Twenty years ago, when my parents began homeschooling first my younger brother (who had some non-standard learning needs) and later all of us, homeschooling was still very much a fringe phenomenon. It was not unusual for people to predict, on hearing that children were homeschooled, that they would not be able to get into college, or for neighbors to harass homeschoolers by repeatedly calling the truancy officers on them. The extent to which homeschooling has become mainstream since that time has been quite extraordinary, and due in no small part to the academic and personal successes that homeschooled students have shown themselves capable of. Many states’ public education systems are now actively friendly towards homeschoolers, and make state curricula available free of charge to homeschoolers who wish to use them at home.
Sadly, one area where this increasing social acceptance of homeschooling has often been lagging is in Catholic circles at the parish and diocesan level. Homeschoolers are sometimes seen as a threat by parochial school systems — this despite the Church’s teaching that parents bear the primary responsibility as first educators of their children.
Such a situation has recently reared its head back in our old home diocese of Austin, Texas. A local Catholic homeschooling group, Holy Family Homeschoolers, sent an invitation to their annual Homeschoolers Blessing Mass to newly appointed Bishop Vásquez. In past years, an invitation had always been sent to the bishop. Bishop Aymond had officiated at the Blessing Mass when he first came to the diocese and had allowed a certain degree of openness in dealing with Catholic homeschoolers at the parish and diocesan levels.
Given the many demands on Bishop Vásquez’s time, it is hardly surprising that he was unable to attend this year. What is, however, both surprising and distressing is that the response to the invitation sent to Bishop Vásquez’s office came not from the Chancery but from the Catholic Schools Office, and in a tone which was decidedly dismissive:
> Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall homeschooling blessing Mass.
> Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the church.
> Bishop’s presence at the homeschooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic homeschooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.
> Sincerely in Christ,
> Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.
Ned Vanders is the diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and I think that the above email pretty clearly backs up the complaint I have heard that he is “openly hostile to homeschooling”.
Again, let me be clear: I think it is quite reasonable and understandable that Bishop Vásquez is unable to attend. A note from his office to that effect would in no sense be offensive. However, I think that the response that was received by the Holy Family Homeschoolers is worrisome in two senses.