For the irrational, there will always be a never-ending battle

By  Peter Kavanagh, Catholic Register Special
  • January 28, 2016

I was surprised recently to read that defunding Catholic schools was the leading piece of advice the Ontario Government had received so far in its budget consultations. And I couldn’t help thinking that just because you have a thought, an idea, a proposal, it doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud. And even if you feel compelled to utter it, forcing the rest of us to listen, it doesn’t mean we have to pay serious attention.

The perennial gripe about Catholic schools was given new life because Minister of Finance Charles Sousa opened up a web site for Ontarians to make suggestions about what should be in the budget. So in addition to staff from the ministry sitting down with unions and business groups and hosting public information sessions, they also get to read every idea anyone with access to the Internet feels like sharing.

The ideas being put forward, 1,274 on the day I checked, run the gamut from licensing bicycles to taxing lottery winnings to breaking the beer monopoly. By far the most popular suggestions are stopping the privatization of Hydro One and ending the funding of Catholic schools.

Popularity is a relative concept. “Eliminate Catholic School Funding” is number three on the list and has a total of 455 votes, 326 in favour of elimination, 129 opposed for a score of 197. The whole process is like that, some perverse combination of Survivor and Canada’s Next Top Model with the key difference being that the Department of Finance is not going to act on any of these ideas. Sousa has already rejected ending funding to the Catholic school boards. Given that there are 9.2 million voters in the province, the fact that 326 are in favour of eliminating Catholic school funding is the equivalent of rounding up or down pennies to the nearest even number on your bill.

So how did the fact that a few hundred voters want to get rid of the Catholic school system actually make it to the CTV News site and become a story? It is like getting rid of the Queen. There are always going to be some people who have a visceral, almost manic, opposition to something and opposing that thing almost becomes their reason for being. That’s why they go online and proclaim for the world to see their anonymous disdain for a school system that seems to work very well for the roughly 700,000 students who attend and the parents who send them.

The animosity, and vitriol, directed at the continued existence of Catholic schools seems out of sync with the facts but in sync with a key reason the push to eliminate the Catholic school system gets such repeated media attention. The media tends to be secular and tends to think the idea of a religious school system is archaic, out of step with the modern day and really something that just shouldn’t be.

During the 2014 provincial election, a columnist at the Globe and Mail suggested that getting rid of Catholic schools should be a priority for any new government. Then he lamented that of course none of the three parties would put it forward as a piece of their platform because they would be defeated at the polls.

Think about that. A journalist is almost apoplectic that no one will campaign on what he thinks is a totally legitimate issue just because they are afraid of losing an election. You would think that it would only take a moment to realize that if an idea would lose you an election then it is an idea that most people reject. In a rational world that would be the end of that.

Of course we don’t live in a sane world. There is lots to talk about when it comes to education: standards, curriculum, class sizes and so on. But it is a disservice to suggest that the key issue is the mere existence of the Catholic school system.

Some people like to suggest that simply holding religious beliefs is irrational. In truth the more irrational stance is to believe that wishing away a religion will somehow make all that is wrong right.

(Kavanaugh is a Toronto journalist and author of The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.