Saturday, 1 October 2011

Secularism and Catholic Education

During his recent state sponsored visit to Germany Pope Benedict XVI once again warned about the spreading danger of secularism.  A favourite topic of his and one he likes to promote wherever he can find a world audience. including the annual World Youth conference in Spain last August.  Similar dire warnings are often repeated by many of his self appointed and loyal officials such as Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.  Speaking at the Canadian Catholic School Trustees' Association conference in Ottawa Sept. 23 Collins decided to heighten the hype by referring to secularism as something we are now “marinated” in.

Secularism: the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries(see Wikipedia).

The opposite of secularism can be found in a theocratic nation which is run under the direct control or of a particular or chosen religious institution.  Theocracy   exists in many countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  It is well known that many of these theocratic nations are found to be responsible for many horrific human abuses. However, that is not to say that a theocratic State could not be run free of such abuses.

In the Western world most countries have adopted the separation of State and church or religion. But here follows the importance of such legislation. While separation of church and state prevents the State from supporting any religion or from interfering with it also obliges religion to leave the public sphere open to all.  When both sides respect the boundaries, secularism provides a framework for freedom of conscience, tolerance and democracy.  Secularism does not guarantee human rights but it helps make them possible.  But as long as the world religions are unable to dialogue and find peace among them there will be no peace in the world (Hans Kung) .

When the Vatican talks about Secularism it seems to be suggest “there is only one true religion and that is Roman rule or Catholicism as narrowly defined by Pope Benedict XVI”.  Remember Benedict has indicated on many occasions that he wants a smaller church – a church that is based on strict orthodoxy (absolutism) and considers all other religions as inferior. In an effort to blame its problems on modernism, relativism and secularism Benedict continues to block the progress and enthusiasm that was generated by Vatican II.  It has effectively stifled any progress on further ecumenism.

Secularism is a thorn in the side of the church when it comes to Catholic Education particularly when such education is publically funded.  Archbishop Collins speaking to Catholic educators stressed that in order for Catholic education to be fervently Catholic “we need to maintain and strengthen the Catholic identity of our schools. But what he failed to mention was that this requires an absolute obedience to Church teachings – even at the expense of one’s higher and informed conscience. 

Traditionalists must not forget  that the Catholic school system in Ontario is now also supported by those so-called ‘secular ’ tax payers most (90%) of whom also believe in God. Not all Catholics have a problem with this and many more would like to see a more inclusive approach to religion one that includes dialogue with other faiths. Being followers of Christ is not about belonging to some exclusive club. Jesus did not limit his teaching/healing to people of his Jewish background.  Catholics are not prevented from exercising their individual rights thanks largely in part to the separation of church and state. A Catholic, who chooses not to enter into a same-sex marriage, obtain an abortion, etc., is free to do so. However, that same individual must respect the right of others to choose otherwise. Jesus referred to this as rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Catholics are free to teach their respective ethics and morals. However, they must also respect the individual rights of others. They cannot be enforced on all. Remember slavery and the death penalty were at one time promoted in many Christian countries.  Our faith is a free gift from God and has nothing to do with what others do or believe.

The future of Catholic education does not depend on promoting strict Catholic orthodoxy but to paraphrase Pope John XXIII opening windows that will embrace the Spirit of inclusion and finding God in all people and all faiths.  This could also mean finding God in where people are – not where we would have them be.  Such a change is the very dynamic of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, this could be a serious blow to many Traditionalists but the Roman Church must no longer use old wine skins to solve the problems of today.  Jesus meets us in the here and now – not in the yesterday, not in the tomorrow.

Bishop Collins, administrators and the various users of the Catholic School system cannot ignore the fact when such schools are publically funded it includes many of those dreaded secularist.  Finally, it is hoped that the the real 'treasure' of Catholicism will be found in the ordinary people, the laity and the secular supporters who are already fully prepared to work for such a change.   

Finally, some readers may be asking "Should Catholic schools take in children of other faiths"?  For a thoughtfull opinion on this question please refer to the article ' When are Catholic schools no longer Catholic?' as it appeared in a recent edition of 'The Tablet' a U.K. based weekly magazine for Catholics - click here.   

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