... is the clerical and lay leadership planning now for what this likely legal victory and the greatest opportunity in recent memory will provide our children with an expanded high-quality Catholic education?
Stop a teenager and ask how many of the Ten Commandments he can recall. Or ask her to explain what Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is. Or what is the reason our Church is against abortion? Be prepared for vacant stares, rolling eyes, or awkward embarrassment.
We, the Church, have failed utterly to pass on the faith to this generation of our children. Yes, we have been burdened and depressed by the clergy scandal, church closings, the lack of religious vocations, and the gutting of Catholic schools. But the harsh fact is that for the great majority of young Catholics, the Church is irrelevant and the "message of Christ" is a phrase empty of meaning.
The Gospels tell us that the Church will endure to the end. But, will it recover in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children? Our recent past is hardly encouraging, particularly in America, which was once seen as the source of the Church's growth. Not long ago, the American Church was going to rescue the decline in religion in the rest of our country and send missionaries to the rest of the world. Currently, half of the country's census-identified Catholics no longer align themselves with the Church and are slipping into the "Nones" category.
Nevertheless, the more devastating problem is the loss of our young: our failure to pass on to them a vibrant faith. The research is clear. Today's Catholic youth are no different than their counterparts. They have the same levels of depression, the same pro-choice and same-sex attitudes. They swim in the same polluted, media swamp as the rest of their generation. Overwhelmingly, young Catholics are simply tomorrow's Nones-in-waiting.
Some serious Catholics have accepted this fate and have formed small communities of like-minded families. They often wryly refer to themselves in Pope Benedict's phrase as "the Remnants." They have withdrawn their children from public schools and what they see as ineffective Catholic schools. They are homeschooling or recreating traditional Catholic elementary and secondary schools. When it's time for college, they send their young to colleges carefully vetted by the Cardinal Newman Society. But worthy as this is, it is a solution for only a small percentage of Catholic families.
Schooling in our country is expensive and our Catholic middle class can't or won't pay for it. Today, what is left of Catholic education has become the province of the rich and the very poor. The great work of parochial schools just a few decades ago has been truncated as thousands of our schools have been closed for two overriding and related reasons: money and will.
Recently, a promising glimmer of hope has appeared. The 19th century Blaine Amendment, which is part of the state constitutions of 39 of our 50 states (including all the New England states) has been challenged in the United States Supreme Court. Two local lawyers, Michael Gilleran and Dwight Duncan (columnist for The Pilot) have been the lead attorneys who argued for the unconstitutionality of Blaine before the Supreme Court judges in the case Espinoza vs. the State of Montana.
In essence, this pivotal case is a challenge to the patently anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments' denial of using government funds to support the education provided by religious schools, a common practice in Canada, England, France, and major countries around the world. Court-watchers appear optimistic that the Blaine Amendment will be defeated, opening the way for federal, state and local monies, which have been collected from religious parents, to flow to the education of their children. Specifically, parents could send their children off to religious schools with vouchers to pay the tuition, and homeschooling parents could defer the educational costs they incur.
It has been well established empirically that traditional Catholic education's focus on character formation and establishing an environment of disciplined study leads to higher levels of academic achievement than that provided by the government-sponsored state schools.
The question is, if this legal effort is successful, will our Church act? Will we turn a constitutional right into a real opportunity to revive Catholic education? More specifically, is the clerical and lay leadership planning now for what this likely legal victory and the greatest opportunity in recent memory will provide our children with an expanded high-quality Catholic education?
Is this golden opportunity on the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and if not, why not? The same can be asked of the Knights of Columbus, Legatus, and the numerous lay organizations.
Without such leadership, without a realistic action plan to mobilize a revival of elementary and secondary Catholic education, a positive Supreme Court judgement will be Pyrrhic victory. We will have won a great legal battle and lost an even greater war.
In any event, there will be resistance. In spite of the well-known facts that our public schools nationally are failing compared with our international competitors and that so many of our urban schools are betraying the futures of the children of the poor, many Americans will stand by the status quo. Many will be threatened by the revival of Catholic schools. Blind to the corrosive secular culture of their local public schools, many Boston suburbanites remain intensively proud of their local public schools.
But let's face it: our country is rapidly becoming pagan. Fewer and fewer believe in God or have made a god of money or worship at the Cathedral of Climate Change.
Still, the question hangs in the air. Will our Church come out of its defensive crouch and lead? If and when we go forward, we will need courage. But, first, we need a plan. We need leadership!
- Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.
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