George Lakoff explains in Don't Think Of An Elephant, debates can be won when the terms are set. A debate about 'tax relief', for instance, is founded on an implication that tax is more a burden than a social responsibility.

Consider Australia's recent debates about marriage. Students thinking about the proposal of 'marriage equality' often saw it as a logical extension of the 'social justice' frame the church proposes in its social teaching. In that case, teachers in Catholic schools could ask questions of students about which principles at work in Catholic social teaching they are drawing upon, breaking open 'human dignity', the 'common good' or 'solidarity' while also inviting students to consider church teaching on marriage in its own terms.

In so doing students can consider the power and merit of the 'equality' strategic framing, deepen their appreciation of principles of church teaching, and see their initial position in a broad context. As Thomas Merton writes, following Voltaire, we are known better by our questions than by our answers.

As teachers we are ethically bound to encourage critical thinking within our classrooms, modelling the kinds of conversations which will advance responsible, open and honest civic engagement. If Catholic education bodies were to encourage the closing down of various classroom discussions such that church teaching were the only position able to be mentioned, however, they would lose an opportunity and reveal that fear is their counsellor.

When there is only the 'party line' mentioned in such conversations, then that line is automatically delegitimised in the eyes of students and teachers alike who want to explore issues and their underlying principles. As prospective teachers may be under the impression that Catholic schools are governed by closed systems of command and control, then teacher formation needs to provide them with tools which will encourage critical thinking about public conversations.

Catholic schools are places where faith is proposed in a context of learning about the world and reflecting on experience. By encouraging a depth of principled intellectual engagement, supportive of questions and deferential to both church teaching and lived experience, Catholic schools can set their teachers free to open up space for rigorous, free and reflective conversation. Our students — schooled in such conversations — will be prepared to make a deep impact on the debates which occur within church circles and broader society.

 

 

James O'BrienJames O'Brien is in the final semester of a Masters of Teaching at ACU Melbourne.

Topic tags: James O'Brien, teaching, Catholic high schools

 

 

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Existing comments

Great thoughts here James. You are sparking a much-needed conversation yourself! I definitely felt i couldn't ask some questions at school. But i did anyway to much laughter and awkwardness. Usually in religion class it was more about learning the teachings rather than asking about our philosophical or civic ideals and how they relate to the faith. Though i noticed in humanities classes it was always an open field of discussion. It would be great to see the culture of fear disappear; after all students should be autonomous and teachers should be their guide. Peace!
John | 09 March 2018


"Our students - schooled in such conversations - will be prepared to make a deep impact on the debates which occur within church circles and broader society". Doubt it, James, if the figures which indicate that 90 percent of students from Catholic schools rarely darken the doors of the church again once they have left school are correct.
john frawley | 09 March 2018


What do you put that down to John Frawley: a failure of the school, or of the church, or of something/someone else? I’m not trying to take a cheap shot at the Church or the school but wanting to explore the role of faith-related schools. A couple of my grandchildren have gone to Anglican schools, another couple have been educated in the State system. None of them have turned out ‘churchy’ and the faith-school; educated ones seem no more ‘moral’ in the broad sense of that term than the other two. Is the only difference to be found in the effects of greater resources and/or selective enrolment? What is the peculiar role of a faith school and how should one measure its effectiveness?
Ginger Meggs | 10 March 2018


I agree, open discussion and learning critical thinking in high school is a fundamental thing! I still clearly remember the fierceness of my catholic high school English teacher, willing us ask to be questioning, to not take things at face value, and to come to our own conclusions after considering all information and perspectives. Perhaps this approach is harder in Religious Education, where experiential learning, dealing with mysticism and matters of personal faith and belief are relegated behind the teaching historical and cultural aspects of the major religions? I don't recall discussing Catholic dogma/ teaching on contraception or marriage for instance (late 1990s)..
Pat | 10 March 2018


The notion that Catholic schools today are "authoritarian regimes driven by fear" strikes me as an anachronistic straw man. It is more likely that the misgivings of pre-service students like those who have this impression stem from their own insecurities about engaging critically with the culture of postmodernist relativism that holds sway in the humanities departments of most contemporary academic institutions. This phenomenon is well documented by writers such as Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind ) and Roger Kimball (Tenured Radicals). Intellectual exposure to the dialectical sic et non of Socratic and Thomistic philosophy (for instance, in the style of Boston College's Peter Kreeft's highly accessible The Best Things in Life ) would contribute significantly, I believe, to equipping new teachers for their privileged role in the formation of young people and providing a foundation for the sort of discussion James O'Brien seeks and advocates here.
John | 11 March 2018


Critical thinking: yes, but not on Church contraceptive teaching, response to divorcees, or marriage tribunal proceedings, a mimicry of civil divorce proceedings. Fr John Flader has written Question Time for The Catholic Weekly since 2005. He states that ‘those who are divorced and remarried civilly are living in an objective situation of grave sin and if they engage in acts of intimacy they are committing adultery’; they should, in his view, ‘live as brother and sister, abstaining from acts of sexual intimacy’. Re the existence of purgatory, he states that “near the Vatican in Rome there are exhibits of ten artifacts related to appearances of souls in purgatory, all of them involving burn marks.” In contrast, another priest writes: “the ordained hierarchy of the Catholic Church needs to divest itself of power – that insidious drug that has taken it to the precipice – and share it more substantially with the body of the Church in governance, strategic decision making, financial supervisions, selection of office holders. The fact is we are trapped in an administrative and cultural prison preventing us from doing our core ‘business’: bringing Good News to the poor in deed and word.” {Source: https://www.concernedcatholicscanberra.org/new-index/
Peter | 11 March 2018


Thank you James I totally agree with your comments, when I was a tertiary teacher of Sociology I would encourage discussion and debate to broaden their understanding of the human condition. The advantage of Catholic School education is that with openness the students can develop a broader understanding of their faith and how it relates to their experiences. Thak you again.
Margaret Campbell | 12 March 2018


It would be interesting to do a critical analysis in school staff rooms as to why the majority of students who attend Catholic schools cease to practice their faith. The notion of addressing critical thinking is fraught with its own biases - critical thinking to a post -modernist is different from that of a Ressourcement Catholic. In current society it often raises the straw man of 'authoritarian' Catholicism against some struggling individual whereas the reality is, that no religious belief has ever accorded such great dignity and respect to the human person. I wonder if those students who discuss 'issues' could explain the fundamental notions of the Catholic faith in a coherent way to a secular humanist?
Alice | 12 March 2018


