In a previous article, I suggested that the Church in Canada has capitulated to the fads and heresies of the day without a good fight. Let me fill in the details.
In the province where we spend the summer, the Church long ago abandoned all of its grade schools, high schools, and hospitals. Read that sentence again, closely. I am sure it was done for financial reasons, but the result is the same whatever the cause: In the entire province, there is not a single Catholic hospital and not a single Catholic school. Instruction of children has been ceded entirely to the state.
What that means, of course, anyone familiar with our public schools can tell. The children don’t receive very good instruction in any academic subject. (Since this is Canada, they graduate from grade twelve ignorant of both English and French literature and grammar; this is called bilingualism.) Vocational training has been abandoned. Again, like the “community event” and like what Mass has come to be, school is dominated by the imaginations of older women for the purported benefit of small children; there are a lot of school programs on how to recycle, but none on how to wire a house or sink posts underwater to build a jetty. Sex education is what it is in America, a creepy attempt to corrupt the young, in case television, video games, and old-fashioned sin have not already done the trick. Not that the parents in most cases would mind; the out-of-wedlock birth rate in Canada is approaching one in two.
So there are no Catholic schools. What about Catholic colleges? Canada does boast one or two defiantly Catholic colleges, out west. Let us pray for ten more like them. Most of the Catholic colleges, like the one near where we spend the summer, have slid into secularism and unbelief. Not by design; the schools merely failed to hire faithful Christians, and one day the trustees awoke and groaned or cheered to find themselves secular.
There are, however, a few small signs of hope. Church attendance is much poorer in Canada than in the United States, but Canadians have not the same allergic reaction to church-state relations that afflicts American secularists. That possibility of rapprochement between the state and the Church has allowed for a new Catholic Studies program at the local college, a victory won by compromise when the old theology department renamed itself Religious Studies and thereby declared its independence from the Church. There is also a fine Catholic Studies program at McGill University in Montreal; and St. Michael’s College retains its affiliation with the University of Toronto. But in our province there is not a single seminary; the few young men who discern a calling to the priesthood must be sent to Ontario, more than a thousand miles away.
All this means that there are no distinctly Catholic voices in higher education generally — no Catholic intellectual strongholds, no imposing outposts of resistance or rebellion. Perhaps that is too strong. There’s an excellent Canadian-English magazine, Challenge. There’s an excellent group based in Ontario, with chapters here and there across the country, striving to uphold the civil rights of Catholics. A few Catholic bishops have spoken out against abortion and same-sex pseudogamy; Fred Henry of Calgary is the bravest of these. But they are few, as there are few, or hardly any, Catholic homeschoolers, and no Catholic broadcasting. It is a country whose broadcast regulators long refused to allow EWTN access to Canadian homes (Red China, I believe, still refuses).
So we have, in one corner of the ring, the ogre of spiritually suicidal Canada, with its single-generation collapse in church attendance, from 70 to 17 percent weekly. All the schools from kindergarten to the doctoral dissertation; all the hospitals; all the ubiquitous social-service people; all the newspapers; all the broadcast media; all the public intellectuals; all the now-common assumptions among the ordinary people about the rightness of feminism and the normality of sodomitical relations; and all (or almost all) the chanceries and established Catholic groups. In the other corner, those Catholics who still understand that modernism, with its combination of personal sexual license and all-devouring state authority, is the mortal enemy not only of the Faith but even of the possibility of a thriving culture — something other than what is fed to the masses by the mass media and mass entertainment and mass education.
In one corner, people who snicker at the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and the only Son of God, in Whose name alone we find salvation. In the other corner, people who still believe that Christianity is the true Faith and that no one comes to the Father but through Christ, but who have at their disposal no intellectual tradition to draw upon, and no serious training in the Faith. In one corner, we have one David Suzuki, popular and articulate exponent of environmentalism, probably the most recognizable face and voice in the Canadian media. He is an avowed atheist. In the other corner, nobody — or your local director of religious education.
I went once to speak to our local director — a very kind middle-aged woman. The people from Steubenville were coming to our diocese (again, a small sign of hope in troubled Canada), and my daughter wanted to sign up for the gathering. The director had heard of EWTN, but not Franciscan University. That might not be so bad, but then we talked a little about what I did for a living. As I said, she was kind.
I said that I had translated Dante. Said she, “I’ve never heard of him.”
Wishing to jog her memory and give her a way out, I said that he wrote a poem called The Divine Comedy, about traveling to hell and purgatory and heaven.
“Sorry,” she smiled. “I’ve never heard of that, either.”
We in America enjoy a few advantages that my Canadian friends do not. We still have a system of Catholic schools, and many of these have come to understand that they will not survive, nor will they deserve to survive, unless they frankly espouse the Faith and take up arms against the brutish folly of modern education. We still have some Catholic colleges and universities — about one-fifth or one-sixth of those that say they are “in the Catholic tradition,” or some other such nonsense, by which is meant that a priest crosses the quadrangle once a month, and that the Faith, when it is engaged at all, is the object of scorn and spite. Even at schools that have long ceased to be Catholic — Saint Louis University, for instance, whose administrators sued the government, claiming that it was not a Catholic school, and winning their case — there are some Catholic intellectuals of high profile.
We have a Catholic network, EWTN, and wide-reaching broadcasting (Catholic Answers Live), and Catholic magazines, and a vibrant cadre of Catholic Web sites, including InsideCatholic. We have at least a few dioceses that are well run, and a growing number of young people attracted to the sacral in language, gesture, clothing, music, and art. We even have intellectuals and homeschoolers and bloggers and ordinary Catholics reading Pope Leo XIII and understanding that if you are talking about Catholic social doctrine and you are not talking about the family (that is, about father and mother and children), then you are not talking about Catholic social doctrine.
What we don’t have yet is a Joshua or a Judah the Hammer, or a Paul with the sword of God’s word, or an Athanasius leading the orthodox into battle, when the world awoke and found itself Arian. In Canada, no battle was fought, and the fields are empty; not littered with martyrs, not littered with anything at all. In America, the battle can yet be fought. The bishops have no stomach for it. But if we would avoid the fate of our neighbors, fight we must.
Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College and a senior editor for Touchstone magazine. His latest book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery).
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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