The Catholic University of America

"Catholic Education"
Luncheon Address by Bishop Bernard J. Harrington
Chair, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Education
The Catholic University of America
Sept. 14, 2005

CONFERENCE ON CATHOLIC EDUCATION
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
SEPTEMBER 14, 2005

INTRODUCTION

Father O'Connell, I want to thank you for your kind invitation to speak about the Bishops' recent statement Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. I am delighted that I am able to be with you today.

An additional word of thanks to Mr. Hanna and the Solidarity Association for sponsoring this symposium on Catholic education.

Finally a word of welcome to Archbishop Miller, Secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, who will address this gathering this afternoon.

BACKGROUND

In the spring of 2001, the Superintendents of the twelve dioceses with the largest number of Catholic school students submitted a proposal to the USCCB's Committee on Education requesting that the Committee begin the process which would ultimately lead to the development of a new statement by the Bishops of the United States that would renew their commitment, as well as that of the entire Catholic community, to the availability, affordability, and accessibility of Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the third millennium.

The rationale for the proposal was based on a number of issues, which include, but were not limited to:

  • The Bishops last spoke on this question more than a decade ago
  • New realities, opportunities, and challenges call us to develop new strategies to maintain and re-invigorate our Catholic schools
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, the synodal document on The Church in America, and the statement The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium significantly revised the context and challenge of the church's mission to evangelize and catechize through education
  • The feeling that many people in our nation and church do not either understand or appreciate the contributions of our Catholic schools to the growth of our nation and our church
  • Catholic schools are facing new and serious challenges in the training, recruitment, and retention of qualified administrators and teachers, much of which is related to the financial issues facing our schools
  • The serious concern over our ability to maintain schools in both urban and rural areas where the poor and middle class are located and also to provide schools in suburban areas where they do not exist or are full
  • The need to address the key issues of our schools maintaining their Catholic identity and our ability to provide students and teachers with resources based on sound Catholic doctrine

THE PROCESS

The Committee on Education considered the request, the issues to be covered, and the potential audience at its meetings in June 2001 and again in January and June of 2002. An action item to begin drafting a new statement was approved unanimously at both the September meeting of the USCCB'S Administrative Committee and the November General Assembly in 2002.

It is important to note that the Bishops made a clear recommendation that any new statement was to be "brief and focused."

Consultants, drawn from a variety of USCCB offices and from practitioners on both the elementary and secondary levels from around the country, were invited to meet and make recommendations on the structure and content of the statement.

The Committee reviewed a conceptual outline in June, 2003. A first draft was reviewed in January 2004. A second draft was reviewed in June 2004. A third draft was circulated to all bishops for comment and amendment in September 2004. In January 2005, the Committee reviewed all the suggested revisions submitted by the Bishops. At this same meeting the Committee approved an action item for the March Administrative Committee meeting asking approval to put the statement on the agenda of the June 2005 General Assembly in Chicago. All Bishops had the opportunity to submit additional amendments prior to the meeting in Chicago and again during that meeting.

After reviewing all the suggested revisions, the body of Bishops voted 224 to 10 to approve the publication of the statement on Friday, June 17, 2005.

THE STATEMENT

In the statement the Bishops state that now is the time to "revisit and re-affirm" their commitment to our Catholic elementary and secondary schools and call on the "entire Catholic community to join in this critical endeavor."

The Bishops review why these schools are important, what has happened since their last statement in 1990, and the continuing good news about these schools.

The Bishops then address four challenges that they believe need to be addressed and offer a number of specific recommendations in each of the following areas:

  • The need to face the reality of the changing face of our church including the spiritual, academic, social, and cultural needs of our increasingly diverse people
  • The need for preparation and ongoing formation of new administrators and teachers
  • The need to address the many critical financial questions that face our schools, administrators, teachers, and staff
  • The need to intensify our efforts in advocating for the just and equitable treatment of our students and teachers in federal and state funded educational programs

The Bishops then proceeded to suggest four future actions for themselves, their educational leaders, community leaders, leaders of colleges and universities, and the general Catholic community. These include:

  • Convening gatherings in the Episcopal regions or states to address issues such as Catholic identity, cultural diversity, finances, wages and benefits, academic quality - especially in religious education, governance and marketing of our schools.
  • Develop programs that will help the clergy, especially pastors, seminarians and laity to better understand, appreciate and support our schools.
  • Increase the number of parent advocacy groups and develop strategies to increase the effectiveness of advocacy efforts for the equitable treatment of our students and teachers in government programs.
  • Work with college and university leaders to address the critical staffing needs of our schools.

The Bishops also suggest three actions for the USCCB's Committee on Education and its staff. All of these are intended to assist the implementation of the statements on the local and national level and include:

  • Collaboration with individuals and groups to develop effective procedures to implement the many recommendations included in the statement.
  • Collaborate with the National Catholic Educational Association in the development of a strategic plan growing out of its recent centennial symposium on the future of Catholic education.
  • Review the status of these schools and report regularly to the body of Bishops and the Catholic community starting at the General Assembly in 2007.

The statement concludes with a reminder of the critical importance of these schools and how essential it is to ensure that these schools, despite many financial difficulties, are available to the "poor and marginalized" because the mission of the Catholic school is vital to the future of all our young people, our nation, and our church.

Now the goal is strategizing how to make this statement a reality on both the local and national level.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on this important statement which has been such a major part of the Committee on Education's agenda for some four years.