The incident that prompted this article - the fear expressed by one pre-service teacher (some others agreed) that he would be reprimanded if "he said the wrong thing" - is an unsatisfactory springboard to discussing the ethical responsibility of teachers to encourage critical thinking within the classroom. The incident James refers to implies more about the emotional maturity of the student teacher. Surely some trainee teachers will 'say the wrong thing' sometimes? Sure some will be reprimanded. Sure some will get cautionary signals from the supervisor. Sure a profitable conversation with the supervisor can result. It is all part of growing up in the job. From Kindergarten to Year 12 students mature - at different rates. From tyro to old hand, teachers mature too, one hopes. Just as much as becoming aware of the physical and intellectual growth of their students and themselves teachers need to assess their students' emotional growth as well as their own. Maturation is the process of learning to cope and react in an emotionally appropriate way. The trainee teacher who said he was afraid of teaching in a Catholic high school may benefit from discussing his fears with a careers counsellor or psychologist.
Uncle Pat | 12 March 2018


I love teaching Religion in my Catholic school, but I do get frustrated by the many people who think that means I just teach children "how to obey the Catholic Church''!! Yes, I am obliged to teach from/around a 'Catholic perspective', and I LOVE the wide-ranging discussions we have in the classroom (through all year levels); stimulating and reflective discussion throughout which we refer regularly to the CSTs (Catholic Social Teachings) - and often reflect on how central to the laws and (notional) values of 'Western Society' these teachings are. The hard part for me is feeling a sense of authority when teaching about other, non-Christian, religions (which we also are obliged to do), of which I am much less deeply informed. That's when it gets tricky. In my experience, it is as James O'Brien says: "Catholic schools are places where faith is proposed in a context of learning about the world and reflecting on experience." And, yes, I agree: "Teachers are ethically bound to encourage critical thinking within classrooms, modelling the kinds of conversations which will advance responsible, open and honest civic engagement." Particularly Catholic teachers. That's the part I love the most.
Elizabeth | 12 March 2018


A good article that deals with a perennial problem. So much about our perception of Catholic School Religious Education stems from poorly educated teachers in this most important area. Unless teachers are well educated in Scripture and Theology they will lack both the competence and the confidence to handle such questions from students. “Educate the educators” has never been more important. A hesitant, stumbling response to, or a closing down of discussion on a topic will surely not inspire students to become involved in their faith community. We can do better!
Ern Azzopardi | 12 March 2018


Good morning Ginger. You raise a complex yet interesting question. I can only respond by citing my experience. I have six sons educated in Jesuit schools from 1973 to 1989 (8-24 years following the completion of Vatican II, a time of disruption, change and indeed confusion in the search for the "true spirit of Vatican II"). The older ones all had a number of Jesuit priest teachers. As the years passed, the number of Jesuits steadily declined and I don't recall the youngest of my sons ever having a Jesuit teacher. Nevertheless they did have an education in the teachings of the church and a high profile religious practice through a prayer life and regular Mass at school. All had contact with the spiritual director, rector and other Jesuit priests. My sons all left school with a knowledge of traditional Catholic teaching and a sense of service to others which they all continue to practice. I also have six grandsons educated at Jesuit schools from 2005 -2018. Some of them (I think all of them) have never had a Jesuit teacher but have had exposure to a Jesuit spiritual director and a prayer life at school. They too have a sense of service to others, slightly different from their fathers, which is couched in terms of social justice and human rights which occupies a higher level on their list of priorities than religious practice. Social justice for Humanity is more important to them than Humanity's subservience to a creator God which is intangible in comparison. The Human has replaced the Divine. Ignatius Loyola must be spinning in his grave! I also have one daughter and three grand-daughters educated in erstwhile Catholic convents. None of them has ever seen a nun. The nuns all dashed off in mufti in pursuit of social justice laurels. The girls left school knowing more about Eastern contemplative religions than Catholicism. Buddhism was particularly appealing because at least when you entered a Buddhist temple you had to remove your shoes, remain silent and show respect and reverence for the Buddha, something that understandably appeals to the idealistic young mind. The Buddhist monk is dressed differently, is contemplative and appears holy, unlike the Catholic priest in T-shirt, jeans and runners who is just like one of the boys. Compare that with the rowdy happy families environment found in many Catholic churches today and Harry who is unrecognisable as a priest. Catholic schools are no longer blessed with the example of a life dedicated to the service of God as they once were when inhabited by a teaching population of priests, brothers and nuns. And why? Because of the protestantisation , the new Reformation of Catholicism, in the wake of the confusing search for the true spirit of Vatican II which initiated the exodus of the religious from the schools and replaced the divine ethic with a human one. I'm in trouble now Ginger!
john frawley | 12 March 2018


Teaching in Catholic schools raises the question whether one can critique the Church’s contraceptive teaching, its response to divorcees, or its marriage tribunal proceedings that some argue is a mimicry of civil divorce proceedings. Can one refute the views of a Catholic priest who argues: ‘those who are divorced and remarried civilly are living in an objective situation of grave sin and if they engage in acts of intimacy they are committing adultery’; they should live as brother and sister, abstaining from acts of sexual intimacy’. On proof of the existence of purgatory; “near the Vatican in Rome there are exhibits of ten artifacts related to appearances of souls in purgatory, all of them involving burn marks.” Concerned Catholics in Canberra/Goulburn is a forum for the critical discussion of ideas that may cause discomfort in Catholic schools, church forums, and dare I say it, ‘Eureka Street’. Its vision is informed by the Church: ”The Christian faithful have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful." (Canon 212.3)
Peter | 12 March 2018


Reflection on experience in the light of belief in the universality of God's love might well lead some contemporary students and their teachers to the conclusion that God sanctifies gay relationships just as much as he does straight ones. However, this conclusion would be at odds with the present 'teaching of the church'. Two conceptions of religious education therefore clash here. The first, which sees education as 'education in faith', will be enjoin direction of discussion of this issue to fit 'the teaching of the church'. The second, which sees education as the enabling of students to make their own judgments in light of experience and interpretive scholarship, will forbid imposition of any conclusions on such discussions. Which conception of religious education, I ask, shows more trust in the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts and minds of the believing community?
Michael Leahy | 12 March 2018


