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Catholic schools: Australia's ecclesial future?


Catholic schools are the jewel in the crown of the church in Australia. While parishes continue to decline, the school sector is often booming. The contrast between ageing congregations and young students is stark. Equally striking is the contrast between relatively youthful school staff and ageing church leaders. 

Twelve months ago, with the Plenary Council final assembly still fresh in my mind, I reflected in Eureka Street that if church renewal is to take place, then Catholic schools must embrace and actively support church reform. My own recent engagement with Victorian Catholic school principals convinced me then that their status, credentials, and ties to young people gave them a pre-eminent place in any such reform. 

Twelve months later, in July 2023, as the Synod on Synodality first assembly came closer, another wider speaking engagement with almost 2,000 staff of a dozen Victorian Catholic secondary schools over three weeks, confirmed my belief. These staff, including but not restricted to leaders and team members in Catholic identity and religious education, have crucial responsibilities and unparalleled opportunities in their daily contacts with teenagers, whether Catholic or from many other backgrounds. 

My presentations covered topics like Pope Francis and the Universal Church and the Church in Australia. If the outcomes of Pope Francis’ 2023-2024 Synod on Synodality, based on the themes of its Working Document, are to penetrate more than skin deep into the Catholic community, schools must be at the forefront. If not, the Synod will be a wasted effort and a missed opportunity. It will be wasted because it will not catch the attention, much less the enthusiasm, of the next generation. 

The task is challenging. Students in Catholic schools represent the face of the present and the future. They are extraordinarily diverse in terms of ethnic and faith backgrounds. The vast majority, reflecting official surveys of the wider Catholic community, are ‘unchurched’ in the sense of not being regular churchgoers outside of school. Teachers are confronted, but not really surprised, by the dismal official figures (6 per cent) of church attendance for their former students, Catholics aged 20-34. 

They themselves represent the equally dismal official figures for church attendance of those aged 35-60. That applies to the Catholic teachers. The anecdotal evidence offered to me by the school communities and by various priests was that 10 per cent church attendance may be generous. 


'Some staff could see a future in which the school rather than the parish was the heart of the church.'


Yet the Catholic identity of the schools, often expressed though different charisms, remains profound, even if the challenges posed by student and staff diversity are enormous. These staff development days were couched in beautiful liturgies and inspiring messages from school leaders. 

Notably our schools are more open and inclusive than our parish and diocesan churches are. They are a sign of where the church should be on matters like inclusion and there is no going back. These schools occupy a world in which value statements such as ‘all faiths, genders, sexualities and cultures are respected, accepted and welcome’ are predominant. Outdated church teaching about sexuality and gender is implicitly and explicitly rejected. Most students and staff would have it no other way. 

The challenges that I threw out were often tossed back at me through tough but respectful table-talk and public questioning. Occasionally my openly pro-renewal stance was thought disrespectful to church tradition and teaching. For some panellists and respondents my message of dramatic church decline in Australia was too dark and hopeless; for others my own hope in what I called the universal church’s ‘experiment with synodality’ was too optimistic because they thought change was impossible. They could see little sign of reform happening around them; and made clear that even when there were signs of progress it was happening much too slowly. 

Frequently I was asked when the church would accept equal rights for women. The general tone of voice was that the church should just get on with it because the status quo was indefensible. 

Often, I was specifically asked when the church would allow women priests. My response that the best we could hope for in the short to intermediate term was the introduction of the female diaconate was hardly satisfactory. When I presented as a breakthrough by Pope Francis the fact that there would be 54 women among the 363 voting members of the Synod in Rome in October my audiences still wanted much quicker progress on gender equality.  

Catholic secondary schools are a parallel universe as far as the diocesan and parish churches are concerned. Their staff take no pleasure in the decline of the latter and recognise the implications for their schools; but, even in the middle of World Youth Day (which some current students were attending as had some staff on previous occasions) they could see no obvious ways of halting the decline.  

Some staff could see a future in which the school rather than the parish was the heart of the church. But one teacher told me to my face that my suggestion that schools were the future of the church was not just unlikely but ‘vacuous’. 

