October/November/December 2019

Mending walls and building bridges

Anthony Towey

During the summer I had the pleasure of visiting Northern Ireland for a Catholic schools’ conference where the counties of Donegal and Derry meet. The scenery is breathtaking – a spellbinding place where the land jousts with the sea in collisions choreographed by the untamed elements. At turns inspiring and intimidating, the area has most recently provided the scenic canvas for Game of Thrones, a spectacularly gory fable of dragons and derring do which has captured the imagination of millions across the globe. Strange, familiar, unforgettable – as a typical tourist, I took photos to make sure I hadn’t dreamt it.

Odd, then, that since returning home, the scene I have replayed both in my mind and on my telephone were the pictures I took of the border between the two counties. My host took me along a road that marked the boundary in the most banal, unremarkable manner possible – on one side the UK, on the other the Republic of Ireland – though you would have needed a local knowledge to spot the difference. Odd too, however, that while barriered by nothing more man-made than hedgerows, all I could think of was Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall.

For those unfamiliar with the poem, it is the rumination of the author as he undertakes repairs alongside his neighbour. He seems conflicted by the task – on the one hand he opens with ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall’, on the other the received wisdom that ‘good fences make good neighbours’. In an elegant mind play, Frost’s meditation leaves one torn between a desire for the reassurance of secure demarcation and the freedom implicit in unbounded domains.

We can see analogous tensions between specificity and universality at play in the UK where the Brexit disputes continue to reverberate but also in the USA and Israel-Palestine where walls are seen as either symbols of liberty or impositions of oppression by different groups. But the Church too has long struggled to balance a sense of its uniqueness with a sense of its universality, arguably taking until Vatican II to articulate what I’d call a coherent ‘Tolerance Theology’ through the seminal constitutions and decrees such as Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae.

In fairness, this is hardly surprising. In his ministry Jesus could be exclusive, inclusive and somewhere in between (cf. Mt 10.6, 28.18, 15.24–28). The Gospel testimony unmistakeably conveys the tensions inherent in the proclamation of a Kingdom which the disciples reasonably expected to be ‘earthed’ in the historical Israel but which Jesus located not so much in place and space as in grace and truth (cf. Acts 1.6 and Jn 4.21). It hardly gets any clearer in the post-resurrection imagery which has all nations in one baptism (Mt 28.18), all tongues in one voice (Acts 2.8), all the elect called to one banquet (Rev. 21.1). And the master evangelist, Paul of Tarsus, lives a life defined by his belief in the singular Lordship of Christ for the hope of universal redemption (Col. 1.15-20).

On the one hand it seems to me that the Christian can’t decry all walls just as she can’t open all gates. Mother Teresa’s sisters live a strict community enclosure which enables them to serve those the world doesn’t want to see. Just as a monastery needs choir and cloister, a Christian family needs a privacy for its own integrity and growth in love. However, the life of Jesus was an almost permanent trespass of social borders, and we belong to a Church that prays the healing prayer of a pagan at its most intimate moment. ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof’ (Mt 8.8) – a prayer whereby our very Communion becomes a proclamation of médecins sans frontières.

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.’ In the multiplicity of pastoral settings and innumerable private and professional contexts, we can be faced with the problem of when and when not to cross a line. If the unique claims of the Church can appear sectarian, then the very idea of ‘Catholic education’ may be perceived as deliberately divisive – a point of specific reflection during the conference I attended this summer and this edition of Pastoral Review. Yet just as a family steeped in love will love, so will a school community steeped in love build bridges, tear down barriers to fraternity, overcome obstacles to truth, justice and generosity. And particularly if demarcation is mere prejudice, social presumption or a politically imposed injustice, the task of all Christians is to find ways to become smugglers of grace.

Catholic Religious Education: Lessons in liberation

A thought experiment

As well as being editor of the Pastoral Review, Anthony Towey is Director of the Aquinas Centre for Theological Literacy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. Here we publish an edited version of his inaugural professorial lecture given on 4 April 2019.

‘It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.’ At this juncture, we find Catholic RE enjoying what might be called an embattled renaissance. On the one hand, Catholic RE enjoys robust health, and with new RE curricula, new Section 48 measures on the horizon and a new RE Curriculum directory – it is a lively and creative space. Yet on the other hand a series of public reports in 2018 implicitly critique, perhaps even pathologise, Catholic RE by suggesting that the historic statutory right of the Bishops to determine what is in the curriculum should be effectively abolished. Here I’m referring to Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead’s New Settlement, the IMPACT Pamphlet on How to Regulate Faith Schools by academics from University College London and the University of Warwick, and the Final Report of the Commission on Religious Education which I was part of for two years. All in different ways and ostensibly for different reasons, propose that a standard supposedly ‘neutral approach to RE’ be established which Catholic schools would be expected to follow.1

As Andy Lewis has pointed out, it is quite astonishing that what can be perceived as an attack on the 1944 settlement regarding faith schools has found its focus on an area of undisputed curriculum strength.2 It is tempting to ask why some cannot understand the simple notion that theology from a confessional standpoint can be properly critical. That said, given the vast range of content possible in RE (aptly described by Jim Conroy as a subject ‘stuffed full of agendas’),3 there may be mileage in the suggestion associated with academics such as Richard Kueh, Kathryn Wright and Kate Christopher that commonality be sought via agreed approaches rather than content.

