We need Catholic schools now more than ever

Jared Staudt

Our ancestors, Catholic immigrants to the United States, built up the largest private school system in the world. They made an enormous sacrifice, scraping pennies together for the formation of their children. Why were they so committed to giving their kids a Catholic education? They understood that education provides the foundation for how to live — how to think, what to value, and how to contribute to the world. Catholic schools were formed to give children a complete formation, setting them up for both success and their eternal happiness. Nonetheless, since the 1960s, Catholic education has been in decline and now an overwhelming majority of Catholic children are formed primarily by the public schools.

If public schools educate the bulk of Catholic children, then the state of the public education bears directly on the future of the Church in the United States. Authors Mary Rice Hasson and Theresa Farnan make a poignant and pressing case against public education in Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child from Public School Before It’s Too Late (Regnery Gateway, 2018). Here are their reasons for why public education has become untenable: 1) Public schools are now committed to spreading gender ideology, despite the findings of science; 2) Meant to form citizens, they have eroded patriotism and indoctrinated socialism; 3) The absence of engagement with religion combined with scientism have led to practical atheism and relativism; 4) School systems have been eroding parental rights and marginalizing parents’ role in their child’s education; 5) The steady decline in academic achievement has been furthered by Common Core.

The authors state the urgency of their case: “The risk of harm to a child’s moral and human formation in the public schools today is serious and nearly certain. Few children are intellectually adept enough to detect the illusion being passed off as truth or wise enough to avoid the moral pitfalls that accompany an immersion in ‘sexual health’ or gender ideology” (148). The reality of this claim is hitting home in Colorado right now as the State House considers HB 19 1032, a bill which doubles down on existing standards covering human sexuality for public schools. Its proposed language states:

“Comprehensive human sexuality education . . . also teaches youth about the different relationship models they and their peers may engage in, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peers, and how to be a safe and healthy partner in a relationship. [It] also fosters youth social-emotional health and well-being by teaching self-acceptance and respect for those whose sexuality, gender, gender expression, or lived experience differ from their own. [It] rejects the use of shame, stigma, fear, and gender norms or gender stereotypes as instructional tools and recognizes that such tactics are counterproductive to youth empowerment and particularly harmful to vulnerable and questioning youth.”

We must reverse the decline of our Catholic schools as we need them now more than ever before!  Archbishop Aquila has been leading the way in calling for a renewal of our schools by emphasizing discipleship as our most important task. If our children live as disciples (or students) of Christ, they will know their true identity as children of God, will have the wisdom to see what matters most in the world, and will enter their vocation and work with the courage necessary to thrive in a secular world. The formation of disciples is holistic: entering into a relationship with God, knowing the truth, pursuing what is good by forming virtue, and developing the skills to succeed. Our children need a community of faith and love to reach their fullest potential, as God will help them to be fully alive in Him.

The Church recognizes that parents are the primary educators of their children. The challenges in education today require cooperation to give our children the best education possible. The Archdiocese of Denver is committed to making Catholic education available to all students, an education that is robustly Catholic, provides an integrated liberal arts curriculum, and offers a healthy and holy environment. Our Catholic schools are committed to renewal and growth in the midst of greater need, but parents also must be more involved than in the past. I agree with Hasson and Farnan that it’s time to “look for alternatives. … If you are concerned about your child’s faith, intellectual formation, and patriotism, public schools are working against you. It’s time to get out, now” (177).

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.