Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 14, 2009
Accent the faith component in School
Vatican letter to bishops stresses the importance of tenets of the faith being presented with reverence
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - In a letter to bishops' conferences around the world, the Vatican said true religious education in schools is at risk of being replaced with a more "neutral" teaching about religious ethics and culture.
The result is confusion and indifference among students, whose faith can sometimes be put in danger, said the letter, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education.
"A form of education that ignores or marginalizes the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education," it said.
Dated May 5, the letter was posted on the congregation's website Sept. 9, just as most schools in Europe prepared to reopen.
TARGET PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The letter addressed the issue of the Catholic identity of Church-run schools, but much of its attention was focused on religion classes in public schools.
As such, the letter may have relevance for the debate currently raging in Quebec over the government's mandatory ethics and religious culture program. Many Catholic parents have pulled their children from the classes because they see them as a threat to the passing on of their faith.
The Vatican letter was critical of secular education that replaces religious education with teaching about religious phenomena - "even in a way that contrasts with the choices and educational aims that parents and the Church intend for the formation of young people."
The letter warned that religious content in such classes can be downgraded to the point that students are led into error.
"Moreover, if religious education is limited to a presentation of the different religions, in a comparative and 'neutral' way, it creates confusion or generates religious relativism or indifferentism," it said.
The letter quoted from a 1984 speech of Pope John Paul II, who strongly defended the rights of Catholics to religious education in all schools, whether Catholic or state-run.
ADD, NOT SUBTRACT
"The families of believers have the right to such education; they must have the guarantee that the state school - precisely because it is open to all - not only will not put their children's faith in peril, but will rather complete their integral formation with appropriate religious education," the late pope said.
The letter said it was the Church's role to "establish the authentic contents of Catholic religious education in schools," regardless of the nature of the schools, in order to guarantee the education presented as Catholic is indeed authentic.
"The Catholic religious instruction and education which are imparted in any school are subject to the authority of the Church," it said.
It insisted that religious instruction have an equal place in the scholastic programs of schools.
"It must present the Christian message and the Christian event with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge. It should not be an accessory alongside of these disciplines," it said.
The letter said religious education fits into the evangelizing mission of the Church, although it is different from and complementary to catechesis on a parish or personal level.
One informed Vatican source told Catholic News Service that the faith identity of teachers was an important aspect of the congregation's concern.
"To be authentic, religious instruction on any faith needs to be taught by someone who lives it. It is true that the teacher in this situation does not aim to lead people to the faith, but in order to present the faith in its fullness he needs to be in harmony with what he is teaching," he said. "Content specific to the Catholic faith, such as a dogma like the Resurrection, must be explained by a believer; otherwise it could be presented as a myth."