Nov 10, 2006

Great Moral Defect of the Catholic Schools

A close relative was a long time teacher in the Catholic elementary schools. She taught during the cross-over from the 'old' Catholic schools of the early '60s to the 'new' Catholic schools of the '70s. I asked her about her experiences, and she mentioned two. Her first observation was that the later children were definitely not as well-behaved and seemed to find learning more difficult. She believed these were the result of many more divorces of parents and especially of women working outside the home.

Her second observation was related to the first. Because so many children now had parents who were divorced, the diocese, in its teacher training program, strongly recommended that the sins of divorce and remarriage be slighted in the classroom. The purpose was to not to place a child in the situation of having his/her parents criticized by the teacher, especially if the teacher also taught the child that mortal sin condemns a soul to hell. An additional purpose was not to drive students away from Catholic education because their parents were divorced and attempted remarriage. Many Catholic schools apparently continue this policy today.

The results of the policy not to teach students about the death that mortal sin causes have not been good. In some Catholic schools, even though 90+ percent of the students are Catholic, they are not taught Catholic morals, if it means criticizing the practices of the parents. The schools seem afraid that they will lose students if they do this. Is it then surprising that the great majority of Catholic students do not attend Sunday Mass? Even up to 95 percent, as estimated by some friends?

Parishioners are promised that parochial schools will develop new Catholics for the future of their parish, but they begin to wonder why they should contribute to parochial schools when the results are so bad. Some good Catholic parents believe that this kind of compromise with sin is so much in error that they begin to home school their children. Some of the best Catholic children are lost to the Catholic school system. Good parents strongly believe it is necessary to follow the example of Jesus Christ who said to follow a narrow path to heaven and avoid sin, even those sins well-liked by some in the community!

Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful that mortal sin leads to damnation, in a sobering message at his Angelus audience on November 5. [See the related post on Fr. Gonzales' blog--BTW, he offers the new Tridentine Mass in Phoenix.] Yet how can sin and its effects be discussed in a classroom without offending parents of students? Short answer: It can't!

Teachers must teach about mortal sins, even those committed by family members of the students. The teacher can explain, as my own grade school teacher did for a student whose parents did not take him to Mass one Sunday, that the student is obliged to tell his parents that he really wants to go to Sunday Mass and that it is a mortal sin to miss. The nun then explained to our class that the student was not responsible for missing Mass if he did this, even when the parents did not take him to Mass.

With regard to other serious sins, this age requires the child to remind poor parents that serious sins will send them to hell. Teachers need to explain that children must continue to respect their parents in all things but sin, and give examples of the kinds of statements and questions that students should make to their parents living in sin. That has to become a major purpose of the Catholic schools. Yes, some students will be lost, some homeschooled children will now attend if the faith is taught clearly by the teachers, but the children who remain will know what God requires of us. Most importantly, they will begin to practice evangelization--starting with their parents!


Patrick Kinsale said...

You make some good points here. I believe that many parents have turned to homeschooling or private Catholic schools because of this.

Chad Toney said...

As a traditional catholic, what do you think about the homeschooling movement in general?

I am sympathetic to it, but in many ways, I see it as a vicious cycle:

- school has deficiencies
- concerned parents leave
- battle lines move
- deficiencies get worse
- parents feel justified

I think one can see this working, not just in schools (public or private), but parishes and all kinds of Christian communities.

It's likely my family will home school (my boy is only 18 mos old) and my wife wants to.

Radical Catholic Mom said...

You forgot a major point. Many Catholic schools don't have Catholic teachers or principals! I will tell you, from my experience here, over 1/2 the teachers passionately disagree with the Catholic Church. The other 1/2 are committed.

A Catholic school can only be as good as its teachers. I am split on this b/c I went to the University of Dallas and many of its teachers are not Catholic, but I still received a solid Catholic education. I think it is because the Catholic teachers they did have were so solid that it didn't matter if the others were not Catholic. Plus, the non-Catholic teachers were not in the Theology or Philosophy departments. At the Catholic school where I coach, the theo dept is solid but that is it. The rest is not and it is downright scandalous. I am still conflicted whether I want my daughter in the Catholic school system. It is something my husband & I will have to pray about.
At the same time, I do feel like I am making a positive impact on students by being present. My sister teaches at the school as well and she is glad to be there. So, it is a tough call.

