Growth Problem of Catholic Schools
Clerical and lay leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States are engaged in a controversy over church-sponsored schools that is of broad public interest. At stake is the future of a school system which has grown side-by-side with the public schools over the past century and which today enrolls one of every nine American school children. The main question is whether, or where, the church should curtail an undertaking which in large measure duplicates the tax-supported school system.
The controversy has been generated chiefly by the growing financial problem of maintaining an extensive modern educational system solely from private sources of support. Many of the nation's 45 million Roman Catholics have begun to feel that either their schools must receive some form of financial assistance from government sources, or that the Catholic educational effort must be drastically curtailed. The first alternative is not acceptable to most non-Catholics; they oppose use of tax funds for support of sectarian schools providing a religion-oriented education. Yet Catholic acceptance of the second course would impose a heavy burden on public school systems which already find it difficult to meet their responsibilities to rapidly increasing numbers of pupils.
Need of Church to Review Educational Policies
Several factors have combined to bring the future of Roman Catholic education in this country into the forum of public discussion. The Vatican Council, by emphasizing the application of church doctrine to the contemporary situation, created a climate which encouraged Catholics to question church policy in certain areas formerly regarded as closed to debate. The Council has been particularly effective in strengthening lay voices, and their criticisms have helped to promote a general re-evaluation of the need for a separate Catholic educational system. This new stimulus to open inquiry led Mary Perkins Ryan, a lay officer in several prominent Catholic organizations, to challenge long-established church policy on education in a book published early this year under the provocative title Are Parochial Schools the Answer?