Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
At the Youth Synod in Rome this week, one of the bishops’ discussion groups made some disappointing and ignorant comments about Catholic homeschoolers.
It’s a sad reminder that, while homeschooling seems to be gaining support from many bishops in the United States, other bishops here and abroad have yet to embrace one of the most promising developments in the Church today. Earnest and faithful homeschooling parents deserve encouragement and not derision from their shepherds.
The report from the English-language Group C bishops—whose names have not been published—reads:
- USA has many home schoolers – bishops in USA are not united, as homeschooling can have an ideological basis – kids may have special needs
- are parents qualified to homeschool them?
It is certainly true that the American bishops are not united in supporting homeschooling, and that is a shame. But what’s the “ideological basis” for homeschooling? Do the bishops perceive some absolute opposition to organized education? It’s not true; many homeschooled students have, at one time or another, attended schools or participated in collaborative programs.
More likely, Group C’s “ideological” comment means something else. It’s what faithful Catholic homeschoolers endure frequently from fellow Catholics, priests and even bishops—the charge that they are too “conservative” and too “moralistic.”
In my experience, those are code words for simply being faithful—for practicing the “old” ways of prayer, sacrament and moral discipline.
As a father of five homeschooled children, teacher at a weekly hybrid Catholic program for homeschoolers that is directed by my wife, and full-time advocate of faithful Catholic education, I have come to know hundreds of Catholic homeschooling families. They are trying to be faithfully Catholic in all that they do. And a key reason for not attending local Catholic schools, aside from the cost, is that too many of the schools lack strong moral and religious formation.
That’s not ideological. It’s responsible Catholic parenting.
In my homeschool community—and in the growing number of parochial, diocesan and lay-run, independent Catholic schools that have embraced the Church’s vision for Catholic education—I see primarily parents who are deeply concerned for the Christian formation of their children. They make great sacrifices to provide the education that their children deserve. And they do so, despite the often demoralizing sneers and snickers of too many in the Church.
As for the Synod bishops’ question whether parents are “qualified to homeschool” their children, it’s not clear whether the question refers to all children or only those with “special needs.” Regardless, the question shows disrespect toward parents. Every parent who is faithfully Catholic and truly loves their child is “qualified” to homeschool by the grace of God. If they lack certain skills or expertise, a loving parent will get the help their child needs, without yielding parental authority and oversight.
Trusting parents to form and care for their children is Catholic teaching! It is inherent to matrimony, reinforced during child baptism, and follows from the Fourth Commandment. And it can be made easier if parishes and dioceses actively support—not control or direct, but support—parents who choose to homeschool.
God has clearly blessed Catholic homeschooling with extraordinary results for children, families and the Church. The academic, financial, and social benefits of homeschooling have been well-documented in many studies. Moreover, homeschooled families are often represented at daily Mass, regular Sunday Mass, Confession, Eucharistic adoration and many parish activities. One recent study found that homeschooled students account for about 10 percent of priestly vocations today.
This isn’t a well-kept secret! But some of the Synod bishops have some learning to do.
Meanwhile, if America’s bishops and other Catholics are truly divided over homeschooling, then they ought to get over their discomfort. The Church should embrace faithful Catholic education in whatever form successfully leads young people to Christ and helps them become fully human—whether at home, online or in a brick-and-mortar school.
Support for homeschooling and for lay-run schools may be new to dioceses that have historically relied on schools owned and directed by priests and bishops. But we can’t confuse method for mission, which is amply served by the growing alternatives in Catholic education. All we need is to trust parents to do the job that God has already entrusted to them.