Different charters, directions, takes

PROMOTING LITERACY

Paul Moses’s report on Catholic schools and public charter schools (“The Public Option,” December 4, 2009) evokes concern about how we as a church pass on our faith to our children.

Catholic schools were the favored strategy when U.S. church fathers gathered for the Councils of Baltimore in the 1800s. The impact of that choice earned the American church distinction for the religious literacy of its laity. The “miraculous” success of the Catholic school system advanced the causes of at least two American saints.

When charter schools are housed in church-owned buildings, built with the donations of faithful parishioners, staffed with former Catholic-school teachers and administrators, and are small and safe, with good academic standards and even plaid uniforms, they seem indistinguishable from the parish schools they replace.

But charter schools are public schools. By definition and by law they are prohibited from promoting religion. They are a distraction, albeit an interesting distraction, from the question of the evangelization of youth. While they may provide financial reprieve for challenged parishes, they have no role in faith-based education and a deleterious impact, now demonstrable, on the remaining Catholic schools.

I hope future issues of Commonweal will address the questions raised in Moses’s concluding paragraph. Future editions might challenge the stakeholders—church leaders and members, the scholars in Catholic universities and centers of research—to test whether the concerns of the church in the United States with respect to the evangelization of youth in the midst of a secularized society are similar to those of the immigrant church of the 1800s; whether the actual discretionary philanthropic wealth of the graduates of Catholic schools and universities exceeds the costs of maintaining and developing the Catholic school system (even if donations are limited to tax-deductible amounts); and whether alumni appreciation of Catholic education increases as time passes (independent of graduates’ choice of schools for their own children, and independent of whether their former schools still exist). Were these hypotheses to prove true, the core issue would be revealed as more a matter of will than of economics.

How appropriate that the independent Catholic press take on this defining issue of our “generativity” as a church! I look forward to Commonweal’s keeping the evangelization of youth in the forefront of Catholic thinking and doing.

Patrick Sean Moffett, CFC
Miami, Fla.

 

FALSE ALTERNATIVE

Paul Moses’s article on Catholic schools morphing into charter schools accurately portrays the current situation and debate, particularly his reminder that “charter schools are public schools.” Their public character means they are beholden to public rules, regulations, and bureaucracies. While there is currently great latitude in operating charter schools, will state departments of education continue to allow such freedom? Will unions and other public-sector associations remain so hands-off?

The article also accurately reflects that some Catholic administrators are now inventing a “theology” of charter schools to justify selling out to them. But our schools exist to transmit the Catholic faith, and our Christology teaches that we educate the whole person because Christ wanted the best for humanity. Charter schools want the best for children so that they will get good jobs and achieve the so-called good life. But Catholic education wants both a good life and eternal life.

The description of charter schools as the “best alternative” to Catholic schools by Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington quoted in the article, is unfortunate. Alternative suggests an equivalency, but as Gibbs herself notes, “For us, the best education is going to be a Catholic school.” Charter schools are not equal to, and thus cannot serve as an alternative to, Catholic schools.

Finally, the article implies that charter schools will endure. But do we really think the public will continue to fund two parallel systems of public education?

(Msgr.) Robert H. Aucoin
Plattsburgh, NY

 

KEEP IT SIMPLE

May I add an afterword to Richard R. Gaillardetz’s Last Word (“Re-oriented,” December 4, 2009)? I agree with his observation that there are those who favor the priest praying ad orientem as a step toward restoring the clericalism of what he characterizes as baroque Catholicism. However, while he displays much erudition, the subject is rather eye-glazing.

I’m eighty-two years old. Let me tell you about my God, who created the Cartwheel Galaxy, which is 500 million light years away from the earth and bigger than the Milky Way, in a universe that science tells us is ever-expanding. It is inconceivable to me that such a God cares which way we face, or whether we have male or female presiders, altar girls or boys, or fancy vestments. On the other hand, the Jesus I know from the Gospels surely would like to see a lot more people younger than fifty-five or sixty in the pews.

My Lord, after two thousand years we still don’t have it right. Let’s keep it simple and make it relevant to our American culture by saying some sincere, simple prayers (forget the seven- or eight-year dispute over the Roman Missal), sharing Eucharist, and listening to a prepared but not read-by-rote homily (not necessarily by a priest) drawing on the beauty and wisdom of the Gospel lessons. The bottom line is: Love one another.

