This week the Congregation for Catholic Education issued an Instruction on The Identity of a Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue. The introduction to the document described it as an “intentionally concise and practical tool.” It is neither.
Concise? The document runs over 11,000 words.
When I worked in Washington at the Heritage Foundation, the president of that think-tank, Ed Feulner, would frequently remind researchers that their work should pass “the briefcase test.” By that he meant that a report should be brief enough so that, if a policy-maker could not digest the material immediately, he would be inclined to put it in his briefcase, to read at home that evening. A heftier tome, Feulner explained, would likely sit on his desk, gathering dust.
This document fails the briefcase test badly. Since its appearance I have spoken with four friends who would ordinarily read an important new Vatican document. Not one had read this one—although one told me that he had “skimmed” it. Two others remarked that they were happy to hear that at least I had read the whole thing; it would save them the trouble.
A document that fails the briefcase test—that is, a document that is not read—cannot function as a “practical tool.” But even for the infinitesimal minority of Catholics who actually plow through this prolix offering, the practical applications will be hard to find.
The Instruction—which stems from a conference organized by the Vatican in 2015 (and it took nearly seven years to produce a report on the conference?!)—refers back to Gravissimum Educationis, and reminds that that Vatican II document, “in line with the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium, … considers the school not so much as an institution but as a community. Good, good. And the new document reiterates the consistent teaching of the Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. Very good.
So why does this document warn of “a widespread educational emergency”? That phrase is borrowed from a letter Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2008, in which he laments “the failures we encounter all too often in our efforts to form sound people who can cooperate with others and give their own lives meaning.” The proper response to that emergency—Pope Benedict wrote, and the Congregation for Catholic Education now confirms—is the development of a strong Catholic identity in our Church schools. An excellent point. But how does the new document, as a “practical tool,” tell us to nourish and protect that Catholic identity?
Any Catholic parent with children in parochial schools knows the problem. If Catholic schools fail to offer a distinctively Catholic education—if they become indistinguishable from the public schools, where both the curriculum and the atmosphere grow steadily more toxic for the faith—what recourse do parents have?
The Instruction makes a nod toward that question, saying that “it is necessary for every educational apostolate of Christian inspiration to obtain concrete recognition on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authority. In this way, the faithful are guaranteed that the school of their choice provides a Catholic education.” Yes, but that is precisely the problem. When “competent ecclesiastical authority” in fact does not ensure the Catholicity of Catholic schools, what can the faithful do? This is the problem of Catholic identity in education: a problem that Church leadership has not forthrightly faced.
The new Vatican document spells out the bishop’s duty:
In cases where the term “Catholic” is used illegitimately or is aimed at giving the impression that the school is in communion with the Church, it is the responsibility of the competent diocesan/eparchial Bishop, having heard the school management and leadership and after examining the individual case, to state in writing and, should he deem it appropriate, also publicly with the aim of alerting the faithful, that this is not a Catholic school recognised and recommended by the Church.
Fine. But how often have diocesan bishops taken that dramatic step? How many parochial schools have drifted far from the faith, with no corrective action? A truly “practical” Vatican document would spell out the circumstances under which bishops are obliged to take action, and exhort the shepherds to protect their flocks. Not so this Instruction.
Instead the Congregation for Catholic Education explains that “Catholic identity” is a complex concept. The document warns against a “reductive interpretation of catholicity” and “the ‘narrow’ Catholic school model.” It reminds us that Pope Francis has proposed “the high road of unity over conflict.” In short the document gives bishops new excuses for ignoring problems in Catholic schools, new Vatican verbiage to cite as they explain why parental protests will go unheeded….
The above comes from a March 31 posting by Phil Lawler on CatholicCulture.org.
