Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 6, 2008
Catholic school rights in jeopardy
Alberta lawyer warns Ontario is in danger
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The silence of Quebec’s Catholic Bishops is responsible for the loss of publicly-funded Catholic schools in that province a constitutional lawyer told Catholic school trustees Sept. 26.
“We will lose [Catholic school rights] in Ontario if we’re silent,” Alberta Lawyer Kevin Feehan warned the 300 delegates attending the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association here Sept. 26-27.
“The majority in a province can determine minority rights,” he said, pointing also to the loss of confessional schools in Newfoundland in 1998.
The loss of Catholic education ended in Quebec, he said, with a 1982 agreement the bishops made, acceding to the legislation allowing for the creation of linguistically-based school boards. Each subsequent erosion of Catholic education rights was met by silence, he said.
Rights wiped out
The 1997 constitutional amendment officially wiped out religious education rights in the province.
“If the Quebec bishops had said ‘No,’ we would have had Catholic education in Quebec,” said Feehan. “We traded a linguistic right for a denominational right.”
Feehan, who has represented Catholic educational interests before the Supreme Court of Canada and various provincial and territorial courts, sounded a hopeful note, however, when he said Catholic education rights could be regained. They have continued to expand in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the North, he said.
“Constitutional rights can be changed politically,” he said, stressing Catholic education rights are “part of the heart, soul and history of Canada.”
“Confederation would not have occurred” without a compromise to “facilitate Catholic education,” he said. It is as old as the first European contact with the northern part of this continent, he said, describing it as one of this country’s “fundamental building blocks.”
Part of who we are
Catholic education rights are “part of what makes us who we are,” he said, noting it’s part of what makes Canada different, along with official bilingualism and multiculturalism.
Without the compromise in Charlottetown in 1967, he said, “You’d all be Americans.”
Catholic education has a “weighty responsibility” to deliver a distinct, different, “fundamentally opposed” education that is permeated with Catholic theology, philosophy and sociology, he said.
If a school is not “sufficiently Catholic, you have no legal right to exist unless you are different,” he said, citing numerous court decisions that highlight the religious element of a Catholic school that infuses all aspects of the education and not just religion class.
“You are called upon to be the antithesis of the public school system,” he said.
Catholic education is not merely the transmission of knowledge and skills, he said. Instead the Catholic, Christ-centered vision must permeate everything from the playground to the lunchroom, from math and science to religion classes in the integrated formation of the students, he said.
Sister Joan Cronin, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Education, kicked off the conference with an overview of the challenges educators face in addition to the political climate.
Among those challenges: the growth of a highly educated laity; the decrease in priestly and religious vocations; and growing cultural diversity among Catholic students.
Immigration levels and multiculturalism has changed the face of the Catholic Church in Canada quickly, she said, making a Catholic student body that is multicultural, multilingual and, increasingly multi-denominational. In addition, people shop around for parishes, leaving a different level of commitment than in the past to local parishes and schools.
“We’re very aware we’re trying to reach a generation formed in the postmodern world,” she said, pointing to the unwillingness to accept authority about bedrock truths.
Students are more familiar with popular song lyrics and movie scenes than Scripture passages, she said.
Salvation “is often a distant concept,” she said, noting the media world of Internet, DVDs and so on that young people live in.
“If we dare to tell a young person we don’t know how to take a picture with a cellphone we run the risk of looking imbecilic and incompetent, she said.