Recent correspondence in the Catholic Herald reveals a strong undercurrent of discontent with our schools policy. In this interview, HUGH KAY raises some of the more crucial questions with the Chairman of the Catholic Education Council, BISHOP BECK of Salford. The bishop's replies cover such questions as whether it is pastoral sense to exclude children of lapsed parents from Catholic schools, and the future of the proposal for a Catholic Institute of Higher Studies.
KAY: May I set the stage, my Lord, by saying that there is an undercurrent of discontent among the Catholics of this country with regard to education. It is felt that we are putting too many eggs into one basket, concentrating most of our resources and energies on building schools.
For this, we have had to find 130,000.000 in 15 years, while neglecting other things urgently needed — marriage advice, psychiatric and welfare centres with full time staffs, and an institute of higher studies. What's more, the Catholic school products don't seem to justify the effort.
The leakage rate is high in all grottos, including our public and grammar schools, while, in the secondary modern, our academic standards seem to be lower than °there. Is our policy, perhaps, mistaken? Are we really better off for having Catholic schools? Should our efforts switch, rather, to the parish ?
BISHOP BECK: Well. the plain fact of the matter is that we are committed to the dual system of education, and have been since 1870. We are simply not geared to anything else. And my own belief is that our system of having Catholic children taught by Catholic teachers in Catholic schools is the great strength of the Church in this country.
1 am convinced that it is the right thing to do — to offer a thorough grounding in the faith to every Catholic child, whatever use he may or may not make of it afterwards. As a matter of fact, what impresses me is the quality of the people being produced, and I think you'll find evidence of this if you talk to the university chaplains, meet Y.C.W. leaders and chaplains, or talk to the Young Christian Students.
A census among parish priests would probably show that many of them are satisfied with the bulls of their local Catholic school products. There are failures, obviously, but even the Apostles had one of those. There is certainly a problems but we mustn't exaggerate its size.
As regards the other things we need to be doing, 1 don't think that money is the obstacle. In my own diocese of Salford, I can assure you that school building has in no way cut down on church building, and I doubt if it has done so anywhere else. The churches may be of fairly simple construction and finish, but they are there.
However, it does remain true that we are behindhand in dealing with the pastoral urgencies of the post-school period. But I am not sorry that we are taking our time over this. Take the question of youth centres and youth leaders, for instance. No proper pattern has emerged in this field, even if you take the country as a whole.
Experimenting is still going on in the secular milieu as well as our own, and I think it's better to go slow rather than to rush in before the best techniques have been thrashed out. But we are making some progress, and the Church
is beginning to use the facilities made available to us as a result of the Albemarle Report.
KAY: Do you think that the Catholic community could find more money than it does at present, so that we could pay for other experiments without cutting dowp on the schools programme ?
BISHOP BECK: I'm sure we're not using our resources as well as we should. Planned offertory giving has doubled and trebled the income in quite a number of parishes and, if you added to this a good covenant scheme, the income could be multiplied four and five fold. It's the planning that's the trouble, not the money.
In any case, more is being done than you might think. In my own diocese, the marriage advisory service is growing. We get a good response to recruiting campaigns for marriage guidance counsellors. They have to undergo a fairly stiff training, but the service is worked on a part time and voluntary basis, of course.
Meanwhile, our child care work is also growing, and the new university chaplaincy is well under way. And we now have a scheme for opening further youth centres.
KAY Do you lay empbasis on the importance of professional qualifications apd a fair rate of professional remuneration for lay personnel? The Church so often tries to do these things on a shoestring. But even apostles must eat.
BISHOP BECK: I agree with every word of that. In the Saiford Rescue Society, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters arts most insistent on getting themselves properly q u a Ii fi c d and professionally trained. The lay social workers are paid on the same scale as would apply elsewhere.
The Society's preventive work— and this is very much a new field —is proving very successful. The aim here is to preveni a break-up in the family rather than trying to put the pieces together again after the damage is done. I'm sure the Crusade of Rescue and the Southwark Rescue Society have a similar tale to tell.
KAY : Getting back to the schools, I have been told by some parish priests that, in their areas. there is a leakage rate of over 80 per cent, and that, even in school days, half the children are not going to Mass. Is this representative?
BISHOP BECK : It's very hard to assess this. Different areas have very different problems. There are certainly pockets, especially in some of the more difficult industrial centres, where the situation may be as you have described it. But there are many other areas where it is quite otherwise.
Very often, of course, the trouble stems from non-practising homes, where marriage problems and parental indifference have taken their toll. Not even the best school can replace the home in the formation of a child. But the school can certainly help enormously, and that is why 1 disagree
with those who think that children of non-practising homes should be excluded from the Catholic school for the sake of the other children.
think this is wrong. The school must not be a select community where only an elite have a place, Attending a Catholic school may be the only chance some children will ever have of learning the faith, and the over-riding principle is that of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one that had strayed.
The Church's missionary character must operate at all levels. Even the children themselves, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation, are called to evangelise each other.
That's why I have a high regard for the work of the young Christian Students who seek to live the full Catholic life, as members of the Mystical Body, in the context of the school itself, training the boy or girl to be an apostle, so to speak, in his or her own classroom.
KAY : And what about the apostolate on the level of higher studies ?
BISHOP BECK: Well, you know there have been plans for an Institute of Higher Studies. I think I can tell you that, had it not been for the death of Cardinal Godfrey. a start would probably have been made this autumn. Obviously, one must start at the beginning of an academic year.
But this is certainly going to happen, and I want to say a word or two about it. This project must not be thought of as having a purely apologetic value on the levels of higher education — a mere counter force to assaults on faith in the field of secular sciences.
