On Monday, February 22, 1869 His Eminence, Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland submitted evidence to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Primary Education in Ireland. Cardinal Cullen’s tenure as the Archbishop of Dublin is summed up by the catholic encyclopedia as follows:
The Cardinal’s testimony to the Commission included a large amount of evidence demonstrating the harm in the practice of “mixed” or “common” schools.” These schools combined students of different religions and either did not teach any religion to the students at all or else only taught them generic Christian principles that Catholicism shared with most Protestant sects. Far from being a novelty today, these schools are now the norm in the United States and most of the West and are typically accepted without much question by our modern Catholic authorities. Therefore, it is interesting to see a true Catholic reaction to this concept in the late 1800’s. Cardinal Cullen gathered a number of letters from Catholic bishops around the world to testify to the effect of these schools both on the population and the faithful. I’ve included some of the letters Cardinal Cullen introduced to the Commission below. They include letters from a bishop in Belgium, the Archbishop of New York, and finally a letter from His Holiness Pope Pius IX himself. Enjoy.
Cardinal Cullen: “In Belgium the same liberty of education prevails as in Prussia and Austria. Lately, some attempts have been made to establish mixed schools, but they are opposed by the bishops and clergy. They are not in unison with the general feeling of the country—which is Catholic, and in favour of religious education just as we are in Ireland. I have a letter in my hand of the Bishop of Liege, written last September, with regard to a mixed school which some benevolent ladies were about establishing in Liege.
They wished to establish it pretty much on the principles of our National system, viz., that nothing about religion should be taught in it except the principles of common Christianity. The bishop shows that such an attempt is contrary to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and the feeling of the Catholic people of Belgium. His letter contains many good observations, which it will be perhaps interesting to read. Addressing the ladies, he says:—
"The undertaking projected by you, judged according to your own programme, cannot be reconciled with the profession of the Catholic faith ; it would place you in open opposition to the Church of God, of which you say that you are, and intend to remain, members. You must not deceive yourselves on this point—as a father charged with the care of his family, as a shepherd responsible for the souls of His flock, I warn you against the false and fatal path, to enter on which you are pushed by influences which you are too confiding to distrust as you ought.
"Examine more closely what your programme sets forth. You undertake to teach in your school, or to cause to be taught there at your expense, the true faith, heresy, and even infidelity—you bind yourselves to place truth and error on a footing of perfect equality ; you promise to welcome in your schools with equal favour all that God, the Sovereign Truth, has revealed and commanded us to believe, and all that the Spirit of Lies has substituted in place of the word and institutions of God ; you wish, as the Scripture says, to serve two masters, between whom there is an irreconcilable opposition, and in your schools to glorify at once Christ and Belial! But Jesus Christ will never tolerate this divided allegiance ; you know in what language he rejects and condemns it.
"Can it be possible that you have come to the determination of closing the doors of your schools against the influence of religion, which is the very soul of education; to exclude from the study of history the traces of God's providential action on the world, without which history becomes a barren and dry catalogue of names, and dates, and things, instead of being a source of useful, practical lessons ; to say no word of the grand and beneficial part that the Church of God has played in the world for the last nineteen centuries ; to withdraw literature from that spirit of religion which has inspired so many artistic and literary masterpieces ; to deprive the moral law of the support it should have in doctrinal teaching, and to weaken the sense of duty, by freeing the conscience from the sanction which faith reveals, and which is the only one that can effectually curb the passions of man?
“Can it be possible that, forgetting what you owe to your mother, the Catholic Church—yet full of tenderness for Protestants and Jews, and unbelievers, you would abstain from placing in your school rooms the crucifix, the sacred figure of that Saviour to whom woman owes all her happiness as daughter, as spouse, and as mother ; and that you would hesitate to place before your pupils the chaste and tender image of Mary, the mother of God, the ever virgin, the model of female virtue in every age, in every rank of society, in every condition of life? Would you deprive your pupils of the silent but penetrating influences which, issuing from these two sources would teach them that twofold lesson which comprises all the duty of woman, the spirit of devotedness, and of unseen sacrifice of self? Would you close against them that book from which they may learn attachment to their duty, strength in their struggles, resignation in their bodily pains, patience in their domestic trials, fortitude in their disappointments, and the noblest idea of dignity of their being, and of the priceless value of their souls ?