In the lead-up to the parliamentary debate on marriage equality, some religious opponents of marriage equality claimed same-sex marriage would have far-reaching negative consequences for gender education and claimed it would harm religious freedom and freedom of speech. Catholics for Renewal is satisfied that the leadership of the Catholic Church in Australia has no need for concern about possible negative impacts of the changes to the Marriage Act on the integrity of the Catholic education system. The leadership and teaching staff in Catholic schools are adequately educated and equipped to accommodate, deal with, and address the many different, even conflicting pluralities of issues and views that surface in both the secular and religious curricula. Student-centred teaching strategies are standard practice in Catholic schools. A teacher’s pedagogical starting point is to find out what exactly students know about the subject area in order to teach lessons that are relevant to the students’ own knowledge and experience. The widely used ‘Catholic Identity Project’ recognises that students live in a multi-faith world and that in schools today many of the families who want a Catholic education are not part of an active Catholic community. In any class there would be students whose families live within a variety of situations from traditional, single parent, same sex partners, or sometimes with grandparents as carers. In any unit of the curriculum the teacher starts by finding out the students' knowledge and experience around a topic. This is what student-centred teaching is about, rather than a content-driven curriculum. Therefore, when teaching the topic of marriage to senior students, the lesson would start with why has marriage been part of most societies over time, in what ways has the structure of marriage developed, why do people today want to, or not want to, get married. Same sex marriage would probably be brought up in these discussions. The role of the religious education teacher in a Catholic school is to show the students the history and development of marriage within the Catholic tradition and the importance it holds to the openness of the couple to procreation. The Church teaching about marriage would then be discussed along with the concept of sacrament and sacramentality. The process is about education, not indoctrination. These should not be confused.
Peter Wilkinson, President, Catholics for Renewal | 12 March 2018


Gravissium Educationis 1965, the Vatican II document on Catholic education states : "This sacred synod recalls to pastors of souls [bishops and local pastors] their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful [children and adults] but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church enjoy this Christian education" (10) and further, "But let teachers recognise that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs" (27). Hello hello hello! "...almost entirely" on teachers in Catholic schools and not on the parents as "prime educators of their children", that great fable that gained popularity in the 70s and 80s and charted the direction of Catholic education in this country. Please explain, Australian Bishops Conference, Catholic Education Offices and dedicated renewalists and reformers, why you have failed 90 percent of your charges and ignored Vatican II.
john frawley | 12 March 2018


Indoctrination (repetitive input) is sometimes a very valuable educational tool, Peter Wilkinson. Without it I would never have managed the times tables, the poetry or the tracts from Shakespeare! My children and grandchildren have never heard of Apologetics and they are all graduates with multiple degrees! I cant imagine Catholic education without Apologetics for older children and adults. But then the dumbing down of education applies to all systems in this country, not just Catholicism.
john frawley | 12 March 2018


I'd like to know what John Frawley and Alice regard as "practising faith" and going to "church". If you simply mean putting your bum on a seat during Mass then I think you've missed the point.
AURELIUS | 12 March 2018


Ginger, catechism and apologetics were standard features of classrooms until the 1960s, when the emphasis of religious education was on intellectual content (the course-name of what has since become R.E. was previously R.K., "Religious Knowledge", encapsulating the noetic or instructive pedagogical emphasis of the era). Examined knowledge of doctrine, church history, and scripture were complemented by regular sacramental and devotional practices such as monthly confession, school recitation of the rosary, annual retreats, the celebration of Mass and benediction. More often than not, these practices were evident in Catholic homes. The emphasis of faith-communication was communal rather than individualistic. As John Frawley has indicated, the person standing in front of the class was recognisably committed to what was taught, and what was taught was regarded as indispensable to the communication and practice of faith. Obviously, times have changed: few, if any, professed religious in teaching roles; greater diversification of ethnic and religious backgrounds in Catholic schools; and the omnipresence of media access and influence are but some of the indicators and agents of change. To my mind, however, current social justice activities, however laudable, cannot be regarded as substitutes for cognitive and affective development in faith matters at appropriate stages; and for senior students, intellectual exercise along the lines of the recommendation in my earlier posting.
John | 12 March 2018


Thanks John (Frawley), for taking the time to address my question. I can see that it is an issue of great concern to you. I need to think some more before responding in any substantive way. Cheers.
Ginger Meggs | 12 March 2018


"...he said the wrong thing" - is an unsatisfactory springboard to discussing the ethical responsibility of teachers to encourage critical thinking ..." says Uncle Pat. But is not the even less satisfactory springboard to discuss "saying the wrong thing"? Unless someone is prepared to define what constitutes a wrong thing. Someone other than the Inquisition whose job it was/is to do that job, anyway. Though more importantly I thought that teaching critical thinking was more about asking and listening than saying.
Michael D. Breen | 12 March 2018


An effective education, whether in a Catholic school or not, critically depends on unearthing the hidden curriculum of a school. As many here know, but some may not endorse, the universality of Catholics is reflected in their vast numbers and by the charisms of the institutes that operate Catholic schools. Conservative individuals, whether as parents or school operators, will insist on conservative content and pedagogies. Liberal religious institutes and the parents who are attracted to their schools tend to advance a more open-ended curriculum. Hence John Frawley's jaundice, and one wonders why he sent his progeny to Jesuit schools when he could have ensured the delivery of a much more conservative 'package' in another. Without meaning him, I suspect that the conundrum about the quality of the curriculum lies not simply in the dedication and commitment of staff - for who are more self-sacrificial in their pedagogy than those who teach in special schools - but in the fee-structure, which is the critical determinant of school catchment, in terms of parental capacity to pay. Allowing for some exceptions, this would generally ensure that an explicit class-determined curriculum 'package' is on offer, minimising the possibility of objections from students or parents.
Michael Furtado | 13 March 2018


I taught in government schools for about twelve years and a Catholic school for twenty-five years. I believe I am quite outspoken and, some might say, radical. I have been reprimanded twice for comments I have made in the classroom, both times in government schools. The first time, I dared to read a short story which referred to gambling. Methodists objected. The second time, I had referred in a history lesson to "high" and "low" Church of England. There was a complaint. There are many men in many parts of Australia that I taught in a Catholic . They may not go to church, but they are working hard in the real world in prominent, and not so prominent, positions to make Australia a more caring place and, where they can, to improve the lives of vulnerable people in other countries.
Sheelah Egan | 13 March 2018


James O'Brien, whose posts I endorse, attempts the difficult task of straddling two stools, the first embedded in a system determined by the magisterium, and portraying a didacticism and authoritarianism antipathetic to the conduct of an effective and engaging pedagogy, which, by definition, provides the 'other' stool that is essentially transactional and inviting of the participation and collaboration of the student. There indeed are and have always been inspiring Catholic educators, such as Gerard Rummery, who once reflected that it would be pointless to lead a horse to the well of refreshment, if by the very means by which the animal was brought to it, it refused to drink. This paradox was the one that eventually collapsed under the weight of it own problematic contradictions for Professor Terry Lovat, widely regarded as one of Australia's foremost religious educators, who transited from the Catholic school and university to the more open environs of the secularised and multifaith University of Newcastle Education Faculty precisely because he was hounded away for his personal and professional practices. Terry, whom I worked with, is/was the most ardent devotee of Habermas's critically reflective practice (or 'praxis'), which made him the doyen of Australia's Deans of Education.
Dr Michael Furtado | 13 March 2018


