Catholic students get a failing grade

Editor’s note 

The Interim has been examining what is being taught in the schools about sexual-moral-religious values.  In the first five issues of 1991 we raised readers’ awareness about the inroads the condom mentality was making among teachers and administrators.  We were happy to contribute to a renewed resistance to this so-called solution to AIDS which is no solution at all.

In this issue we first discuss the “Catholicity” of Catholic schools (pl-2); carry forward the debate about sex education launched with a book review in the April Insight.  (letters to the editor; Brian Taylor; Rev. J.H. Gillis); introduce a historical note about the dismal role of St. Jerome’s college’s Family Education program (Father John McGoey, S.F.M.); bring in miscellaneous items and updates and, finally, an article of general interest (Rodgerson).

In May 1990, Abt Associates of Canada presented a report on the Ontario separate school system to the Institute of Catholic Education (ICE) in Toronto.  The director of the survey on which the report was based was Professor Bernard Blishen, a University of Toronto sociologist.  Only now is the report beginning to be available for general discussion.

High standards

The introduction refers to the general reputation which Catholic schools have had (especially in the U.S.) for high standards and good discipline.  The Ontario separate school system has faced the same social changes as has th epublic in the past few decades, but has perhaps been more successful in maintaining academic standards and promoting student achievement.  This is partly because it has the support of a religious community behind the schools.  The future success of the system, the report suggests, will depend on the continuing commitment of the partners in this educational endeavor – parents, teachers, trustees, and clergy.

Practice of the faith

Suprisingly, over 86 per cent of trustees go to Mass at least once a week.  For teachers the figure is 0 per cent, for parents about 50 per cent.

When asked to rank seventeen possible objectives of the school system, parents put preparing children for higher education and for the workplace and helping them to realize their potential right at the top; so do teachers.  Both these groups minimize the importance of encouraging participation in the Church, teaching the children how to pray; these aims are in fact right at the bottom of the list.

The clergy, of course, rank such objectives highly, and the trustees tend to do so as well.

The tables show that the various groups agree about the importance of students developing character and achieving and achieving their potential; they agree as well on the importance of involving parents in the educational process.

Yet, as we have seen, the parents themselves do not acknowledge the importance of bringing religion into the curriculum.  The survey, in fact, convicts the parents of apathy.

Of the trustees, 75 per cent belong to parish organizations, but only 37 per cent of parents; two-thirds of trustees belong to other Catholic organizations, but only 19 per cent of parents do.

Nor do parents show much interest in groups dealing with environmental or social justice questions.  And the least interest of all is in abortion.  Only 6.46 per cent of parents belong to pro-life organizations.  Need we look much farther for the absence of sane abortion legislation in our country?  Catholics, members of Canada’s largest religious denomination, do not support the pro-life.

Student attitudes

The survey of student attitudes, opinions, and beliefs produces equal reasons for dismay.  “In general,” says the report, “the overall level of religious knowledge of these students is not high; they know most about individual morality and least about scripture.”  Catholic schooling has not kept them from reflecting currently popular views, instead of subjecting these to critical analysis.


  • 59 per cent agree with the statement that the Women’s movement in the Church is long overdue;
  • but only 20 per cent disagree.



  • 89 per cent are aware of the Church’s position that sexual intercourse is acceptable only when couples are married;
  • 58 per cent consider the Church’s teaching on sexuality ‘unrealistic;’
  • 67 per cent agree to some extent with the statement that ‘Sex is all right when people love each other.’


Birth Control

  • 90 per cent know that, as far as the Church is concerned, natural family planning (NFP) is the only morally acceptable means of birth control;
  • only 36 per cent are willing to follow this teaching if they marry.



  • 19 perr cent support to some extent the statement that “it should be possible for a married woman to have an abortion if she does not want any children.”
  • Two-thirds believe that it should be possible for a woman to obtain a legal abortion if she has been raped.


Little knowledge

There are many other indications that, for whatever reasons, students’ knowledge of and adherence to Catholic principles is not very satisfactory.

For example, fewer than half know that the ultimate guide in deciding the morally correct course of action is the informed conscience.

Only one-third know that the Pope and the bishops have a special role in deciding the authoritative meaning of Jesus’ teaching for us today; over 52 per cent think that each individual decides the content of his own beliefs.

Weak practice

Half of them go to Mass and half don’t; 36 per cent say that they attend Mass at least once a week, another 14 percent two or three times a month.

Only 6 per cent are involved in pro-life groups; interestingly, these are more likely to go to Mass, receive Communion, and participate in other religious activities than the others.

One depressing conclusion drawn is that while those who have completed three years in a Catholic high school are more likely to fulfill their religious obligations than those who have completed fewer years, additional Catholic schooling lessens the likelihood of religious participation: “The completion of between one or two school lessens this percentage quite substantially.”

The Blishen Report is likely to be the subject of discussion for some time to come; a survey such as this can never be regarded as a definitive assessment of the situation it evaluates, and there is bound to be considerable debate about its fairness and accuracy.  Nevertheless, there is enough meat in it for us to ask ourselves an obvious question:  Is the Catholic school system doing badly at teaching well?