While at the 2003 June IHM conference, I was asked various questions in regard to homeschooling, but there was one inquiry that took me by surprise. That question was basically, "Are we disobedient to homeschool if there is a Catholic school in our area?" I soon found out why I was asked that particular question when the parents made quick reference to an article that appeared in print shortly before the conference. Since I had not seen the article, I couldn't make any commentary on it itself, although I was quick to assure parents that, of course, they are not acting in opposition to God's Will or that of His Church when they homeschool their children, providing some examples of Church teaching in regard to the Sacrament of Matrimony, Canon Law, etc.
It turns out that the May/June 2003 issue of the magazine The Catholic Answer (not to be confused with Catholic Answers) tackled the question of homeschooling, according to the opinions of Fr. Peter Stravinskas, the editor of The Catholic Answer and Monsignor Hettinger, who is, according to the accompanying bio line, a "retired priest of the Diocese of Peoria, IL, holds a licentiate in canon law and served in various appointments in the diocesan tribunal, including judicial vicar." The "anti-homeschooling" opinions of The Catholic Answer surfaced in its November/December 2002 issue with an article by Fr. Vince M. Rogers (who has since been found guilty of patronizing prostitution, according to The Catholic Key, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Vol. 35, No. 25, July 2003).
Before continuing any further with the newest info, below is a "Special Notice" sent to KIC email list in March 2001. It is provided as "introductory background information."
Msgr. Hettinger's Opinion: Excerpt from KIC Special Notice of March 2001
The Code of Canon Law "neither authorizes parents to make a judgment on the suitability of a school to provide a fully Catholic education nor provides an option to substitute homeschooling," wrote Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger from Peoria, IL, offering his opinion to the article "Home Schooling and Sacraments for Children," by Fr.Joseph C. Taphorn, published in the August/September 2000 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR).
Monsignor Hettinger's letter stated that Fr. Taphorn's "generally well-argued article" in favor of home education included an exposition of the "assistance from canon law," but that "Father [Taphorn] includes only canon 793 S1." Monsignor argued, "Many other canons involve parents, among which eight need to be included for the additional light they offer on the topic."
Monsignor's interpretation of Canon Law concerning parents and homeschooling is as follows:
"In the chapter on education, canon 796 S1 starts by stressing the great importance of schools in general and of parental input individually and collectively. Canon 796 S2 emphasizes teachers' obligation to cooperate closely with parents who might (emphasis KIC's) entrust their children to them and to listen to them willingly; parents may also set up associations, which teachers are to value highly."
"Canon 797 endows parents with the right to enjoy true freedom on the choice of schools, not the choice between school or homeschooling.(emphasis KIC's) This canon really is not an endorsement of homeschooling but a call to the State to acknowledge the right to the free choice of schools and to support that right with financial aid."
"This finds verification in canon 798, which obliges (emphasis KIC's) parents to entrust their children to a school that provides a Catholic education. The canon states a general obligation, per se (italics in the original) binding all parents. If in individual cases this is not possible, parents are to see to it that due religious and moral eduation is provided outside of a school. Here the principles on physical and moral impossibility need to be applied." (KIC NOTE: In other words, Monsignor is suggesting that parents must exhaust all avenues before even considering homeschooling their own children.)
"This canon neither authorizes parents to make a judgment on the suitability of a school to provide a fully Catholic education nor provides an option to substitute homeschooling. The law imposes a reasonably limited obligation, and excuse from the law depends on ecclesiastial authority (cf. can. 85). " (preceding emphasis KIC's)
"Canon 212 also comes into play here. While S1 calls for 'Christian obedience' to the diocesan bishop, S2 gives the faithful the right to reveal to him their concerns about spiritual matters and even their desires. According to S3, those who are gifted by God with truly special qualifications may be under obligation reverently to offer their opinion on a topic within their competence." (KIC NOTE: We request that readers re-read that last line very, very carefully.)
"Canon 799 seems (emphasis KIC's) to continue the topic of State intervention, placing on the faithful the obligation to strive for educational legislation that makes provision in the State's religious and moral education that respects their parents' consciences." (KIC Note: In other words, Monsignor Hettinger's interpretation of the canon mentioned above is as follows: parents are to do everything to fulfill their natural and sacramental obligation to provide their children with a Catholic education - through the State, yet- everything, that is, except homeschool their children.)
Monsignor continues, "My conclusion starts with canon 799 and the fact that Catholic parents are the primary educators of their own children in all matters, civil as well as religious. However, they necessarily live in society, ecclesiastical as well as civil, and, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they share in the common human obligation to help make this world, including the local community, a better place to inhabit. An application of this is to dissatisifed parents; they should observe the principle of subsidiarity and first lay their concerns before the local authorities before taking recourse to the diocese. If the expression of one's desire in the matter does not receive the desired answer, this suggests that God's will is express in the Catechism citation: work to improve your Catholic school." (All emphasis is KIC's)
KIC's Additional Commentary: The monsignor is actually claiming that if parents get nowhere when they "lay their concerns before the local authority," then the negative response suggests that God wishes parents "to work to improve your Catholic school." With all due respect, Monsignor's "anti-homeschooling" argument and his "suggestions" are not reasonable.
Monsignor's response to Fr. Taphorn's article leaves the incredulous reader to wonder how he, a monsignor of the church, who has officiated at many sacramental marriages and should, therefore, understand the reasons for matrimony, could believe and write such statements. He mentions eight different canons that involve parents but he specifically addresses only those dealing with education, interprets them as he sees fit, and totally ignores the canons on the sacraments, specifically on marriage.
Considering that Monsignor publicly shared his opinion in early 2001 and reiterated it again in June 2003, the topic is not one easily dismissed - especially in light of the "sacramental guidelines" issue that any one of us might face locally. ~MCB