Catholics schools threatened by hostile secularism, bishop says

  • October 1, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - The threat to the existence of publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario is a symptom of an even greater and growing hostility to religion in the public square, warns Bishop Paul-André Durocher.

“If we want to save our Catholic schools, what we have to save is the place of religion in Canadian society,” the bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall diocese said Sept. 28.
Durocher was speaking to almost 400 Catholic educators from the across Canada during a national conference on Catholic education held here Sept. 25-28 and hosted by the Canadian Catholic School Trustees' Association. His talk focused on the twin themes of “Keeping our Catholic schools” and “Keeping our schools Catholic.”

Durocher, who also chairs the education commission of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained that false notions of the separation of church and state are gaining favour in public opinion. Increasingly, many are beginning to believe this separation means that no religious arguments should be present in public debate and there should be no sign of any religion in any public institutions.

This is a far cry from the origins of the idea of the separation of church and state. In the United States, where the theory was first incorporated into governance, it meant that all religions were free from interference by the state and that no one religion would be favoured above others. In Canada, the idea was never part of our institutional history as church and state often collaborated on the creation of schools and social services. In fact, the first schools in Canada were Catholic schools.

Durocher observed that the new aggressiveness of secularism has become a direct challenge to the existence of publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario in particular. He warned that a new movement is afoot to build up public approval for getting rid of the Catholic school system.

In fact, the bishop spent a good portion of his speech dissecting the arguments used by opponents of Catholic schools.

“I think we have to take this very seriously,” he said of the movement to eliminate Catholic schools. “It represents the thought of a lot of people out there.”

Durocher argued that the historical compromise that led to the creation of Confederation in 1867 and the protection of minority religious education in the Constitution is still relevant today. Canada's culture is shaped deeply by its Catholic population and is a significant reason why this country is so popular among immigrants today.

“This is about the fundamental values that lie in the kind of community we have,” he said. “What kind of country are we talking about?”

The bishop also pointed out that the Catholic Church in Canada is a model of how to make multiculturalism work. While their critics argue that Catholic schools are intolerant of others, Durocher noted that they actually bring together dozens of different cultural backgrounds into one faith community.

Critics claim that millions of dollars would be saved by combining Ontario's Catholic and public systems. However, this fails to recognize that 80 per cent of the cost of education is absorbed by teachers' salaries, which will remain the same whether there are one or two systems.

He also reminded the audience that Catholics believe strongly in combining faith with reason. “Creationism is not taught in Catholic schools,” he said. “We are about shaping and forming autonomous thinkers. Faith implies freedom. ”

Catholic schools are indeed the focus of evangelization by the church of its younger generation, he said. However, this is ultimately an invitation for young people to experience the love of God and share the Good News.

Durocher said we need to strengthen the Catholic character of our schools by integrating faith into all teaching, by ensuring religious education programs are topnotch, by giving increasing support to school chaplaincy and building up Christian life in all aspects of life in the schools.

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