From Under the Rubble . . . Virtus Versus the Family
When I was growing up in Indiana, our pastor routinely berated Catholic parents who sent their children to public schools. Perhaps his generation was more familiar than ours with the history of education in America. Few Catholics today realize that the public school movement began 150 years ago as part of an attack on the Catholic Church.
In the mid-19th century, Protestant "Know-Nothings" railed against the millions of newly arrived Catholic immigrants "criminals" who had a lot of kids and were starting their own schools, complete with armies of foreign nuns and papist priests. According to Rousas Rushdoony's history, Horace Mann, the founder of the public school movement in Massachusetts, believed that "the [public] schools are the means, instruments, vehicles, and true church by which salvation is given to society." Given that goal, Mann "changed the function of education from 'mere learning' or religiously oriented education to 'social efficiency, civic virtue, and character'" (by the 20th century, character "ceased to be a concern" in the public schools, Rushdoony notes). Mann also demanded that control of community schools be transferred into state hands.
A decade later and a continent away, another pioneer took up the cause. John Swett was responsible for "framing the basic legislation of the state system" as California's superintendent of public instruction during the 1860s. Swett made his goals perfectly clear: "Children arrived at the age of maturity belong not to the parents but to the State, to society, and to the country, " he insisted so children should be educated not according to the beliefs of their parents, but according to those of the government. The "civil religion" taught in government schools was designed to neutralize the papist heresies taught in the parochial schools. For the Know-Nothings, Catholic families were not only the competition: They were the enemy. Catholics were inferiors that had to be raised to the level of civic virtue expected of everyone else.
Ideas have consequences, Richard Weaver observed, and the ideas of Swett and Mann still haunt America today. In Massachusetts, Judge Mark Wolf has told outraged parents that mandatory grade-school courses celebrating homosexuality are "reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy." In California, the powerful government schoolteachers' union (CTA) which has 340,000 members strongly opposes home-schooling, and has now found a friendly judge who has virtually outlawed home-schooling in California.
No wonder the CTA names one of its "prestigious" annual awards after John Swett. As public schools decline and home-schooling becomes more popular, teachers' unions and their allies in the bureaucracy have reacted fiercely. They even charge that parents who home-school their children for religious reasons are actually child abusers who want to hide their victims from school authorities. Unfortunately, that attitude seems to prevail in bureaucracies nationwide. I once interviewed our local Child Protection Services staff when I was working on some related treaty issues at the United Nations. "We love the public schools," one of them told me. "We can inspect the children there without the parents interfering. They don't even know we're doing it and of course, we don't need their permission."
These people, whose sole prior experience was working in day-care centers, can take children away from parents on the basis of one anonymous allegation of abuse.
Where are the Bishops?
While the outrageous episodes in Massachusetts and California have gotten the most attention, the "gay rights" crowd and the teachers' unions that run the government schools are effectively mounting a concerted attack on Catholic values nationwide. So why are our bishops silent? Why aren't they out front, defending the God-given rights of Catholic parents to direct the education of their children and to protect them from moral harm, even in public schools? Perhaps the bishops think their new "child protection" programs perform that role. But a cursory glance at those programs indicates that they would suit the gay activists and government teachers' unions just fine.
Unfortunately, after years of lawsuits, prosecutions, bankruptcies, and revelations of cover-ups, some bishops have simply thrown in the towel. After the scandals, our bishops admitted that they had lost the trust of the faithful. But they have left many Catholic families at the mercy of the secular state. Like Mann and Swett, bishops have taken responsibility for protecting children from parents and handed it over to the government, all without a fight. With great fanfare, bishops turn over the fingerprints of tens of thousands of innocent parents to the authorities. But not once has the USCCB publicly demanded that guilty bishops turn themselves in.
Do not expect Virtus to defend Catholic families and Catholic moral virtues. It is not designed to. In fact, it harmonizes nicely with some of the gay propaganda and the secular anti-family agendas. To pass episcopal muster, Virtus must contain two salient features: First, it must insist that homosexuality is not a problem, when in fact homosexual clerics are more than 100 times more likely to abuse children than their heterosexual colleagues are; second, it must turn its guns solely on the laity. You can learn all about the dangers of 15-passenger vans, but the role of predator priests and bishops in the clerical sex abuse scandals and cover-ups is consigned to Big Brother's Memory Hole.
The Virtus web sites and parental handbooks don't bother to mention the virtues of chastity, purity, holiness, or modesty. No family prayer, model saints, or the sacraments. They do not even mention Christ. They do not advise parents of the teachings of the Magisterium, teachings that affirm the right of parents, not "experts," to educate their children. Perhaps this vacuum exists because Virtus was not produced by parents to protect their children. It is produced by "experts" hired by insurance executives and liability lawyers to protect bishops. It is designed to divert our attention from the sad fact that, during the scandals, at least half of America's bishops were guilty of protecting abusers instead of calling the police and many of them are still in office.
The best defense is a good offense, the experts conclude: And Virtus is indeed offensive. What to tell your child? "From ages 18 months to 3 years begin teaching children the proper names for all body parts," says Virtus and it goes downhill from there. Some Virtus materials would fit in comfortably with the curriculum of Planned Parenthood or Catholics for a Free Choice. In fact, Virtus proudly relies on the expertise of the American Academy of Pediatrics in advising parents on how to protect their children. Yes, you're right, that's the same American Academy of Pediatrics whose web site "reaffirms its position that the rights of adolescents to confidential care when considering abortion should be protected."
Excuse me, Your Excellency, is that really your idea of child protection?
This item 8220 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org