Pope Benedict XVI argued that a democratic state should support Catholic schools

Vatican City, May. 29, 2008 (vaticans.org) - In a May 29 talk to the Italian bishops' conference, Pope Benedict XVI argued that a democratic state should support Catholic schools.

Since the government invests resources in many different projects, the Holy Father reasoned, "there does not appear to be any justification for excluding adequate support for the work of Church institutions in the field of education." Public investment in Catholic schools, he said, "could not fail to produce beneficial effects" for secular society.

The Italian bishops are holding their 58th general assembly in Rome this week, with the meetings taking place in the Vatican Synod hall. The Pope spoke to the bishops about the main topics for this meeting: education and evangelization.

Italy today faces an "educational crisis," the Pope warned, raising a theme that he has mentioned frequently during his pontificate. The Pontiff has repeatedly spoken about the need to provide young people with adequate moral and cultural formation. From the Catholic perspective, he said, the educational crisis involves "the transmission of the faith to new generations."

Educators and pastors must battle with a culture of relativism, which "puts God within parentheses and discourages all true commitment," the Pope told the Italian hierarchy. To overcome that sort of opposition, he said, the Church needs to muster greater "evangelical energy" and to demonstrate the joy of faith.

The Pope said that he could see signs of a desire for change in Italian society-- signs of a new willingness to recognize the need for moral integrity and commitment. The Church has a special role to play in that societal recovery, he said, adding: "No other human and social problem can truly be solved if God does not return to the center of our lives."

While recognizing the autonomy of the secular political world, the Pope told the prelates that "it is important to resist all tendencies to consider religion, and in particular Christianity, as a purely private matter." He urged the bishops to continue their efforts to support marriage and family life, and to act as advocates the poor in Italy and around the world.

In other news, the Holy See has confirmed that on June 6, Pope Benedict will receive Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a private audience. The Pope and Berlusconi last met on November, 19, 2005 during a previous Berlusconi term as prime minister.

Russian theological schools are ready to train students from China

Moscow, Russia, Dec.02,2007 (CINS /Interfax) – Russian Orthodox theological schools are ready to train Orthodox students from China whose Orthodox Church is independent from Moscow, Metropolitan Kirill, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, said.

At present, there are no Chinese Orthodox priests in the People's Republic of China whilst the number of Orthodox believers in the country is believed to be around 15,000, the metropolitan explained.

The Chinese Orthodox Church was granted autonomy by the Synod of the Russian Church in 1957, but it has not had a primate since the death of bishop Vasily of Beijing in 1962.

The Synod stated in 1997 that Patriarch Aleksij II of Moscow and All Russia would carry out canonical care for the parish of the Orthodox Church in China.

Russian Church is unambiguously interested in the restoration of an independent Orthodox Church in China, but as the Mother Church it is ready to send Russian priests to China as an interim measure,” he added.

Sizing up Catholic schools: a partnership between religious, laity

Vatican City, Nov.27, 2007 (CINS /CNS) - A transformation has occurred in Catholic schools over the last 50 years, and the Vatican took its measure at a recent press conference.

The occasion was the Nov. 20 release of a document, "Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful," prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The congregation said lay teachers now make up the overwhelming majority -- at least 80 percent, according to one official -- of the 3.5 million teachers working in the church's 250,000 schools around the world.

That represents a dramatic shift, reflecting the declining numbers of men and women religious. In the United States, the percentage of lay teachers went from 14 percent in 1950 to more than 95 percent this year. Similar figures were cited for places like Australia, France, Spain and Hong Kong.

In the past, the Vatican has exhorted religious orders not to abandon their traditional teaching charism. Closing schools seemed like a costly surrender.

But the ever-dwindling number of consecrated religious has made it difficult to keep these schools open even in a Catholic country like Italy, where about 50 Catholic schools close each year.

The new Vatican document seemed to accept that the lay role in Catholic schools is here to stay. That's not necessarily a bad thing, said Msgr. Angelo Zani, undersecretary of the education congregation.

"Far from being an impoverishment, this transformation constitutes a great potential for the Catholic school," Msgr. Zani said. A mature and committed laity has emerged, he said, and they consider church-run schools an important part of their religious community.

Lay salaries, of course, have made Catholic schools more expensive to operate.

Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the education congregation, took aim at countries -- including the United States and Italy -- where the church has had little success in winning direct state aid to private schools.

"The United States is a disaster, because the state does not recognize full democracy as far as schools are concerned," Cardinal Grocholewski said.

U.S. Catholic schools are just as good as public schools, the cardinal said, but without state aid they labor under a greater economic burden. Dioceses and parishes are forced to pass on higher costs to the parents of students, and sometimes have to close the institutions, he said.

Overall, Catholic schools are enjoying success, and Msgr. Zani gave several examples:

-- In Lebanon, Catholic schools are attended by 210,000 students who belong to 18 different faiths or churches. Nearly one-fourth of the students are non-Christian, most of them Muslim.

-- In the Holy Land, where schools have a mixed student body of 55 percent Christians, 45 percent Muslims and some Jews, the curriculum is designed to promote interreligious tolerance.

-- In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Archdiocese of Sarajevo founded three new schools -- attended by Serbs, Croats and Muslims -- during the height of the civil conflict. Today the archdiocesan schools number 15 and serve more than 10,000 students.

-- In Morocco, the church runs 17 educational centers with 11,000 students -- all of them Muslim. The program seeks to connect the inspiration of Christian values with the local Muslim reality.

-- In Eastern Europe, the fall of communism has unblocked the situation for Catholic schools, many of which now receive state aid.

Msgr. Zani said that in the United States, non-Catholic students today make up 13.5 percent of the total in Catholic schools, while 27 percent come from minorities. He noted what he called a significant U.S. trend: Some religious orders that have operated schools frequented by upper middle-class students have recently opened smaller institutes in poorer urban areas.

He said the dropout rate is 3.4 percent in U.S. Catholic schools, compared to 14.9 percent in public schools. Ninety-nine percent of U.S. Catholic high school students graduate, and 97 percent continue education at the university level, he said.

Globally, church-run schools today serve almost 42 million students, Cardinal Grocholewski said. According to official church statistics, enrollment at Catholic schools has gone up about 60 percent over the last 30 years.

The new document did not unveil any major new programs or policies, but it made a few key points. It called for cooperation between consecrated people and laity in three areas: mission, formation and openness toward others.

It welcomed the contributions of lay teachers, but it emphasized that all educators in Catholic schools are "required to be witnesses of Jesus Christ" and to demonstrate that Christian life has meaning for everyone.

"Teachers, just like every person who lives and works in a scholastic environment, educate -- or they can also diseducate -- with their verbal and nonverbal behavior," it said.

Beyond the required professional teaching skills, both religious and lay educators in Catholic schools need to have theological and spiritual formation, it said. In places where religious orders have ceded their teaching role, they may still be able to share elements of spiritual formation with lay teachers, it said.

Lay teachers, for their part, can help make better connections between the school and the rapidly changing world, the document said. In view of increasing globalization and the interdependence of nations and cultures, Catholic schools should promote a vision of the human being that goes beyond individualism, it said.

A major goal of today's Catholic schools, it said, should be to teach students "to respect the identity, culture, history, religion and especially the suffering and needs of others."

New Vatican document surveys Catholic schools

Vatican City, Nov. 21, 2007 (CINS/CWN) - At a November 20 press conference introducing a new Vatican document on Catholic schools, the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education said that "a profound malady is affecting the educational world, especially in the West."

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski said that the indications of this malady include rising violence in schools and the breakdown in family life-- pointing out that the latter problem is critical because families "have the prime responsibility for the education of their children."

The Polish cardinal appeared at the November 20 press briefing along with Msgr. Angelo Zani, the undersecretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, to introduce a document on Catholic schools. The 26-page document-- published in Italian, English, French, and Spanish-- is divided into three sections, which address the mission of education, the task of intellectual and spiritual formation of students, and the preparation of young people for commitment to Christian action in the world.

Providing a rundown of the world's Catholic schools, Msgr. Zani told reporters that there are 2.5 million Catholic schools in the world today, with 3.5 million teachers instructing 42 million students.

