Cardinal Vaughan High School and the freedom of the Church

Apparently, according to the press, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has given into parental pressure over the appointment of a new Head for the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial High School. Some are hailing it as a victory for orthodox Catholicism and parent power.

This time the parents were probably right and the Bishop was probably wrong. And the parents won. But what happens when the Bishop is right? It looks like he will have to give in to the parents every time; which rather defeats the object of having bishops as guardians of the faith. It seems to be a case of hard cases not making good law.

Reliance on the state to protect religious faith and values is a big mistake in the long run. Perhaps this time they have got it right, but in general i would say, with the good book: "Put not your trust in princes".

Last year an orthodox Jewish school, funded by the state, was found to be acting illegally by barring a child from a Reform Jewish background from attending the school. The court accepted that only Jewish children should be allowed in the school, but saw fit to rule on the particular level of Jewishness of the boy concerned, over-ruling the theological expertise of the orthodox rabbis. One wonders who gave the English courts the power to run heresy trials. Henry VIII, I suppose.

In English Catholic schools, it seems, the level of Catholic practice or 'Catholicity' of parents is measured (by the schools) to give the families a score that determines if their children will get free places in state-funded Catholic education. Middle class parents, it is alleged, are more likely to go to Church regularly, and thereby pass the Catholicity tests. So Catholic state schools fill up with the children of such people, and become almost as posh as private schools (and therefore even more attractive to middle class families). The Oratory School in London (the choice of Mr and Mrs Tony Blair) is one such school.

Catholic dioceses and central government over the last few years have taken turns in trying to break this cycle and make Catholic schools open to all comers, especially to those whose absence from church schools so troubles the consciences of the Catholic education establishment and of certain politicians.

Wouldn't it be much simpler for the bishops to preach the Gospel more effectively to the poor families they want to get into the schools? Isn't that their job, after all? That way these folks would go to Mass more often and pass all the bureaucratic tests, thereby qualifying for Catholic school places. While they are at it, the bishops could conduct a root and branch reform of their education offices, and remove from post anyone found to be undermining the Church’s objectives. That is certainly within their theological and legal remit. The schools then could be left alone to do their jobs properly and - if that really happened - everyone would be congratulating the bishops too.

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