Most staff, teaching and non-teaching, welcomed an opportunity to enhance their own learning by discussing present developments and future aspirations for the church. They are at the coalface where church and society meet, and they taught me a great deal about the real world of schools and church. 




John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and former member of the Plenary Council. His visits to Catholic secondary schools were hosted by the Principals Association of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools. 

Main image: Classroom. (Getty images)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Synod, Catholic, Church, Schools, Education



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Existing comments

If schools are to be Catholic in anything more than name and the vestigial heritage of a past bequeathed by the faith and sacrifice of those who established and supported them - dedicated religious and laity - their curriculum and ethos must be rooted in and informed by relationship with Christ and the commission this relationship initiates in baptism and sustains through the guidance of Scripture and the apostolic tradition - which includes the teachings of the Magisterium and sacramental life.
Ongoing staff formation by means of prayer, ecclesially trustworthy in-servicing, retreats, and days of recollection are necessary components of making Christ known and loved, both within his Church and externally.

John RD | 16 August 2023  

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has recently stated that he feels inadequate religious education and formation has left US Catholics vulnerable to the secularist anti-Catholic trends abroad in their country. What is adequate religious education and formation? I do not think a surrender to the progressive agenda which you seem to champion will halt the decline in church attendance and life. Christianity today seems quite alien in a thoroughly secularized Australia. My own feeling is that what is needed in the Church is a real, thoroughgoing, from the top-down spiritual reform and revival. These days I am constantly reminded of Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. The Catholic Church in the affluent West is like that. In the areas it is marginalized and persecuted, such as India, the Middle East, China and parts of Africa, it seems to be brave and alive. I think the not-so-subtle attempt to marginalize - dare I say 'persecute' - the Church in some Australian jurisdictions will have the opposite effect and it will begin to grow. Catholic teachers and students need to know the glorious history of the Church and how it transformed pagan Europe and ushered in the Western Civilization we are part of. The current attitude seems to me a bit like those who inherited a glorious palace thinking they are slum dwellers.

Edward Fido | 16 August 2023  
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Where is the evidence, Edward, of the 'not-so-subtle attempts to marginalize,[ let alone persecute] the Church in some Australian jurisdictions' ? Where are the priests in prison, or the property seized, or the activities banned? If the Church, as distinct from its schools and hospitals, is becoming marginalised, then perhaps it's because that's where it has chosen to locate itself.

Ginger Meggs | 18 August 2023  

The very recent World Youth Day in Lisbon was a powerful testimony to the leadership of youth in the Church. I read about, and watched, a number of the events and it was joyful and heartening for me to see the joy and heartfelt faith of these young people who most likely are products of Catholic education. They will lead us into a future filled with promise, if we are so gracious as to encourage them as Pope Francis is doing.

Pam | 16 August 2023  

The bleaker appears the future, the better, because when (not if) the fix comes, it will have to be attributed to God.

However, God only helps those who help themselves, Mother Teresa expressing similarly that Christ has no hands but ours. The Church is universal; if the Australian or German wing of the Church collapses, so what? It's still universal and flourishing in Africa and underground China.

Given that Catholic schools, implied to be in "progressive" mode, are reliably producing students and teachers who don't go to Mass, even though "staff development days were couched in beautiful liturgies and inspiring messages from school leaders" (perhaps because, unlike Sundays, staff development days aren't discretionary time available for something else and a change in routine is as good as a holiday, something that might also be said about pupils attending school Masses), might the answer be that God is waiting for the "non-progressives" to get cracking?

Cracking to do what? Where is Faith originally enflamed? Subsidiarity would suggest the family, being the natural prayer unit, as the forge. Supporting the family forge through study groups would seem to be a natural task for a parish and priest interested in internal evangelisation.

s martin | 16 August 2023  
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I agree however finding a priest to celebrate a school Mass from my and my wife's experience in Catholic Education is almost impossible as they are scarce in numbers and so bogged down in other Parish ministry that they don't have time. Retired Priests are often so far removed from the realities of young people's concerns and life experience as to be a liability rather than a developer of faith.

