David King, executive director of the Alberta Public School Boards Association, has announced that he will launch a petition calling for the end of public funding of separate schools. King, education minister in the Lougheed years, believes Alberta would be best served by taking away Catholics' constitutional rights and ensuring that the province has a monochromatic school system.
King, to be sure, would dispute that contention and claim it is the Catholic system that threatens diversity and multiculturalism. The bosses of public schools know best, he would assert, how other cultures and faiths should express themselves and it is folly to allow the faiths themselves to determine their own form of self-expression.
This is the "thinly disguised totalitarianism" of which Pope John Paul II spoke in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. When faith groups are no longer allowed to speak of ultimate truth, but only to say that they are one voice among many, we are on our way to the Big Brother state where truth is usurped by power.
The defence of the right to Catholic schools and religious liberty is that important.
But how we defend that right is also crucial. In his book, Catholic Education: Ensuring a Future, Father James Mulligan noted the right to Catholic schools in Newfoundland was lost in the courtroom. It must be more than lawyers who fight for Catholic schools.
In examining Catholic educators and parents in Newfoundland, Mulligan concluded, "The pride and the passion were missing."
Catholic schools will not survive and thrive without such pride and passion. Their strongest defence is an ongoing internal process of revitalization. Catholic educators must have a deepening sense of vocation, they must be well formed in and committed to the faith, and parents must believe there is more value in a Catholic education than what casino revenues can buy.
King's petition comes at a time when public confidence in the institutional dimension of the Church is near an all-time low. It may well find fertile ground.
But Catholic schools promote human, as well as religious, values. We must live by the Second Vatican Council's teaching that "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear." In Christ, human nature has been raised "to a dignity beyond compare" (The Church in the Modern World, 22).
The value to the common good that comes from Catholic education is not so much that it nurtures youth in the Catholic faith, but that it helps society give human values the warmest embrace possible.
The extent to which Catholic laity is seen as permeating society with human values is the extent to which we will succeed in defending Catholic education.