What changes with this new instruction is the focus, which is more on evangelization than identity. The document also seeks to bring the social sciences to the center of the educational project.
It says: “Evangelization and integral human development are intertwined in the Church’s educational work.” The Church “aims not only to ensure the maturity proper to the human person, but above all to ensure that the baptized, gradually initiated into the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of faith.”
The instruction cannot be read separately from another document of Pope Francis, the apostolic constitution Veritatis gaudium, which redesigned the tasks and structures of ecclesiastical universities.
In that constitution, Pope Francis called for a cultural revolution based on four criteria: the contemplation of the mystery, wide-ranging dialogue, a plurality of knowledge, and networking. Veritatis gaudium emphasized an interdisciplinary approach, which, in Pope Francis’ view, can inspire a “culture of encounter.”
Not by chance, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, established by John Paul II in 1981, was upgraded and reformed. It was expanded to include a series of social sciences classes that aimed to broaden the cultural background. The “Gaudium et Spes” Chair inaugurated at the institute in 2018 underlined this new direction.
The Congregation for Catholic Education’s instruction offers an excellent example of Pope Francis’ thinking. Despite a general opening to dialogue with the world, the Church remains hierarchical, and so does education.
There are passages in the document that confirm in a bureaucratic way what Catholic schools should be and what the local bishop’s responsibilities are.
Then there are more poetic sections asserting that education consists in “a polyphony of movements,” and even that it “unleashes an ecological movement, since it contributes to the recovery of different levels of balance: inner balance with oneself, solidarity with others, natural balance with all living beings, spiritual balance with God.”
There is also a section on the Global Compact on Education, strongly desired by Pope Francis, under which “a long-term project is launched to form people who are willing to put themselves at the educational service of their community.”
“A concrete pedagogy — based on bearing witness, knowledge, and dialogue — is a starting point for personal, social and environmental change,” the document adds.
The instruction acknowledges that there are divergent interpretations of the term “Catholic.”
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“The basic problem lies in the concrete application of the term ‘Catholic,’ a complex word that is not easily expressed by means of exclusively legal, formal and doctrinal criteria,” it says.
“The causes of tensions are mainly the result on the one hand of a reductive or purely formal interpretation, and on the other of a vague or narrow understanding of Catholic identity.”
Perhaps there is an allusion here to the question of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, which was deprived of its title in 2012 precisely because its statutes did not adhere to Ex corde Ecclesiae. Pope Francis established a commission of cardinals in 2014, which proceeded to rewrite the statutes until, in 2016, the university resumed using the title.
It is worth looking back at the events that led to the loss of the title to realize that, even today, such a case would be handled the same way.
The university was accused of having “unilaterally changed” its statutes since 1967. From 1990 onward, it was asked by the Vatican on many occasions to adapt its laws to the apostolic constitution, but did not do so.
After a canonical visitation in 2011 and a meeting between the rector and the Vatican Secretary of State in 2012, there was a further attempt to adapt the statutes to canon law. The rector wrote to the Secretary of State explaining it was impossible to make the changes due to the Archdiocese of Lima’s refusal to cede control of the management of the activities of the university. The Holy See underlined that the involvement of the archdiocese in the power of the university’s asset management had been confirmed on several occasions, with judgments of civil courts in Peru.