If “narrow model” means only one model, it would seem the document is correct. Schools can be truly Catholic without all using the same method. A Catholic Montessori school would be one example. Yet, a school cannot be Catholic and be so “wide” as to include gender fluidity, like Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose. Catholic faith and morals are seen by some, even within the Church, as “narrow.” That’s the narrow road we’re all called to take. We must follow the Head of the Church, Who said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
A reasonable person would read this document and consider a guy like Bp. Cantu to be ‘on notice’. As you point out, there is no equivalency between Mitty and authentic Montessori schools. We’re living in an age where policies that validate the ruling class’ biases are valid and ones that do not are not valid. The dirty secret that we are seeing played out more and more is that humans crave transcendent meaning that at times is just plain difficult…look at which Catholic parishes, seminaries and convents are growing and which ones are in the throes of death….it ain’t rocket surgery…
Hooray for this document. Now time for Bishop Cantu to declare that Archbishop Mitty is not considered by the church to be a Catholic school. Believe me, over 95% of students, parents and faculty at Mitty would celebrate and welcome that declaration. I mean, the president of the school is an abortion and gay marriage supporting non-Catholic. How can the school possibly be Catholic if it hires such a woman to run things? Religion classes are a total joke.
Just declare Mitty to be a private, unaffiliated school and be done with it finally.
Trouble is, Mitty is a diocesan high school. The person who should be taking care of this is the bishop.
Why are bishops so afraid to hold schools to expectations of being Catholic?
Can’t see what Lawler’s beef is. It’s a statement from the Francis Vatican that is declaring formally that the bishops have the duty and obligation to act. Quibbling about the circumstances under which bishops are obliged to take action, and exhort the shepherds to protect their flocks seems to me to be just looking for controversy. The document says the bishops have the duty to act. If they didn’t already (I’m looking at you Cordileone) what magic document does Lawler think will make them act now?
“It reminds us that Pope Francis has proposed “the high road of unity over conflict.” ” We are in the middle of culture wars which the Church is currently losing, and losing big. The Holy Father needs to tell us what “the high road of unity” means in this context, other than capitulation to woke-ism.
Of course, there is no such thing as a false “unity” of God and the Godless secular world, Christ and the Devil! And Almighty God never “loses” to His wayward children. They are the “losers.” God is very patient with them all. When you lose God, you are going to soon lose everything– including your life. The loss of God in the Culture Wars, means loss of the culture, disintegration, and death. The “Culture of Death” is Satanic– it is no way to live. All the areas of our country dominated by the “Culture of Death” are choked by Evil and dying– like California. And the post-Conciliar Church has been choking on the “Smoke of Satan,” mentioned by Pope St. Paul VI.
I think the truth is, the post-Conciliar Church does not know how to handle leadership and responsibility for Christ. And they are afraid of it, after having made many tragic mistakes, with abuses of power and responsibility.
This website uses the word “Catholic”. Does it do so with church approval?
I guess with as much approval as MHR and USF….
approval, the National Catholic Reporter uses the word “Catholic” for its name in disobedience to the bishop where it’s located. Have you raised that issue with them? Many of their positions are clearly not Catholic.
I don’t think the bishop here has asked California Catholic Daily to change its name.
And, for Catholic schools, what about the commandment against bearing false witness? Or, truth in advertising?
Why don’t they rebrand themselves “progressive Catholic” schools? Or, maybe “woke Catholic” or “fluid Catholic” or “Marxist Catholic?” (I realize the last example is an oxymoron, but many, it seems, think such is possible.).
(Even “Biden-like Catholic,” “Pelosi Propaedeutic” or “Gavin-like Grammar School” would be more honest in many cases.)
Christ always taught the Truth, fully answered to conflict, and warned His followers that His religion would incite conflict– and His followers might even have to endure martyrdom. You have to be fully a man (or woman), standing squarely on your own two feet, deeply committed, to be a true follower of Christ. There will always be occasions of conflict, and we must courageously answer to it, with Christ’s Truth. We must shun the “spirit of the world,” and follow Christ, no natter what, seeking to please God alone, not the world. If you say you are going to run a Catholic school for Christ– then, really, honestly mean it! And stop shunning your Catholic identity for dishonest love of the world. I believe the post-Conciliar Church is often very dishonest.