Aurelius. You say you would like to know what I and Alice mean by "practising the faith" and "going to church". I can't speak for Alice but what I mean is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was God and two premises that, for me, derive from that belief: First, joining as one with God (Christ) through the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, which is a union that usually happens through the intercession of an ordained priest in the Holy of Holies, a place of worship, a church, the house of God, a place demanding deferential reference to the one to whom we all owe our very beings. This is the supreme reason for "going to church", something that is otherwise meaningless other than for devotional practices which enhance another dimension (lesser) of union with God. Second, in what is yet another dimension of union with God, living a life based on the example and teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels and those teachings delegated to his Church through his words (precised) "Go, therefore, and teach all nations" - '"Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound also in heaven" - 'I am with you all days even to the end of the world" - "Peter, you are the rock on which I will build my Church". To me, to "practice the faith" embodies both the sacramental practice above and living the life Christ described in the gospels and that prescribed by his delegated authority on Earth embodied in the papacy. The problem, Aurelius, is that it is very difficult to do and there are many more touchy-feely ways of gaining self-satisfaction. But it gets a hell of a lot easier as you age and become more acutely aware of your own mortality. So you see Aurelius, I'm quite a radical, unthinking conservative without an ounce of social responsibility in my bones and would go to church even if I had to stand rather than sit on my bony old backside !! In some ways, I'm grateful that I was a surgeon, Aurelius, because, believe me, there is no greater way of understanding how unimportant we poor humans are despite our extraordinary human achievements in the face of God's will. Now I'm in more trouble, I suspect !!
john frawley | 13 March 2018


John Frawley thank you for your confession of faith in response to Aurelius. I respect it but I can't share the supernatural dimension of it, as you've probably guessed. I see that ES has put this article to bed already although it was only posted five days ago which is, IMHO, a pity, as I thought there was still a lot of useful to and fro to be had from James' article (unlike the artillery duel going on in the Clericalism corner).
Ginger Meggs | 13 March 2018


Thank you, John Frawley, for such a candid and clearly stated exposition of what you mean by "practising the faith" and "going to church."
John | 13 March 2018


In a Catholic School all of the inquiry teaching can be done as James states. However all it takes is a spark, an insinuation from a parent, a complaint, the loss of a "sweetheart" parish member and major financial contributor, the continuing lack of a teacher's union, continuation of sexism and pedophilia cover ups and good teachers are fired immediately without reason, regardless of a signed contract, or the good work they do. Me too. Times up. The status quo of sexism and exclusion and patriarchy is not effective, nor expedient and is not wise. The power of the Holy Spirit remains and facilitates the miracle, and the miracle IS the change in thinking.
Mercedes Michalski | 14 March 2018


Ginger. I am no expert and have no insider knowledge but I reckon, that (perhaps like Thomas the Apostle) you will one day share the supernatural dimension of it all. My artisan God won't let any of his creation, this extraordinary art work we call our world, "with which he was well pleased", slip away without a concerted effort to prevent that happening. No sane artist will destroy his own beautiful creation and I reckon God is, more likely than not, sane. I suppose, however, that it is possible for we human souls to reject the life jacket in favour of our untested ability to swim in turbulent seas.
john frawley | 14 March 2018


John Frawley, I'm not sure how you managed to read so deeply into my quite innocent comment by concluding that I'm seeking some sort of "touchy-feely self-satisfaction" out of being a Catholic. And neither did I mention whether I regard myself as "conservative", "radical" or whatever the spectrum indicates these days. My practice of going to church propels me into a life that seeks to serve others and disregard my own self-satisfaction, thank you very much! Although I can't claim the glory or pay packet of being a surgeon, I live and work with the most disadvantages people in our society, and for my efforts I gladly share in their humble economically -limited standard of living. For me, the sacrifice of the mass - the passion of Christ - is real. It's not esoteric or symbolic. And, by the way, I never said that I don't participate in the sacraments. I do. But the sacraments are in vain without action.
AURELIUS | 14 March 2018


As a Sister of St Joseph, teaching English, History and RE I always found great joy in discussing controversial issues in my classes. In the late 60s and through to. 2000 I would put Church teaching forward, for instance, in RE classes but at the same time would allow open discussion. Sometimes the atmosphere would be quite fierce buT always respectful. The art of listening and openess. I feel very said that young teachers might be fearful and indeed, some supervising teachers. It is possible to support Church teaching while upholding And indeed, encouraging, free exchange of ideas. We need to teach respect for the Church and understand her teaching and the struggle we all need to come to a free commitment of belief. Thank you for reminding me of the struggle teachers face daily. Catholic ed has much to offer we must encourage our young teachers and support them in the struggle. Critical thinking is crucial to a emigration society, no less within the Church. We all have questions, we all experience doubt. Surely the days of " The Church Triumphant"are over. My prayer in old age is for a mor open welcoming Church. Questions about Church attendance do not touch the essential. I would like to ask about Care of others, willingness to help, to participate in the life of the school, above all, to have a relationship with the person of Jesus. I place my trust in the Holy Spirit!
Marg.aret Lamb | 14 March 2018


Dear Sr Margaret, Unfortunately inflections of vocationalism do not sit comfortably alongside the industrial protection that teachers in Catholic schools need if their employment conditions are to be justly secured, as Mercedes Michalski rightly cautions about and which also constitutes the Social Teaching of the Church in relation to Trade Union membership. Without denying the great gift to Catholic schooling that the religious and secular institutes have conferred, it makes quite a difference being a salaried teacher in a Catholic school as opposed to a nun, priest or brother - few as they are these days - on a stipend. It may interest you to consider the correspondence on clericalism, triggered by Andy Hamilton's recent piece on that topic in ES, to appreciate that its still the elephant in the room when it comes to Catholic teacher employment and job security. And while I appreciate that the quality of school leadership depends on the degree of staff renewal in a school, my experience suggests that lay leaders are somewhat circumspect about what they say and do because at the end of the day they do not exercise the same freedoms as those teaching members of congregations that own schools.
Michael Furtado | 15 March 2018