"As you told me that you are and wish to remain Catholics, I explained to you how unlawful it was to aid directly in teaching doctrines contrary to the Catholic faith. To avoid this fault, so grave in the eyes of God and His Church, you now have recourse to a plan, which is a strange one indeed in Catholics. Since, without violating God's law, you cannot teach heresy and infidelity, you refuse to teach Catholic truth. This is the vengeance you would take for the prohibition laid upon you by God against favouring error. You announce that your teachers will carefully abstain from all religious discussion. What is the true meaning that lurks under the ingenious vagueness of this phrase? It means that you forbid your teachers to employ religious influences in the training of their pupils ; it means that religion, and especially the Catholic religion, is to be excluded from your schools, as astronomy is excluded from them. I admit your programme declares that the teachers will carefully train their pupils to cherish their moral and religious duties. But do you not know that for a Catholic, there is no religious duty which does not depend upon a dogma for its beginning and its end. Have you not observed that it is a mere chimera to think that we can make religious duties to be cherished, unless we explain their origin, their nature, their conditions, their necessity, and their sanction, that is, unless we enter upon the domain of theology, and go to the very heart of Catholic teaching ? And the same holds good of moral obligation. Upon what will you rest respect for moral obligation ? What support will you assign to it, if positive doctrinal teaching be no longer its basis and foundation ? Without positive sanction and teaching, how will you strengthen for good the frailty of the human heart ? What barrier will you oppose to its insatiable greed for pleasure and self -gratification? What consolation, what hope will you offer to the repentant?"
This letter of the Bishop of Liege, besides explaining so well the arguments that militate against mixed education, shows what the feelings of the clergy and people of Belgium are on that subject…
Allow me now to refer to the system of education in the United States, which is very like our system in Ireland ; they call their schools " common schools ;" in Holland they call them " neutral schools;" here we call them " mixed," but they are all pretty much the same…
As the common school system has been very fully developed in New York, the judgment of the illustrious Archbishop of that great metropolis, Most Rev. Dr. M'Closky, must be listened to with great interest :—
"New York, January 3rd, 1869.
"Most eminent and dear Lord,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Eminence's esteemed favour of 12th ult., in which you request me to inform vou what are the results in this city of our system of public schools, from which religious instruction is excluded, or which are conducted on the ' mixed principle.'
" I can answer that so far as our Catholic children are concerned, the workings of our public school system have proved, and do prove highly detrimental to their faith and morals. So strongly has the conviction of this been impressed upon the minds both of pastors and parents that most strenuous efforts, and even enormous sacrifices, have been made, and continue to be made, in order to establish and support Catholic parochial school". We have at the present moment in daily attendance at these schools an average number of between eighteen and twenty thousand children. The annual expenses for the maintenance of these schools does not fall short of one hundred thousand dollars ; while the. amount expended for purchase of lots, and erection of proper school buildings, &c, considerably exceeds a million.
" Nothing but the deepest sense of the many dangers to which the religious and moral principles of their children are exposed could prompt Catholic parents to make such great pecuniary sacrifices, or assume such onerous burdens ; for it has to be borne in mind that while they are thus obliged through conscientious motives to support their own schools, they have at the same time to bear their share of the taxation imposed for support of the public schools.
“I should remark that our parochial schools are free. The children receive their education, are furnished with books, & c. gratuitously.
"Your Eminence then may perceive how disadvantageously, and even how unjustly our public school system works for Catholic parents and children. We have from time to time received partial relief from appropriations made either by the Common Council of this city, or by the Legislature of the State, but these bear no proportion to the actual expenditure we are obliged to make.
