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.

Login for more...