The countdown continues in anticipation of the arrival of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. Catholics in the United States are patiently waiting for the Holy Father. Indications are the Pope will address a variety of matters in his 11 discourses to the American Catholic Church. One needs to always remain aware of the fact that the Pope’s messages are intended for a wider and global audience as well.

Much attention has been given to the shrinking presence of Catholic educational facilities in the United States. Unfortunately, the large parochial school system that was so prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries is quickly becoming a part of the past as parishes close and consolidate. A point that is lost frequently about this educational surge is the fact that most of the clergy and religious that provided staffing for these schools are no longer a readily available resource. The decline of priests and female religious in the past fifty years has had multiple effects on the structure of Catholic education. The primary change is the extensive growth of the laity in positions of teaching authority and administrative roles within the Catholic educational system. With the increased presence of the laity, the Church is forced to compensate these teachers and administrators on a level that far out shadows the stipend given to clergy and religious during the heydays of Catholic schools.

Catholic educators are professionals and deserve to have the appropriate compensation for their academic and educational accomplishments and abilities. Unfortunately, the influx of the laity as the primary staff of Catholic schools has overwhelmed the educational system. Educators are forced with a true dilemma: teach for considerably less pay than their public school companions and continue to provide educational excellence for Catholic schools while enduring personal financial hardship. The great sacrifices of lay Catholic schoolteachers and administrators are something the Church does not always want to recognize or even acknowledge.

The direct result of the increased salaries, benefits and other expenses incurred by lay educators was the start of Catholic school tuition as the numbers of clergy and religious diminished in the 1970’s onward. Additionally, the shifting demographics of Catholic populations have also been the cause for the closures of Catholic schools along with the local parish elementary school structure. Finally the continued rise in costs to maintain Catholic facilities that were built before the modern energy crisis have made them virtually impossible to heat with the costs of fossil fuel.

What has developed is a different approach to Catholic education in the United States that has migrated away from parochial schools and high schools and relied heavily on programs of continued religious education for both religious converts and cradle born Catholics. The educational system in the Catholic Church in the United States is not in crisis, it is in a period of transformation. With the increased abilities of global telecommunications and technologies, the process of Catholic evangelization and catechesis needs to adapt and adopt these modern methods of communications. The educational format of the 19th and 20th centuries is no longer appropriate as the sole vehicle to communicate Catholic truths to our developing young Catholics and our established community of believers.

The primary role of responsibility towards the education of children rests with the parents of young Catholics. The continued emphasis by the Church on the importance of a traditional family structure is perhaps the key component towards educational success in the new millennium. Catholic traditional teaching of the sanctity of marriage and the importance of raising children in a Catholic environment are the principles that need to loudly get the attention of Catholic clergy, laity and educators. As a collective Catholic Church, we need to return to the traditional (and by that I do not mean antiquated) doctrinal and dogmatic formation for all of our Catholic youth and faithful. The new spirituality that is advocated by Benedict XVI should include a thorough and complete understanding of the precepts of Catholicism, from the Apostolic era, to the post-Vatican II Church.

We unfortunately have disrupted the continuity of our theological truths with our liturgical changes and have confused the transcendence of doctrinal matters with those of cultural and social development. The Catholic Church’s greatest success in reviving educational consistency in regards to moral and ethical issues within our Church will indeed reside in our ability to clearly reemphasize our most sacred beliefs for Catholics. Once the grass-roots understanding of our fundamental message and beliefs is proclaimed…the Church of the 21st century then needs to prayerfully and practically look for a new spirit of Pentecost within our Church.

Perhaps the best result of the changes realized by the Catholic Church in the early parts of the third millennium is a growing understanding and appreciation on the part of the Holy Father and the Church is this: our faith is constantly developing and growing in an understanding about the message of Jesus Christ…for the world. The sooner we return that essential message to all of the activities of our Catholic life and mission, the better equipped we will be towards educational success.

The so-called educational crisis in the Catholic Church is in reality part of the natural progress of the organic Church that is constantly growing and changing to fulfill the needs of the Body of Christ. We cannot spend time with lament about the glories of past Catholic educational activities. As a Church, we need to seize the global opportunity we have with the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit and become faith filled educational pioneers of the message of Christ’s Sacraments and love. Our Catholic educational activities are indeed not in crisis, but in a state of kairotic chaos, that is leading the Church to a new age of catechesis and evangelization in a dramatically changing world.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic thor that writes on Catholic topics and issues. He writes daily at http://catholicnewsagency.com & http://pewsitter.com & http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com

Follow him this week as he goes to Washington, D.C. & New York City to follow Pope Benedict’s trip to the United States.

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