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20190709T1516-0408-CNS-JUBILEE-SCHOOLS-MEMPHIS-CLOSE

Grassroots movement needed to safeguard our Catholic schools

Ordinary Catholics must not take for granted the gift our ancestors fought hard to win, Fr Michael Kane says.

Over these last few weeks there has been much debate about the place of Catholic schools in Scotland. This public conversation gained traction at the same time as serious, and sometimes violent, clashes between loyalists and republicans in Glasgow. Astonishingly, some commentators suggested a direct link between west of Scotland bigotry and Catholic schools, with the charge that perhaps our schools contribute to fermenting bigotry in young people.

Much has been said in response to this claim which is as offensive as it is outlandish. The Catholic Faith abhors the very idea of stirring hatred along religious divides. Our Gospel message is anchored in respect and tolerance.

 

Free society

A schools system that is diverse and representative of different faiths is not part of Scotland’s shame; it is a mark of a religiously tolerant and free society. Parents have the right to raise their children in their own religious tradition and to impart core values as they see fit. We should all be concerned if a new culture emerges which seeks to strip this right from parents. It would be a dangerous intrusion of the state to deny parents the right to raise their children according to their own religious tradition. If this includes Catholic schooling then this decision should be respected.

In any case, our Catholic schools have a track record of high attainment and excellent pupil satisfaction. Our students are the greatest ambassadors for our schools who cherish their broad experience of academic and religious formation. The young people I meet in schools find religious bigotry absolutely at odds with our core values and are perplexed at the charge that this is somehow promoted at school. Those of us who attended Catholic schools simply do not accept the caricature which is being widely promoted.

 

Ignorance

Of course, there have always been those who choose to ignore the positive contribution of Catholic schools to wider society. This is unlikely to change any time soon. Carefully constructed anti-Catholic sentiment still runs deep in some parts of civil society. Humanists are also unrelenting in their determination to drive out any vestige of religion in the public space. It is interesting to note that there is little appetite to tackle our divisive parade culture which actually leads to outbreaks of violence on our city streets. To target our schools is a bizarre place to begin this complex conversation.

The greatest threat to Catholic schools, however, does not come from external pressures. It is much closer to home. Unfortunately, there is a lack of passionate interest from the broader Catholic community on this emotive issue.

 

Safeguarding

There needs to be a new determination from within our own religious culture to safeguard a treasure which has transformed the lives and opportunities of generations of Catholics to the enrichment of wider society.

Our bishops and priests have given a robust response to the misguided claims of our vociferous opponents, but protecting our schools is a shared responsibility. It falls to every Catholic to guard this gift which is the legacy of our grandparents and those who lived through real religious intolerance.

This surely suggests the need for a grassroots movement among ordinary Catholics to stand up in opposition to this kind of blatant religious prejudice.

It is a message we must share with our elected representatives and politicians, and seek watertight assurances from them that Catholic schools have a secure place in modern Scotland. We cannot accept the claim that our schools breed intolerance or bigotry. In the end we will pay the price if regular Catholic parents and teachers remain indifferent to this issue which will undoubtedly re-emerge in the years to come.

 

Symbol of acceptance

One hundred years ago, the new state Catholic schools were commended by our Catholic community and broader society as a symbol of acceptance.

Previous generations fought hard for the right to send their children to schools which reflect their own Faith and ethos. We ignore their determination at our peril. The children and grandchildren of ordinary Catholics may pay a heavy price if we all remain silent.

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