Gavin O'Brien | 19 August 2023  

"Outdated church teaching about sexuality and gender is implicitly and explicitly rejected. Most students and staff would have it no other way."
But perhaps if the staff hadn't been captured by the Sexual Revolution and had taught the Faith differently, and with conviction, students would have a different appreciation. Perhaps it's the blind leading the blind.
Portuguese bishop Américo Aguiar, responsible for 2023 World Youth Day, and scheduled to be made a Cardinal by Pope Francis, recently stated: "We don't want to convert the young people to Christ or the Catholic Church or anything like that." He seems to have forgotten Christ's injunction to "proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved." [Mark 16:16] He was rebuked by fellow bishop Robert Barron: "When any Catholic organization forgets its evangelical purpose, it has lost its soul."
This comes on the heels of bishop Paul Tighe defending the Vatican's invitation to photographer Andres Serano, celebrated for his work "Piss Christ", stating the artist was resorting "to strong measures to waken us up", as if seeing a crucifix in urine will suddenly renew the faith.
One wonders just who will find Vatican "reforms" convincing.

Ross Howard | 17 August 2023  
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As a retired teacher who completed a Master degree to help me teach Religious Studies and the countless teachers I worked with,I take a strong exception to your comment. The family background plays a massive role in student attitudes and Religious belief or lack.of. We work with whfat amilies give us!

Gavin O'Brien | 19 August 2023  

Gavin, I agree that teachers can only "work with what families give us." Two personal examples:
1. About 10 years ago a new PP, from overseas, suffered protests even before he took up residence. He was perceived by many as conservative. At one mass he mentioned that people partaking of communion needed to be in a state of grace. It was the first time in 40 years I had heard this obvious truth [CCC 1415] spoken from the pulpit. At a subsequent meeting I attended, no one agreed with it. One even boasted that a couple of his friends never went to confession. Initially the PP was treated terribly even being publicly abused, but after many "progressives" left the parish, it ultimately had overflowing congregations.
2. A Catholic religious teacher at a fashionable multi-denominational school was summoned by the principal because of complaints from parents about his teachings. At a subsequent meeting he verified the correctness of everything he taught, but parents still demanded that certain teachings not be taught to their children. He resigned rather than having to teach half-truths.
I think most blame lies with clergy.

Ross Howard | 20 August 2023  

Hi Ross
Thanks for reminding me of an incident where parent went to the REC complaining the I taught the Creation Story was Myth. It is ! This lady argued hotly that it was gospel truth! The REC suggested that if she was not happy with my teaching that her daughter was free to move to another school that reflected her views! Later I found that I was not alone ! Another colleague had a similar experience. My response? Why was I not warned?

Gavin O'Brien | 21 August 2023  

Gavin’s proposition has consequences. Teaching Genesis as myth means Creation wasn’t created perfect. When God looked down upon his creation and pronounced it good, what did he see? Carnivorism? A wasp inserting its eggs into the body of a paralysed spider?

Today, some Homo sapiens perform “honour” killings in the very sincere view that what they are doing is correct. If they are not sinning because their ideas are “evolving”, why should primitives following some sincere ritual thousands of years ago while sacrificing somebody be considered to be sinning? Does the Crucifixion leave out hunter-gatherers as sinless? Evolution would assert that it wouldn’t have been until the agricultural revolution that leisure to explore minds would enable sincerity to be tested by considered thought. Yet “All have sinned and fallen short….”

If they are sinning in spite of their sincerity, why should primitives get a free pass?

Cosmological claims that the Universe began inanimate and archaeological claims that Homo sapiens evolved from lesser intellects makes understandable the temptation to teach the first few pages of Genesis as myth but the price is incoherent, or no, religion. Better to teach as true and tackle the conundrums as paradox, not contradiction.

s martin | 23 August 2023  

Perhaps Andres Serrano's portfolio by now extends beyond sensationalism? In any case the blasphemy (or grace) in an art work is as much in the beholder's mindset; I have seen a grinning caricature of Christ on the cross that stirred me to the depths (a phrase from the late Rev. Geoff Bingham) far more powerfully than most cookie-cutter depictions - or any number of devout attendances at Benediction for that mater. And Serrano's entry on wikipedia, at least, has him stating himself to be a Christian.

