(From a concerned parent and teacher, to the Director of Education of a certain Catholic school board, which, like so many – to quote the rock band REM – is losing its religion)
Thank you for all the hard work you do as Director of Education for our local Catholic school board. We expect it has been a most difficult 15 months. Hopefully, summer will provide a wee respite.
We are aware of a notification regarding the school board’s Pride Month decisions, and wish to share our deep reservations about the flying of the pride flag at school board offices and the inclusion of a pride theme in the month of June. We apologize for the length of this communication. Serious and sensitive matters cannot easily be discussed in a few paragraphs. Please bear with us.
It is known that all school boards labour over creating mission statements. It strikes us the Catholic school board mission statement should be easy:
The mission of this school board is to transmit the Catholic faith as has been passed on to us for millennia. We embrace and employ the wisdom and truth of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture, the Deposit of Faith, and the Sacraments to form and inform the students entrusted to Catholic schools. With careful use of these august tools, the minds, hearts and souls of the students will be uniquely equipped to seek God’s grace so as to boldly and courageously live out their Catholic faith in a difficult culture, aspiring to the reward of eternal life with God. The fullness of the Catholic faith, morals, and teachings will permeate all subjects in our curriculum.
Therein lies the rub. If this is not the primary goal of the Catholic school system, then does it not stand to reason the system should no longer carry the title “Catholic?” Why else was a separate school system established if not to inculcate the Catholic faith, which otherwise would not be transmitted in the public school system? The separate school system was not established to be a kinder, gentler, slightly stricter public school system. It was meant to offer necessary education and, primarily, to transmit the Catholic faith. And in order to transmit that faith, common sense and reason dictate the Catholic board and teachers be fully immersed in that faith, living it out in their lives. Might we agree that one cannot share what one does not have?
This, of course, is an ideal which must be worked out in what has become a post-Christian, secular nation that has seen abortion, euthanasia, no-fault divorce, and same sex marriage become the laws of the land – laws that would have been considered incomprehensible 60 years ago. Something happened along the way, and here we are in 2021 flying pride flags over school board offices, despite the fact that Catholics have been given very clear Church teaching on this. We wonder sometimes if boards and teachers are fully cognizant of these teachings regarding homosexuality and Catholicism. They are found in the Catechism (#2357ff). They are also found in Sacred Scripture (Genesis Ch 18, 19 / Isaiah 3:9 / Jeremiah 23:14 / Luke 17:28-29 / Romans 1:18ff / 2 Peter 2:6-9). These Scripture passages are clear and impossible to ignore. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Our Catholic faith has never been a smorgasbord of tenets from which we may pick and choose. Catholics have always been called to be all in. And if we do not understand—or struggle with—some teachings, it is incumbent on us to pray, study and seek wise counsel. All Catholics are called to know their faith and form their consciences.
How did we come to this point? How should a Catholic school board handle this pride flag issue and pride theme, other than repeatedly offering the ubiquitous buzzwords of the secular message: tolerance, equity, diversity and inclusion? Students could attend a public school and be well taught these four concepts, along with a smackeral of good virtues. But what is it that sets the Catholic school apart? And, more to the point, can we be a truly Catholic school system; that is, a school system which faithfully follows the tenets of the Catholic faith we claim to profess? We suggest it appears to near impossible, as we are now 37 years into full funding from the Ontario government. While the funding was lauded at the time, sadly, the Catholic school system has manifested the very cautions Fr. Tom Raby wrote about in the Catholic Register1 in 1984:
Teachers, administrators and parents must not lose sight of the whole purpose for which our Catholic schools were established and maintained over the years at great financial sacrifice. They must be committed to maintain these goals by accepting as readily the challenge of other and even more important sacrifices.
The worst enemy of our Catholic school system is not a non-Catholic teacher who may want to teach in it, or the non-Catholic children who may attend, but our own Catholic parents and teachers who are not committed enough to their Catholic faith to make the sacrifices necessary to teach it in the most effective way — by the example of living it daily.
If this is lost our schools will become indistinguishable from any other fully tax-supported system even in moral and religious training. The financial sacrifices called for over the years now must be replaced by another, which for some may be more difficult. That is the sacrifice of teachers, parents and administrators who need to be more committed than ever to live their Catholic faith by open practice as well as inward spirit, by governing their lives by its moral principles, supporting the Church in its teaching and the local parish in its worship and efforts to make Christ present in the daily faith and love of its people.
Alas, it seems Fr. Raby was a prophet. Other religious denominations seem to be able to withstand and transcend cultural/moral secular impositions. Some Jewish, Muslim, and Evangelical schools (yes, albeit, private, but still under federal/provincial laws) are actively seeking to maintain a religious integrity while doing skilled end-runs around invasive secular mores and intrusions.
