Also in yesterday's Catholic Weekly was a feature article marking the fortieth anniversary of a meeting of parents in order to restore State Aid to Catholic schools; after a string of such meetings they were ultimately successful. But success at what price? Here are some of His Eminence Cardinal Pell's thoughts on the matter, in AD2000, April 2007:
"However, for [the late Mr. B.A.] Santamaria the Catholic schools in the Promised Land proved to be a bitter disappointment. In 1983 he foresaw Catholic schools 'becoming a dutiful appendage of the State', exactly what the bishops of 1872 opposed. For him, government money produced ecclesiastical bureaucracies which took power from the bishops so that the faith of two generations was threatened by the unexpected consequences of Vatican II and the disintegration of the family. [...]
The increase in absolute numbers [of pupils] through migration obscured the percentage declines, most never recognised too clearly what was happening until they realised their children were not worshipping regularly (and sometimes their grandchildren were not even baptised), but there was also a feeling that it was an implied criticism of the Council, disloyalty, to point out the disappointing realities.
The new Catholic bureaucracies often exiled and persecuted orthodox dissenters, who were also liable to the devastating critique that they sounded just like Santamaria."
I seem to recall Mr. Santamaria lamenting that the schools were teaching an 'attenuated version of Christianity' (though I cannot provide a citation), and it is hard to argue with this. As a former Catholic (systemic) primary school pupil I can recall instruction on the events of Christ's life, His parables and the importance of devotion to Our Lady being of sound quality, but doctrine was a serious weak point, even in the later years and in preparation for the Sacraments. Catholic high schools leave even more to be desired, emphasising 'living the Christan life' and ecumenical harmony over Catholic doctrine, despite the best efforts of some teachers (while other teachers are more or less open in their dissent). (And of course, years 11 and 12 are, for most N.S.W. pupils, consumed with the syncretistic 'Studies of Religion' course).
The reasons for these weaknesses will be familiar to most readers: the 'spirit of Vatican II' (especially its ecumenical irenicism), the shortage of religious, the secularisation of extra-curricular life, the influx of non-Catholics, careerists among the parents and teachers, the bureaucrats in the C.E.O.s all too keen to emulate their Education Department counterparts, and so on. (Add your own reasons in the combox).
It is interesting to note that the latest avaliable data (2007) show that, in the Sydney Archdiocese, government funding for State schools exceeds government funding for Catholic systemic schools by "just over $2554 per head", while Catholic school fees are $1798. (So should one infer then that, all else equal, a Catholic education is inferior by about $750?). Total government funding per high school pupil is $7947, implying a total cost per pupil of about $9750. It would be intersting to see figures for the funding spent on central administration; one would expect it, a priori, to have increased at a decreasing rate, if at all (given the presumed economies of scale), but given the natural tendencies of bureaucracies it would not surprise me at all if has increased more than proportionately.
Certainly, if parents had to bear all the cost then we would have a smaller, purer (sound familiar?) Catholic education system. If nothing else, this would cast the Lord Bishops out of their complacency and inaction over the current crisis of Catholic culture, since they would have to stop fooling themselves that as long as the Catholic education system is thriving then they have a captive audience for evangelisation. But instead I suppose we'll have to wait for Sunday Mass attendance to drop to 14% of the present 14%, or perhaps some external crisis of Apocalyptic proportions.