John and John Frawley bemoan the collapse of Religious Knowledge and the role played in it by apologetics. 'Gaudium et Spes' sounded the death knell for apologetics by showing that the hypocrisy of Christians was a contributory factor to atheism, observing that believers had more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. "To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion."[19] For instance, Fr Schepers taught us that glass-blowing was wrong because it reduced the lifespan of the glass-blower, regardless of the gift that draws artists towards working with stained glass! Both secular and religious critics have accused many Christians of being hypocritical, e.g. Tom Whiteman, a prominent American psychologist, published research revealing that reasons tendered for Christian divorce included adultery, abuse (including substance, physical and verbal abuse), and abandonment, whereas the major reason for divorce in the general population was incompatibility. Solid Christian foundations cannot be based on dishonest and defensive reasoning. Thank God apologetics has lost its pivotal role in religious formation!
Michael Furtado | 15 March 2018


Michael Furtado, There is a non sequitur in your conclusion that apologetics per se causes atheism; the very passage from Vatican II you cite identifies "teaching erroneous doctrine" as a contributor to non-belief. Apologetics is not merely a rhetorical device: it is an instrument for articulating truth, of giving "an account of the faith that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15), No doubt hypocrisy is scandalous, but that is no reason for abandoning the practice of apologetics, which of its nature seeks to articulate what is grasped in faith lucidly and truly. What, in fact, I do lament and contest is the failure of much contemporary thinking to allow the mind its full scope in the exercise of metaphysics, settling merely for preoccupation with formal, efficient and material causality at the expense of the final; in other words, focus on 'what' and 'how' questions, to the exclusion of the 'why'; and the usual accompaniment of a faux humility that thinly veils a corrosive intellectual apathy and convenient scepticism. It is this atrophy and negation of the metaphysical that Pope Benedict XVI discerned at the root of contemporary secular atheism. What's more, I find students enjoy the cut and thrust of dialectical engagement.
John | 15 March 2018


A global survey of belief in a god or higher being conducted by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 2005 indicated that 2.5 per cent of 6.5 billion people were atheists, 18 per cent were uncertain or did not know if there was a god or higher being (agnostics) and 80% believed (theists). This represented a fall in atheism balanced by a corresponding rise in agnosticism since the collapse of Communism and a return to Christianity, Judaism and Islam that followed that collapse. Future projections predicted a continuing fall in atheism until the year 2020. Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, despite carrying greater authority than a Papal Encyclical might have made a few assumptions that have not proved valid. Ch 19, which you quote, Michael Furtado, says that believers may contribute to atheism "through neglect of training in the faith [Catholic education], teaching erroneous doctrine or deficiencies in religious, moral or social life [practice] and thus cancel rather than reveal the authentic face of God..." In quoting this tiny confined tract from the document, MF, you may have defeated your own argument. It strikes me that the deficiencies you have quoted as contributing to atheism are precisely what many correspondents see as the problem with current Catholic education.
john frawley | 15 March 2018


John, your dismissal of 'what' and 'how' questions, and privileging of apologetics' 'why', runs counter to critical developments in moral philosophy, none of it with a focus on theology and all of it to do with moral judgment. The absolutism with which you assume decisions about right and wrong is also problematic. I address this quandary, not in regard to teaching universal religious truths, but from the perspective of morality's need to have certainty beyond any reasonable doubt, and which there is precious little universal agreement on. When mammalian mothers kill their young, it’s generally because there’s insufficient food for all of the offspring or that particular baby is defective and won’t survive but in the meantime will consume food to the detriment of the others, thus compromising the survival of all. In such a situation the mother has to make a very serious moral choice that many human mothers would be unable to face. Thus the blanket moral statement that “it’s better today for mothers to protect their young” does not rise to the moral standard of the mammalian mother. ; and the usual accompaniment of a faux humility that thinly veils a corrosive intellectual apathy and convenient scepticism.'
Michael Furtado | 15 March 2018


There is no "dismissal" of "what" and "how" questions in what I've said, Michael Furtado; rather, there is an insistence that final causality, which addresses the purposes of the other forms of causality, be given due recognition in intellectual inquiry - and not only in moral matters, as you appear to assume.
John | 15 March 2018


IN a 46 year career in Catholic Secondary Schools conducted by religious orders and parish regions we were never censored but counselled to promote due respect for Catholic point of view which was rarely fairly presented by media reports. So issues like contraception , abortion, divorce , death , homosexuality as well as justice issues towards our first nations people and overseas were covered as they arose from all points of view which is what good schools do in developing the critical minds of the young towards independence. The religious guidelines were structured this way to start with their experience , judge and discern the reasons for their opinions and perceptions, then introduce gospel and church teaching on issue so that student came to see that the teaching was based on a long experience and logic. So eventually came to see this was something they should take into account in forming an informed conscience. If the potential teachers read the gospels and examine Jesus encounters with various groups in his society [and look behind the legalistic Latin translation we are stuck with and go back to the Greek and his Jewish context] you will give your students a great gift of an intelligent faith and a quest to follow Anselm of " faith seeking understanding" and Fr Amalorpavadass urging to see that the Divine and Secular share one world not two that are divided. If they follow this path , they will induce many "" teachable moments"" as described by Herman Lombaerts.
WAYNE McGOUGH | 16 March 2018


I (obviously) have computer problems. Not wishing to treat this topic as a commodity for entertainment, confidence trickery and a matter for evasion or fraud, I am happy to continue to reply in detail, as you may require it. Suffice to say that the distinctions between your position on apologetics and mine are crucial; for the jokey contempt that sometimes creeps in when issues of life and death are under discussion (and which may pass for a denial of seriousness) is actually a counterpart to your unremittingly anti (and ante!) -Vatican II ecclesiology and, in case you hadn't noticed, its commited counterpart and foil. Apologetics is fundamentally a corrupt and obfuscating aspect of scholasticism, which is why it has been so extensively jettisoned from the curriculum of faith and moral development of the open, honest and authentically questing (and young) person, whether Catholic or otherwise. Secreted behind your reference to causality is what looks like a slavish attachment to eschatology; in other words a preoccupation with fitting explanation to suit a preordained or immutable position - a bit like Cinderella's shoe. Faith and moral development has long abandoned that hopelessly unyielding method in favour of honest exploration and open entelechy.
Michael Furtado | 16 March 2018


A great discussion. One of my children was sent to a Catholic secondary school and the other a private C of E school. We did find the Catholic school was more restricted especially in sex education than the C of E school. They both gave the girls a strong education and a good sense of social justice. As I believe my husband and I did and of course the home is so important. The daughter who attended C of E is not interested in religion and the other who attended the Catholic school is, more because of their personality than anything else. It is absolutely imperative that we have unrestricted discussions which are not gender bias in Catholic schools. RE classes can then define the Catholic position, but it should be respectful and comprehensive.
Kate | 17 March 2018