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When they’re cheering you, take care to know for what you are being cheered!

Simon Uttley, Headmaster of Blessed Hugh Faringdon School in Reading, asks: Are contemporary Catholic headteachers in English, state-funded Catholic schools caught in or sustained by the web of tradition and practice?

Robert Frost’s well-known, if often misunderstood, poem The Road Not Taken considers choices and what economists call the ‘opportunity cost’, or lost opportunity of choices not taken. But as the second and third stanzas make clear, the poem is concerned with how the varying paths will look in retrospect as, in embarking on one path, the sacrifice is made. It cannot be undone, though it can be regretted at leisure.

Humans are past masters at retrospect: indeed, we have made from it both an academic discipline – history – as well as a source of cultural capital – tradition and narrative. Though some might see tradition as a form of romanticised coercion – the past illegitimately trespassing into the future, perhaps to protect vested interests – nevertheless Catholics, including this Catholic headteacher of an English Catholic secondary school, maintained by the public purse since the inception of the modern state-funded settlement in 1944, are, benignly or otherwise, locked into a complex blend of traditions.

The apostolic tradition charts the truth claims transmitted through an unbroken chain of bishops in whose dioceses, and with canonical approval, we ply our trade as Catholic school leaders, as spiritual leaders, as role models. As such leaders, we have what the later Wittgenstein would have called our own language game privileging love, grace, forgiveness and other ‘thick’ terms. We ‘believe in gospel values’, and hope that means something to people. Our schools are rich in iconography, not least the crucifix, recalling Saussure:
‘Nearly all institutions ... are based on signs.’ 1

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Revisiting the educational mission of the Catholic Church

A view from the side lines

A former Diocesan Director of Education, Bernard Stuart, looks back at an article he wrote eight years ago and takes a fresh look at some of the current issues facing Catholic education today.

Eight years ago, in May 2011, following the publication in this journal of an article by Bishop, now Archbishop Malcolm McMahon,1 I contributed one entitled ‘What is the educational mission of the Catholic Church?’ In the light of what has transpired since then and given my own experience in the field of Catholic education over the past forty-five years (I write from the perspective of having been a teacher, in school leadership, governor, inspector, diocesan advisor, consultant, and diocesan director), I believe it is worth revisiting that same topic in order to offer an updated view of the educational landscape of
England and Wales.
Once again I will be addressing the following questions:

• Why do Catholic schools exist?
• Should we have Catholic schools?
• Could the Church continue its mission without
schools?
• Can there be a vehicle other than a school to act
as an agency of religious formation for the
Church?
• Should we be open to and prepare for a ­
completely new landscape?

In 2011, I considered what might be useful and what was in place for Catholic education to be relevant and useful and came to the conclusion that there appeared to be key features. It is my intention to make use of some of these same features in this current article.

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CCRS twenty-five years on

Research findings about adult theological education

Ros Stuart-Buttle heads the Centre for Christian Education at Liverpool Hope University. She recently led the CCRS research project and authored the final report.

Over recent years, much of my work has involved theological teaching and learning for adult professional and vocational education. One key aspect has been a longstanding involvement with the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies (CCRS), a course no doubt familiar to some readers. 1 The CCRS began in 1991–2 and has long been recognised as a benchmark award by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Records indicate that since 1992, more than 33,000 people have registered onto the course, although just under half have completed the whole certificate. As the CCRS is widely offered by dioceses and higher education providers across England and Wales, these numbers suggest that it has played a significant role and made a substantial contribution to Catholic education and formation. But what is the evidence for this, and what does it tell us about the nature of adult faith-based learning?

The CCRS research project
Earlier this year, in March 2019, a report called CCRS Twenty-Five Years On: One Size Fits All? published the findings from a two-year research project conducted across England and Wales. The start of the research coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary since inauguration. The project systematically gathered quantitative and qualitative data about the CCRS from course participants as well as course providers and key stakeholders. The aim was to provide an opportunity for national conversation and theological reflection about adult education in light of today’s changing religious, socio-cultural and educational contexts.

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