One humerous story, years ago when I was in high school my Msgr was in the hospital. I went to visit him with my mom and he asked me where I was going to go to school. I told him UD. He responded with "Why not Gonzaga U?" I said, "Because I want a Catholic education Msgr." He about had a heart attack he was so angry. I wouldn't budge and defended why I thought Gonzaga was flaky.

Ruth Joy said...

I agree that not all Catholic school teachers agree with -- or even know -- all the teachings of the Church. And that's a problem because religion isn't taught just in religion class, it's taught -- or should be evident - in social studies and science and literature class too.

Having taught in Catholic schools, I'll have to disagree with the matter of teaching about divorce though. A lot of how this is handled depends on the grade level of course. But the teaching of the Church on divorce is not the same as it is on remarriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that sometimes there are valid reasons for a civil divorce-- abandonment, abuse, and legal issues involving property for instance. So the teacher can't really know the family's situation. And the whole thing is more complicated than we can expect kids to figure out.

Dust I Am said...

All of our grandchildren (above the age of 4) have been homeschooled at one time or another. One is now in a grade school where several nuns teach. Our oldest grandchild is now enrolled in a Catholic high school that appears to be a definite cut above the rest. Yet our children have chosen homeschooling as the preferable option almost all of the time.

Some of our grandchildren once attended a good Catholic school with excellent teachers. The teaching was compromised by other students who were being raised in families that permitted undesirable behaviors, including vulgar language and TV. The problem was bad enough that the parents withdrew their children and returned to homeschooling.

With regard to Ruth Joy's comment on divorce, I am aware that the Church permits civil divorce in certain cases such as cruelty, and the divorced person may not be guilty of sin. However, my observation is that a divorce, regardless of the reasons, leads to other sins that cascade into waves that beat down and destroy the faith of the children of divorce.

I remember a mission of long ago when I was about 15. My Mother said I should attend the mission developed for women. The priest preached against denial of marital rights to husbands because he said that so many times, this denial led to all kinds of mortal sins. From stories I've heard over the past 50 years, the priest was right.

By the 6th grade, most Catholic students can be taught the distinctions between a civil divorce that is tolerated for the protection of one of the parties, and divorce and remarriage which the Church faithfully opposes.

Radical Catholic Mom said...

This comment has been on my mind so much I will finally respond.

"The priest preached against denial of marital rights to husbands because he said that so many times, this denial led to all kinds of mortal sins. From stories I've heard over the past 50 years, the priest was right."

Ok: First, "marital rights to husbands?" What is that? There are no rights exclusively to husbands within marriage. They are spousal rights & I think this distinction is important. It means a woman & man share marital rights. Ones' marital rights do not take precedence over another.

Why is this important? Because Christian teaching on sexuality is very distinct from Muslim teaching on sexuality. I am sorry, but this priest's take on sexuality is more Muslim than Catholic. In Muslim tradition a woman CANNOT deny her husband sex. Our Church teaches that sexuality is not about the man. It is about the man AND the woman.

Every time I read any Church encyclical on sexuality and marriage, I am constantly struck by its assumption and respect for women. The Church assumes women are equal. It would not be so radical, except the majority of the world does not assume this fact. Look at the Church's teaching on NFP. It inherantly assumes the woman can say "no" if she cannot or does not want another child. This "equality clause" causes problems in cultures where a woman realistically cannot say "no."

As for men committing mortal sins, here is the deal. I can control myself and myself only. If I choose to commit a mortal sin it is MY sin, not my spouse's sin. Furthermore, if my husband tried to coerce me into sex when I was not in the mood or too whatever, his coercion would be a mortal sin because he would be raping me.

I believe what you are ultimately trying to say (& maybe I am wrong) is Faith and Belief begins with the family. Husbands & Wives must love and respect each other. But if a wife is exhausted at the end of a day and chooses not to have sex, her husband must love and respect her decision. If he says, "She is not giving me what I need I will go commit adultery" then that is his choice. On the other hand, a woman must also sacrificially love her husband.

As for your general take on divorce, I am so glad that you have a happy marriage. How good for you and your family. But just because you married and your husband married happily does not mean others do. My Catholic grandparents never divorced and they should have. They HATED, with a pure passion, each other. Their hatred poisoned their children and the affects are being felt by the 3rd generation. Maybe this is better than what would have occurred if they had indeed divorced. Who knows? In any case, all of my aunts and uncles are NOT Catholic because of their parents poor example.

