Have you heard of the Manitoba Schools Question? If you’re like me, your answer is probably not. However, this issue which goes back to 1890 can help us to better understand the current battle in Ontario schools with the morally misguided Equity and Inclusive policy. So, if you patiently read on to the end, I hope you will see the relevance of the past faith struggles with those of the present.
Following the British North America Act of 1867, also called the Constitution Act, the Manitoba Act of 1870, guaranteed Catholics their own schools. In 1890, Manitoba decided to abolish school funding for Catholic schools. This ended the dual system of Roman Catholic and Protestant schools. It wasn’t until 1897, that the Liberal federal government amended the Schools Act to restore some privileges for Catholic instruction and the hiring of Catholic teachers, but this had to be done in the public system. Catholics had lost their schools. As a result, Catholic teaching could only take place in the context of Protestant or what we call today the public schools.
The loss of Catholic schools in Manitoba was so important, that Pope Leo XIII deemed it necessary to send a brief encyclical called, “Affari Vos”, on Dec. 18, 1897, to the Government of Canada and the bishops. Pope Leo, after reminding his readers of the significant and very positive role Catholic education played in shaping Canadian history, urges the government to change the law so that Catholics could once again have independent Catholic schools to educate their children in the faith. Having children being taught in public schools would surely in time compromise the faith.
There was also the danger that, “... schools in which all beliefs are welcome and treated as equal, as if, in what regards God and divine things, it makes no difference whether one believes rightly or wrongly, and takes up with truth and error. … Venerable Brethren that every school of this kind has been condemned by the Church, because nothing can be more harmful or better calculated to ruin the integrity of the faith and to turn aside the tender minds of the young from the way of the truth.” (4) Is this not the timely advice parents need and welcome from a loving pope, and especially in the on-going spiritual combat with McGuinty’s pro-homosexual Equity policy?
Catholics schools today are being forced to implement secular beliefs. Pope Leo XIII reminds the faithful that a complete education needs more than science and what society considers utilitarian. It’s religion and faith that form virtuous consciences; it’s God who determines what is good and evil, what is truth and deceptive. On these religious principles rests the foundation of good and upright citizens. When children receive a proper moral education, everybody benefits because we are helping to build the common good.
If religious education is being threatened or undermined, then it’s the responsibility of parents and bishops to speak up and take action: “And so, when the new legislation came to strike Catholic education in the Province of Manitoba, it is your duty, Venerable Brethren, publicly to protest against the injustice and the blow that has been dealt.” (6) Isn't there a history lesson here for Catholic action and education today?
These words should also encourage everyone currently arguing the case before the Toronto Catholic District School Board for amendments to the Equity policy or its outright rejection. Pope Leo fully recognizes, as a man of faith, a civilized society ought to see the importance of religion and the need for Catholic schools. Even over 110 years ago, accommodating Catholic children in public schools may have been done with good intentions, “But we cannot conceal the truth. The law to remedy the evil is defective, imperfect, insufficient. … enough has not been done in Manitoba for the Catholic education of our children.” The Pope respectfully, but firmly challenges the government of the day: “And there is no class of study, no human progress in human knowledge, which cannot fully harmonize with Catholic teaching.” (8)
Catholics schools are currently being asked to comply with secular and current ideologies. The Equity policy and Religious Accommodation are two examples. “Affari Vos” continues to give us the moral right and duty to fight back. Pope Leo XIII is right to point out the truth: it’s the secular world that should adhere to Catholic doctrine. It was the truth in the beginning; it was the truth 2000 years ago; it was the truth in the Manitoba Question, and it’s still the truth today. The protection of this truth is why the Manitoba Schools Question continues to be relevant today. I humbly hope you agree.