It was reported in the press yesterday that parents of pupils at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in Holland Park held a candlelit vigil outside the school last night. They were there to protest against the way the Diocese of Westminster has acted over the appointment of the school's governors. These parents seem angry and fearful because they think that the Archbishop of Westminster, and his Education Department, wish to water down the school's Catholic ethos, which they believe owes much to its admissions policy. Parts of the Catholic press seem to support their parents, believing they have a legitimate case against the Diocese. But, it seems to me that the way this whole affair has been reported on has been unfair, leading to a whipping up of unnecessary hysteria.
In its desire to implement a new policy, which is opposed by parents and a former headmaster, the Diocese appears to have acted in a heavy-handed way - even resorting, it seems, to packing the board of governors with "yes men". But, the fundamental question should be: "is the school's current admissions policy genuinely Catholic, and, if not, is the alternative - proposed by the Diocese of Westminster - better?"
The Six Commandments of the Church
Most traditional Catholics accept that there is a simple test to determine whether or not a man or woman is Catholic. People who keep the six commandments listed below are to be considered Catholic, and definitely appear to be active members of the Church. Those who fail to live up to a few of these precepts might be considered lapsed or lacking in enthusiasm for their faith. Men and women who do not keep any of these rules can be termed "non Catholic" - though they might, in some way or another, still be Christian.
Here are the Six Commandments, as listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia, published 1908: -
1. To keep the Sundays and Holy Days of obligation holy, by hearing Mass and resting from servile work.
2. To keep the days of fasting and abstinence appointed by the Church.
3. To go to confession at least once a year.
4. To receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts.
5. To contribute to the support of the pastors.
6. Not to marry within a certain degree of kindred nor to solemnise marriage at the forbidden times.
Woe to you lawyers also, because you load men with burdens which they cannot bear, and you yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers. (Luke 11: 46)
...even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. (Luke 15: 7)
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted. (Luke 18: 11-14)
Whilst researching the Diocesan website last night, I found an interesting news item concerning the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School (here). It is dated 29 December 2009, and welcomed the "...publication of a ruling by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator on the admission arrangements of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School." In this ruling, the Schools Adjudicator "...upheld a number of objections made by the Diocese of Westminster to the admission arrangements of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School." It seems to me - though I may be wrong - that the Diocese of Westminster encountered resistance to this ruling from the School's governors and therefore resorted to using the provisions made in Canon Law as well as rules that guide the appointment of Catholic school governors to try and implement it. The way the Diocese went about doing this might have been imprudent.
This Diocesan news item goes on to give details concerning the admissions policy that the Diocese is seeking to implement at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. The article points out that the Diocese's central objection to the current admissions policy was:
...the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School’s complex points system and criteria [which] “inappropriately give priority according to the applicant’s, or his parent’s, involvement in church related activities.” (emphasis mine)As far as I can see, the Diocese of Westminster was right to be concerned about the "complex points system and criteria", which seem to be too rigid or demanding - and therefore not very Catholic! The Diocesan website went on to explain the type of admissions policy that the Bishop's Guidance calls for concerning Catholic schools. It states that it should be sufficient to be considered for a place in a Catholic school:
... if they observe the Church's precept of attending Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation ["a practising Catholic"]. In addition, a school should not impose a higher requirement of practice than that laid down by the Church itself. (emphasis and parenthesis mine)Surely, this makes sense? It is only right and just that Catholics should be able to attend their local school, irrespective of how saintly they might (or might not) think themselves to be!?
I admit that I might not have all the facts, or that I do not understand the complexities of the case, but I believe there are other reasons for supporting Archbishop Nichols and the Diocese of Westminster's policy on schools' admissions as regards the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. For example, it seems that the school is heavily subscribed, and that many pupils come from outside the catchment area (for it is a local comprehensive). Surely, the school should concentrate its resources on providing education for local Catholic children who live within the specific parish and / or catchment area, as opposed to saints from outside the parish? I think most will agree that the main determining factors in deciding whether a child be offered a place at the school must be that he (I believe it's a boys' school) be a Catholic (i.e. those who attend Sunday Mass and keep to the other simple rules of Church membership), and that he be local to the parish / catchment area? It also seems that all schools have an obligation to prioritise places for those in local government care, they also have a duty to provide education for those who live nearby. This makes sense to me - and it seems fair. It also seems to be the will of the local Ordinary, Archbishop Nichols - who is ultimately responsible for all Catholic organisations in his Diocese.
It is important to remember that Catholic education is primarily meant to be for Catholic children - even if they might not be saints! We should also remember that the Church does not usually hold to policies that seem to bar "the undeserving poor" from being able to make use of her services. The Church ministers to all people, be they the homeless in her soup kitchens, the sick in her hospitals, or the children in her parishes!