In some cases, the Vatican official reported, the Catholic schools educate many non-Catholic students, and their mission has an important inter-religious focus. He cited the case of Lebanon, where "the program of Catholic schools has as its principal aim that of leading young people to dialogue and collaboration between Muslims and Christians." Of 210,000 Catholic-school students in Lebanon, 24% are non-Christian.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Msgr. Zani continued, the Sarajevo archdiocese founded 3 inter-religious schools-- welcoming Serbs, Croats, and Muslims without prejudice-- during the height of the ethnic violence in that region. In Morocco, he continued, there are 17 Catholic schools with entirely Muslim student bodies. In Nepal there are 2 such schools.

In the US, Catholic schools have taken on a large share of responsibility for educating ethnic minority groups. About 27% of the students in America's Catholic schools are non-white, while 14% are non-Catholic. 

Does the Church Still Value Catholic Schools?

by Greg Fazzari

Is it still open season on Catholic schools?  Want to hear another mean Nun story?  How about another touchy feely religion class story?  Want a tidbit of heretical teaching to share?

If you want to read about these, I'm afraid this article might disappoint you. I've heard plenty of these stories and shared many with friends and acquaintances.  But there came a point when these stories lost some of their comic value.  I admit, I don't laugh as heartily as I used to.

I made three big mistakes, and thus I've had a change in attitude toward Catholic schools. My goal is to change your attitude as well.

My first mistake was entrusting my children to a Catholic school.  My second mistake was joining the faculty of a Catholic high school.  But my greatest mistake, was reading the Church documents on Catholic schools.

The last mistake is what this article is about.

Catholic Schools in the Wake of Vatican II

There is little debate that Catholic schools have undergone a large transformation since the sixties.  I always figured that the changes were a result of a change in focus by the Church.  However, I am now convinced that Catholic schools have become another casualty of "the spirit of Vatican II".

What should be the relationship between Catholics and Catholic schools?  Let's begin the discussion from the basics - from the Church documents themselves, in order to more clearly perceive the mind of the Church.  Thus we might have a better perspective on what our role should be in the reconstruction (or deconstruction) of Catholic Schools.

The following is a quick survey of the Churches attitude on the value of Catholic schools since the 1960's.  The documents cited are the major documents from the Church on Catholic education — one from each decade.  They are exceptional and should be required reading of anybody associated with Catholic education.  The first is an actual Vatican II document, the other three were written by the Congregation for Catholic Education.  These came out in 1977, 1988, and the third in 1998.

Gravissimum Educationis  -- Vatican II on Catholic Schools

One of the major documents of the Second Vatican Council was the "Declaration on Christian Education".  To read this document and then witness the subsequent treatment of Catholic schools since Vatican II is alarming.  The Council considered Catholic schools of the "utmost importance".  Consider the following quotes:

    Since, therefore, the Catholic school can be such an aid to the fulfillment of the mission of the People of God and to the fostering of the dialogue between the Church and mankind, to the benefit of both, it retains even in our present circumstances the utmost importance.

The council calls Catholic parents to the "duty" of utilizing Catholic schools:       

    The Council also reminds Catholic parents of the duty of entrusting their children to Catholic schools wherever and whenever it is possible and of supporting these schools to the best of their ability and of cooperating with them for the education of their children.[28]

This next section raises doubts about the elitist quality of many current Catholic schools, which raises obvious questions about the validity of tuition.       

    This Sacred Council of the Church earnestly entreats pastors and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools fulfill their function in a continually more perfect way, and especially in caring for the needs of those who are poor in the goods of this world or who are deprived of the assistance and affection of a family or who are strangers to the gift of Faith.

The Catholic School

The Catholic School was the definitive Church document on Catholic schools in the 1970's.  This document explains what it is that separates Catholic schools from public schools:

    She (the Catholic Church) establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man, since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of man, and of history is developed and conveyed.

There is a strong hint that the "spirit of Vatican II" may have had negative effect on our schools in this document.  It provides strong words for those that want to utilize money for other ("more important") ministries.  It discusses what it calls the "school problem":

     The Second Vatican Council has encouraged a more open-minded approach which has sometimes been misrepresented in theory and practice. There are difficulties in the provision of adequate staff and finance. In such a situation should the Church perhaps give up her apostolic mission in Catholic schools, as some people would like her to do, and direct her energy to a more direct work of evangelization in sectors considered to be of higher priority or more suited to her spiritual mission, or should she make State schools the sole object of her pastoral activity? Such a solution would not only be contrary to the directives of the Vatican Council, but would also be opposed to the Church's mission and to what is expected of her by Christian people. What follows emphasizes this fact.

