THE General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is being told to be less "in your face" towards Roman Catholics and their schools. In 1972 when the Church's policy towards denominational education was set, the talk was baldly of integration. Now the Kirk's education committee recommends (page one) moving towards that goal "by promoting respect and co-operation". The reality of Catholic schools is accepted, but there would no room for their Muslim equivalent.
The Kirk points to a change in climate over the past quarter-century. There is more tolerance of and co-operation among Christian denominations. But despite the sweet talking, the chance of dialogue leading to Catholic acceptance of the Church of Scotland's position is set further back by the education committee itself.
Making young Scots Christian is not the role of non-denominational schools, the General Assembly report states. Such realism cannot be questioned but it sits badly alongside the fundamental position of Catholics who see family, church and school all contributing to growth in the faith. The bridge is uncrossable. Indeed the evangelical (and least Catholic) wing of the Assembly may be unhappy that the Church is again denying itself a proselytising role in schools.
The denominational debate should not be dominant, as the education committee points out. If integration eventually arrives, it will be by the will of enough Catholics and not by inter-church conversations. So the Assembly is on stronger ground when it questions the number-crunching approach to measuring the effectiveness of schools and reasserts the primacy of values. Here there would be inter-faith agreement, and acceptance also by many teachers with little or no personal religious commitment.