" With regard to non-Catholics, very many of the more thoughtful and earnest minds among them see and acknowledge the evils which are the inevitable results of our common school education. They see that the absence of all religious teaching is weakening the hold which any distinctive creed, or any special denomination, might have on the minds of youth, and that thus growing up in indifference to the religion of their parents, they become indifferent to all religion, and if continuing to bear the name of Christians, it will be only so long as it may remain a popular name in the country, but ready to be cast off when no opprobrium or reproach will attach to doing so.
" I am deeply and painfully convinced that our common schools, as now organized and conducted, are gradually undermining Christianity in this much favoured land. Home influence, and Sunday school training are all that are left to check the growth of infidelity in the minds of the young —but these are insufficient—Protestant clergymen admit it, and in many places an; calling upon the people to establish their own parish schools. The bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church when lately assembled in general convention in this city, strongly recommended and urged the establishment of such schools.
"Time, we hope, may work some remedy, but it will only be when the popular prejudices against sectarianism (which, being interpreted in the American sense, means Popery) will be more fully, if not completely, removed.
" The main discussions which took place on this subject were during the time of my distinguished predecessor. Your Eminence will find them in the first volume of 'Works of Archbishop Hughes.' In the Decrees of 11th Plenary Council of Baltimore (Titulus IX.) the official declaration of the Bishops on this subject is given. I may mention that, as that titulus was chiefly prepared by me, it expresses nothing but what I sincerely feel and am willing to endorse. Earnestly hoping that your Eminence and right rev. colleagues may successfully resist all attempts to impose upon you our American public school system, and wishing you long life and happiness,
"I remain, etc,
…I shall now close my quotations from so many sources, by referring to the highest authority in the Catholic Church. The Pope [Pius IX], the supreme head of the church, and Christ's vicar on earth, having been consulted upon this important matter, addressed in the year 1864 a letter to the Archbishop of Friburg, in Germany, who at that time was defending the rights of religion over the school against the aggressions of the Government of Baden. I take the following extracts on the mixed system from this important letter :—
" But, if this detestable system of education, so far removed from Catholic faith and ecclesiastical authority, becomes a source of evils, both to individuals and to society, when it is employed in the higher teaching, and in schools frequented by the better class, who does not see that the same system will give rise to still greater evils, if it be introduced into primary schools? For it is in these schools, above all, that the children of the people ought to be carefully taught from their tender years the mysteries and precepts of our holy religion, and to be trained with diligence to piety, good morals, religion, and civilization. But in those same schools, religious teaching ought to have such a leading place in all that concerns education and instruction, that whatever else the children may learn should appear to be subsidiary to it. The young, therefore, are exposed to the greatest perils whenever, in their schools, education is not most closely united with religious teaching. Wherefore, since primary schools are established chiefly to give the people a religious education, and to lead them to piety and Christian morality, they have justly attracted to themselves, in a greater degree than other educational institutions, all the care, solicitude, and vigilance of the Church. The design of withdrawing primary schools from the control of the Church, and the exertions made to carry this design into effect, are, therefore, inspired by a spirit of hostility towards her, and by the desire of extinguishing among the people the divine light of our holy faith. The Church which has founded these schools, has ever regarded them with the greatest care and interest, and looked upon them as the chief object of her ecclesiastical authority and government, and whatsoever removed them from her, inflicted serious injury both on her and on the schools. Those who pretend that the Church ought to abdicate or suspend her control and her salutary action upon the primary schools, in reality ask her to disobey the commands of her divine Author, and to be false to the charge she has received from God of guiding all men to salvation ; and in whatever country this pernicious design of removing the schools from the ecclesiastical authority should be entertained and carried into execution, and the young thereby exposed to the danger of losing their faith, there the Church would be in duty bound not only to use her best efforts, and to employ every means to secure for them the necessary Christian education and instruction, but, moreover, would feel herself obliged to warn all the faithful, and to declare that no one can in conscience frequent such schools as being adverse to the Catholic Church. “