Our schools

  • September 28, 2007
{mosimage}In the middle of a highly emotional public debate over religious education, a new report has just been released by the Institute for Catholic Education on the current sense of how concerned Ontario Catholics feel about their publicly funded separate school system. The political context gives this report a necessary urgency.

The report, Our Catholic Schools 2006-2007, is a summary of consultations with some 10,000 people across the province — parents, teachers, students, trustees, principals, etc. — about the importance of our schools and what must be done to strengthen them. It offers some valuable reminders that:

  • Catholic schools contribute not just to the education of Catholics but to the well-being of the entire province. They offer living examples of the practice of religious freedom in Canada; instil a strong sense of morality, discipline and a duty to serve the common good; promote a responsibility to work on behalf of the poor and the marginalized; and promote dignity and respect for all people, regardless of their skin colour or ideology.

  • They promote strong parish-family-school partnerships. These have suffered in recent years, but remain key.

  • They reinforce the teaching of Catholic beliefs and values.

{sidebar id=2} As governments in England and elsewhere have discovered, it is good public policy to foster high-quality, religiously operated public schools. Yet while England is expanding its support for religious schools, some Ontarians still express irrational fears about them.

The backlash against Catholic schools stirred by the debate over the Conservative proposal to publicly fund other religious schools reminds us there is a strong current of opinion — held in the most influential circles — that Catholic schools are an anachronism that will either wither away of their own accord, or could be gently nudged out of existence. This cannot be allowed to happen. Their primary reason for existence is their Catholicity: this is what makes their contribution to society unique. Their ability to fulfil this role is what makes the case for public funding to other religious schools.

We need to prove, over and over, that Catholic schools are valuable to all of society. Their very success puts the lie to the widely believed canard that religious education fosters bigotry and sectarianism.

Get out to vote

The Catholic Church supports democracy and elections as the best, if imperfect, way to order societies. That means we have a duty to vote and, in particular, to have an informed vote, taking into consideration a wide range of issues, not least of which is how well our society treats the least among us.

Ontario’s bishops rightly refrain from telling people what party to vote for, but they do offer helpful guidance on how to make a choice shaped by the teaching of the church in the Oct. 10 provincial election. The document is called Taking Stock — 2007 and Catholics would do well to read it before heading into the polling booths. You can find it on the web at www.occb.on.ca and by going to “Recent News.”

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