The Vatican’s education congregation on Tuesday published a document responding to conflicts over the interpretation of the concept of “Catholic identity” in Catholic school settings.
The 20-page instruction affirmed the importance of a Catholic educational project with an evangelical goal and explained the role that teachers and administrators play in its achievement.
“The whole school community is responsible for implementing the school’s Catholic educational project as an expression of its ecclesiality and its being a part of the community of the Church,” the document from the Congregation for Catholic Education said.
“Everyone has the obligation to recognize, respect, and bear witness to the Catholic identity of the school, officially set out in the educational project,” it continued. “This applies to the teaching staff, the non-teaching personnel, and the pupils and their families.”
The Congregation for Catholic Education explained in the introduction that it had been “confronted with cases of conflicts and appeals resulting from different interpretations of the traditional concept of Catholic identity by educational institutions.”
Many of these conflicts, it said, concerned rapid changes in society, including the process of globalization and the growth of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
“It seemed therefore appropriate to offer a more in-depth and up-to-date reflection and guidelines on the value of the Catholic identity of educational institutions in the Church, so as to provide a set of criteria responding to the challenges of our times, in continuity with the criteria that always apply,” it said.
One of the issues addressed in the new instruction is the role of teachers and administrators of a Catholic school. The instruction said that the witness of lay and consecrated educators was “increasingly relevant to achieving the integral formation of students.”
Quoting from the 1997 document “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium,” it said: “In fact, ‘In the Catholic school’s educational project there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom. The various school subjects do not present only knowledge to be attained, but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered. All of which demands an atmosphere characterized by the search for truth, in which competent, convinced, and coherent educators, teachers of learning and of life, may be a reflection, albeit imperfect but still vivid, of the one Teacher.’”
The instruction said that teachers in a Catholic school also bear witness to the Catholic identity through their lives and should be hired with that in mind.
It said if this cannot be upheld, it may be necessary to dismiss a teacher from their position, but this option should be reserved as a last resort.
School leadership, it continued, has the “right and duty” to intervene if teachers or students do not comply with the universal, particular, or proper law of Catholic schools.
The instruction also upheld the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, recalling that they also have the “priority right” to make a choice about how and where their child is educated.
The Catholic Church’s interest in education, it explained, is more than philanthropy or filling a social need, but stems from the Church’s role as mother and teacher.
Quoting Gravissimum educationis, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on Christian education, it said: “To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore, she has a role in the progress and development of education.”