This document also explains how Catholic schools are of service to society itself, not just the families that utilize them or the parishes the provide them.  We have to think beyond our own families and parishes:

    62. The Catholic school community, therefore, is an irreplaceable source of service, not only to the pupils and its other members, but also to society. Today especially one sees a world which clamors for solidarity and yet experiences the rise of new forms of individualism. Society can take note from the Catholic school that it is possible to create true communities out of a common effort for the common good. In the pluralistic society of today the Catholic school, moreover, by maintaining an institutional Christian presence in the academic world; proclaims by its very existence the enriching power of the faith as the answer to the enormous problems which afflict mankind. Above all, it is called to render a humble loving service to the Church by ensuring that she is present in the scholastic field for the benefit of the human family.

The Religious Dimension in a Catholic School

This exceptional document is the major Catholic School document of the 1980's.  The emphasis is in portraying Catholics Schools as a still valid ministry of the Church.  The school is called a "pastoral instrument" that performs a "pastoral service":

    As it reflects on the mission entrusted to it by the Lord, the Church gradually develops its pastoral instruments so that they may become ever more effective in proclaiming the Gospel and promoting total human formation. The Catholic school is one of these pastoral instruments; its specific pastoral service consists in mediating between faith and culture: being faithful to the newness of the Gospel while at the same time respecting the autonomy and the methods proper to human knowledge.

The Catholic Schools are not a "marginal or secondary element in the pastoral mission".  The complete Catholic school is emphasized as opposed to youth programs that are designed to supplement public schools.  It is of primary importance:

    33 At least since the time of the Council, therefore, the Catholic school has had a clear identity, not only as a presence of the Church in society, but also as a genuine and proper instrument of the Church. It is a place of evangelization, of authentic apostolate and of pastoral action — not through complementary or parallel or extra­curricular activity, but of its very nature: its work of educating the Christian person. The words of the present Holy Father make this abundantly clear: "the Catholic school is not a marginal or secondary element in the pastoral mission of the bishop. Its function is not merely to be an instrument with which to combat the education given in a State school" (20)

This document reiterates the need of the Catholic school in our society.  Catholic schools are a natural extension of the mission of the Church:

    34 The Catholic school finds its true justification in the mission of the Church; it is based on an educational philosophy in which faith, culture and life are brought into harmony. Through it, the local Church evangelizes, educates, and contributes to the formation of a healthy and morally sound life-style among its members. The Holy Father affirms that "the need for the Catholic school becomes evidently clear when we consider what it contributes to the development of the mission of the People of God, to the dialogue between Church and the human community, to the safeguarding of freedom of conscience...." Above all, according to the Holy Father, the Catholic school helps in achieving a double objective: "of its nature it guides men and women to human and Christian perfection, and at the same time helps them to become mature in their faith. For those who believe in Christ, these are two facets of a single reality" (21)

Catholic Schools on the Threshold of the New Millennium

This Church document reminds us that Vatican II was the work of the Holy Spirit, and this Council clearly valued Catholic schools:

    21. ...Thus it follows that the work of the school is irreplaceable and the investment of human and material resources in the school becomes a prophetic choice. On the threshold of the third millennium we perceive the full strength of the mandate which the Church handed down to the Catholic school in that "Pentecost" which was the Second Vatican Council: "Since the Catholic school can be of such service in developing the mission of the People of God and in promoting dialogue between the Church and the community at large to the advantage of both, it is still of vital importance even in our times".

What is Possible?

As we have surveyed the Church's attitude on the value of Catholic Schools, it is my hope that your attitude may have changed a bit.  Unfortunately, when most of us consider Catholic schools, we think only about what is — instead of what could be.

The above mentioned Church documents also give a vision for Catholic schools that is remarkably beautiful — but beyond the scope of this article.  It is difficult to live up to this vision.  However, the vision is worth grasping and holding on to.  It is this vision of what Catholic schools could be that we need to embrace when we consider our roll in the rejuvenation of Catholic schools.

The Church's vision of Catholic schools is worth fighting for!

About the writer: Greg Fazzari of Walla Walla, Washington, has four children and is a math and science instructor, basketball coach, and part-time administrator for a Catholic high school.  He has twenty-five years of experience in education, ranging from public school to community college and Catholic high school.


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