Fred Green | 21 August 2023  

What is it about the great reformers such as the author of this opinion piece that convinces them that the Holy Spirit has got it so wrong over a couple of thousand years and now speaks only to them and has commissioned them alone to fix up His mistakes? Perhaps they should review some of their own opinions which are also mistake prone evident in statements like; "the school will be the heart of the Church" - "Church teaching on gender and sexuality is outdated". Really!! If the reformers don't know what gender and sexuality mean nor understand their place in God's creation, then, if they have any influence, God really had better step in and help us all.

John Frawley | 17 August 2023  

I recall speaking at a Catholic media conference many years ago where I suggested a need to reflect on why the word 'Catholic' when combined with 'church' seemed to be a negative in the community while when combined with 'school' or 'hospital' the reverse seemed to apply. I'd say that is still the case but the reflection hasn't happened.

Chris McGillion | 17 August 2023  

Bravo, John Warhurst. It needed, at long last and not before time, to be said & you evidently do so incredibly eloquently. How lucky is Victorian Catholic Education to have a 'synodal provocateur' like you! I hope and pray that this filters out far and wide across Australia and beyond.

Michael Furtado | 17 August 2023  

As a former catholic school administrator principal and teacher, and I commend the article for its realistic overview. Schools have been the only face of church for many for most of a generation. Doing great work, but without clear definition. The human being is by nature spiritual but in Australian society that is what Bouma describes as a “shy hope in the heart” and it needs to carefully nurtured. Schools provide at least the opportunity to touch and develop that side of the human person, which may be expressed for some, although these days few, in a specific Catholic faith and practice. My concern has always been that teachers themselves, sometimes from the principal down, do not have the language or capacity to provide a deeper experience that will enrich spiritual growth. We urgently need to redefine the purpose of our catholic schools. I believe their role is to nurture that spirituality that underpins expression in religious faith. These days I stick with psychotherapy in the tradition of Viktor Frankl who saw the need to provide a secular approach yet one that touched the human spirit. Similar approaches in catholic education are required.

Paul McQuillan | 17 August 2023  

I thank John for this insightful of discussion with our Catholic Schools and to their local Parish Church communities.
As one who has involved himself closely over 35 years as priest and with school I have respected and admired the way schools have involved myself in the relationship with school to church and parish life.
Yes there is a tension between the two bodies . Our schools today are multi cultural . Here in Shepparton at St Mel’s primary school the majority of our students are from multi cultural backgrounds in faith and family. For the majority a church experience doesn’t register except when school groups and as a whole come to a liturgy or Mass or some thing else….
In my experience if the priest or pastor doesn’t connect with the school then bigger questions arise….
We as a whole might get different reactions …. So be a presence in our schools , applaud all our schools do and know our school communities are very positive environments of faith and identity in giving hope.
One of my great privledges is to visit the school learning areas . This to me carries a great and positive experience, at least the students and staff know who I am and the presence I bring

Peter Taylor | 17 August 2023  

Thanks to John for his article. As I see it the fly in the ointment is the iron grip of the hierarchy who seem to lack the leadership to catalog and utilise the resources of their lay people.

Kevin Luxford | 17 August 2023  

After reading this conversation it seems that missing from it is any semblance of an exchange about the world beyond school, and which critically decides enrolment as well as those aspects of the curriculum/pedagogy beyond the control of the Catholic school.

If there is a fault here it may be in that, succinct commentator though he is, Warhurst is constrained by size limitations to bring to our readership a critique of the impact that neoliberalism exerts as a powerful counter-cultural force in the lives of staff & students in regard to their personal and socio-economic lifestyles & lived values.

For one as evidently skilled in political analysis as Warhurst is, one has to hope that ES will follow up his article with a discussion about how such forces chip away insidiously at the Catholic character of the school.

It is almost as if there are two narratives, one incessantly focused on the faith experience offered by the Catholic school and which is a frequent and oft-critiqued complaint of so many of contributors here.

What needs now to happen is for some critical attention to be paid to covering external forces that exert pressures all the more insidious for being hidden.