Ernest C. Raskauskas Sr.
Rancho Mirage, Calif.

 

MEAL PLAN

With respect to Richard R. Gaillardetz’s “Re-oriented”: as a historical theologian I understand the “historical argument” for ad orientem. But before we launch a campaign to rebuild our churches, I suggest we decide which historical argument we wish to use.

The Last Supper was a meal. The Eucharist is a memorial meal. Jesus would not sit at table with his back to his friends…therefore, the presider shouldn’t either. Historically the church lost something very basic when it moved from meal-mode to sacrificial-altar-mode.

John A. Dick
Heverlee, Belgium

 

LEAD, DON’T FOLLOW

The editors’ criticism of the USCCB’s pastoral letter on marriage (“When Bishops Meet,” November 20, 2009) drew on a comment by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles regarding consideration of lay opinion when asserting church doctrine. While at first the editors state that the bishops should not begin their letter by condemning certain common sexual practices, concluding with Dulles’s statement appeared to imply that the church should reconsider positions that are contrary to the beliefs of the majority of the laity.

While the validity of the church’s moral teaching can be tested against the conscience of the laity within which the Spirit works, that collective conscience must be well-formed for it to be itself valid. This level of spiritual development should not be presumed for the majority of Catholics who are uninformed on the reasons the church has adopted particular doctrinal positions.

The church needs to be a leader of moral teaching, not a follower of popular opinion. And when that teaching is routinely rejected by the people, the church must strive to be more relevant by educating the faithful on the theology behind the moral teaching and helping to form consciences properly. That education, of course, requires presenting church doctrine in a nonaccusatory manner, which will be more readily considered. If that was the intent of the editors’ comments, I agree.

S. J. Bonfiglio, SFO
Hillsborough, N.J.

 

EAGLE EYE

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels gave us a perceptive and analytic review of The Hawk and the Dove by Nicholas Thompson (“Odd Couple,” October 23, 2009). Her review is especially valuable because future historians’ understanding of the Cold War will be shaped by many sources, including such books as The Hawk and the Dove. Ms. Steinfels warns readers not to trust Thompson’s treatment of Paul Nitze and George Kennan and their world-views. She notes that “tethering Kennan and Nitze obscures rather than exposes the consequences of past policy for our current national-security dilemmas.”

Although not a dove, George Kennan believed that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse. Containment was his strategy and diplomacy was his policy. Nitze, as Steinfels points out, championed a national-security system dependent on weapons superiority that still continues far beyond our needs and borders, and those of Russia. This is the important point that this book fails to make. Every pundit’s review I have read fails to identify this major flaw in the book, focusing instead on relative trivialities.

Francis Xavier Cunningham
Arlington, Va.

 

STAYING AFLOAT

First of all, thank you. Your magazine helps me stay moderately sane as a new Catholic trying to navigate the tumultuous waters of the church. The words “devastating disillusionment”—which appeared not in that order but close together in a recent comment by Paul Baumann (“A Refuge?” November 6, 2009)—express perfectly what my wife and I feel as recent converts. We joined the Byzantine Catholic Church on the Feast of the Transfiguration (also our fourth wedding anniversary), and it has been a strange experience.

We are refugees from fundamentalist evangelical circles. The sad thing is that I feel like I have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. We live in Denver, which I understand to be one of the more conservative dioceses in the country. Being a Catholic here, in these politically charged times, can be very awkward. My wife knows a great deal about health-care policy and is dismayed to no end by the amount of misinformation being spread in Catholic circles about the current reform bills.

Anyway, I simply wanted to say thanks for who you are and what you do.

Timothy Andrew Dunbar
Denver, Colo.

 

INTELLIGENT DESIGN

A while ago, when you first started your Web site, you published a letter of mine praising its spare and clean format. Now you have redesigned your site, and once again this techie nerd of forty-eight-plus years likes what you have done. A touch of color, but still clean and spare, with the ads off to the side.

By the way, as a fan of John Garvey, I am always amused that the columnist I follow most closely in a Catholic publication is Orthodox.

Richard Kuebbing
Kennesaw, Ga.

Published in the 2010-01-15 issue: 
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