BISHOP BECK has now brought officially into the open for the first time the dissatisfaction in the Catholic community in this country over the schools question.
For all its diplomatic language and carefully balanced argument, his "Progress Report" in the Catholic Education Council's new handbook, amounts to serving notice on the Government that the present system must be changed by a statesmanlike measure now in order to prevent agitation and bitterness later on.
Those who know the Hierarchy's caution in this matter will appreciate how serious the situation must be to demand such action. The last time the Bishops drew public attention to the problem was in October 1959 when they issued a set of questions to be put to Parliamentary candidates eliciting their views on State aid for voluntary schools. This move, it is now admitted, was not an unqualified success, the hint of political pressure rousing some of the old suspicions of, and antagonisms against, Catholics.
But Catholics themselves would be the first to deplore any Suggestion that they are using political means to secure what they consider to be not only just but also in the national interest.
THE plain fact is that the present situation is intolerable, and the fact that no protest has been made publicly about it before now is not to be taken as proof that dissatisfaction is recent.
Ever since the 1944 At settled the broad lines of the system still operating, the Catholic community in England and Wales, true to the tradition which ensured the preservation of their schools, at home where possible, abroad where not, from the Reformation right down to the repeal of the Penal Laws, has been shouldering an immense financial burden. In the 17 years from 1947 to 1964 the bill will reach the almost unimaginable total of £80 million.
But it is not the cost of doing what it considers to be its duty Which is the cause of the bitterness increasingly manifest in recent years. If it were merely a question of money, we could say with certainty that Catholics would not shrink from accepting even heavier sacrifices.
fHE deeply worrying aspect about the present situation is that the problem is increasing faster than measures to solve it can be taken and that no conceivable increase in financial contributions from Catholics can correct the balance. In Bishop Beck's plain words, Catholics are in a losing race as far as education is concerned. At the same time, other important social activities have to be curtailed because available funds are being used solely for education.
• What can be done? There are only two alternatives. Either the Catholics abandon altogether their insistence on the dual system, with Catholic schools for Catholic children, or the State must change the basis on which grants for Catholic schools are made. The first alternative will be rejected outright as inconsistent with Catholic principles : the second seems to be logical, just, and in the best interests of the nation even from the financial viewpoint.
THE Catholic case is that the State should contribute 75 per cent of the cost of building new schools which are needed to cater for the increasing numbers of Catholic children—the result of the higher birthrate and immigration and of population movements. The school places will have to be provided in any case and if the State will not accept a 75 per cent share of the cost of providing them in voluntary schools it will have to meet the full cost of building State schools instead. The Catholic offer to pay 25 per cent of the cost, therefore, represents a considerable saving to the ordinary taxand rate-payer.
But Catholics will not wish to base their case on mercenary considerations alone, however heavily these may weigh in the scales of Ministry decisions. The real basis of their demand is that the more a child's moral and spiritual values are developed by education, the more useful a citizen he will be. This is an attitude which springs from the very fundamentals of Christianity and Catholics would be failing in their duty to themselves and to the State if they did not seek to impress it on the conscience of the nation.