Saturday, 20 February 2010

While the Family burns ...

Many other blogs across the ether, including Fr Finigan, Fr Blake and Mulier Fortis, are commenting on the embarrassing position in which the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) finds itself. Over a week ago, it ran a story claiming that its lobbying had helped lead to an ammendment of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Whatever the truth of that claim, the ammendment, which states PSHE can be taught in a way which 'reflects the school's religious character', alarmed the 'Accord Coalition'. They were worried that this ammendment would allow a return of Section 28 by the back door.

On Thursday, however, their anxieties were soothed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families whose spokesman said:

Schools with a religious character will be free, as they are now, to express the views of their faith and reflect the ethos of their school, but what they cannot do is suggest that their views are the only ones.The bottom line is that all young people must by law receive accurate and balanced information so that they can make informed, positive choices

By 'the only ones' I take it our spokesperson meant 'the only valid ones', since it would be absurd to suggest other views are not already mentioned in Catholic schools. So whither now the CESEW? We have yet to see.


I wasn't even aware there was a Department for Children, Schools and Families, but as I reflect on this story and its implications, I'm not surprised the government have created one. Nothing must come between the great Leviathan of the State and the individuals who are incorporated in it. It might seem tendentious to say so, but I wonder if this department's name is revelatory


are mentioned first, for they are the individuals in whom the State invests the rights which make them free.

Then, we have

, legally-created collectivities where the children's rights can be propped up by government-approved wisdom and options guidance

And only then do we have


that old fashioned institution which is, for the time being, a biological and psychological necessity, but whose edges are frayed with pressure from same-sex unions and adoption, and the promise which biotechnology seems to show.

Fr Finigan has entitled his post: 'Catholic Schools: have we reached the end game?'

Yes, Fr Finigan, we have, but, I would argue, not primarily because of the CESEW's bungling. We have reached the endgame for Catholic schools because Catholic schools cannot work without Catholic families. And we have reached the end of Catholic families - not in particular cases, but generally - because, in a time of monumental cultural upheaval, where the pressures of being Catholic are made all the worse by our immersion in a constant stream of unchristian belief and praxis, there seems to be no taste among the hierarchy to evangelize their people on issues which could cause a rumpus. When Portsmouth Diocese had their diocesan reorganization a couple of years ago and asked for the suggestions of the faithful, someone I know proposed that in addition to calling itself a 'Fairtrade Diocese', Portsmouth should call itself a 'Prolife Diocese', and shape its policies more consciously around the promotion of all the Catholic teachings regarding life (marriage and family life, contraception, abortion, bioethics). But why does such a thing have to be said in any case? Isn't it stark-ravingly obvious? In the event it was the waste of a good piece of paper.

But it isn't stark-ravingly obvious, because we are all of us tempted to think that if we get the 'system' right, all will be well. If the rails are straight, the train will run. This is displaced responsibility. I firmly believe that, if the CESEW is a shambles, it is in some ways our fault. If Catholic schools like St Thomas More in Bedford are dancing to the tune of the DCSF - and we have yet to see their response to the DCSF's claims - we're to blame. Of course, what we need is good leadership, but what do we find? A senior person associated with the CBCEW (that's the bishops' conference) told me recently that they thought the most serious problem faced by the bishops was the lack of fidelity among their people. Now, when the anxieties of leaders turn in on themselves, that is a sure sign of serious systemic disease; let's hope it was the apparatchik's anxiety speaking and not that of the bishops. It has left me wondering how the recent remarks of Pope Benedict about dissent will be read. The pope was talking about the doctrine of the faith, but what if his words were respun as a defence of the rules of the club?

There is good Catholic work going on everywhere in England and Wales to try to face these issues, but voices such as John Smeaton's, Eric Hester's and Fr Finigan's are apparently held more in fear than in respect. Frankly, as far as I can see, we're getting to the point where we need major surgery (and I'm thinking about a few 'caputectomies'). Otherwise in another fifty years, this whole limb of the English Church will be as lifeless as all the partes infidelium, and it will be little comfort then that, at the very least, our coffee has been ethically sourced.


  1. The most serious problem faced by the people is the lack of fidelity among their bishops.

  2. You're well on track here (though a parenthetic thought about how tertiary education ended up in a different Ministry from primary and secondary might open all sorts of interesting doors).

    I think the caputectomy solution may end up being the only one, though, in this interesting post-ad limina period, it is interesting to note how many episcopal engagements listed in the Catholic Herald this week seem to involve Archbishop's and Bishop's Councils. I might have been filled with optimism a year ago: I'm not now.

    There is good news for the future: a new generation of priests seems to be seriously Catholic; and we have Christ's promise to his Church as well (though what happened to North Africa in the seventh century is a salutary reminder against unfounded optimism about trying to tie that promise to a time and a place).

    It's the prospects for now and for the near-term future that have taken away any optimism I felt for the possibility of renewal within the Church in E&W. I find it harder and harder to understand how our Hierarchs can possibly be part of the solution, when their collective identity as the Bishops' Conference and its dependent organs feel increasingly to be not just part of the problem, but the source of the problem.

    That's a nice cheery thought for the First Sunday of Lent.