But I know that the chances of the bishop ever seeing the letter will be increased exponentially if the letter is no more than a single page in length, so I'm going to try to employ the few editing skills I have to trim as much as I can without losing any of what really needs to be said.
I do plan on sharing the full letter here eventually, but I'd rather send it and wait for some sort of response first. My general belief is that the most likely response is to receive a form letter of sorts from an office or committee to which the letter has been forwarded; it's actually less often the case that a letter receives no response at all, from my own and other people's experiences, provided the letter is polite and respectful.
What I have written can be summed up in some bullet points:
- My children and other home schooled children have received the sacraments thanks to individual, pastoral priests;
- Most Catholic home schooled children must take parish religious ed. to receive the sacraments;
- These parish religious ed. and other requirements can be burdensome to home school families;
- religious education leaders have a difficult task and must prepare children who receive no regular religious education as part of their normal schooling;
- there are only two paths to the sacraments in the diocese of Fort Worth: one for children attending diocesan schools, and one for children who attend schools where religious instruction is not offered at all;
- forcing children who attend Catholic home schools to take the second path is unjust, as it does not recognize that they are in fact Catholic school students who receive daily religious instruction just like their counterparts in the diocesan schools, in addition to devotional practices and so on;
- adhering to the "two paths" approach sends a message to Catholic home school parent/teachers that their commitment to the religious education of their children means nothing at all as far as the parish is concerned;
- other dioceses in America have developed a "third path" for Catholic students taught at home which respects the parents' commitment to their children's Catholic upbringing and sets only a handful of reasonable provisions for pastoral oversight, such as a brief interview with a child before a sacrament is administered, some access to parish materials to be used at home, and/or a volunteer home schooling liaison who helps coordinate the involvement of home schooled children in parish sacramental celebrations;
- Since I am sure the Fort Worth Diocese does respect Catholic home schooling I am hopeful that some consideration will be given to these options to create a third path to the sacraments for Catholic school students whose Catholic school happens to be located in the home.
And so the question isn't, at its root, whether every parish requirement for sacramental preparation is necessary and good, or bureaucratic and discouraging, or somewhere in between, though that would be, I think, an interesting discussion to have. Rather, the question for Catholic home school families is whether it is just or unjust for the parish, and the diocese, to insist that their children are not Catholic school students at all, and that far from trusting the parents to provide religious instruction the parish is acting properly in insisting that the children must repeat what they do at home in order to "prove" that they are ready for the sacraments.
Although it is, possibly, sad to admit this, the Catholic dioceses of America are never going to see a blissful return to the halcyon days of the glory of the diocesan-run Catholic school--at least, not in the lifetimes of anyone reading this today. According to this article, at the peak of Catholic education there were 5.7 million students, the majority of them Catholic, enrolled in parochial schools, but today, with a Catholic population of nearly 70 million, about 2.6 million students are enrolled in diocesan schools--and anecdotal evidence suggests that the proportion of non-Catholic students whose parents see the schools as a lower-cost alternative to extremely expensive private schools has risen as well.
It may well be that the best and brightest future of Catholic education in America, especially an education that is completely free from government entanglement and the pressures for increased secularization that accompany such entanglements, is going to feature the Catholic home school. It is, therefore, crucial that these schools be recognized as truly Catholic schools despite their non-traditional location in the homes of parents acting as teachers and catechists. And a vital component of that recognition is the development of sacramental paths for these children that more closely reflect the requirements placed on students in traditional diocesan parochial schools, not on the requirements placed on students whose regular school hours do not contain any Catholic religious instruction at all.
It is not a matter of wishing for special treatment or pats on the back or extraordinary praise for home schooling. It is a matter of justice, to expect that all Catholic school students, whose schools are faithful to the Magisterium and conducted with diligent and conscientious care for the religious education of the children taught there, will be allowed the same or a similar path of access to the sacraments, regardless of the location or size of the school.