As Australia's schools re-open for 2004, a recent front page report in the Brisbane Archdiocese's Catholic Leader (23 November 2003), headlined "Religion not a factor", provides food for thought.
The report referred to a survey commissioned by the Toowoomba Catholic Education Board which revealed most Catholic parents did not see the religious education of their children as important in their choice of school.
Executive Director of Edmund Rice Education, Queensland, Dr Bill Sultmann, commented: "What the research was saying is that three out of four parents were sending their children to Catholic schools for reasons that didn't correlate highly with the reasons why Catholic authorities were providing schools."
Ten years ago AD2000 headlined an article - "How 'Catholic' are Catholic schools?" (February 1994). It set out the key findings of Br Marcellin Flynn's in-depth study, The Culture of Catholic Schools, noting, among other things, that most parents did not rate the Catholic dimension of their children's education as a priority. Their main concerns were primarily secular.
Br Marcellin Flynn's updated research, published under the title Catholic Schools 2000, was again summarised in AD2000 (August 2002). It revealed that the situation had worsened.
The Toowoomba survey and Br Marcellin's research underline the depth of the Church's crisis: we are now into the second generation of adult Catholics who know next to nothing about their Faith - and that includes parents and teachers. For most parents today, Catholic schools are little more than an inexpensive alternative to the State system, with religion an optional extra.
The long-overdue return to substantial content in the new religious education texts being used in the Melbourne, Sydney and some other Australian dioceses is very welcome, but more needs to be done.
The agreed Statement of Conclusions, between the Australian Bishops and heads of six Vatican congregations in 1998, highlighted the "crisis of faith" in Australian Catholic schools. Or has that document also sunk without a trace?
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org)