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Moral Training In Public Schools


One of our popular clergymen, in a late Sunday discourse upon the Bible in the public schools, labored to show that the question was a very unimportant one. because none were much interested in it except infidels and politicians—a sufficiently absurd position for a professed teacher of the people to assume. Doubtless it is a folly to fan into flame the slumbering embers of a quarrel, but it is a greater folly to pretend, in the face of the common sense of the people, that all signs of fire are extinguished or never existed where there is so much inflammable material about and the "wind of doctrine" running high.

This question of secular education for our public schools is in fact one of the most difficult of solution. Chicago has met it in a summary manner by excluding the Bible from all her free schools, but this does not settle the question, because both believers and unbelievers in the various creeds of the churches admit that there should be provision made for the training of the moral faculties of the children in our public schools. Many of them, especially in cities and large manufacturing centres, come out of the dark alleys where intemperance, poverty and ignorance tend to arrest the development of their higher sentiments. For the unfortunate children of such homes the sessions of the public school afford the only glimpse of a better life, the only chance for moral and æsthetic culture. Protestants, as a rule, honestly believe that the reading of the Bible at the opening of school tends to waken and develop the moral aspirations of the child. Just as honestly and conscientiously do Catholics disbelieve in the efficacy of Bible reading, while they boldly condemn secular education as a principle. Father Muller, priest of the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, in his work upon public school education, published three years ago in Boston, says: "The language of the Vicar of Christ in regard to godless education is very plain and unmistakable".... "Our Holy Father, Pope Pius IX., has declared that Catholics cannot approve of a system of educating youth unconnected with the Catholic faith and the power of the Church".... "The voice of common sense, the voice of sad experience, the voice of Catholic bishops, and especially the voice of the Holy Father, is raised against and condemns the public school system as a huge humbug, injuring and not promoting personal virtue and good citizenship, and as being most pernicious to the Catholic faith and life and all good morals. A pastor, therefore, cannot maintain the contrary opinion without incurring guilt before God and the Church. He cannot allow parents to send their children to such schools of infidelity. He cannot give them absolution and say, Innocens sum."

According to the American Annual Cyclopædia for 1875, the Roman Catholic Church has in the United States 1 cardinal, 8 archbishops, 54 bishops, 4872 priests, 4731 churches, 1902 chapels, 68 colleges, 511 academies, and a lay membership numbering over 6,000,000. This shows a great and increasing prosperity of that Church in this country; yet our institutions have nothing to fear from that prosperity unless the principles of Catholicity support the "one-man power" against the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, the foundation-principle of republicanism. Patriotic Catholic citizens claim that there is no conflict. They love their Church and their country, and will labor to preserve peace and harmony. Yet how can harmony be maintained while a large and increasing number of our tax-paying citizens, accepting their Church and its head as infallible, are forced by their spiritual allegiance to send their children to Catholic schools, though at the same time paying taxes to support those "godless" public schools condemned by the infallible Church? To take the ground that these two powers, the Catholic Church and our government, do not conflict, because one is a spiritual and the other a civil power, is simply absurd. We see that they do conflict. The pope interferes with the civil rights of our citizens when—as, for example, in his encyclical letter of December 8, 1874—he commands all Catholics to treat the liberty of speech, of the press, of conscience and of worship, the separation of Church and State and the secular education of youth, as "reprobatas, proscriptas, atque damnatas."