In this exclusive interview for the Catholic Herald Fr ANTHONY BULLEN, director of the Christian Education Centre in Liverpool, discusses with BART HARRINGTON his views on the future of Catholic Education.
Q. (B H) The spotlight is being increasingly focused upon the purpose of a Catholic education in today's circumstances. What do you consider the objectives of Catholic education to he?
A. (Fr A B) To produce convinced and convincing Catholic Christians, playing their part in the full life of the Church and the world.
Could you narrow down that objective for an individual child?
A. Yes. To achieve the objective, the child must be helped to reach the degree of maturity appropriate to each stage of his development. I believe the child must be led to an awareness that Religion means a great deal more than observing rules and subscribing to beliefs — no matter how important rules and beliefs are, and they are important. He must become aware of a loving relationship between himself and God, his Father, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. If he does not come to this awareness, then he may remain a prisoner of his own immaturity.
Q. Is not this simply a matter of good religion teaching?
A. Yes, of course, if by good Religion teaching you mean taking into account his intellectual, social, physical and moral development and the influence of his environment.
What happens if his education at home and at school does not help him to achieve this?
A. In the past such a person would quietly have opted out of Christian belief and practice but would have been carried along with the tide of Christian attitudes and outlooks which generally pervaded society. With the ebbing of this tide, he may be left stranded on the desolate beach of materialism.
I think that this type of person was in the mind of the writer of The Clockwork Orange. That may have been an exaggeration but exaggerations, like cartoons, can often point the way to the truth very simply.
The characters described in that book were petty and Q. amoral monsters who, in the author's mind, it would seem to me, were the product of a society bankrupt of Christian ideals and transcendental values. Many would think that our society is already religiously in the red.
What are schools doing about all this?
There is a sincere effort in schools at the moment to help the child at each stage to relate his religious development and understanding to the post-Christian society he has to live in outside of school. The teacher realises more and more that he has to equip the child to live as a Christian in a non-Christian society.
Q. Does this mean that teachers have to re-equip themselves?
A. Yes, and there are plenty of opportunities for them. For instance, there is the Diploma in Religious Education of Liverpool University organis
Q. A. ed at Notre Dame College of Education. It .can be taken either full or part-time. Archbishop Beck is so keen on teachers being able to attend such courses that he has established a bursary so that they can do so without financial loss to themselves.
Q. To come back to the family. Is not his family the child's first society?
A. Of course it is. That is why we continue to emphasise the vital role of his family in the child's development. For him it is society. It is from this first most intimate society at his most formative time that he absorbs the attitudes and values which in no uncertain way influence how he acts as an adult.
Q. But has not this always been so?
A. Yes, but the values of the Christian home were reinforced by similar values In society. That Is not true any longer, at least In our country.
Q. Should we not then give children rules by which they can live a Christian life in such a society?
A. Do you mean the Ten Commandments?
Q. Yes, but presented positively.
A. I would agree with that how could I disagree? provided the Commandments are seen as a living out of the
loving relationship we should
have with God. The Ten
Commandments are much more than a Highway Code to Heaven. Love comes before the law. Jesus said, "If you love me — love comes first you see — you will keep my Commandments." And he said that the Ten could be reduced to Two.
As a parent, I have often found that the things my children say that they have heard in the R.E. lessons, seem to be quite different from what I heard when I was at school.
A. I'm sorry to hear you say that. I would like to have thought that parents are being given the opportunity to find out what is being taught in schools today.
Q. Through PTAs?
A. Yes, but not necessarily so. Parents also meeting in school or small groups of parents meeting as in Family and Social Action and the Grail.
Q. And what about the UCM and the CWL?
A. Why not Indeed! I see the future of help for parents more in meetings of small groups than in any other way.
Q. Was this the reason behind your latest book, "What Is Happening to our Children?"
A. Yea. .The first thing I hope to do when the day arrives for me to go into a parish will be to build up groups of mothers and fathers who will discuss their deepening understanding of the Faith together and gain support from each other. We have spoken about the environment being hostile to Christians and that is why I believe that groups such as these are so important for mutual support and encouragement.