07 April 2011

Finding a Cure: Catholic Schools and the Alzheimer's Analogy

I have been postponing writing my thoughts on the new Archdiocesan school plan until I could think it over for a long time, and talk with others about it.  Lots of people are interested in the plan, and I have heard some really great opinions.  I want to support the effort of the Archbishop to address and overcome the tough future facing Catholic schools.  I certainly pray the effort succeeds.

So, I want to be clear that my post today is not about shooting holes in the plan, but is just my attempt to give my own take, with which some will agree and some will not.  I hope to spark a discussion that will enlighten us who engage in it and (who knows?) may give those tasked with the plan help in implementing and improving it. 

Thus, I can sum-up my analysis of the Pastoral Letter by saying this: it is obviously better than nothing, and represents a good start to finding a solution-- but it may only be able to treat the symptoms, not the cause. Nobody should be surprised when we still have problems in the future. Everything we do is like trying to remind an Alzheimer's patient what day it is; the problem is that the overall loss of memory cannot be compensated for by constant reminders.

The skyrocketing costs of Catholic education cannot be compensated for by tuition assistance programs or by enhancing curricula to make Catholic schools more appealing, because the trend in Catholic parenting is firmly set in motion. The bottom line is this: there is a decreasing population of practicing Catholics, an increasing number of "semi-practicing" or non-practicing Catholics, and more importantly, low birthrates among Catholics.

But even this is still not the root cause.

The real cause is the secularization of the laity, clergy, and religious. This has its side effects -- doctrinal confusion, moral relativism, lack of priestly and religious identity, decreasing vocations, an acceptance of a culture of contraception, and the abandonment of a sacramental lifestyle. It erases our Catholicity like an Alzheimer's patient loses memory, while leaving the "empty" body to care for but only with ever increasing difficulty.

I say it again:  the secularization of the laity, clergy and religious has erased our Catholicity like an Alzheimer's patient loses memory, while leaving the shell of the body to care for only with great difficulty.  It needs the constant reminders and a constant addressing of mere symptoms, all the while we seek against temporal hope for a cure for the cause of it all.

Due to secularization, we already know there is a crisis in Catholic sacramental marriage in all its parts as it is lived, from disregard for the sacredness of conjugal love to a day-by-day family life that is indistinguishable from non-believers; this is leading to Catholic education's foreseeable extinction.

The trend can be slowed but not turned around by introducing programs and the new initiative may succeed in slowing the trends. And by the way, the mangling of the faith and liturgy in the aftermath of Vatican II is not the only problem, as the inevitable secularization would have happened anyway.  By saying this, I do not (as some do) let the manglers off the hook and imagine that the changes did not do incalculable damage that would not have been done anyway.  Far from it.  I think that the ancient liturgy would have been a much more effective bulwark against the tide of secularism, perhaps if not stopping it cold at least greatly limiting the damage so that the solution could be sought much earlier and with more hope of success.  Yet in the Church's history there have indeed been times when secularization made inroads despite the presence of the Mass of All Ages.

At certain times, only saints like Louis de Montfort or Hildebrand (Pope St. Gregory VII) could change the local trends.

Faithfulness is the answer, not a bureaucratic overhaul.  Unfortunately, bishops and pastors deal primarily in bureaucracies all week and only get to preach faithfulness on Sundays. But that is not enough time and there are no easy answers. Promotion of the sacraments helps. The Traditional Mass can change hearts, but again, more is needed, for the ancient Mass has seen its share of unfaithful times and places.

As I posted earlier, this liturgy, when combined with the use of the Baltimore Catechism, would stand as a clear expression of the Faith to students, faculty, parents, priests and faithful alike, but like the seed scattered in the Parable, today there is a lot of rocky soil out there and little to chance for it to take root.

So, I applaud the Archbishop's school plan as a serious step to addressing the issues.  But again, there are no easy answers to the root problem, a problem that no amount of mere marketing can address.

We really need a saint to show us what Faithfulness looks like and who inspires others to be Faithful, too.


Prekast said...

St. Francis de Sales?

CathyD said...

Your last line reminds me of the story of Lazarus and the rich man. We have the examples of saints.

The question is how do we inspire greater faithfulness among the clergy and laity???

Personally, I think a good start would be more substantive homilies. I've had it with vagueness and skirting around core teachings.

doughboy said...

what CathyD said. and for the record to all priests: just because i'm not standing in Mass with a simpering smile on my face the entire time or swaying to the oldies, doesn't mean i don't have joy in my heart.
/rant off/

sorry. so i've never read the baltimore catechism. can anyone tell me what is different or why it's 'better' than the current catechism we have, and for which i am so grateful?

goldberry said...

Agree with you that there are no easy answers. I hope the Archdiocese finds a way to turn things around.

Remember the saying, Charity begins at home? Well, it seems to me that in the Archdiocese's plan it's not that way. We spend money to reach out to non-Catholics (not that there is anything wrong with that) but good heavens, what about us middle class Catholics who have large families, are in the pews every weekend and put our contribution in the basket, not to mention volunteering around the parish as well? We can't get any tuition help.

