.- Catholic education must clarify its goals and “try to learn from [its] mistakes” in order to better instill the teachings and values of Catholicism to young people in the face of secularism, said Cardinal George Pell, yesterday.
In his keynote address to a National Catholic Education Conference, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Sydney praised the huge contribution Catholics have made to Australian public life. However, he warned, modernity is now threatening Catholic life. Currently, Catholics form one-quarter of the Australian population, but only 16 percent of them attend Mass regularly.
“Secularists strive to remove religion from the public domain and restrict it to private life, where individual religious choices reflect personal preferences unrelated to truth and general principles,” the cardinal said. “They see religion as another area for consumer choice.”
"Too many young Catholics have been led by the pressures of contemporary propaganda, whatever might be said about the inadequacies of family life and Catholic religious education, so that their religious confusion is worse than that of all other young Australian Christians,” he said.
This attitude has seeped into the education system, he said, and evidence of this is documented in a recent study, which indicates that 75 percent of young people said they believe it is acceptable to "pick and choose beliefs."
The study also states, 56 percent of young Catholics believe morals are relative — much higher than other Christians at 40 percent — and 10 percent of young Catholics believe "only one religion is true," against a rate of 34 percent for other Christians, the cardinal noted.
“The [latter] question is capable of being understood in several ways, but the pressures on young Catholics beyond tolerance and ecumenism and towards muddle are evident here,” he said, “channeled sometimes through the ill effects of courses in comparative religion.”
The prelate was also concerned about the drop in religious belief and practice among the current generation of young women.
"Generations of children across most ethnic groups in Australia had the faith passed on to them and nurtured by the devotion of their mothers,” he said. “It remains to be seen how many Gen Y women revert to this role once they have children of their own.”
Young people are “also poorly equipped for any return to the fold when they have little instinct for or understanding that there are truths of faith and morals, which are to be sought after and judged according to rational criteria," the cardinal told the conference.
Still, the cardinal remained optimistic about the contribution Catholic schools can make to the bleak situation. “Schools can impart religious knowledge [and] encourage patterns of clear thinking, constructive enquiry and a thirst for answers,” he said. “We need to inculcate a respect for reason and tradition as well as call to faith, hope and love.”