Ann Harriss argues that proposals to close Catholic schools in
favour of joint faithschools are misguided
In May 2003 I wrote an article for The Catholic Herald on a proposal to close a local Catholic secondary school in Cheltenham and replace it with a joint AnglicanCatholic secondary school. We now learn that the same thing is to happen to a Catholic primary school in Cheltenham.
The single public meeting that was held in 2003 to "discuss" the changes proposed for St Benedict's Catholic School and Sports College was disappointing, attracting a low turnout of parents. Only about 15 people showed up, though most of them were strongly opposed to the joint-faith school.
Parents asked how differences in belief and in moral teaching would be tackled in the new school, but our concerns were not addressed. Yet they are important. As Catholics we believe that Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament. We believe that abortion is always wrong.
The Church of England has ordained women to the priesthood and now debates whether women should be made bishops. It is my belief that no one has really addressed the question of the contradiction inherent in, for example, the affirmation of papal authority by one party, and its outright rejection by the other.
And what about the intercession of the saints, or the role of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in our salvation?
Surely, we need to make sure that Catholic teaching on these issues is strongly and accurately transmitted to our children? We have a duty to ensure that there is no confusion. Ultimately, it is a question of faithfulness to God.
Lengthy consultations ensued and in October last year there was another public meeting. Once again very few people turned up though, on the whole, the mood was much more positive.
Three Anglican clergy also attended the meeting, including a woman priest. The meeting was wellorganised and included a question-and-answer session.
Undeterred I again took up the question of catechesis. The firm answer to my queries was that parents are supposed to instruct their children in the faith, and the school is not there to do remedial work. Full stop.
Yet this implies that children all come from homes where they receive a complete knowledge of the practice and tenets of the faith from their parents. There was no mention of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Much was made of the fact that eight Catholic secondary schools in England and Wales are set to undergo the very same amalgamation process in the name of "ecumenism".
I was shown a copy of a draft Worship and Religious Education policy document which seemed, to me, hopelessly subjective.
It contained information about "skills, personal development, the quest for truth, human issues and questions about life", but it simply bypassed issues of religion, ignoring the need to effectively and accurately transmit the faith to the next generation, Although the document boasted that I0 per cent of curriculum time would be dedicated to Religious Education it was clear that the teaching of Catholicism would be limited: It stated: "A percentage of this time in Key Stage 3 will be allocated to denominational RE."
In Key Stage 3 only, you will notice. So much for specific Catholic input throughout secondary schools.
Joint RE lessons can only turn this teaching into an exercise in relativism, or "supermarket pick and mix Christianity". This emphatically does not lead to clear religious thinking.
hat conclusions can be drawn? 1 believe it is fair to assume that there may be a de facto policy among our bishops to gradually let go of Catholic schools.
Catholic parents, on the whole, seem to have accepted this as the status quo and regard it as inevitable. So, why raise a fuss? And they don't.
Those who can afford the fees will send their children to private Catholic schools and I think we can now say goodbye to Catholic secondary education in the state system.
The faithful witness of past ages has been abandoned in the interests of joint-faith collaboration and I am left wondering why many Catholic schools continue to call , themselves "Catholic".
With fewer practising Catholics in the population it seems that we are sleepwalking into some sort of ecumenical oblivion. Yet we are repeatedly told, as Catholics, that we should evangelise and that we should practise and teach the faith.
Why are we abandoning these principles so readily in our Catholic schools?
Throughout this process, there was "careful consultation". All the hoops were dutifully jumped through, and politically correct words — such as ecumenism were bandied about, though it seemed to me that the whole issue had obviously been decided well in advance.
I'd say it's a stitch-up.
Anne Harriss has a degree in Divinity from the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham