Wednesday, December 2, 2015

After Catholic Emancipation in England

While Catholics had finally been granted the rights that were theirs by birth in 1829, much work remained for them to exercise those rights, including in the field of education. Richard J. Janet, PhD., professor of history, and director of the Thomas More Center for the Study of Catholic Thought and Culture at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri writes about this crucial period for Homiletic & Pastoral Review:

It was a particularly difficult time to be Catholic in Britain. While the repeal of the penal laws granted Catholics full political rights in 1829, a deep, popular, anti-Catholicism permeated British society. The Oxford Movement, culminating in the conversion of John Henry Newman to Catholicism in 1845, seemed to confirm fears that closet Catholics lurked everywhere. The influx of Irish immigrants into England, many fleeing the effects of the Great Famine in Ireland, fed the resentment of this largely foreign, ignorant, and Catholic underclass. Respectable newspapers like the Times routinely stoked the fires of anti-Catholicism, engaging in the most blatant racial profiling of Irish Catholics (often caricatured as monkeys in political cartoons). The growth of the Catholic population inspired some Catholic leaders to plan for the reorganization of the Church, including the return of the Catholic hierarchy to a land that, since the Reformation, had been administered as mission territory. English nativists responded with attacks on this “papal aggression,” and, within five years, the government would contemplate legislation to prevent such an incursion. While controversy reigned, the mass of Irish Catholics in English cities remained desperately poor and uneducated.

English Catholic schools proved incapable of improving the situation, existing (in the words of a recent history) in “a decentralized, irregular, and poverty-stricken condition.”1 The Catholic Institute was founded in 1838 to improve Catholic schools but could do little to improve conditions, given its lack of resources. Effectively rubbing salt in Catholic wounds, in 1839, the English government proposed changes in educational policy, establishing a Committee of the Privy Council on Education to dispense public grants to private schools, including those operated by the Church of England, and by dissenting denominations. Catholics were to be excluded from these grants unless they consented to use the protestant Bible in their curriculum—a blatant discrimination that was felt keenly by the leadership of the English Catholic community.

What to do? The ecclesiastical head of the English Church, Vicar-Apostolic Nicholas Wiseman, was preoccupied with Vatican negotiations for the return of the English hierarchy. The most popular figure in the Catholic community—Irish reformer Daniel O’Connell, the great “Emancipator”—focused on efforts to repeal the Act of Union with Ireland, and the devastating effects of the Great Famine. O’Connell died on May 15, 1847. The remaining lay leadership of the Catholic community was, unsurprisingly, deeply divided. The old Whig Catholic gentry favored a patient, moderate approach stressing quiet negotiation and keeping a low profile. The new converts were more aggressive, polemical, and unattached to any political faction. Neither side was willing to defer to the other. Prospects did not look good for a Catholic campaign to secure government grants for desperately needy Catholic schools.

He describes the personalities involved in the crisis--laymen dealing with practical issues, as Father John Henry Newman would argue they should in his famous article on "Consulting the Faithful" in The Rambler--and the compromise finally reached, referencing the book pictured above:

English Catholic schools still faced obstacles in achieving parity with Anglican and secular schools. The historian, Eric Tenbus, in a revealing book entitled [sic] English Catholics and the Education of the Poor, 1847-1902 (Pickering and Chatto, 2010), argues that efforts to promote English Catholic schools helped form a more cohesive Catholic community in 19th century Britain. And Catholic schools have earned high regard in English educational circles, as evidenced by recent government attempts to require Catholic schools to register a higher number of non-Catholic students in an effort to “improve social cohesion” in the kingdom.13 What began as an apparently one-sided attempt of poor Catholic schools to share in the public largesse has evolved to the point that the broader English society recognizes (and covets) the values on which Catholic education rests.

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