Have Catholic schools made Catholics an ‘isolated sub-group’?

These people often form a narrowly focused school that is aimed at cementing the faith it’s based on … If we continue as we are, I think we’ll just become more and more isolated sub-groups in our community,”

Barry McGaw

McGaw is quoted in the context of an article about the proliferation of new ‘faith-based’ independent schools. Of course nobody can know for sure what the long-term consequences of these schools might be. But history provides an interesting case study, the role of Catholics in a majority Protestant society, Australia. For centuries, Catholics and Protestants viewed each other with suspicion, and though very rarely violent this was true in Australia as well. Catholics have always maintained separate schools. According to the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA), more than half of all current Catholics attended Catholic schools, government-funded since the 1960s. Only one of the Protestant groups (the Baptists) even gets to 20% ‘other non-government school’ attendance. And being very numerous, Catholics could if they wanted to create a society of their own within Australian society. But do they?

I’m sure most readers could reflect a moment on their own social circles and realise that Catholics are an integrated, and integral, part of Australian society. The AuSSA finds Catholics are more likely to join unions than Australians in general, and have average rates of participation in sports groups and voluntary associations (though perhaps Catholic, I can’t tell from the data). They are more likely than the general population to agree that being a good citizen requires understanding other people’s opinions. Despite the Pope’s views, they are more likely than the general population to support gay marriage. Half of them even agree that public schools don’t receive their fair share of the budget. In 1996, a third of them were married to Protestants. I doubt the public school lobby can find any evidence that heading on to fifty years of state aid has made Catholics more isolated or more a ‘sub-group’. But of course why bother with data when prejudice can get the conclusion you want with no effort?

One of the frustrating things about the public school lobby is how rarely they seriously argue their case. Ironically enough, their belief in public schooling seems to be based on faith.