The STLToday story on the Epiphany school closing and its aftermath is causing quite a stir in the Archdiocese, and my post of yesterday about it has generated a lot of interest here. Not only is it generating discussion in the combox, but I have received several very detailed and thoughtful emails about the problems facing Catholic education, an analysis of the causes, and speculating on some possible solutions.
And even while I was posting on the article and adding my own comments, I thought I would also follow up with a post about what could be done. I intend to do that in the coming couple of days. But first, there is one big issue (mentioned in the combox, but not the article) I want to address.
So, in order to continue the discussion, here are some additional thoughts.
When dealing with the cause of the dwindling enrollments, we typically focus on the city of St. Louis, and in the STLToday article it specifically dealt with one city parish school. This focus can obscure that the drop in numbers is not just population shifts (whether it is "white flight", or bigger homes in the county, or better highways and roads allowing for easier commutes to the cities), but much, much, more importantly, one of the biggest elephants in the Catholic education room, and one that affects all Catholic schools, city and county:
Contraception obviously leads to couples having fewer children than they would likely have had. Hence the name.
But contraception also contributes to promiscuity before marriage, adultery within marriage, destabilizes homes, and perversely enough leads to more abortions, as the couple who sought to pervert the marital act to serve their own ends is often led to take it one step further and "end a pregnancy" they bought drugs or devices to prevent.
Providentially, the Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that contraception is gravely sinful matter and may not be used by Catholics.
This is not a news flash, but Catholics today contracept at a rate similar to non-Catholics:
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention 2002 National Survey of Family Growth revealed that 97% of American Catholic women over age 18 have used a form of contraception, which is the same percentage as the general population. A 2005 nationwide poll of 2,242 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive showed that 90% of Catholics supported the use of birth control.
And Janet Smith writes that thirty percent of Catholics are sterilized, which is the same rate as the rest of the population.
Ironically, the pastors and schools that were supposed to pass on the Catholic faith have, by their willful and/or reckless failure to do so, have nearly choked off the vitality of that system. The Church's pastors all too often enabled the Church's laity to reject the truth about contraception, either by failing to preach it, failing to admonish the faithful tempted by it, or even by tacitly reassuring some that it was just not a big deal.
Sermons on contraception are seldom heard. In my lifetime, other than at a traditional Mass, I have heard two (one was by Bishop Hermann). Pastors don't wish to upset parishioners because they might go away, or stop contributing money to the collection, and times are tight enough. Yet the loss of nerve in passing on the faith makes the faith itself less appealing, precisely because it is less demanding. Good things are worth sacrifice.
The schools traded in the Baltimore Catechism for a more "sophisticated" approach, which is a nice way of saying that the Baltimore Catechism was uncomfortably uncompromising in its presentation of the truth. The catechisms and personal sins were thrown out, workbooks and collective sins were brought in. The faith was traded for a mess of pottage.
Yes, the sisters and brothers-- the "cheap labor"-- went away. But this wasn't because a meteor hit the earth and wiped them out. It is because vocations dried up after the post-Vatican II Church made it clear that a lifetime of sacrifice (including making a total gift of one's sexuality to serve God better) was no longer valued, and no longer desirable. The prayer warriors of the cloisters were traded in for leftists running interference for the Sandinistas, and social workers filling out government aid forms.
The Catholic faith is true and timeless. But for four decades, it has been hidden, misrepresented, scorned, ignored and even opposed by many clergy and laity.
Even the change to the Mass has negatively affected the passing on of the faith. The old Mass reflected the truths of the faith, and uncompromisingly presented them to the faithful. It was cashiered for a new form of Mass. Of course the new Mass is valid. But it less obviously reflects and presents the faith. This sounds provocative, but let me ask you: do you think the old or the new Mass better reflects the Catholic teaching on Transubstantiation? Yet now, there is a dichotomy between faith and praxis. Now, to be Catholic means to give intellectual assent to the truths of the faith, while somehow liturgy is a mere matter of taste. With all due respect, this is not an historically Catholic attitude.
Moreover, this attitude that liturgy is merely a matter of taste makes it awfully tempting to hold that doctrine, too, is merely a matter of taste. Like whether one uses contraception.
When you look at empty schools, you see the result of empty wombs.