The Vatican issues text on schools and “Catholic identity”

By Loup Besmond de Senneville, 1 April 2022
A crucifix is seen in a classroom of a Catholic primary school in the Diocese of Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

 

A new instruction tries to present a balanced vision of what Church-run institutions should look like

“It is a school for all, especially the weakest.”

That’s how the Vatican defines the identity of the Catholic school, in a new “instruction” from the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The 20-page document – “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue” – was signed in January, but only made public this past Tuesday.

It tries to offer a balanced vision of what “Catholic identity” should mean for Church-run educational institutions in societies that are facing an “advanced process of secularization”.

On the one hand, the document says this cannot be reduced to “liturgical, spiritual or social occasions, or to the function of the school chaplain”.

In other words, the mere presence of a chaplaincy within the walls is not enough to qualify a school as “Catholic”.

Do not “confine ourselves on an island”

On the contrary, the instruction continues, Catholic schools must not correspond to a “‘narrow’ Catholic school model”.

“In such schools there is no room for those who are not ‘totally’ Catholic,” the Vatican document laments.

“This approach contradicts the vision of an ‘open’ Catholic school that intends to apply to the educational sphere the model of a ‘Church which goes forth’, in dialogue with everyone,” it says.

“We must not lose our missionary impetus to confine ourselves on an island, and at the same time we need the courage to bear witness to a Catholic ‘culture’, that is, universal, cultivating a healthy awareness of our own Christian identity,” the Vatican insists.

“This text is in line with what the Church has been developing since Vatican II, but takes into account the evolution of a secularized society,” said Philippe Delorme, secretary general of the department of Catholic education in France.

“This confirms for us that we can only educate for dialogue if we know in whose name we are acting,” he said.

Promoting Catholic identity

“It is no novelty to affirm that Catholic schools have their origin in a deep concern for the education of children and young people left to their own devices and deprived of any form of schooling,” the Vatican insists in the new document.

Catholic schools also have the mission of preparing students “to exercise their freedom responsibly, forming an attitude of openness and solidarity”.

While Rome does not explicitly require that teachers and other school employees be Catholic, the Congregation’s instruction explains that school administrators are always “required to inform prospective recruits of the Catholic identity of the school and its implications”.

Teachers must also agree to “promote” this identity and show their “adherence to the Church’s doctrine”.

“If the person being recruited does not comply with the requirements of the Catholic school and its belonging to the Church community, the school is responsible for taking the necessary steps,” the document points out.

It explains that “dismissal may also be resorted to, taking into account all circumstances on a case-by-case basis”.

Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.

 

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