My last remark was addressed to John. When all's said and done, the thread in this conversation is about teaching public issues in Catholic schools, in regard to which I profoundly believe that apologetics should play no part because of its intent to 'read' everything in Catholic terms, when Scripture clearly indicates a vast knowledge gap between the world of today and that in which Jesus lived. Knowledge is socially constructed and, as such, should be interrogated, as many here aver, from all points of view, so that young Catholics are not reliant upon replicating information that supposedly has a magisterial backing to it, when none may currently exist. At best good teachers in Catholic schools educate the young to become critical independent thinkers and without the burden of a false belief that there is one Catholic answer for everything. Thus, Catholics may vote in good conscience for any party on the basis of exposure to all sides of the key policy debates that inform public policy issues. The Church has long since withdrawn from the view that there is a Catholic position for everything under the sun, including questions that have yet to emerge in relation to the future.
Michael Furtado | 18 March 2018


Great post, Kate! I taught for many years in a Boys Catholic College. After three years the remarkable Rector, with skills in Eng Lit & Counselling, was replaced by a regime which allocated RE to the priests alone, while the counsellor lacked RE. The peculiar concatenation of these disciplines ensured that the praxis theological formation that the best of Catholic schools sometimes do was missing, with no overlap of the social sciences, humanities & religion to provide a responsive or guiding hand for questing teenagers. I was reminded of the incredibly sad and moving account, in Tim Connigrove's 'Holding the Man', of a relationship, commenced at a Jesuit school, and ending in the death of both parties from AIDS-related pneumonia and in which one party was acknowledged at the Mass when one the other died, because one set of parents had objected. Catholic schools tend to be wedded to an airbrushing agenda, intent upon whiting-out the record and instead prosecuting a prescriptive human relations curriculum, barely referential to contemporary existential realities and intent upon ensuring conformity to an imagined conservative parental values norm. It doesn't surprise that ardent advocates of a return to teaching apologetics should disengage from this discussion.
Michael Furtado | 19 March 2018


Ah yes, Michael Furtado, perish the thought that students in Catholic schools should be exposed to the fact that faith actually has content - theological, moral, spiritual and social - as evident in the NSW bishops' proposed new course, the title of which, "Studies in Catholic Thought", carries an emphasis on knowledge, and the scope of which aims at promoting "the integration of faith and reason." You might consider how one effect of your prescriptive exclusion of apologetics in Catholic schooling is the reinforcement of the current secularist mantra that religious matters belong to the realm of the private only, grist to the mill of those in the tradition of Voltaire, who, with increasing intensity and volume, echo his cry: "Ecrasez l' infame!"
John | 20 March 2018


John, apologetics depends on ontological premises, e.g. regarding proofs of God's existence. Proofs are ontologically defined as made from logic alone with no reference to observation. No logical deduction can tell you anything that is not already embedded in its premises. All logic does is draw the conclusions that follow from those premises and check for any inconsistencies. Only by observation can we demonstrate whether the premises accurately describe or reflect the real world. Thus, intelligent Catholics nowadays readily acknowledge that belief in God is faith-based. While it is true that Augustine and Aquinas applied rational thinking to their theology, they viewed science as a means to learn about God’s creation and insisted that revelation rules over observation. Galileo contested this when he insisted that observation rules over revelation. And while Galileo and Newton professed to be Christian, their only other choice was to be burned at the stake, as Voltaire observed, not by Enlightenmentarian flames, but by those engulfing heretics intent upon discounting ontological explanations. Of course, nowadays educated Catholics readily acknowledge, because of the Euthyphro Dilemma, that morality is not an exclusively Catholic prerogative. Thus, apologetics makes fools of those who insist on shoving it down kids' throats!
Michael Furtado | 21 March 2018


Michael Furtado, apologetics is not, as you assert, based exclusively on ontology, though "natural theology" or "theodicy" may well be a constituent of it. Apologetics includes the exercise of reason in relation what is received (i.e., divine revelation) in faith. It is not a matter, as you appear to think, of reason and faith, or science and revelation, acting in competition with each other, but rather in concert. (I'll regard your reference to stake-burning as a rhetorical flourish, as it has no bearing on practice in the Church today; nor was either Galileo or Newton ever threatened with it. And who, among "educated Catholics" claims morality as "an exclusively Catholic prerogative"?)
John | 22 March 2018


Apologetics is anathematic to Christianity! The Polish theologian, Andrzej Michalik, demonstrated this by investigating the question 'Was John-Paul II an apologist for Christianity?' Michalik is a member of the JPII Academy in Poland, which is dedicated to studying the work of the former Pope. In his findings he reports that his paper tried to answer the question of whether John Paul II was an apologist of Christianity. Moving along scholastic methodology, the paper progressed through three stages, exploring a negative statement (videtur quod non), justifying a positive assertion (sed contra), and formulating a conclusion (ergo). Through this methodology the paper concluded that Pope John Paul II was essentially an apologist for Christianity. This methodology allowed thorough study of the highlights of the pontificate of John-Paul II and on the basis of counter-points to bring out a clearer answer to the research question, which was answered in the affirmative. Thus the scholastic method itself has been used to show up the former Pope as so committed to questions of defense and justification that it led ultimately to the whitewashing of many evils, established in his lifetime, of US bishops guilty of child abuse cover-ups. Praxis offers better teaching opportunities for kids.
Michael Furtado | 23 March 2018


While I support the idea that "actions speak louder than words", Michael Furtado, I accept, too, that praxis requires thought. I also think your assessment of Pope John Paul II is altogether too reductive and harsh, and that the education of children requires guidance, not inquiry only. Why should apologetics and actions of service be mutually exclusive in Catholic schooling?
John | 23 March 2018


Because, dear John, I have shown that logical fallacies and semantic trickery are at the very essence of apologetics, exploiting a general ignorance of science and the scientific method amongst religious apologists, and responding to the desire for quick-fix, extrinsically rethought, salvation justifications as well as something easy on the undeveloped and impressionable brain cells. Such flummery is unworthy of a tradition that respects and, to some extent, combines felicitous, parsimonious and abjectly truthful aspects of faith and reason, intent upon honesty and the entertainment of sincere and well-informed doubt, espeecially in young persons. Hence, as religious educators we owe it to future generations of Catholics NOT to make fools of them, or indeed ourselves, in the manner of religious fundamentalists of our and other traditions, and in respect of which, Voltaire, whom you introduced to this discussion, had many apt criticisms to make. Incidentally, I am not alone in my criticisms of John-Paul II, whose anti-duallistic theology of the Body I find inspiring and profoundly personally helpful. To criticise is to love, whereas to apologise is dishonest. Harshness has nothing to do with it, nor even reductionism, which dogged John-Paul's autocratic papacy for the entire duration of its influence.
Michael Furtado | 23 March 2018