It must be a centre bearing witness to the fact that the Catholic Church has a vested interest in truth — in every field; that she is intensely interested in discovering truth in any section of research and developement, and in every sphere of knowledge — and of showing the harmony of all natural knowledge with the truth of God's revelation.
It's • nut just a question of opposing error, but of being committed to the positive acquisition of scientific truth, There's no need to refute assertions that faith is antagonistic to reason and the spirit of scientific enquiry. The examples we have of men of high academic standing who are in fact Catholics are a sufficient refutation in themselves.
But we ought not to depend solely on the outstanding few. It's not juat stardom we're after. The essential function of the Institute must be to produce a body of good, sound and continuous scholarship of high quality at the service of the academic world. We should think of subjects like Holy Scripture, patristics and history, as well as the more formal philosophy and theology. Problems of location, and of whether the Institute should bear some relationship to an existing university have still to be settled.
KAY : There's a connection, of course, between this topic and the vexed question of the Secondary Modern School, where our academic standards are often said to he below the national standard, and where you sometimes hear it said that only religious doctrine really matters.
I wonder whether the root of the trouble is a kind of antiintellectualism, which one sometimes detects in certain elements in the clergy, and whether this might be cleared up a bit if the Church became more specifically committed to intellectual adventure in this country.
Allied to this problem is the frustration so many teachers feel over the somewhat unimaginative character of the Secondary Modern syllabus — I mean in the secular subjects. Could we not do something about this too?
BISHOP BECK : I would have thought that the real problem in the Secondary Modern was the very reverse of anti-intellectualism. The danger is surely that these schools, mesmerised by academic results, may concentrate too much on the select few capable of taking one or two subjects in the G.C.E. Ordinary Level, to the neglect of what you might call the middle of the school.
All these children have got to be equipped for life, in the practical as well as the academic order, and the truth is that our curriculum is still living in the 19th century, still basically governed by university demands. Catholics, you know, should not just accept the general pattern in the secular subjects. They ought to play a part in the overall national development of education, and they should lead discussion on its content.
KAY : On the point of training for practical living, wouldn't a syllabus of Catholic social teaching help academic and nonacademic pupils alike to integrate their secular and religious studies better?
BISHOP BECK : Have you ever tried teaching the social encyclicals to a 14-year-old? It's terribly difficult, you know, to make it register at all, because a youngster of that age has had no personal experience of the basis on which he is asked to form a judgement.
The important thing in the school is to give boys and girls a high sense of justice and to foster genuine charity. Social teaching in the sense of the encyclicals ought to be the subject of adult education for the teenager out at work, who can now relate the doctrine to his actual experiences.
This sort of training, particularly for the non-academie mind, should be one of the functions of a well run Catholic youth centre. But, of course, it requires priests and teachers of great quality.
KAY : Even the grammar school child seems to be very ill-equipped for the crisis of faith he is liable to encounter at university, where he discovers, with something of a shock, that the language of his accustomed thought processes has no meaning.
BISHOP BECK: A partial answer lies in the university chaplaincy, of course, hut again one returns to this question of integration, of establishing a relation between faith and secular studies, of projecting an image of the Church immersed in all disciplines of enquiry.
As I said before, this must be done positively, but, to provide a basis for this, it seems to me that there must be some kind of centre where, say, scholastic philosophy and theology — the traditional thought of the Catholic Church is taught formally, developed skilfully, and applied to the modern historical situation.
This is why I am not wholly in sympathy with Catholic scholars who shrink from all talk of a Catholic university or faculty here. I agree with them in deploring the idea of any sort of intellectual ghetto, in which we become more inbred and treat the secular subjects as something rather secopd rate.
But if it is not sufficient merely to oppose systems of thought antagonistic to faith, then surely one must provide a positive system that delivers the real goods. And this calls for some formal training in what Gibson calls the technique of the faith. in the serious study of Catholic theology. And it should he organised study. If you want an apostolate of the university, you must will the means,
I am not, of course, suggesting that we should have a Catholic university to which all Catholics would be required, or even expected, to go. This would be fatal to those processes of cross-fertilisation, which, in the long run, add depth to our faith, and do not detract from it. But we need something very much more coherent than sporadic assistance at chaplaincy conferences.
Our purpose should be to establish the unity of truth, in which. faith and the natural propositions both have their part to play. It is totally unnecessary to allow ourselves to be unnerved by the selfconfidence of the pseudo-scientist, as I think we often arc.
The genuine scientist is a man who often finds his moment of truth at the point where he recognises that his science can take him no further, and that the next questions in the sequence require him to make enquiries on a different plane. Sir Bernard Lovell brought this out very clearly in his Reith Lectures.
Hitherto, in this country, Catholic education has tended to grow from the bottom. In America, they were also able to work from the top, and, even if their Catholic universities have been deficient in some respects, at least they have had the full range of Studies within a Catholic framework.
Our great need In this country today is to provide the rapidly growing number of Catholics going to universities with the means of acquiring a mature knowledge of their religion commensurate with the maturity and depth of their secular studies.
KAY : And what about religious teaching itself in the ordinary schools? One sometimes hears that many Catholic teachers shrink from teaching religion at all.
BISHOP BECK : I think there is a problem there, though I don't know why they feel that way. It may be that they don't feel very confident about the new, kerygmalic methods of catechesis. But these methods are now penetrating our Training Colleges, and we are definitely on the move.
The important thing is to see Catholic education, not as a mere safeguard and certainly not as a second rate chore, but as a great adventure, in which we have much to offer the community at large.
It is not a question of defending ourselves within a fortress, but of taking the full richness of faith out into the community to shed new light on truths which, whatever discipline they belong to, reflect the one eternal truth that is God Himself. Ultimately, it is not a system but Christ we are striving to know, by means of a knowledge of His creation, and by knowledge of, and commitment to, his Person and his love.