Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster has issued a Pastoral Letter which has attracted some attention. It is principally about evangelisation and how the Church is to go about it in changing circumstances. He challenges his people to think about evangelising their lapsed family, friends and neighbours.
All of us know someone - a friend, family member, classmate, work colleague or neighbour - who used to be a practising Catholic, but isn't any more. For some who initially heard the incredible proclamation of Christ alive in the Church, the message has become stale. The promises of the Gospel seem empty or unconnected to their busy lives today. So, what is our response? Surely our love and concern for them means that they should be the primary object of our missionary or evangelising efforts, our energy and resources. The Church only exists to evangelise that means buildings, churches, parishes, schools and colleges are only valuable insofar as they help the Church in that mission of salvation!!Evangelisation out in the world is surely one of the tasks that the Second Vatican Council reminded us was among the pre-eminent works that the laity are called to (as opposed to taking over the priest's sacramental jobs on the sanctuary!) The Bishop also questions the way our Catholic schools have, for the most part, developed:
Is it right or sustainable to expect our Mass-going population of 21,000 to support our schools and colleges in which often the majority of pupils, and sometimes teachers, are not practising Catholics? Is it time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?"Schools that are Catholic in name only." Finally, a bishop who has had the courage to say it. What is the point of us maintaining schools that have the name "Catholic" on the sign outside (or more likely the reduced epithet "R.C.") while inside few of the teachers are Catholic and ninety per cent plus of the children and their families do not practice the Faith in any meaningful way. This situation could be seen as an opportunity to evangelise and call these lapsed children and their families back to the Faith but anyone who attempts to use our school system for this purpose immediately has the rug pulled out from under their feet.
1. Catholic Schools have been forced or have bought into the prevailing secular culture and management of schools and so there is no time and no ability to push a truly Catholic agenda (we cannot decide to only employ practising Catholics as teachers, for example, and the health and safety implications of allowing children to cross the road to serve Mass are momentous, not to mention that it clashes with the numeracy or literacy hour).Whatever has happened to our Catholic Schools in recent decades, the fact is they are no longer doing what they are meant to do - teach the Catholic Faith along with giving an all-round education. Watered down elements of the Christian faith may be taught in our schools but the fullness of the Catholic Faith is not lived in our schools. How could it be and why should it be by people who may not be Catholics at all? How could it be by teachers who are lapsed? A truly Catholic ethos must surely mean so much more than vaguely "helping others" by CAFOD events in Lent and joining in Red Nose Day.
2. Most diocesan education structures do not envisage this or they even work against it. I've been told in the past that it is simply not acceptable to ask children in school if they were at Mass with their families on Sunday. I've been told that the school has an equal opportunities policy and therefore I may not recruit altar servers and only ask for boys - even though this contravenes the teaching of the Church on this matter (I wonder how I can, therefore, talk about vocation to the Priesthood in school, as only boys could apply - or nuns for Religious Life, as only girls could apply!) All this apart from the actual religious education programes that are for the most part not fit for purpose.
To the rest of the world - and no doubt to Rome on ad limina visits - the paper fact of so many Catholic schools with so many children in them looks fantastic. The reality, as Bishop Campbell points out, is rather different. Perhaps the time has come to abandon the pretense and start again by spending the money we now spend on schools on far fewer schools for those who actually are Catholic who practise their Faith and on catechetical programmes in parishes for children. In a sense, going back to how many of our schools started - for example in my own parish here when nuns bought a large house and started classes in it back in the 1940's.
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