If we don’t teach about Heaven, Hell and Judgment, we may as well close up and send out kids to the schools with the better playgrounds.

Rev. Edward Boehler, August 26, 1991.

These words of Father Boehler, Chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee (RAC) of the Metropolitan (Toronto) Separate School Board (MSSB) spoken at the Committee’s meeting in August were trenchant.  But it just seems that the MSSB staff from the religious education department worked every single possible trying to prevent genuine Catholicism form getting into their religiously anaemic school curriculum.

Born in the Spirit

“Born in the Spirit” is the current Religious Education Program, a catechism that succeeded the “Come to The Father” series in 1988.  It is described by Trustee Michael Doyle, a member of RAC, as a definite improvement.  For example, it contains a solid, hard-hitting attack on abortion in its pages.  It also has other minor improvements. However, Doyle said, unless the schools can impart a deeper understanding and appreciation of the teachings of the Catholic Faith, we are certainly heading for disaster, one which may be irreversible after 20 years of dithering.  “We are long on talk and short on action,” said Doyle.

Senior religious staff administrators were at this crucial meeting in large numbers to defend their jobs, their incomes and their raison d’étre.  When the May 1991 meeting of the Religious Affairs Committee revealed that teaching in the area of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and other key areas were missing, staff came plodding back with material plugging holes in the school board’s religious curriculum. (The Chairman had asked them at the May meeting regarding the Ten Commandments: “I thought we had ten of them .” (see the article “What religion is being taught in Catholic schools? Insight, page 2, August Interim.)

Back they came with nary a look of embarrassment.  Once again Chairman Trustee Rev. Boehler, and Trustees Harold Adams and Doyle undertook the task of pointing gout crucial areas of the Catholic faith where, if it was not totally missing, it was poorly presented.  “

Where is the mission of the Holy Spirit – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – the gifts of the Holy Spirit – something about the Person of the Holy Spirit? Asked Trustee Adams, persistently.

Father Boehler acknowledged that there were many improvements but the more recent submissions, he felt, still needed to be reworked and rephrased.  As it stood, he thought, the program was a very pale presentation of Catholic beliefs.  The fundamentals need to be stressed, he emphasized.  “Each of these 108 statements submitted covering Grades one to five should be looked at by a theological expert,” he urged.

Different perspectives

In the staff defense, all Rev. Donald J. McLeod, Superintendent of Religious Education, could say was that every person around the table at the meeting had a different perspective of Catholicism. That did not satisfy the trustees and Boehler countered by saying: “The terminology is not important but what is important is what is taught.”

Where is the distinction between serious and less serious sin – whether you want to call it mortal or venial sin?   You can’t say that the sixth commandment just means that the love of married people should always be faithful.

What about ‘fornication and other such sins?’  Where in the curriculum are the attributes of God?  What happened to imparting knowledge of death – purgatory, Hell and the four last things?  Where is prayer?  Where is Grace?  You just can’t say: “Sin is any willful act that harms our relationship with God.”  It’s much more than that.  The statement is incomplete.  There could be the sin of omission – sinful thoughts and so on.”

“Purgatory has to be taught,” Boehler insisted, “if it isn’t – what is the point of a Memorial Mass for the Dead?”

The trustees were not at all satisfied with the senior religious staff administrators; new presentation and sent it back again for them to try to get it right.  It probably fulfilled senior religious staff’s agenda of stalling a review that would reveal their religious program inadequacies.

Strategy: deny everything

What was senior staff’s strategy?  It was to play one trustee’s interests off against another’s, frustrate the goals of the trustees on the Religious Affairs Committee, confuse the issue and finally deny there is a problem.

It has been said that whoever sets the agenda can control the meeting.  MSSB staff are masters at it.

First, the Deputy Director of Education Program Design, Norm Forma, complained about the but-back of three religious education people in their department.  This, he implied, impaired their effectiveness and the ability to respond to extraordinary demands by the trustees. (The staff in the religious affairs departments work a four-day week during the summer months by working an extra fifteen minutes a day).

Option One

The Religious Research Department came up with three options on the agenda.  Option One was to use existing staff, under normal working conditions, keep teachers, administrative staff, parents and trustees informed of the development of the testing program at each stage.  Projected cost of this option: $27,700.  This was to be placed in the 1992 departmental budget for System Review and Religious Education.

Poison pills

Option Two contained two poison pills.  First, there was a suggestion that the original timelines be met while not interfering with projects already underway in the System Review and Religious Education Departments.  This option farmed out the majority of the test-development work.  “Consultation and review personnel from both inside and outside MSSB would have to receive incentive payment for work done after hours in a high-output production mode.”  Total projected cost: $70,965.  Would the trustee not gag on that?

Option Two contained a second poison pill.  IT went on to say: “Even with this, there is no guarantee that external personnel with the necessary Religious Education background (presumably graduates of the deeply deficient Come to the Father catechism school) could be acquired, and therefore no way to ensure that the final test instrument would be satisfactory.”  Unquote.  That is like announcing to the trustees that Option Two could be a waste of time.

Option three

In Option Three, senior religious staff administrators suggest that in order to meet the deadline of the trustees a number of meritorious projects already underway be postponed.  Among them “Special Education Review; Elementary and Secondary School Reviews; Technological Education Review’; Instrumental Music Review; Reporting to Parents Review; Student Ethno-Cultural Survey Reporting; Employment Equity Census and finally North York Gifted Selection Criteria Review.”

Can you imagine how popular that would make the Religious Affairs Committee?  Take that, you trustees!

Delays in any case

The trustees were told that if Option Three were to be accepted and everybody involved in these reviews or projects were taken off and assigned the religious review project, there would be a delay of seven to eight months getting the information on those other projects to the trustees who requested it.  Father Boehler was convinced that the other trustees on the Board would not go for Option Three.

That left only Option One.  But as noted, staff were able to tie a monetary kite to this project of $27,700.  Trustee Adams spotted that this was a budget expenditure that could easily be cut later from the “1992 departmental budgets for System Review and Religious Education” on the grounds of economy.  So Adams and the majority of the trustees present voted to have it locked into the forthcoming budget.  This was the option finally approved by the committee.

Trustee Doyle echoed the sentiments of Father Boehler and Trustee Adams when he asked: “Where are we going? Isn’t the Catholic Religion being taught in our Catholic school supposed to be our Number One priority?  If we fail to appreciate this sentiment five years from now, there may be only one school system.”

Father Boehler said regarding the project: “There has been a lot of paper shuffling but not much concrete action.  He called it: “A disgraceful delay that we have not actually completed this project before.”

Whether the full Board okays or rejects this important religious review project for MSSB Catholic schools remains to be seen.  A ball park figure for the whole project is now estimated to be around $55,000 with the finalizing of the survey’s question to be finished in 1991-92 and the actual questioning of the students regarding their religious knowledge to be implemented sometime in 1992-93.  The battle has only begun.  Here’s hoping – and praying.