Catholics are particularly well qualified to contribute to betterinformed policies for Britain's inner city areas but their potential contribution is not being fully used, according to Dr Michael HornsbySmith, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Surrey.
In an important new study of Catholic education,* published today, Dr Hornsby-Smith says that the network of schools, welfare agencies and clubs supported by large numbers of priests and nuns provide "rich possibilities" for improvements.
He says: "In so far as this potential does exist for constructive social intervention on behalf or deprived groups in our society, it is important that the Catholic
community exploit it as its contribution on behalf of the wider society.
"Given the web of Catholic institutions at the local level, and given the recent interest in community schools, it is perhaps time that the Catholic community played a more active part in the public arena in contributing to the development of informed policymaking on these matters.
The significance, of the Catholic school in British society is demonstrated by the fact that one child in I I in England arid Wales attends one, while about 44,000 teachers work in them. Yet, as Dr Hornsby-Smith points out, there has been no major sociological study of the system.
He produces evidence to show that although the Catholic school can be "an important agency for the religious socialisation of the young", there is considerable variety in doctrinal beliefs, ethical values and religious observance.
And, he adds, that there is considerable deviation from the official norms of the inititutional Church on the part of a large proportion of young Catholics in the Catholic schools studies."
Despite evidence of some conformity to Church laws and rituals, Dr Hornsby-Smith says that there appeared to be "a general absence of a deep Christocentric religious conviction and commitment and a highly critical evaluation of the Institutional Church. He adds: "Students in Catholic schools generally considered that there was too much emphasis on the religious goals of the school, which they complained were 'rammed down their throats', and that too little attention was paid to personal growth and development goals."
He also draws attention to the need to recognise the interdependence of school, parish and home in the achievement of religious goals.
He calls on the institutional leadership of the Church to give greater support to sociological research, which he says could help in better decision-making.
• Catholic Education, by M. HornsbySmith, is published by Sheed and Ward at (7.50.