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do not know whether they are in the number of the positively injurious or not. . . . Unless they can otherwise provide sufficiently for the Catholic instruction of their children, parents cannot be absolved who commit their instruction to the public schools, although not certainly of a positively injurious kind, in those places and connections in which they can commit them to some Catholic school. . . . Parents cannot be absolved, who, without a cause proportionately grave, commit their children to any public school, although not positively injurious, in those connections in which that cannot be done without serious scandal. Suppose for example, a Catholic man who is conspicuous among his fellow citizens for wealth, authority, or any other cause, in whose parish a Catholic school coexists with a public one. If this person by his example, especially if, as is likely to happen in such instances, he should by his encomiums induce others to enter the public school, to the deserting of the Catholic school or non-attendance therein, he would assuredly be guilty of a great scandal, and consequently ought not to be absolved.” In summing up, the writer says: “Respect being had to conditions of times and places, public schools, and in general all schools in which there prevails that method of instructing the youth which is severed from the Catholic faith and the authority of the Church, are commonly to be regarded as positively injurious, and therefore as a rule absolution is to be refused to parents who commit their children to the instruction of the same; by way of exception only is it to be conceded, that is, only in those cases in which the precept to educate offspring in a Catholic manner is kept so far as it is affirmative, to the extent of the ability, and is not violated so far as it is negative." The authorities most frequently appealed to in deducing these conclusions are the Syllabus published by Pius IX. in 1864, and the letter of the same pontiff to the Archbishop of Freiburg?
The Third Plenary Council (1884) thought it necessary to caution bishops and priests against an indiscreet zeal in withholding the sacraments from the patrons of the public schools. But, on the other hand, it plainly committed the Roman Catholic Church to the policy of erecting everywhere, as soon as practicable, parochial schools, and of gathering the whole body of its children into them.
1 Professor A. Konings, De Absolutione Parentibus, etc., 1874.
2 The council cited this instruction from the Congregation of the Propa. ganda, given in 1875 : “It is fitting that those who are intrusted with the oversight of sacred things should, by every available means and effort, guard the flock committed to themselves from all contagion of the public schools. But to this end, it is commonly agreed, nothing is so necessary as that Catholics should have in all places schools of their own, and these not inferior to the public schools. Wherefore all care and foresight should be taken either to found Catholic schools where they are wanting, or to enlarge them, and to order and equip them more perfectly, so that in instruction and discipline they may equal the public schools." It quotes also from the encyclical letter of Leo XIII. to the French bishops, Febru. ary, 8, 1884, wherein the Pope declares the hostility of the Church to schools not under ecclesiastical direction. (Ecclesia semper scholas quas appellant mixtas vel neutras aperte damnavit.) In harmony with these references to the papal letter and the instruction of the Congregation of the Propaganda, the council decreed : 1. “That near every church, where a paro. chial school does not yet exist, one shall be erected within two years from the promulgation of this council, and be sustained in perpetuity, unless the bishop judges that delay ought to be conceded on account of difficulties of the graver sort. 2. That the priest who within this time impedes by his serious negligence the erection or support of a school, or does not give heed after repeated admonitions by the bishop, deserves to be removed from that church. 3. That the mission or parish which so neglects to assist the priest in erecting and sustaining a school, that on account of its supine negligence the school cannot exist, should be reprehended by the bishop, and be induced by any more efficacious and prudent means at his command to confer the necessary aids. 4. That Catholic parents are bound to send their offspring to parochial schools, unless they provide sufficiently and evidently either at home or in other Catholic schools for the Christian education of their children, or for a sufficient reason, approved by the bishop, and with suitable cautions and remedies, they are allowed to send them to other schools.” (Acta et Decreta, pp. 98-104, 279-282.)
The fencing off of Roman Catholic children into parochial schools is only half of the programme as prepared several decades since by the hierarchy. The other half is the urging of the demand that these schools should be supported from the public treasury. At least there has been a sufficient number of declarations to beget the suspicion that nothing but the apprehension of arousing sharp and harmful antagonisms has prevented the prelates from unitedly pushing this demand. The ground urged for public support is the alleged unfairness of levying taxes upon Roman Catholics for a school fund in which they have no share.
Protestants, on their side, claim quite generally that Roman Catholics have only themselves to blame for their extra burdens, and cannot reasonably require the Commonwealth to bless and foster their private enterprise to its own hazard and injury. They maintain that an offer to support one set of denominational schools would be placing a premium on sectarian exclusiveness and bigotry wherever found in the country; that such an offer would accordingly be likely to invite new demands for a division of funds, until finally the prestige of the publicschool system would be overthrown, and the system end in a relative if not a complete wreck. They emphasize the idea that in a nation of such mixed ingredients as this, it is vastly important to have a potent unifying agency, and means of contact between all classes, like that provided in the public schools. In enforcing this idea they can appeal to utterances of Roman Catholics themselves. Thus Cardinal Gibbons tells us that the multiplicity of sects in this country, with their mutual recriminations, is the scandal of Christianity ;” and Bishop J. L. Spalding assures us that sectarian divisions are dangerous to the unity of the republic, since they have a “tendency to prepare the public mind to contemplate without alarm or indignation like divisions and dissensions in the State.” Why, then, it is appropriately asked, remove the most effectual instrumentality for ameliorating sectarian prejudice and fostering community of sentiments ? Will it tend to promote friendly feeling between Roman Catholics and Protestants, or between one body of Protestants and another, to run a dividing wall between them from infancy? Already there are incitements to sharp antagonisms. A certain grade of ill-informed Protestants has shown itself ready to rush into exaggerated suspicion and accusation respecting Roman Catholic intentions and doings. On the other hand, Roman Catholics have made a free use of the language of invective in characterizing Protestantism. Roman Catholic youth have been taught in a catechism, published under high sanction, that there is no saving faith in Protestantism, and that the founders of Protestant communions, were wicked men who taught impious doctrines. They have also had an opportunity to read these lines voiced by a bishop in the national assembly of his Church : “Originating in insubordination to the established and recognized authority of God, without doctrine or sacraments, without men or means to make any one or anything holy, without divine faith, or the virtues that spring from it, or any element of the supernatural life, without the blessing of God or any testimony of his favor, Protestantism as a religion is a barren fig-tree; it bears no fruit of life, it never will bear any." 2 With a like exhibition of charity Protestant churches have been characterized by representative writers as “synagogues of Satan.” Surely no divisive agency, no expedient for aggravating sectarian differences is needed. A sober view of the facts emphasizes rather the declaration of Father McGlynn: “ National common-schools are indispensable to a common nationality.”
1 Very recently (January, 1894) the fact has been elicited that there is a division of opinion among the bishops on the propriety of pressing the demand for a share in the public funds.
Beyond these main considerations there is the practical question, whether a piecemeal division of public. school funds can be accomplished without bickerings, disputings, and overreachings. Not a few people are perfectly assured in their minds that a Church which claims sole legitimacy, and regards itself as identical with the kingdom of God on earth will always think itself entitled to the lion's share. Millions of dollars
i Catechism of Christian Doctrine for Parochial and Sunday Schools, with the approbation of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and certified by Archbishop Bailey of Baltimore, September 24, 1874, - No. ii., improved edition.
2 Memorial Volume of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, pp. 239, 240.