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Vatican publishes new instruction on fostering the Catholic identity of schools

June 01, 2022

The Congregation for Catholic Education has released a new instruction on Catholic schools.

The document, entitled “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue,” is dated January 25, but was not published in L’Osservatore Romano until May 31.

The Congregation, led by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi since 2015, “has been confronted with cases of conflicts and appeals resulting from different interpretations of the traditional concept of Catholic identity by educational institutions in the face of the rapid changes that have taken place in recent years, during which the process of globalization has emerged in parallel with the growth of interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” the Instruction notes. “In relation to what falls within the remit of the Congregation for Catholic Education, 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” (nos. 1-2).

The three chapters of the 97-paragraph Instruction are entitled “Catholic schools in the mission of the Church,” “The actors responsible for promoting and verifying Catholic identity,” and “Some critical aspects.”

When schools face laws barring “discrimination” on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, the Congregation advises schools to use contractual codes of conduct to foster Catholic identity:

For the sake of clarity, Catholic schools must have either a mission statement or a code of conduct. These are instruments for institutional and professional quality assurance. They must therefore be legally reinforced by means of employment contracts or other contractual declarations by those involved having clear legal value. It is acknowledged that in many countries civil law bars “discrimination” on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and other aspects of private life. At the same time, educational institutions are granted the possibility to draw up a profile of values and a code of conduct. When these values and behaviors are not respected by those concerned, the latter can be sanctioned for lack of professional honesty in failing to comply with the terms set out in the related contracts and institutional guidelines. (n. 77)

Emphasizing the importance of “clear criteria for discernment regarding the professional qualities, adherence to the Church’s doctrine, and consistency in the Christian life of [job] candidates” (n. 79), the Congregation states that dismissal should be taken only as a last resort:

Conflicts also occur in the disciplinary and/or doctrinal field. These situations can bring discredit to the Catholic institution and scandal in the community. Therefore, they cannot be underestimated both in terms of the nature of the conflict and the repercussions within and outside the school. Discernment must begin in the local church context, bearing in mind the canonical principles of graduality and proportionality of any remedial measures to be taken. Dismissal should be the last resort, legitimately taken after all other remedial attempts have failed. (n. 80)

The Instruction also calls upon schools to defend their religious freedom (n. 81) and urges bishops to ensure the continuity of Catholic educational services when schools face closure (n. 83).

“There are also cases in which State laws impose choices that conflict with religious freedom and the very Catholic identity of a school,” the Instruction notes (n. 81). “While respecting the different spheres, there is a need for reasonable defense of the rights of Catholics and their schools both through dialogue with State authorities and through recourse to the courts having jurisdiction in these matters.”

The concluding section quotes what the Congregation describes as “a memorable text by Pope John Paul II”:

If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people. Their self-interest as a class, group or nation would inevitably set them in opposition to one another. If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others…

The root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights that no one may violate—no individual, group, class, nation or state. Not even the majority of the social body may violate these rights, by going against the minority.


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