Michael Furtado | 18 August 2023  
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Liberty is the freedom to choose within wholesome boundaries. Licence is freedom usurped from others through the use of power in order to do what one pleases.

If we use the DLP as a kind of proxy or symbol of Catholic political action, what would it think concerning Catholic schools?

It would oppose many expressions of "neo-liberalism" because they are acts of licence taken by groups of economically powerful individuals for personal enrichment.

However, economic licence is just one expression of the radical personal sovereignty agenda, which also expresses itself, through the many more numerous individuals of ordinary means, in the varied sexual and amatory preferences that Catholic schools are being influenced to accept as morally normative.

The cloth being the same, only the stitching different, the DLP as a proxy for Catholic political action (and representing the same classes of opinion as Red Tories in the UK and Blue Dog Democrats in the US) would advocate that Catholic schools should teach opposition to the whole cloth of the licence of radical personal sovereignty, economic as well as sociological.

s martin | 21 August 2023  

Fascinating post, S. Martin! While no DLP supporter, still less a Red Tory or Blue Dog Democrat, I'm keenly aware of the proto-fascist proclivities of Catholic centrists, those 'inter-bellum' extremists of the Quadragesimo Anno era.

I propose, if Warhurst or anybody else (Perhaps you? Why not?) is able to progress this exchange, that we invite the likes of Bob Lingard (Professorial Research Fellow at ACU & non-Catholic!) to show us how neoliberalism in global context exercises an insidious effect on all Australian schools, including Catholic ones, to the detriment of teacher, student AND, I daresay, a spiritual empowerment.

For that to happen would require an act of courage and foresight on ES' part, committing itself as a 'synodalist' Catholic journal should, to progressing beyond a 'back to basics' Catholicism in which fear, rather than freedom, constitutes the foundation for a curriculum that celebrates the Beatitudes rather than the Ten Commandments.

This would encourage the participation of a new cohort of readers: well-read, open-minded and critical thinkers in the manner that the better Jesuit-nuanced thinkers tend to be and worthy of 'a vibrant online journal of analysis, commentary and reflection on current issues in the worlds of politics, religion and culture'.

Michael Furtado | 22 August 2023  

"Open-minded" would acknowledge that if you subscribe (of your own choice) to a religion founded upon "revelation", in particular that there is competition between the domain of the kingdom of God and the domain of "the world, the flesh and the devil", there are canonical limitations, because of the logic of "revelation", on how much an insight encouraged by experience of the domain of the world, the flesh and the devil can be incorporated into interpretations of the authoritative texts of the domain of the kingdom.

For example, "Revelation" asserts the existence of a being called the Devil. Father Arturo Sosa seemed to wobble on this. I left Catholic school not believing in the Devil as an actual being until I came to the point of deciding that there is no picking and choosing within Scripture. Either one believes all of it or one believes none of it, Scripture saying that if you break one part of the Law, you've broken all of it.

The wayward aspects of "Neoliberalism" are an expression of radical personal sovereignty. For the purpose of encouraging a complete Catholic education, why does your proposal cover only this expression and not all of the phenomenon?

s martin | 23 August 2023  

All very macro! A million plus youth in Lisbon, not long out of their (Catholic) schooling, our contingent back in Australia in time likely enough to join the millions carried away by a football match.
Then think macro with a Synodal path to Rome, and likewise think of the Voice and big time corporate support for same. Catholic or not, what faces education is the drift to a road train society that would have us all careering down highways of hope, but with no parking bays where we might pause awhile and sense that ‘small is beautiful’ - in the way of the Christian Gospel’s “where two or three gather, if you will. So back to school.

Noel McMaster | 18 August 2023  

If you polled the author of and posters to this thread, I think you would find most owe what they know of Christianity and the Church to Catholic schools. The Catholic schools I remember from the 1950s and 1960s may have been somewhat austere by modern standards, but they were not, in my experience, epicentres of either brutality or paedophilia. Some of the staff, nuns, priests and brothers, were extremely kind and loving. The best Catholic primary school I attended was one where the local parish priest was deeply involved and the adjoining parish church always open for prayer. Some teachers were brilliant practical psychologists, but then again, they were extremely well qualified - a degree from Melbourne University was not to be snuffed at in those days - and some had overseas experience in the UK and USA. Pam is quite right, when you give young people an opportunity like World Youth Day, they can participate properly and sift the wheat from the chaff. I think young people should be taught that Christian Truth which has been around for a very long time and also be encouraged to participate in Church life. That may give them the something they feel they lack. I think it is very dangerous when Catholics believe and give out that they live in a derelict house. It is emphatically not derelict.

