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Why did the Youth Synod largely ignore the place of Catholic schools?

St. John Paul II referred to the Catholic school as the very “heart of the Church.” Pope Francis and his Synod have pushed the school to one of his “peripheries.”

A quote from the New Testament is seen March 29 near students carrying their books to class at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Henderson, Ky. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The final document of the October youth synod has—amazingly—only one paragraph (n. 158) on Catholic schools. As inadequate as the Instrumentum Laboris was in many ways, it at least devoted several paragraphs to this apostolate of the Church. When anyone thinks of the Catholic Church—whether that person is Catholic or not—after the Mass, the outreach that usually springs to mind spontaneously and justly is her educational system. Untold millions (two million in the United States alone) receive an elementary and secondary education under the aegis of the Church. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the one ecclesial environment in which you are sure to find young people is in the Church’s schools!

(I should mention at the outset that the English text I am offering is my own translation of the original Italian, necessitated by the fact that now several weeks out, we still lack an official English translation!)

What does the Final Document say about schools? It notes, quite correctly, that schools are important because they are “the places in which the majority of youth pass much of their time.” Further, that “in many parts of the world, basic education is the first and most important request which young people make of the Church.” Thus, it is important to have “qualified teachers, significant chaplaincies, and a suitable cultural engagement.”

So far, all this could be said of almost any kind of educational institution. What makes a chaplaincy “significant”? What in the world constitutes “a suitable cultural engagement”? This comes off as gibberish, lacking any specificity.

We read that Catholic schools “express the concern of the Church for the integral formation of youth.” True enough, what does “integral formation” entail? Yet again, our schools “are precious spaces for the encounter of the Gospel with the culture of a people and for the development of research.”

“Precious spaces for the encounter of the Gospel”? Who speaks like that? What kind of research are we talking about, and at what level (in fact, much of what this paragraph delineates seems primarily geared to university education, rather than primary and secondary schooling)?

Then we are informed that Catholic education should be “a model of formation capable of bringing about a dialogue between the faith and the demands of the contemporary world, the diverse anthropological perspectives, the challenges of science and technology, changing social customs, and the engagement for justice.”

More gobbledygook. What is the goal of this “dialogue”? Again, nothing concrete.

Finally, we are told that Catholic schools ought to promote “creativity in science, the arts, poetry, literature, music, and sports,” enabling youth to “discover their talents and to place them at the service of society.” Of course, any education worthy of the name will include all these elements – as Catholic education has always done. “Placing [talents] at the service of society” is surely a worthy objective, but what about “at the service of the Church”? A strange omission.

Now, what did the document not say? Or better, what should it have said? Here are six points:

• As Bishop Arthur Kennedy (retired auxiliary of Boston and an educator in his own right) is fond of saying, the Catholic school is the primary engine for the new evangelization, wherein the Church is able to form not only the youth in the schools, but also to influence their parents and even grandparents.

• In mission territory and in the inner cities of the United States, the Catholic school is most often the means by which conversions occur. The redoubtable Cardinal Francis Arinze is a Catholic and a priest, precisely due to attendance at a Catholic school. Nor is it an accident that every black bishop in the United States became a Catholic through a Catholic school experience. How many pastors and principals report entire families coming into the Church every year as a result of having children in our schools? Even when conversions do not take place, the school introduces non-Catholics to a Church which esteems reason and values the dignity of the human person.

• While the document highlights the importance of an “encounter of the Gospel,” it would have been helpful, indeed necessary, to offer a catechetical model, by which that encounter can take place. Catechetical formation is at the very heart of the Catholic school; even non-Catholic students are required to participate in religion classes and liturgical services.

• As any pastoral worker or objective observer will say, the greatest source of peace in the Middle East is the network of Catholic schools, wherein students (Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims) have the experience of peaceful coexistence from childhood on.

• Citing Gravissimum Educationis of Vatican II and the Code of Canon Law, the Synod Fathers could have reminded parents of their serious obligation to entrust their children to our schools (to ensure that those children have the values of the Church and the family reinforced on a daily basis in the educational environment) and likewise have reminded the entire Catholic community of their obligation to support these institutions.

• It would have been a wise thing to encourage young people to commit themselves to embark upon the school apostolate.

Were there no former teachers among the Synod Fathers? Were there no teachers among the auditors? Was no one in touch with the reality of the Church on the ground, that such an important resource be given such short and shallow shrift? This treatment is an insult to every Catholic school teacher and pastor who give their all to raise up a new generation of “missionary disciples” (to use Francis’ favorite image). St. John Paul II referred to the Catholic school as the very “heart of the Church.” Pope Francis and his Synod have pushed the school to one of his “peripheries.” Another missed opportunity.

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 284 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. All indication is that open ended premises, “integral formation of youth” a primary example are codes for advancing the Pontiff’s New Paradigm agenda. What was anathema in the past is expected to meet Man’s presently lived condition. The integration of Church and culture. Maike Hickson posted an article on LifeSite that previews what to expect, “In pictures, he is shirtless, standing on the altar rail. The concert was loud, with flickering lights, and many actors were dressed as demons. The Jedermann (Everyman) play depicts a wealthy man in his last hours of life who realizes that neither his friends nor his money follow him into death. He then converts to Christianity. The organizers proudly stated afterwards that they solicited and received 68,000 euros in donations” (Hickson). The actor, openly homosexual danced on the altar rail of Vienna’s St Stephen Cathedral in a production hosted by Cardinal Schönborn. Art when widely acclaimed depicts the soul of a culture. The Cardinal is member of the Pope’s intimate inner circle from which flow visions for the future. Catholic schools are now largely engaged in New Age folderol. Syndolalism the invention of Pope Francis will aim at something more definitive and less Catholic. Bishops come February pray stand on your feet and be men.

  2. While I generally agree with and appreciate Fr Peter’s interventions, I must disagree with his final point, namely, that today’s Catholic schools are promoting “New Ageism.” I have never seen that anywhere. The worst I have seen is the presentation of “Catholicism Lite,” that is, no heresy but not a vibrant clarion call. The vast majority of Catholic schools today (remember, this is not 1975) are deeply concerned with advancing their Catholic identity.

    • I accept your correction Fr Stravinskas since I’ve been away from teaching in the US. I’m reassured it’s not quite as bad as I thought basing my opinion on what laity are saying on Catholic websites.

  3. The Bergoglian Church is perfectly happy with government school for 100% of Catholic children and youth. What kind of government do they praise most highly? Red China’s.

    • Bergoglio has made an art out of ignoring anything Catholic. I am sure it has to do with his Masonic background and Marxist education. No one expects Catholicism from the Vatican anymore.

  4. Fr Stravinskas appears surprised at the lack of an English translation.
    Also suprised by the document’s contents and omissions.
    Father, you haven’t been paying attention. This bishop of Rome plays for keeps.
    Bet on it.

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