In the main, these end-runs are addressed by the principle of Catholic subsidiarity; that is, addressing a problem at a local level, with the least possible intrusion and fuss. Subsidiarity does not seek answers from without; it seeks solutions from within. In other words, deal with it as it comes up in the local community. At a school, is a child being bullied for seeming to exhibit or profess homosexual tendencies? If so, it must be dealt with in the same way as a child being bullied for being thought to be: too fat, too stupid, too short, too pimpled, too slow, too uncoordinated, too different. Subsidiarity deals with it at the immediate local level: Take the bully aside and admonish/teach him or her, and, if necessary, punish. Take the bullied child aside and console him/her, offering love, concern and reassurances this should not happen again. Finally, if necessary, internally address a larger group, or a class pointing always to the bigger picture of the fullness of Catholic teaching.
When subsidiarity is not in place, a gay pride issue becomes Catholic public virtue signaling, with internal and external announcements, flag flying, special teaching, and special themes which frankly affirm secular teachings that are contrary to teachings of the Church. A child in the Catholic school system who indicates a homosexual preference should naturally be loved, included and nurtured. At the same time, Catholic teachings need to be inculcated and transmitted via the Catechism, Sacred Scripture and pointing to the Sacraments as vehicles of healing. After all, the schools are labeled “Catholic” with all that it entails. And if a child expresses that tendency, we need to remember first this is a child who is in formation. Children are dynamic and fluid, not static. Psychologists tell us we are not truly adults physiologically, mentally and emotionally until we are 25. So nothing is cast in stone, and care must be taken, as we know children are very impressionable.
The Catholic school, by virtue of its name, has a singular duty to steep the child in the Catholic faith which informs us—along with many other things—that God loves us, we are made in His image, by virtue of Baptism we are His children, and He gives us necessary grace and strength through all trials. He has left us a Church wherein are the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist as food and strength for the journey. God has not left us orphans, and that is the message to be shared with a child or a teen struggling with these concerns (with any concerns). We are called to chastity if we have concluded we cannot marry a person of the opposite sex and have a family. We are called to chastity within a marriage, keeping rigorously to our marital vows, despite temptations. God will give us strength for the seeking. And for those struggling with same sex attraction, the Church has institutions like Courage International—and more—to assist.
Further, wise and prudent teachers are very aware that young people have a tendency to be insecure, self-serving, to seek attention, and to follow current fads and trends. I have been a teacher in various capacities for 30 years. Children are malleable. Our primary job is to show them the ways of God. We are to encourage them to be other-centered; and most importantly, we are to call them to nobility, gratitude and graciousness. In short, we are to challenge them to become saints who are fully human, fully alive in faith, with full knowledge of God and His Church. If we are not doing this, we are not fully Catholic teachers. If Catholic schools are not doing this, it is logical to conclude they can no longer bear the name Catholic.
On the most basic level, why must there be any cultural/societal flag? Why must anything be publically said? A Catholic school should fly the Canadian flag and the papal flag. No other flags. Does it not stand to reason that promoting a pride flag and encouraging the message to actively live out a lifestyle that is an antithesis to Catholic teaching is a repudiation of those teachings – an affront to Jesus Christ of whom it was said in Mark 12:14: “He taught the way of God in accordance with the truth”? Why can’t Catholic schools just quietly transmit the fullness of Catholic teachings in an atmosphere of love and affirmation?
On the most important level, these student souls are entrusted to parents, teachers, all those involved with the Catholic system, and the separate school board taxpayers. This is on our watch. We will have to give an account to God for our actions or non-actions. If we are employed by a Catholic school board, then we must know and live the Catholic faith in a system that proudly proclaims and lives out the full truths of the Catholic faith.
Full-funding solved a problem 35+ years ago by decreasing the financial strain on Catholic families, but we contend it opened a Catholic Pandora’s box, and now, over three decades later, the separate school system, in a misguided effort to be relevant to society (and sadly aware of its financial benefactor), has become a shadow of itself. And, yes, it must be stated that it was slowly hijacked by those who identify themselves as “liberal” Catholic teachers, parents, administrators, and animators. We have had a front row seat since 1984, and it has been difficult to watch.
It is painfully obvious it is decades past time to reset the Catholic clock in the Catholic school system. And if no one has the will or inclination to address this very serious problem, then it is time to amalgamate with the public system and have done with it. No more Catholic window dressing. No more lukewarm Catholicism. No more Catholic lite. It is a disservice to God – and a danger to the souls of teachers, students and parents. St. Paul tells us: “… I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you … for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (RSV-RC, 2 Timothy 1:7).
Thank you for bearing with us.