Edward Fido | 18 August 2023  

John, I appreciate this frank, hopeful and respectful comment on Catholic schools and the people who work so hard in them to honour the church's mission and ethos. I appreciate, too, the realistic ambivalences that you report . Thanks.

Anne Benjamin | 18 August 2023  

Peter Taylor. With a 35 year experience that clearly is far greater than that of many of the common day to day Catholics, are you able to explain why some 90% of the Catholic born educated in Catholic schools know very little of Catholic teaching and do not adhere to Catholic morality and practice. Surely as a priest you must be greatly distressed by such abject failure?

John Frawley | 18 August 2023  

Neither teachers nor parents in Catholic schools understand or believe in the sacraments.
Here we have a few practising Catholics, a few baptised but unchurched (these we hope to reach over time) and a few outright pagans (some of whom show a natural piety and curiosity). This is from a friend who is a Prinicpal in a Catholic school in NSW .
I had written to my friend after attending masses recently where there were first communicants. People came into Mass with bottles of water, one had coffee, one male was wearing a footy cap aand noone reminded people that they were now in a holy place - church. Kids were chewing gum as well. Just outrageous. Our teachers need to explain to families that Holy Communion is very special and that certain practices should be observed. Gentle reminders hurt noone but when adults just get up and leave mass during the Consecration to go out for a smoke or go to bathrooom, I just do not understand why even priests will not make a point. One nun told me it is just the way things are nowadays. Well I am sorry - that is not the way it should be

PHIL ROWAN | 18 August 2023  

Thank you John for your frank diagnosis of the crisis facing western Christendom. Many years ago at the College in Canberra that I was teaching we decided to invite all our Parish Priests to meet their young parishioners. Mick McAndrew was our PP at the time in a young rapidly growing Parish. When I escorted him to our Parish group in a classroom overflowing with students, he exclaimed,"Oh my Lord,if all this lot turned out for next weekend Mass we would not be able to accommodate them (and parents,siblings).
I wonder what would happen now as that was 30 years ago?
While parents send children to our schools, it's the perceived discipline, not religious education that drives parental decisions.
I taught at High school level over 30 years across Catholic and government schools.congretional and CEO schools. Without government funding I doubt Catholic Education as it exists today is viable.

. Gavin O'Brien | 19 August 2023  

"These schools occupy a world in which value statements such as ‘all faiths, genders, sexualities and cultures are respected, accepted and welcome’ are predominant. Outdated church teaching about sexuality and gender is implicitly and explicitly rejected. Most students and staff would have it no other way."

If this is the case, why do religious schools continue to insist they need the legal right to expel or fire LGBTI students and staff, and that failure to retain this right would mean they couldn't function?

Peter | 20 August 2023  

Congratulations, John for your great article, building upon your August 2022 Eureka Street article.
I agree that if our hierarchical Church is to survive more or less as we know it, it needs the support of parallel structures to strengthen it and to discern its way forward. Educational staff and students receive ongoing instruction and sanctification through the Church, while they continue to teach and to live their faith, and “bring energy and finesse to church renewal” (your 2022 article). Hopefully in the not-too-distant future the Catholic Church will re-emerge as a vibrant, inclusive organisation and source of inspiration for its age.
Your idea of parallel structures calls to mind the dioceses, religious and lay Catholic organisations that are already actively fostering the promotion of and living the faith. How can we better promote and encourage these influences across the whole Church?
Let’s hope and pray that the synodal path identified by the Fifth Plenary Council may be guided by the educational sector and other religious and lay influences to bring about much-needed Church renewal.