Such a high-handed and sweeping dismissal of apologetics and their role in giving an account of the Christian faith reveals scant knowledge of and respect for their role in the history of Christianity, and the competence and intellectual achievements of their practitioners. Avery Dulles SJ's A History of Apologetics supplies a more than useful corrective perspective.
John | 27 March 2018


Cardinal Dulles reminds us, in his opus magnus on ecclesiology, 'Models of the Church', that there are many storeys and charisms in our Father's Kingdom, none of them mutually exclusive or of the kind that would cause the church to implode in the manner of a earthquake-shattered building. Here in Brisbane The Catholic Leader reports John Vitek, the USA's leading expert on youth evangelisation, and President of St Mary's Press, Minnesota, as applauding the use of Didier Pollefeyt's Leuven Project by Brisbane Catholic Education, which teaches a Catholic faith interpreted in contemporay cultural contexts that are recognisable, credible and meaningful for contemporary Catholics. Dr Vitek describes it as a brilliant approach to evangelisation and catechesis unlike his native country which uses a doctrinal, and therefore an apologetics-based catechetical mode in their schools, reliant on the view that we should "tell children doctrine from Grade 1 in its fullness & precise language of the catechism & (as a result of which) they will conform their life to the doctrines". He adds: "I can guarantee you there's not a single shred of evidence that would demonstrate there's any truth to that approach". Doctrine disconnected from life and presented as didacticism is moribund.
Dr Michael Furtado | 27 March 2018


ES readers interested in a critique of the Leuven Project might be interested in Dr Peter McGregor's " Evangelise or re-contextualise? The problem with the Leuven Project", (The Catholic Weekly, 15/8/2017).
John | 29 March 2018


ES readers will be keenly familiar with the protracted disagreements between 'John' and myself on several issues brought to the attention of ES's readership and opened up for comment. In general, it would be fair to say that John's views are forthrightly conservative while mine are modernist. As it happens, the topic on which we are disagreed relates to the theme of 'Teaching Public Issues in Catholic Schools'. A glance at our correspondence will show that John places the magisterium at the forefront of everything to be taught in the Catholic school, as if there were a Catholic position on everything under the sun. My view is that the problem with this approach is that there simply 'ain't', for it is that approach that proposes and defends an apologetics that is otherwise highly assailable and sometimes dishonest. My own view derives from a praxis theology, which acknowledges that Jesus lived in contexts that sometimes bear no relation to our own. Thus, Catholic schools would be in dereliction of their duties if they failed to address issues of gender and other cultural realities that bear no semblance to the times in which Jesus lived, still less of the times in between.
Dr Michael Furtado | 31 March 2018


It would be more accurate to say, contrary to Dr Michael Furtado's representation of my thinking, that I believe there is an authoritative Catholic position on matters of faith and morals, rather than that I believe there is one "on everything under the sun." My concern is that what the Church teaches, and the reasons for her teachings, are known by students and become integrated into their experience, especially in the making of decisions and the actions that flow from them. Perhaps at the root of our disagreement on this issue is our respective understandings of human nature, which, unlike Dr Furtado, I regard as historically continuous and not substantively altered by historical circumstances: our moral and spiritual capacity, indeed, our very dignity, derives from our being created in the image and likeness of our Maker - not from the contingencies of history and interpretations that pronounce our origin, being, and possibility simply as matters of our own construction.
John | 01 April 2018


Our teaching on the Jews is just one of many that are not historically continuous and is substantively altered by historical circumstance (the Shoah & Vatican II). Cardinal Dulles is but one of many who criticised the presentation of evangelisation as contrary to the teachings of the Popes, some of whom had described Jews as usurers. He objected to the post-Vatican II teaching that equating evangelisation with proclamation was flawed and disputed the assertion that interreligious dialogue must be devoid of any intention to convert. However, the Church distinguishes between evangelisation, in the broad sense of the Church's mission, and proclamation. Instead, we teach that by dialoguing with Jews, we are evangelising by witnessing to our faith in Jesus Christ. We do so, however, without the desire to convert them. Dialogue is distinct from seeking conversion to Christ, as Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has repeatedly stated. To refrain from targeting Jews for conversion is not a rejection of the Church's. evangelical mission but a recognition that this novel dimension of evangelisation is appropriate in the unique case of Judaism, the tradition to which we are "intrinsically" related, as John-Paul II has expressed it.
Dr Michael Furtado | 04 April 2018


Dr Furtado, I was not addressing the historical continuity of Church teaching but, rather, our respective understandings of "human nature", a classification which I take to permanently characterize our species, and which, for believers in the tradition of the Abrahamic religions, includes creation according to God's will, likeness, and purpose - what Vatican II calls "the highest norm of human life . . . the divine law itself - eternal, objective and universal" (Declaration on Religious Liberty, I, 3). Thus the historical contingencies of our created existence do not supersede this God-given transcendent distinguisher of our being. Regarding the continuity of Church teaching, it is dependent on the magisterial status of the particular teaching: not all pronouncements are of equal doctrinal weight; some are permanent, de fide, and some are revisable. The example you produce is, I suggest, of the latter category, though usury itself is always morally abhorrent. Moreover, in practice, evangelization, kerygma and missiology are interconnected realities, and all interreligious dialogue - implicitly or explicitly - insofar as it is committed to seeking and understanding truth, involves a conversion. Apologetics, the starting point of our exchange here, can contribute as an educative resource, clarifier and corrective in the Church's missionary mandate from Christ himself to "teach all nations."
John | 04 April 2018


John, your arguments are so apologetically slanted as to prove my very point. Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty effectively dismissed the Church’s teaching until that point of time that ‘Error has no Rights’. Not only did the entirety of the US episcopate vote for it but every Catholic bishop north of the Tiber, the entire Oceanic episcopate and all of Latin America followed suit. Of the 3,000 bishops gathered in Rome, some 75% of the 2000 odd eligible voters voted in favour of it. At these meetings, the Church reversed several long-standing, seemingly intransigent doctrines and policies, leading to use of vernacular languages in services rather than Latin, subtly renouncing its former aspirations for temporal political power, and recognising the religious liberty of all people. Remember, we are talking here of teaching public issues in Catholic schools and NOT about matters of faith and morals. In particular, through the dynamic participation of the case’s protagonist, John Courtney Murray SJ, those who supported the position of freeing up a straightjacketed Church explore how both internal and external pressures and arguments exchanged by Catholicism’s most eminent scholars incontrovertibly led to dramatic change in the Church, both symbolically and structurally. https://kenan.ethics.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Case-Study-Vatican-II.pdf https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/fight-religious-freedom
Dr Michael Furtado | 09 April 2018


