We have friends coming around for munchy-time this afternoon, so I was pottering around the kitchen at 7am in time to hear Sunday on Radio 4. Among other matters this morning it reported on the ongoing controversy at the Cardinal Vaughan School. The basic story, as we know, is that the school has maintained a thorough Catholicity test for parents/children applying for places there, while the Diocese of Westminster is battling to reduce that test to a basic sacramental minimum. The controversy rumbles.
The effect of this change, according to the diocese, will be to open up the school potentially to all Catholic children in the area, not just those with mustard-keen parents. The suspicion from the diocesan point of view (nobody has said this, at least I don't think so!) is that the local middle classes have seen the opportunity to use the CVS as a free school for those lucky enough to be Catholic or sneaky enough to simulate sufficient devotion and commitment.
The effect of the change, according to the parents' group, will be to water down the Catholic ethos of the school and reduce its effectiveness in preparing their children for life as faithful Catholics. The suspicion from their point of view is that the diocese is dabbling in social engineering because the CESEW is stuffed with not-so-closet New Labourites who want a broad, socially sensitive Church, not an orthodox, prophetically exigent one. They also allege that the diocese has body-snatched several governor's posts, in a long-term campaign to dominate the board of governors and thus get the admission policy changed. This matter is currently the subject of a court case.
Well, this is one of those concrete situations where the issues are never as simple as we would like them to be. Still, the objections which I heard cited this morning from the diocese's perspective were pretty thin.
The first of these was that there are many Catholic parents who have lapsed today, and making Catholic schooling available for these children would be an excellent outreach initiative. The second objection seemed to be that the CVS's stringent selection measures would be very hard on, for example, refugees who cannot prove their sacramental bona fides. The third argument was that the CVS parents cannot dominate the school in this way because they are only temporary occupants of what is a diocesan school.
Before we consider these arguments in turn, it is worth pointing out that they all share in the same fundamentally wrong assumption if the Catholic Church runs an education service, parents should come to it, cap in hand and very grateful for what it manages to dole out to them. Er, no, actually. The parents themselves have the duty of educating their children as Catholics by virtue of their covenantal promises made to God on the day of their marriage. So, even Catholic schools stand in loco parentis. The parents are NOT, therefore, clients of the school; the Catholic school is, in a sense, the subcontractor of Catholic parents. But could not the diocese defend its position on the grounds that it is arguing for the rights of children whose parents cannot or will not act in their defence? No! Because that is a different function from standing in the place of parents who actually, really, actively want a Catholic education for their children.
This becomes all the clearer if we consider the three objections above. Should the Catholic school be a safety-net for children whose parents have lapsed? No! The school is only indirectly a tool for evangelisation; its primary function is building up the faith of those who are already faithful. That is not elitist, anymore than the fact parents feed their own children before feeding anyone else means that they are inegalitarian! If the diocese wishes to evangelise the lapsed, then let the diocese create its own opportunities for doing so, and let it not piggy-back on the efforts of faithful parents to educate their children in an atmosphere of fidelity and love.
As for the second objection, the same logic applies. The school can and should be involved in the corporal works of mercy by welcoming refugees. It is to be hoped that there are no bureaucratc hurdles in this process, such as unreasonable demands for paperwork that might have been blown sky-high back in Sudan. But those are hard cases. The school cannot decide its policy on exceptions! Systems do not fit all individuals. In any case, presumably if refugees could prove their commitment to the faith, what is the evidence to suggest they cannot obtain a place in the school? Again there is a confusion here between two different categories: the Catholic Church looking after displaced persons and the subcontracting of Catholic education to a diocese.
As for the third objection, we have already answered it. The building and services might belong to the diocese, but the educational role that the school assumes is entirely at the service of the parents who want to send their children there. The person who spoke in favour of the diocese was Professor Gerald Grace, a professor of education, so in a sense we cannot say his views are those of the diocese. Nevertheless, his argument is one in which the Catholic Church would absorb parental responsibilities into itself, like some pantomimic State.
If the Westminister diocese wants to set up a school for children whose parents are lapsed or whose family situations are difficult, that is fantastic! What it should not do is confuse that very worthy cause - a blend of the corporal and spiritual works of instructing the ignorant and clothing and feeding the naked - with its duty to provide a Catholic education service which properly corresponds to the wishes of parents utterly committed to raising their children in an atmosphere of Catholic fidelity and love.
Eek, I'd better get back to my roast!