St Robert's Presbytery
Aberken fig Mid Glamorgan July 20, 1990
THE recent decision of the Gwent County Council to cease to maintain St Alban's Catholic Comprehensive school in Pontypool on the grounds of the number of pupils, and the decision of the ruling Labour party on the council to withdraw the whip from two members because they refused to vote with the Party, raises some interesting questions.
Are all schools with 600 or less pupils no longer viable?
Within the Labour party are decisions of party groups, which are taken in private, binding on members of the party quite regardless of conscience?
There are also rumblings in the affluent land of Hertfordshire where the Tories are about to reduce free school travel, within certain distances, which would have catastrophic consequences for Catholic schools there.
Thoughts from a Welsh parish
These are only a few of a number of signs which raise the whole question of the future of Catholic schools, in particular Catholic secondary schools. They are indications that apart from the hostility of many local government politicians, a great number of Catholic parents no longer see the point of such places.
All research now shows that religious teaching in Catholic secondary schools is located too narrowly within a curricular compartment inadequately integrated with the intellectual and leisure activities of children. And remote from the aspirations of parents.
The reason most Catholics send their children to a Catholic school is that they desire to have them taught within the full context of the Catholic faith. Many feel that this is no longer the case in many Catholic schools.
If there is to be a revitalisation of religious education this can only come about by the realisation of the importance of individual worth in the process of making society more conscious of the things of the spirit. The thoughtless employment of systems of rewards and punishments, the inequitable distribution of the best staff, the overriding competitive ethos within many Catholic schools, the undue stress placed upon examination achievements, personal success and doing better than one's neighbour, all conflict with the Christian message.
By adhering to such practices many Catholic schools are placing a worldly message before their pupils and doing it as effectively as if they had planned to proclaim the total irrelevancy of the Christian message for daily living. If there is to be a battle for Catholic schools let Catholics understand that their future can only be secured if they are acting against the spirit of the world and not pandering to it. Since Vatican II the Catholic school has been underlining the importance of the concept of Christian community, but at the expense of under-valuing the importance of developing individual relationships with God through personal prayer.
The intent of inculcating a spirit of community in children by collecting funds for CAFOD, the wish to interest the young in liturgy by organising "folk" masses, moves to develop a social conscience by organising parties for pensioners can never be a substitute for the educating of children into a knowledge of the spiritual dimension of their lives. In this lies the raison d'etre of any Catholic school.
Fr John Owen
Fr John Medcaff is on holiday