It may sound selfish but in my opinion unless the foundation is strong and well-maintained, our ability to reach out to others will be short-lived.

thetimman said...


For one thing, the intended audience of the Baltimore Catechism depends on the volume, #1 for smaller children, #2 for older children, #3 for young adults or perhaps even adults.

There are a small number of Catholic religion textbooks that use the CCC as a foundation, Ignatius Press' Faith and Life series being prominent among them.

The CCC was origianlly written to the bishops, but it is content friendly to any Catholic adult.

The difference between the CCC and more traditional formulations, such as the Roman Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent, or others I don't mean to exclude, is the clarity of the message. No one could say the CCC teaches error, but there some sections or questions that are artfully vague or ambiguous, and some of the summary sections contain problematic language. It is, in some ways, a microcosm of the texts and interpretation of Vatican II itself.

Bsdouglass said...

I'm not sure how tuition works in St Louis, but when I went to Catholic schools, the tuition for non-Catholic families was almost double that of non-Catholics.

When you have that kind of gap in paying the bills (we had probably roughly 1/3 or more of my class non-Catholic,I think) there is plenty of incentive not to make your school all that Catholic so as to not offend the paying customers.

StGuyFawkes said...

The problem of fading parishes comes from doctrinal laxity and the lack of Catholic Identity.

The problem of doctrinal laxity in the modern parish comes, in part, from the fact that the Catholics who are most likely to solve the problems of Catholic Identity take Mass at the Oratory, or at Priory or in the handful of special Masses set up for Traditionalists.

For schooling they do not use their parish schools. They homeschool or use the public system.

No one wanted it this way but in effect the very Tradtionalists, who could restore sound practices in the parishes have, by means of their zeal, been neutralized from having any effect on the Archdiocesan school system.

The voices which could rock the parish school boards, fill the empty slots in the Adoration hours and guide the Fathers' Clubs are nowhere to be found.

I know this would be hard to implement but there may be only one plan which could restore our schools and parishes to sanity.

"Summorum Pontificorum" needs to be taken VERY SERIOUSLY. The document says that wherever there is a parish with a stable group who want the TLM then the priest MUST accomadate them.

Catholics who take Mass at the Oratory and at Priory's TLM should make sure they register at their local parish and demand the TLM there too. Then they must "suffer the little children" to go to their parish school and raise hell when the teaching gets out of line. That's the tough part. Who wants to risk the soul of a child. But the risk could turn a parish around.

HEre is an example.

There is a west county parish I love and know which is in a wealthy area and it is dying for students. Enrollment and cash flow is down. It may close. Last year the parish school sent their eighth graders down to Karen House to learn about the Catholic Worker movement and in the process they may or may not have been exposed to the gay couple who are residents at Karen House.

Karen House regulars solicited money before the Offertory. After Mass one of them told me that they do NOT avoid exposing the children to any gender issues while they work at Karen House and would not hesitate to explain the Karen House view of gay sex to children.

I raised this question with a few fellow parishioners and only a handful of us were willing to speak to the principal or pastor and show them Karen House's position paper supporting gay sexuality.

Here is my point: We were so lonely trying to gripe about Karen HOuse.

Now, if the traditionalists at St. Francis de Sales, or Priory would occasionaly come to my parish and endure a Novus Ordo Mass now and then, I'd have had a stronger band standing at the foot of the Cross with me and asking the pastor to look into maybe using some other soup kitchen than Karen HOuse for the kids' service projects.

As it was we were ignored.

I'm just saying part of the problem is that the yeasty leaven which could grow stonger parishes is being kept in the cupboard, so to speak.

I'm not scolding anyone, I'm just saying that objectively part of the problem is trads need to put their nose in regular parish life more often. Coach a baseball team, run the Cub Scouts, come around and get involved.

End of Rant.

Bsdouglass said...

GuyFawkes, that's the Catch-22.

However, I don't think it's really going to be an issue for much longer. In all likelihood it will be a painful transition for some, but look at the demographics of the Oratory vs most any Latin Rite parish in the US. It is amazing.

In the near future almost the only source of vocations will be the parishes like St. Francis de Sales where there are children. Even the very solid priests who are out there at your typical suburban parish can't do much if they don't have kids to work with. Those vocations will eventually spread out and fill in the gaps once again.

This realization, I think, cannot be escaped by the bishops and schools. Poverty might do Catholic schools a good deal of good. Thinking that we can maintain the status quo is not going to happen. Unfortunately, it's going to mean quite a number of lay teachers getting cut. Priests and religious are cheaper. Free resources are often far better than the ones that so much money is spent on (ie the Baltimore Catechism is online).

In East TN, in the mission lands, you can already see it. Vocations are almost exclusively coming from young converts (who are solidly orthodox and are draw to the TLM) and from the few traditional-minded families (plus Latin America and Africa). And they're not all going into traditionalist orders, they're going into the Nashville Dominicans and the diocese.

Transitions can be Hell. But we cannot stand for the status quo of poor education and lost souls.