What happens when people who want good things to happen stay silent? A case study can be seen in examining how the positive impact that our Catholic schools offer our community and our nation is being threatened by recent societal trends involving our legislatures, courts and media.
In the last issue of the Catholic Standard there was an article about the opening of the new school year and the more than 26,000 young people who are educated in our nearly 100 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. This is a time when we celebrate the long tradition of Catholic education, the extraordinary gift it is to our students and the nation, and the specific Catholic identity of this unique educational enterprise.
We in the District of Columbia and Maryland counties recognize how successful our Catholic schools are in educating some of our communities’ most disadvantaged kids, many of whom are not Catholic. These schools provide good educations, but just as important for these children, including the non-Catholics, is the structure, discipline and values that are imparted and which are crucial components of the Catholic identity of our educational system.
But the Catholic Standard points out that our rejoicing may be short-lived. Powerful forces are working to take from our institutions, including our schools, our Catholic identity. While the actions of politicians, courts and some well-financed activist groups may be the lead actors, the silence of so many Catholics, as well as our friends and neighbors who see the value in what Catholic schools mean for a community, also will allow this effort to succeed.
Here is how it works. A legislative body passes a law that says it is illegal to discriminate against a specific group of people and their behavior. This classification of “discrimination” includes Catholic teaching or any requirement concerning behaviors in our Catholic schools. In other words, such laws would find that a Catholic school discriminates when it teaches that taking the life of an unborn child is wrong or that sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral. The charge of discrimination is also directed at Catholic schools when they expect their teachers to support the teaching in words and deeds.
The next step that weakens Catholic identity in our schools is when civil courts and media work to force the school to empty its teaching of any real meaning. It does this by forcing the school to hire or retain individuals who openly reject the Church’s teaching. These people now become the teachers, administrators and staff of the school.
The school now faces this dilemma either of accepting new teaching that negates authentic Catholic teaching or being forced through fines and court decisions to empty the word “Catholic” of its meaning.
What fosters this “politically correct” effort to alter Catholic teaching is the double standard increasingly used by legislators and courts when addressing what constitutes the religious or Catholic nature of the schools. When we, for example, ask for our fair share of our tax dollars to be used to expand opportunity for young people via financial aid or for some aspect of school life, such as a gym, science labs, or auditoriums, we are told that every aspect of our Catholic education helps to inculcate Catholic values. Thus, separation of church and state prohibits assistance even for a new gym that will benefit all in a neighborhood.
Then, almost in the same breath, the same legislators and judges declare that the only people in a Catholic school protected by the separation of church and state are those who teach religion. This, they say, is true because gym and science teachers and the whole host of other employees are really not involved in the Catholic mission of the school.
When all the rhetorical dust settles, what we have left are Catholic schools that are unable to teach our faith properly to Catholic students and unable to offer the insights of our faith to properly convey such fundamental values as honesty, charity, compassion, honor, and achievement to our non-Catholic students, whose families in many cases sent them to our schools for those very lessons.
What adds to the problem is the ease with which today a politically correct morality is being forced on our Catholic institutions in place of our own Catholic moral tradition. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new definition of marriage.
These reflections are not intended to rehash all the reasons why our Catholic institutions are under such pressure to cease being who they are and what they represent. But we must go on record to make the point that as long as Catholics and our neighbors remain silent, rather than getting involved and making our voices heard, we will continue to see our Catholic identity bleached from Catholic institutions, diminishing them if not removing altogether their reason to continue.
A number of years ago it was necessary to close some of our Catholic schools that were doing great work educationally and developmentally with some of the neediest kids in town. The Church had run out of money. The courts and legislators stood behind their version of separation of church and state to let the schools close.
Then there appeared at the Archdiocese a group of politically connected, self-identified community organizers who protested the closure of the schools. When asked if they would be equally visible at City Hall in an effort to get financial support for the kids in the schools, it was clear the answer was “No,” and the schools closed.
Today some of the same people are back, this time demanding that the remaining endangered Catholic schools in their areas remain open and accept the new politically correct morality. When asked if there is a place for Catholic education that runs counter to their politically popular views, the answer is once again “No”.
During all of this drama, an equally constant factor has been the silence of so many Catholics and other neighbors in the community whose voices might have influenced the outcome.
It is important to say now that silence is a part of the problem and to say so while there is still something to be gained by raising one’s voice. When the future of our Catholic schools and the education they provide for our children is at stake, we cannot remain silent.
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