W. H. Marshner
(Special to the Wanderer)
JANUARY 18, 1973
WASHINGTON — The most radical plan ever proposed for the wholesale secularization of Roman Catholic schools is now on the desk of His Eminence John Cardinal Cody of Chicago. Although rejected by the Cardinal once before, the plan has been slightly amended and re-submitted. The amendments do not affect the heart of the proposal, which would have the effect of depriving pastors (including, ultimately, the Cardinal himself) of all real authority over their parish schools. This time, however, the plan is expected to be approved.
The major elements of the plan are summarized in a booklet called Directions For the Future, published by the Chicago Archdiocesan School Study Commission in August, 1971 (pp. 48-50):
“… Decentralization of the present system through the exercise of local option which places decision-making with the local communities served by the schools. Parents, acting through a local school board, should determine the school’s Christian character, educational program, administration, and finance.
“… Rearrangement of relationship between school and parish so schools will be independently administered and fiscally responsible to themselves. The need for parish support, however, will continue. …
“… Federation of all local schools, elementary and secondary, with the Archdiocesan School Board, which can provide necessary services at the central level. …
“… Formation of a broadly- based pastoral council to establish priorities for the Church of Chicago. Among its responsibilities would be that of reviewing school priorities developed by the Archdiocesan School Board.
“… Setting the following as school priorities for the Archdiocese of Chicago: (1) Catholic schools serving neighborhoods with large numbers of low-income families, such as those in public housing; (2) Catholic schools whose students are predominantly newly-arrived immigrants or recent arrivals from the South, from Puerto Rico, or from Indian reservations.
“… Establishment of an Archdiocesan School Development Fund to respond to such priorities.
“… Utilization of the resources of colleges and universities to provide special teacher training for Catholic schools, to adopt inner- city schools as laboratory or experimental schools, to provide tutoring projects, and to offer special counselling, medical, dental, and psychological services to children in priority schools. …
“… Endorsement of the principle of public aid for students in private schools: the children of lower-income families will be the group mainly affected by the availability or withholding of public aid.
“… Devising innovative programs jointly with public schools in the inner city where new patterns of education are desperately needed. …”
The genius of this plan consists in its appeal to the slogan of parental responsibility. But instead of producing schools which will reflect the orthodoxy of Catholic parents, the aim is to laicize, and hence ultimately to de-Catholicize, and hence to open the schools to public funding. The lay school board, please note, is to “determine the school’s Christian character,” not the pastor. In fact, the pastor is to be frozen out of all administrative responsibility. He will be expected to support financially what he no longer controls doctrinally. This point alone is in direct conflict with Canon Law, which assigns the education of young people in the Faith to the pastors of parishes as a “proper” responsibility (cf. Canon 1329 and many others).
With the pastor out of the way, the lay school board will have the ability to declare the school “ecumenical” or “Christian” or “experimental” or “community” or merely “private.” A celebrated example of where this has already happened was exposed in the July issue of Triumph magazine. Over the objections of parents (both Catholic and non-Catholic!), St. Thomas the Apostle School (147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, New York) was totally secularized in order to get foundation money, with the connivance of archdiocesan school officials! Moreover, the same unhappy case was written up with great praise in a recent issue of the National Catholic Reporter. So, there is very little doubt what the sort of priests who sympathize with the NCR expect the Chicago plan to amount to.
If the local school board is hesitant to secularize the school, the Archdiocesan School Board will be there to bring about a “better” frame of mind, with the help of carrots from the archdiocesan fund. Note that the local boards will be asked to “federate” with this umbrella board. Moreover, policy for this board will not be set by the Archbishop but by a proposed “pastoral council” whose responsibility, incredibly, is stated as “to establish priorities for the Church of Chicago.” Surely, no responsibility belongs so inalienably to Cardinal Cody himself as that one!
According to the priorities already proposed in the plan, the archdiocesan board will put pressure on Catholic schools, wherever possible, to turn themselves into experimental community schools serving chiefly the largely non-Catholic inner-city poor. Again, the example of St. Thomas the Apostle School is enlightening, for its location is in Harlem.
The end product will be that Catholic schools become merely private schools, whose buildings alone just happen to be owned by the Archbishop of Chicago as a corporation sole; these private schools will be largely advertised as helping Blacks, on the basis of which service a play will be made for public and foundation support. The plan is ingenious, in that it is designed to cut all costs save one: the cost to the faith of Catholic children. These children can go to CCD classes, of course. But the reason Catholic Bishops have been adamant about the value of their schools is that these schools provide the only means by which a Catholic can study the whole of man’s knowledge in the light of Catholic truth. Catholicism is a religion which characteristically informs an entire intellectual world-view. It is not simply a matter of catechetical lessons as though faith were only a way to Heaven. Rather, the faith of Catholics is also a window on reality. And it is just this window which is about to be boarded up throughout the vast Archdiocese of Chicago. Only the Cardinal can now prevent this turn of events.