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9 SCHOOLCHILD PRAYING (3)

A modest proposal to those calling for Catholic schools to be closed

Stephen Daisley turns on its head the absurd arguments of those who wish to eradicate Catholic schools and highlights the blight of secularism against religion.

In these uncertain times, we are indebted to some leading lights of civic Scotland for the soothing familiarity of another campaign against Catholic schools. The occasion is the rioting seen in August, when marauding loyalists intercepted a march by Irish unification agitators in Govan.

This prompted Tom Wood, the former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, to pronounce: “[If] we really want to dig out the roots of sectarianism, we must do what’s difficult, and have the courage to tackle the historical anomaly of religious segregation in our schools.”

The proposition that it requires courage to call for Catholic schools to be scrapped in Scotland is one that is often heard, usually from prominent persons in the course of their newspaper columns or television appearances.

Emotional response

Rosemary Goring, a columnist for The Herald, came to Wood’s defence, albeit reluctantly, in a column touting ‘the liberal values that I consider essential for a fair and well-run country,’ but ultimately concluding that, for this ‘archaic system of schooling,’ their ‘time is up.’ I suppose it can’t have been easy for Goring to set aside her liberalism just for us.

Broadcaster Archie Macpherson chipped in, asking: “How do we have social cohesion? We separate children at the age of five… I think the discussion of it should be open and bold.”

Catholics are prone to an emotional response to broadsides such as these. We resent an attitude towards us that would be termed ‘victim-blaming’ if it were directed elsewhere.

Modest proposal

What, however, if Wood and Goring are right? What if having both Catholic and non-denominational schools is detrimental to social cohesion? The answer, then, is obvious: the time has come to abolish non-denominational schools and replace them with Catholic schools.

After all, Catholics represent 14.5 per cent of Scotland’s population but are the target of 57 per cent of religiously aggravated crimes. Non-denominationals make up 85 per cent of state schools in Scotland and so the balance of responsibility for educationally-derived sectarianism very much lies with them.

Wood and Goring are rightly concerned about the lawless confrontation with the republican march in Govan but there have been a series of incidents in recent years. August 2016 saw St Aloysius’ College daubed with the words ‘The famine’s over! It’s time to go home,’ in a year in which the number of anti-Catholic vandalism incidents more than doubled.

Bigotry

In March 2018, the Blessed Sacrament was desecrated at St Patrick’s Church in Coatbridge, while earlier this year the bus shelter outside Holy Family Parish Church in Mossend was graffitied with the words ‘f*** the Pope.’ In February, a man was jailed for spitting on Canon Thomas White outside St Alphonsus Church in Glasgow during an Orange walk.

These incidents pose grave questions for non-denominational education. What are these schools teaching that the products of them grow up to riot in the streets and spit on priests? In 2019, can we really justify separating children at the age of five simply because some parents want to send their offspring to problematic schools?

By ending educational segregation and moving to a single, all-Catholic schooling system, we would strike at the root cause of division and ensure that all children are educated equally. Parents may protest that this would infringe their right to educate their children non-denominationally but if they really wish to do so, they are free to avail themselves of the various options the private sector has to offer.

High standards

Besides, as a 2014 study showed, Catholic schools are significantly more likely to be rated ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ by inspectors than their non-denominational rivals, so an all-Catholic system would also benefit pupils by raising academic standards.

My proposal is, of course, facetious, but by inverting the logic of Catholic education opponents we can see how contingent, hollow and ignorant their thinking is. Enlightened secularists who preach the virtues of evidence-based policy-making clamour for the shuttering of Catholic schools in the face of scholarship and expert analysis.

The 2013 Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism studied the assertion that sectarianism is caused by Catholic schools and would be eliminated in their absence and concluded: “We found no evidence to support this view. Sectarianism cannot be attributed to a single type of schooling.”

Empty claims

Professor Stephen McKinney, an expert on Catholic schooling, echoes this finding, noting that ‘recurring accusations that Catholic schools create or generate divisions and divisiveness… are seldom substantiated and not supported by the extant research evidence.’

Far from sharpening divisions, Catholic schools have had an integratory effect. Professor McKinney explains: “Contemporary Catholic schools are, in fact, more inclusive than their predecessors and are sensitive to the need to educate all of the children in their care, while retaining a Catholic identity.”

Professor Lindsay Paterson, an educationalist, points out: “Catholic schools have helped to overcome religious divisions… by exposing children of all faiths to the same curriculum in everything except the most directly religious topics, and by giving the same opportunities to children of all faiths after they left school, the secondary schools that the 1918 Act created have broken down barriers irrevocably.”

Australia

Perhaps the most damning rejoinder of all to Wood and Goring lies 10,000 miles away, in a country with state-funded Catholic schools and a history of sectarianism but little in the way of the problem Scotland has today. Institutionalised prejudice against Irish Catholics was commonplace in Australia even before federation. It also pre-dated federal funding of Catholic schools, which only began under the Menzies government in the 1960s.

Since then, however, sectarianism between Protestants and Catholics has largely faded from everyday life and memory. If Scotland’s 363 Catholic schools (14.5 per cent of all state schools) cause sectarianism, why isn’t Australia, with its 1,746 Catholic schools (18 per cent of the national total), a hotbed of the same kind of bigotry?

There is another form of sectarianism that blights Scotland and much of the west: not the Orange versus the Green but the secular versus the religious.

Secular intolerance of public expressions of faith threatens to undermine religious freedom, whether in the form of Catholic schools, the integrity of family life, kosher and halal slaughter, circumcision, or liberty of conscience. All are targets for an illiberal movement determined to erase faith from public life. Catholic schools are a symbol of the pluralism this movement abhors but which all people of faiths (and none) should unite to defend.

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