The Catholic Academic Initiative

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Ph.B., S.T.B., Ph.L., Ph.D.(again).   
I want to expand on some thoughts concerning Catholic education. I am suggesting that there is some disconnect between Catholicity and our Catholic Schools. I think that in some schools, Catholicity has somehow evolved into a holistic "every child matters" approach to inclusive education rather than being about a seriously different approach to academic study. This is not to discount the excellent Catholic teachers who I know are out there battling away, but rather, knowing some of them, I would like to support, encourage and thank them for what they are doing.


I think this has happened as a result of a growing false understanding of the Christian ethic as being non-judgemental. Also, a lack of decent Catholic apologetics and a dearth of academic engagement with the more controversial aspects of Catholic doctrine. I wonder what a survey of Catholic teachers would reveal about their adherence to Catholic doctrine regarding the real presence? The necessity of the Sacrament of Confession? Contraception? So called 'Gay Marriage'? Abortion?

My own experience of Secondary School in the 80's was that the syllabus contained a great deal of sex education very early on, this was about mechanics, taught in biology, contained a full explanation of the various methods of contraception and how to use them, and no social context whatsoever. From the information I have had back from my own sons, that model has not changed very much. Now, whilst I consider it the duty of the parents to properly educate their children in this regard, I acknowledge that not all parents are going to, and therefore the School has a role to play. I think the information they are given can be fine, but should be given in a Catholic social context.

As educators for the diocese, our teachers have a duty to teach what the Church does, and not their own opinion. It could be argued that we should not indoctrinate our young people, but I would argue that they are being indoctrinated already, by a secular agenda. What they lack is any critique of this secular narrative, and this would be provided by an confidently Catholic academic narrative in our schools. Children will, inevitably, choose for themselves. What this would constitute would be tantamount to putting something good in your child's glass before society puts something bad in it. If they never hear the arguments, how can they make an informed choice? And as Archbishop Fulton Sheen stated:
There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.
I argue then, that Catholic Schools have a duty to offer an academic syllabus which contains throughout, a robust, intellectually coherent Catholicism, which reflects the reality of our Catholic history, and the Catholic contribution to culture, law, politics, art, music, science, and literature. Indeed schools are a Catholic legacy. The Church has always had a mission to educate, making it a duty to offer this, especially, to the poorest in society. Following Catholic emancipation in the 19th Century, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales prioritised the building of schools before the building of churches. The Church's commitment to education remains just as strong today.


A Catholic School is much more than one which has "Jesus at its centre" or which stresses "Gospel values", both of which seem to be the current jargon which teachers use to demonstrate that they understand Catholicity. If Catholic education is, in any sense, holistic, it is in that it attempts to educate the whole person: intellect, heart, will, character and soul. A school is Catholic because it has a mission to achieve this through the teachings of the Catholic Church. Its mission must be to form and educate young Catholics to live a life informed by the doctrine of the Catholic Church. We must not adopt a spirit of accommodation to the secular liberal agenda which is so prevalent today. Rather we must reinforce and promote our unique Catholicity so that it stands out like a beacon of truth in a morally relativistic world.

Children do not respond well to inoffensive platitudes and moral relativism. They need clear objective reality and only this can quench their thirst for understanding about the universe they have been born into. They rise to the drama of a challenge! The Catholic faith holds that God is revealed in the historic person of Jesus Christ and in His Word, and that religious truth can be contained and is contained in the Teachings and Tradition of the Church.

The immediate goal of this endeavour must be community, the long term goal, sanctity. We are working to create a community which holds to the same value and ideals grounded in the fundamental dignity of human life (grounded in our understanding that we are all created in the image of God (c.f. Gen 1:27-28; 5:1-3; 9:6; Heb 1:3; Col 1:13-15; 2 Cor 4: 4-7). When we turn our gaze towards others then, our faith teaches us habits of virtue by getting us to do ethically demanding things: visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved, helping the needy, donating our time and money to worthy causes (c.f. Matt 25:40). All these things are done in the context of community and motivated by love, and community is the focus and centre of theology, insofar as the Holy Trinity represents the perfect community: communion-in-love-without-rivalry.

The apparent paradox is that it is precisely in undertaking these challenging things, that young people will find the peace and fulfillment which they seek. That is the truth, and the challenge, we must offer them, as an alternative to the dominant narrrative of consumerism and the pursuit of self-fulfilment through selfishness.

What we need then is a methodology to facilitate our young people's engagement with these ideas. They need to be inspired by Catholic ideas, this does not mean simply "being nice to people" (although this is true at the most fundamental level), but rather, the inspiring vision of Catholic teaching. Things like the way in which the principle of subsidiarity leads to a proper discernment of political process. How the morality of our actions is discernible based on three main criteria. How true freedom constitutes more than a radically arbitrary license to do what you want and have your own way. How true love is about sacrifice. That truth and freedom are constantly engaged in a polemic which needs to be held in tension in order to avoid the tyranny of one over the other. That atheism is a logical fallacy which refuses to engage properly in the discussion because it makes a priori assumptions about existence which cannot be demonstrated. In the meantime we remain beings with an undeniable spiritual dimension to our existence which demands expression.

Intellecutually, they need to have the confidence of knowing that all the arguments made against Catholic truth have been addressed; ideally they should be able to refute them themselves.


This means engaging with "Catholic" throughout the curriculum. It's a huge ask. So how are we going to achieve it? I think it is achievable, and the rewards would be enormous. It would begin to nurture a society with proper intellectual focus which was Christ-centred. It could lead to more stable families, less neglect, abuse, abortion, rape, poverty, you name it.

I think we need to begin by considering the need for solid apologetics within our schools. The problem for many is an acceptance of a secular agenda which suggests the Church's teaching is outdated or irrelevant in modern society. For many teachers, the idea of confronting a class of non-believing teenagers with ideas derived from Biblical text is, to put it mildly, unpalatable (or perhaps it is frightening!). For historic reasons, many have not had the depth of formation in the Faith which would give them the knowledge and confidence to teach in this way. I think we should address this by presenting a showcase of Catholic intelligentsia, first to the teachers, that they might have confidence knowing that there is a coherent Catholic dialogue which can be engaged with. Then offer support to the pupils, by organising days of engagement with Catholic ideas centred and themed around important issues. For example, Andrew Pinsent, would be an ideal person to speak to the students about Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Just approaching these subjects from this angle would offer the students something unusual and engaging.

It may also be valuable to offer some formation for parents: both on how to be Catholic parents, and an insight into the wider Catholic Curriculum described above.

I have been considering this in the context of CCFather's ongoing discussion about the great need for apologetics and think one way to begin would be to offer some training in Catholicity for teachers. I would encourage more engaged syllabuses of study, but that may not be for everyone. I would therefore suggest an inspirational seminar type format, perhaps over a couple of days, which would seek to inspire and encourage debate among teachers, whilst also providing an opportunity to connect with Catholic Academia, ask questions and discuss issues with regard to Catholic doctrine. I would like to see a point of reference for teachers with this, which could provide ongoing training and support as well as a forum for development and a register for progress.

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