Adrian Foley | 20 August 2023  

My experience of teaching in Catholic and Independent
schools for forty years leads me to recognize Neo-Marxist 'deconstruction' by agency of Critical Theory steadily inserted into curriculum and teacher training courses in the states where I have taught - particularly as it is applied to gender and race - as the most potent subversive instrument employed against Catholic Church acceptance of universal truths grounded in revelation and reason that underpin the ethos of Catholic schools and their values.

Corrosively entrenched programmatic doubt and negativity towards the civilizing contributions and desirability of the Catholic faith, particularly in the Humanities, are now prevailing 'learning outcomes'.

The issue is at root both epistemological and spiritual.

John RD | 23 August 2023  

I refer to S. Martin's response to my latest post.

The point about Fr Sosa's attitude towards the Devil isn't about his uncertainty but integrity in conceding that the certainty you seek cannot be provided by the blind faith that you evidently endorse.

It happens that Jesus Himself appears to have subscribed to this problematic (yet challenging) view by offering us The Beatitudes as a development of the Ten Commandments. Indeed, part of our faith journey as searchers appears to incorporate the incessant questioning that it seems Christ insists upon in this instance, as in many others, in the context of which He appears to turn the tables of certainty against those - perhaps like you? - who seek its comforts ahead of the ongoing search for revelation.

As for 'neoliberalism', I suspect that some of us, whether neo-DLPers, other critics as you mention them, and Bob Lingard himself (whom I did) would not wish to engage in the kind of underreach that would swap truncation for an exchange intended to engage.

In which case, might not replacing the invitation to interrogate what's odd or unique or problematic about Catholic schools by shutting down critique offer but a blind alley?

Michael Furtado | 24 August 2023  
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Relevant to whether Catholic school pupils not believe in the personal existence of the Devil, what has "integrity" to do with accepting as valid the plain meaning of Scriptural text? Was Jesus talking to himself during the temptation in the desert?

Was the theatric of transporting him from the wilderness to the city to stand on the brow of the Temple necessary given that there are cliffs in the desert (Masada)? Should pupils be asked to consider whether the possibility that it was not a theatric, but a device against naysayers in order to show that there was another person involved in the exchange, suggests that the plain meaning of the text is the valid interpretation?

For the purpose of teaching, should the pupil be asked to consider the logic of your claim of truncation as underreach? Of course, truncation is underreach except that your underreach is to exclude discussion of radical personal sovereignty as a phenomenon of personal psychology.

Neoliberalism as the tendency to use economic models as the only way to think sociologically is but one expression of radical personal sovereignty. Is not alerting Catholic school students that radical personal sovereignty has other modes of thinking also underreach?

s martin | 25 August 2023  

S. Martin is undoubtedly correct to insist that the personal is as important as the political. The late and saintly Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, in grieving over the extent to which politicism and ideology ON BOTH SIDES has come to dominate contemporary Catholic moral discourse, once alluded famously to the works of justice and charity being the two complementary sides of 'Christ's Seamless Shroud'.

This imagery, of immense moral appeal and significance to Catholics, emphasises that both personalism in the form of the exercise of free will and personal responsibility as well as a commitment to seeing, addressing and combatting the hidden factors that account for structural injustice, are indivisible components of the moral whole that Catholics are both personally and collectively called to address in the promotion of Catholic values.

That some correspondents here, as epitomised within the posts of S. Martin and some others, should seek to reduce such a contemporary religious, moral and cultural complexity in preference to enforcing a binary that proclaims the moral superiority of one side over the other is to set back the content of a moral theology that has been developing for over two millennia.

Why not 'both/and' instead of 'either/or'?

Michael Furtado | 09 September 2023  

So confused and grave are differences in doctrine and practice becoming today among baptized Catholics, and so blurred the limits of a legitimate diversity, that the proposed "seamless garment" metaphor now appears but a thin throw-over inadequate for addressing the task of renewal, witness, and the preserving of the unity based on the reality of the Holy Trinity and desired by Christ for his Church in the tradition of the Apostles.

