As it stands, the ecumenical council’s revised draft on Christian education does not go as far as present Church law in demanding that Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools.
Commenting on the new draft distributed in the council for a vote, Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, vice chancellor of the San Francisco archdiocese, told newsmen at the U.S. bishops’ press panel that it was possible to hold new discussions on the draft because it has been extensively revised since last year’s council debate. He cautioned, however, that such a move, if it comes, should not be interpreted as a “plot involving progressives against conservatives.”
The decision on what to do about the new material has been a serious one among the bishops, he said; even the voting procedure has been changed since the vote was first announced Oct. 1. At that time, Archbishop Pericle Felici, the council’s secretary general, said the text would be divided into five sections for voting purposes. Since then, Msgr. Hurley said, it has been decided to further narrow down the material in each section to be voted on by having 14 votes, thus making it easier for the bishops to eliminate specific sections they don’t like without having to vote against a large section of the document.
Comparing the text debated last year with the present revision, Msgr. Hurley said the suggestion for a post-conciliar commission on educational matters has been retained. The present text goes further than the old one, however, in trying to counteract any overemphasis on the role of parents in their children’s education by stating clearly that the teacher is not only a delegate of the home or state or Church, but also a representative of society as a whole in the task of perpetuating culture, he said. The interlocking role of all these influences on the child’s education is stressed.
New wording in the section dealing with state aid to education, he said, represents a compromise. Although not as clearly worded as Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York had asked last year, the text does favor assistance in the name of distributive justice so that the freedom of parents is safeguarded in the choice of education for their children.
Msgr. Hurley said the present text emphasizes more clearly than the old the necessity that Catholic schools avoid the attitude of “protecting children from the world, asking rather that they become apostolic schools, training children to become apostles in the world.”
The Catholic schools’ role of service to society is further emphasized, he said. Regarding the thorny question of the place of St. Thomas Aquinas in the curriculum [St. Thomas is by Church law the official philosopher in Catholic education], Msgr. Hurley said the new document avoids settling the issue definitively, confining itself to the recommendation that Catholic educators “follow in the footsteps” of the great 13th-century Doctor of the Church.
On the obligation of parents to send their children to Catholic schools, Msgr. Hurley said the new text binds parents to this “where feasible.”
He said it was his opinion that the text did not go as far as the Church’s present canon law, which binds parents under “severe obligation” to send their children to Catholic schools. Father Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., former dean of theology at Catholic University of America, Washington, pointed out, however, that canon law does not say parents are obliged to send their children to Catholic schools — “but that they can’t send them to non-Catholic schools unless they have sufficient reason, and provided they can assure the child’s religious education in another way. In doubtful cases, canon law leaves it to the Ordinary to decide.”
He said phrasing canon law in a negative rather than a positive way makes it possible within the law for parents to educate their children on their own or through a tutor. He said the obligation, even from canon law, would cease where financial or other pressing reasons make it impossible for parents, or where schools are not available.
Msgr. Hurley noted that the revised text also encourages “in a special way” adult education, professional and technical education, teacher training, and schools for retarded and exceptional children.
“Every effort” at cooperation with non-Catholic schools on the university level is encouraged, but no specific mention is made of lower levels or of “federated education” such as American experimental shared-time programs, he said. Father Frederick McManus, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, said any disciplinary decree of the council would supersede canon law. Msgr. Hurley said the commission had already sent over 100 recommendations concerning education to the commission for the revision of canon law.