My husband's ex cheated on him for YEARS. She gave him an STD. He put up with this because he is a Catholic and that is what Catholics do. She also aborted their child without his knowledge. Can you imagine? He finally left and went through the annulment process. His ex never intended to be faithful to him. Before he married me he made sure we went through rigorous pre-marital counseling in the hopes it would prevent future heartache.

There are some terribly sad and horrible stories about what spouses do to each other. At the core is when one loves oneself above their spouse.
We all agree divorce is bad. But there are worse things than divorce.

Dust I Am said...

The marital right conveyed by one spouse to the other in marriage refers to giving self, both body and love, for the other’s pleasure and enjoyment. By the promises he/she makes in marriage, a spouse no longer has the right to choose whom to love sexually or when to meet the other spouse's needs. Nor can a spouse refuse a serious request for marital relations, except in extraordinary situations.

A wife who says she is too tired or has a headache or just doesn’t feel like it makes her husband very susceptible to serious sins. This makes her culpable too.

David B. said...

I teach at a Catholic school, but I think I am honest enough to admit that we have a long way to go, and that most Catholic schools are far from perfect.

I just got a job teaching religion at a small Catholic JH/HS in Ohio. I am finding that it is a LOT of work to teach these kids about the Catholic faith, not because I don't have the training or classroom management skills, but because a lot of what I say is completely new and foreign to them. The main reason is the home life. I can teach and model the faith until I am blue in the face, but if the Catholic faith is not taught and modeled at home, I will have an uphill battle. I am more than willing to fight this battle, but the bad catechesis their parents underwent, and the moral laxity and "whatever goes" attitude that came with the sexual revolution, make our jobs harder than it once was. And as you say many of the kids don't go to Mass, and have seen this modeled from their parents for years. They have no understanding of why Mass even is important.

Yet strangely, the kids loved the time we spent on sin in class, probably because they know sin so well in their lives (through broken homes, etc), and have a deep desire for spiritual healing.

However, I am not going to place the blame solely on the parents. Catholic educators have often downplayed the faith or outright taught contrary to it. The teachers in place in the 1970s-80s were notorious for this, and a lot of it continues to this day. And surprisingly, many religion teachers are the worst because they were trained in dissenting graduate schools. Unfortunately, it is a mixed bag. However, I think things are looking up. My friend Dave Hartline who runs The Catholic Report has even written a book explaining why things are turning around for the better in the Church right now. I cling to the hope that just as the American church seems to be turning around, the Catholic schools will follow.

A few positive cases in point: The diocesan leaders here made it clear to every new teacher that we are expected to teach the Catholic viewpoint on all issues, and to try to live the Catholic faith in our own lives at all times. Also, our bishop gave a great speech to religion teachers a few weeks ago about how we must not downplay the faith and we must teach virtue because we are now in a "moral dark age." Some of the teachers groaned after his very well-reasoned and very orthodox speech, but the ones who did were near retirement age, so I wasn't too discouraged.

I think it is a shame faithful Catholics feel like they can't send their kids to a Catholic school. I can tell you that I plan to work, with God's help I pray, from the inside to change this. But as Chad said, it will take more than just teachers, but concerned parents who stay and help reform as well.

Dust I Am said...

David b., Well said... You are the future and hope of the Church and her school system, which I was fortunate to enjoy many years ago. I thank you for your hard work to give students a good Catholic education.

ashlyn said...

I was educated in Catholic schools K through 12, some better than others. I was appalled in high school when we were taught about all of the various forms of birth control and tested on the information. This is not something that 16 to 18 year old girls need to be taught as part of a religion class at a Catholic girls' school. I felt that there was more emphasis on understanding other religions and cultures than on teaching Catholic doctrine. We studied world religions and learned Hebrew sophomore year.
I hope that catholic education improves in the future. I am doing my part by teaching in the parish school of religion (PSR). And I agree with David that it can be surprising what the children have not been taught before and how uninvolved some of the parents are in their children's religious upbringing.

catholic schools said...

I went to a catholic school during my high school years and would definitely consider home schooling as an option.