John RD | 14 September 2023  

John, if schools, including Catholic schools, are really about education rather than just training or indoctrination, then surely the exposure of students to a variety of world views is part of the process. Sooner or later, they are going to have to deal with them and discern what's useful and what's not in each of them and what's appropriate to the situation in which they find themselves. Young people may be impressionable but, in my experience, they can weigh up the merits of different world views if they are put to them honestly and fairly. The danger of pushing one particular world view to the exclusion of others is that eventually that world view will be challenged and probably at a time when there is no credible authority around to defend it. Perhaps that's why there are so many 'lapsed Catholics' (and other denominations) around.

Ginger Meggs | 26 August 2023  
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The problem, Ginger, is not exposure to a variety of views; it is, in fact quite the opposite. Comparatively few students today are exposed to ancient history, particularly of Greece and Rome, cultures that have exerted profound influence - for good and ill - not only on the western world but wherever empire has spread;
and the canon of western literature has effectively vanished from many senior school literary syllabi, denounced for decades now on spurious ideological grounds - and often by those who demonstrate scant familiarity with it.
Moreover the nurturing of the Gospel in Catholic schools is not, as you describe it, a matter of "pushing one particular world view to the exclusion of others" - so exposed are contemporary students in 'Studies of Religion' courses that it is not uncommon that they leave school with more knowledge of religions and world-views other than the one into which they were baptized and on which the school is founded.

John RD | 28 August 2023  

Education in the West was due to the Church. It caused a glorious civilization to flourish. The late Seraphim Rose foresaw how Nihilism, based on the Marxist ethic, would one day threaten this civilization. He was prescient. The battle has not been lost. It is still being fought. I have no doubt truth will ultimately triumph.

Edward Fido | 30 August 2023  

It's not enough to say that 'education in the West was due to the Church' without asking why. 'Education' was not a creature of the 'West' alone. Let's not forget China, India and the Arab world, for a start. In all these regions, education was shaped by a combination of cultural, religious, and historical factors, not the least being access to and control over material resources. Scholars and philosophers don't get far unless they can persuade others to feed, clothe, house and protect them.

Philosophical and religious beliefs, societal needs, and interactions with neighboring civilizations all contributed to the development of educational systems that reflected the values and priorities of each culture.

Ginger Meggs | 31 August 2023  
Show Responses

''Education' was not a creature of the 'West' alone.'
Who says it was, Ginger?
Your dissatisfaction with of Edward Fido's comment reminds me of Kenneth Clark's response to the few who complained about his ground-breaking and brilliant television series "Civilization" and his book of that title: "I confined myself in this work to my sphere of familiarity and competence: the spirit and aesthetic accomplishment of the West."

John RD | 01 September 2023  

I confess, in this instance, to have been speaking about a particular culture, Ginger, that of Western Europe where the oldest running school in the world, The King's School, Canterbury was founded on the grounds of the cathedral in 597 AD. Since then, Britain, like Australia, has become much more ethnically and religiously diverse. All cultures - and you can see this today in countries such as Türkiye and India - are very proud of their history and culture and are often trying to revitalize them, sometimes in a very questionable and chauvinistic way. A recent survey amongst Church of England clergy showed the majority felt England was no longer a Christian country. You could, sadly, probably say the same about Australia. Christianity is under attack from Atheist Marxist Nihilism. The answer is not to surrender to the sort of Woke and erroneous 'Theology' which is endemic to the Anglican and Mainstream Protestant churches, but to get back to roots. The Catholic school system, which needs to return to its own roots after a drift to the 'progressive' Left, is in a perfect position to do this with good leadership. I live in hope!

Edward Fido | 01 September 2023  

Point taken Edward. Thank you. Perhaps I failed to express my point well enough. It seems to me that, whatever the culture, philosophy and scholarship, and the consequential institutions for the dissemination of that learning, don't occur before there are sufficient surplus resources to support those activities, and that the individuals or groups that get to command those surpluses are the ones who begin the philosophising and scholarship. Those groups are often religious groups, so that in Europe it was, to a very large extent, the Church, but in other cultures, it was other groups.

Ginger Meggs | 04 September 2023  

Most historic cultures I am aware of Ginger, and here I mention Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, to name a few, seem to have a strong religious base to the founding of their education systems. I don't intend to labour this one. It seems to me pretty obvious.

Edward Fido | 07 September 2023  

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