Catholic schools need to defend pupils against the moral wasteland created by secular consumerism, Patrick Reilly, head of English literature at Glasgow University, told the conference.
In a fundamentalist address that was warmly received, Professor Reilly said Catholic schools were the "only institutional bulwark against disaster". Their leadership was never more essential as society was "weakened from within" by the lack of a moral code.
Professor Reilly warned: "Child of God or hedonist consumer? There can be no reconciliation or harmonisation between such radically opposed views. What is at issue is the meaning and concept of life, and never was the Catholic contribution more urgently required. What is the point of mastering French verbs and quadratic equations if you do not know who you are and what you live for?" The Catholic teacher was the "custodian of values, less interested in the transmission of fact than the cultivation of values". Professor Reilly added: "Abortion, child abuse, rape, pornography, alcohol and drugs and the spread of Aids. Will anyone pretend these are anything other the infallible indices of a profoundly sick society? How can we deny against this Himalaya of evidence that we are not living right?" Bringing children to the Catholic school was the sum of some parents' commitment.
But Hugh Lynch, St Mungo's High, Falkirk, replied: "The idea that teachers are teaching Catholic values through their subject is quite unrealistic because the reality is that many teachers are not interested. They are demotivated and the same is true of parents. Many are not giving us support because they are demotivated or lapsed."
Mr Lynch appealed for support from the Church and a programme of staff development.
Jim Freeman, Lawside Academy, Dundee, said it was difficult to teach an RE programme when a sizeable minority of pupils did not subscribe to the Catholic faith.