Dr Furtado, your generalised appraisal of Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty ignores the specific passage cited (I, 3), with its affirmation of the transcendent origin of human nature and the natural law inscribed in our humanity by God our Creator - a traditional formulation highly pertinent to the constant and universal truth of the Church's formal teaching on a range of contemporary public issues which involve faith and morals - those, for instance, promoted by 'the new atheists' represented by Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and their media-prominent, articulate, anti-religious associates.
John | 09 April 2018


John, Catholicism, despite the claims of some, is not ubiquitous in having an answer for everything. If that were the case we would shut down all Catholic schools because they cannot guarantee the transmission of faith to all who attend them. Schools that do, by way of contrast, are clearly categorically different from Catholic schools, understanding little of the process of formation, and opting instead for indoctrination. How many times does religious belief make people ignore problems that are obviously caused by human action or happenstance? When we say that Down's Syndrome is the Will of God we excuse ourselves from looking for a way to prevent or cure this condition. When we say that God decides who is rich and who is poor we excuse ourselves from having to care about shocking economic inequality that saps our humanity, and which is perennially in short supply. Clearly, moral laziness is sometimes a side effect of having a religious worldview. People stop caring about other individuals because God wants that old guy to be a vagrant. Or, maybe the vagrant is being punished for some offence against God. Either way, we are excused from needing to explore. Teilhard's example suggests otherwise.
Michael Furtado | 23 April 2018


Dr Furtado, the examples you offer suggest that belief in God necessarily diminishes intellectual inquiry and commitment to moral and social issues. The Catholic Church does nor endorse this 'opiate of the people' view of religious faith in either teaching or practice. The widespread acceptance of such distortion is all the more reason, I'd have thought, for ensuring students know what the Church actually teaches, and why it does so.
John | 26 April 2018


On the contrary, John, what I am saying is that belief in God is decidedly not a precursor to moral understanding, as the existence of moral people who are without religious beliefs clearly shows. Where some Catholic educators excel is in showing how moral practice is enhanced by and in some instances inseparable from religious praxis. But to superimpose one upon the other is to make a laughing stock of both religious doctrine and moral science. The most fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church is that it is, "first and foremost, for the poor". Once the Church gets that right, which is very rarely, the Catholic Church emerges as a shining beacon in an educational environment in which morality rarely obtains and an authentic religiosity even less so. I note, by way of example, that students from Loyola High School, a Jesuit-sponsored college in Mt Druitt, frequently feature as avid participants from a school in which public issues are taken seriously, in the ABC TV Q&A program. I further and regrettably note the abject absence of students from Australia's long-established Jesuit colleges in that forum. Of itself this provides proof enough that we only effectively teach who we authentically are.
Michael Furtado | 27 April 2018


No doubt, Dr Furtado, that preferential option for the poor is an integral part of the Catholic Church's mission, but the idea that this is "the most fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church" more befits the vision statement of a philanthropic secular institution. More can, and should, be expected of a Catholic education, Jesuit or other, than settling for a secular vision of society and life - including, the effort to integrate faith and justice, liturgical participation and "praxis."
John | 27 April 2018


John, the Roman document, 'The Catholic School' (1978) teaches that the Catholic school is FIRST AND FOREMOST, FOR THE POOR. Unfortunately, claims such as yours, reinforcing orthodoxy, have already ensured that this most fundamental teaching is honoured more in the breach than in practice. The fact that the Australian Catholic school is, by force of circumstance and now tradition, invariably planned to meet the market, with parents and schools that reflect a diverse socio-economic profile, means that any prophet seeking to break such a mould by privileging such a fundamental teaching, will quickly be marginalised. This fact, accordingly, makes a nonsense of pursuing a discussion about the best ways in which to teach public issues in them because, in the end and by my estimation, one can count the number of Catholic schools that live such a commitment authentically on the fingers of two or three hands. These, like Loyola in Mt Druitt, St James's and St Peter Claver's in Brisbane, and one of two schools in each of the larger Australian dioceses, are as rare as hen's teeth. The only solution to teaching public issues is to embrace practices that privilege the poor and where no fees are charged.
Michael Furtado | 30 April 2018


Michele Furtado, I can't say I'm familiar with the 1978 source to which you refer, but it would surprise me to find any Roman document on the Catholic school that establishes its rationale on a classist basis without due emphasis on instruction in and nourishment of faith. And why should the socio-economic background of a Catholic school preclude the presentation of Church teaching on public issues such as abortion, euthanasia and marriage, as your closing sentence suggests?
John | 02 May 2018


John, nothing 'classist' about the Church's teaching on the Catholic School! Rome has taught explicitly, and continues perennially to reference the fact, that the Principles of Catholic Social Teaching underpin the Catholic Educational Philosophy. This is a much bigger issue than that of socio-economic background, as eminenti, such as Pedro Arrupe and Walter Brueggemann have explained, as JUSTICE provides the KEY to the formation of the human person, as the Gospels unswervingly demonstrate! Abortion, euthanasia and marriage, important as they are in differentiating Catholics from (some) others, are by no means the only issues that command an articulate, authentic and exemplary Catholic presence in the public educational domain, as the current Royal Commission Inquiry into the practices of financial institutions shows. I accept that fundamentalists would seek to reduce a Catholic educational agenda in regard to such public issues to a matter of instilling clear-cut guidelines within which young Catholics might act on matters of sexual and end-of-life moralities. However, the evidence is that such reductionism falls on resolutely deaf years. The formation of the human person in the tradition of the Church, with due regard to a free and well-informed conscience, is the most precious responsibility of Catholic education!
Michael Furtado | 03 May 2018


James, Catholic education is supposed to be an evangelising arm of the Church, bringing 'the fullness of life' through education that is immersed in opportunities for young people to explore and deepen their relationship with Christ and His Church (Jn 10:10). Committed Catholic parents desire an alternative from the secular agenda. We desperately need teaching graduates who come into Catholic schools evangelised, teachers who believe in the fullness of what Jesus and His Church teach. Unfortunately, from my experience as a parent and educator we struggle to source these staff. The underpinning faith of most of our Catholic schools is being carried by a small band of committed Catholic teachers who spend a large proportion of their time and energy trying to win the hearts and minds of disengaged and or unformed teachers instead of focusing our energies on The Mission, helping parents in their role as primary evangelisers of their children. We need committed, faith filled teachers that convey the richness of our faith in an engaging and relevant way that enables young people to truly discern about following Christ,...not more of the same secular rhetoric that they are bombarded with in every other facet of life.
Tim Davis | 17 May 2018