Catholic Schools: Toeing the Party Line

Robbed of much of their vitality by the violent implosion in religious orders, especially those devoted to teaching the young, over the past fifty years, our Catholic schools have struggled to stay alive – and many have closed their doors forever. Those that remain retain but a shell of their former orthodoxy.

Prior to 1960 it was a Catechetical Director under the authority of the bishop who directed catechetical teaching in every school, college and university. He approved all curricula in religious studies in primary and secondary schools including all texts and programs. He interviewed publishers and authors of new texts being considered to ensure that there was nothing in them contrary to faith and morals. In consultation with the Archbishop, priests were designated to lecture on Catechetics to all Catholic teachers. Pastors and nuns of pious practice who had a sound knowledge of doctrine were given the responsibility of teaching religion to students. With the full cooperation of all principles annual uniform tests were held throughout the various dioceses.

Today, almost disregarded in most Catholic schools is the supervisory role of the Catholic priest. They no longer make frequent visits to schools in their parishes or submit annual reports on their condition, with any necessary recommendations. The priest is more or less a resource person who is infrequently consulted. Sometimes he is more tolerated than welcome in our Catholic schools. In general Bishops no longer issue rules and regulations. Schools are run by school boards according to pedagogical principles, and under union control, which determines what is taught and how. Lay teachers are the norm. A considerable number of them do not practice their faith and this by their own admission.

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In the 1960’s, schools and seminaries began to introduce what is known as the “open concept” method of teaching – often referred to as “sensitivity training” or “encounter therapy”. This technique, made popular by psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, was originally designed to help neurotics and returning GI’’s who were having trouble re-adapting to civilian life after the war. It was not meant for “normal” people. In practice, the technique provides a climate of maximum freedom for personal expression, exploration of feelings and interpersonal communication. Emphasis is placed upon the interactions among the group members in an atmosphere which encourages each to drop his defenses and his facades thus enabling him to relate directly and openly to other members of the group – the basic encounter. The goal is to achieve greater personal independence, fewer hidden feelings, more willingness to innovate and more opposition to institutional rigidities. Michael Weber, in his book Psychotechniken: Die Neuen Verfuehrer, saw the rise of Encounter Group techniques in German seminary training as a Trojan Horse whose purpose was the deliberate destruction of religious vocations and the subsequent triumph of the secular point of view.

Another educational technique used by many schools and parishes after Vatican II is “values clarification”. With this approach students are encouraged to perceive Church teachings as a reflection of their own personal choice. Strongly stressed is the idea that there is no right or wrong answers only answers which are compatible with one’’s own life experiences. One is motivated to cultivate a certain sense of creativity and autonomy with respect to the issues under discussion based on his or her own personal feelings. While this often leads to a liberating, exhilarating experience, it also leads the individual away from the truth and onto paths where one starts to build their own world. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has condemned “values clarification” in “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the family”, as being “closely linked with moral relativism”.

Another tragedy with our schools is the introduction of sex-education. Today priests and bishops are telling us that mandatory sex education in schools is good and necessary for children to keep up with the times – even those who have not even reached the age of puberty. The result has been disastrous. There is an extremely high incidence of teenage pregnancy, of abortions obtained by teenagers, and of sexually transmitted diseases. Sex education has been the instrument used in our schools to advance everything from contraception and abortion to the acceptance of homosexuality.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, sex-education should be left to parents because they know their children well and can impart the proper knowledge to them at the proper time. Parents are also able to educate their children better than teachers can, because they are more able to pay attention to the complete education of their children which involves a well rounded schooling in the virtues of chastity, good judgement, justice, courage and self-control. It is in the family primarily that children acquire, or fail to acquire, the virtues.

Bishops who countenance sex education in schools quite probably tell themselves that if the instruction is given under Catholic auspices, it will be given “the right way.” But there is no right way to give explicit sex instruction to children who are mentally and emotionally unready for it. There is no right way to give information in groups that should be given privately. There is no right way for an outsider to assume a role which belongs particularly to the parents. This is why Pope Pius XII, in an address on September 23, 1951, insisted that only parents should give sex education. More recently Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family (in 1981) said that the right and duty of parents to give education is essential, original and primary.

In addition to teaching sex, our schools are also now offering “comparative religion” courses which work to soften the importance of Catholicism and eliminate the differences in religion. If nothing is sacred, then nothing is evil, and so we are spared the embarrassment of being “judgmental”.

Religious instruction has also shifted from “rote learning” to “spiritual motivation”, emphasizing community and social justice while setting aside knowledge of tradition and the institutional church. Not surprisingly, most graduates of our Catholic schools systems are religiously illiterate. They do not know the faith, cannot defend it. Do not realize that it is their most precious possession and are not motivated to explore it more deeply or even go to Mass or frequent the Sacraments. One study found that at least 42 per-cent of students thought that each individual decides the content of his or her beliefs. Other surveys show that nearly two-thirds of our Catholic students do not even believe that Christ founded His Church.

Learning is no longer an appropriation of the truth but has become a search for the truth based on the strength of evidence rather than on respect for God. Catholic schools used to require their teachers to leave their personal opinions behind when they crossed the threshold of the school and to adjust their teaching to the common sense of natural morality. Schools were a relation between persons, that is between a Catholic teacher and learner. The church use to say that it is a relation of both to the world of values. It is not the teacher that the pupil has to know; both have to know the world of values and direct their common attention towards it. But just as one man’’s face is turned towards another in the reformed liturgy, so it is in the reformed pedagogy. This conversion of pupils into teachers and vice versa parallels and compliments the post-Vatican II secularization of the clergy and the clericalization of the laity.

The demise of our Catholic schools have been marked by closures, laicization and doctrinal scandals. Since Vatican II there has been a progressive loss of originality in Catholic schools, which now model themselves deliberately on state schools as regards their structure, syllabuses, calendar and everything else. As for their culture, they have largely given up a specifically Catholic view of history and have adopted instead points of view that in the past century were typical of the Church’’s enemies. Examples are the rehabilitation of heretics like Martin Luther and the aggrandizement of Presidents and Prime Ministers like Canada’s Pierre Trudeau who deride the objective moral order of things with their nihilistic laws and policies.

Good schools are ultimately the result of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.

The desperately needed reform of our Catholic schools will find the Bishop once more in full charge of the teaching of religion in his Diocese. He will supervise and set curricula and texts and teacher requirements through his Catechetical Office. The pastor will be the local spiritual director and guide and teacher in the parochial school. Teachers, School Boards and Teachers’ Associations will find their true nobility, freedom and fulfillment in being “in medio ecclesiae,” in and with and under Christ’s Church.


  • Paul Kokoski

    Mr. Paul Kokoski holds a BA in philosophy from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His articles have been published in several journals including, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, New Oxford Review, and Catholic Insight.

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