Faced with the need for a clearer and more consistent awareness of “Catholic identity” in the field of education around the world, the Congregation for Catholic Education published on March 29, 2022, an instruction titled The Identity of the Catholic School – For a Culture of Dialogue.
Presented as an “instruction,” the 23-page document proposes criteria adapted to the challenges of our time.
The instruction is a response to conflicts caused by divergent interpretations of the traditional concept of the Catholic identity of educational institutions, the Holy See’s dicastery explained. To this end, it proposes “more in-depth and updated guidelines” on the subject.
Philippe Delorme, secretary general of Catholic education in France, said the document is a synthesis of documents from previous pontificates that takes “into account the evolution of society and the place of the Catholic school in education for dialogue and the encounter with others.”
In this, he told I.MEDIA, “it bears the mark of Pope Francis,” especially in line with his Global Educational Pact presented in October 2020.
Secularization and multiculturalism
The document says “secularization” and the “multicultural and multi-religious” dimension of societies must be taken into account. It insists on the dimension of the Church as “mother and teacher” and recalls that her educational action is not “a philanthropic work” but “an essential part” of her identity.
“The Church has the duty to educate,” the text states, because the promotion of the integral development of the person through education and evangelization are “closely linked.”
This promotion concerns the student, but also the educator, for whom the Catholic school can also be a place of evangelization, underlines Delorme.
Against the “drift” of Catholic identity
The instruction warns against the establishment of a “closed model” of certain establishments, calling for the “courage to bear witness to a Catholic culture” without “shutting oneself away on an island.”
The document also dismisses establishments that prefer to declare themselves “Catholic in spirit” or “Christian in inspiration,” considering that recognizing them as Catholic would only have a “symbolic value.”
“It is important to say who we are and in whose name [we act],” says Delorme, explaining that to do so, we must be “clear about our educational program and what nourishes it, which is the Gospel.”
To be labeled as Catholic, the document explains that an institution must be defined as such by a diocesan bishop or by the Holy See, or be directed by a Catholic congregation. The document emphasizes the central role of discernment by the bishop in determining the Catholic or non-Catholic identity of an institution in his diocese in case of difficulty.
A mission statement
Recalling the diversity of charisms in Catholic education, the document stresses the importance of the institution clarifying its Catholic positioning through a “mission statement” or “code of conduct.”
In the event that the state imposes choices that are contrary to the Catholic identity of the institution, “it is necessary to take reasonable action to defend the rights of Catholics and their schools, through dialogue with public authorities or through recourse to the competent courts,” the Instruction recognizes.
Finally, it stresses the importance of “the protection of minors” in the school setting, referring to the need to put in place “all necessary procedures” to defend the dignity of students. A remark that is more an “update” than a novelty, says Delorme.