VATICAN CITY — Holding together the obligation to protect and promote the Catholic identity of Catholic schools while reaching out to a broader community of students and teachers requires a commitment to dialogue, said a new document from the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The instruction, “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue,” was signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, congregation prefect, and was released by the Vatican March 29.
The congregation, Cardinal Versaldi said, was asked to write the document particularly “given cases of conflicts and appeals resulting from different interpretations of the traditional concept of Catholic identity by educational institutions.”
The document, however, did not include any specific description of those cases, which presumably include controversy over teachers being fired or not being hired for marrying a person of the same sex.
Those involved in hiring for Catholic schools, it said, are required “to inform prospective recruits of the Catholic identity of the school and its implications, as well as of their responsibility to promote that identity. If the person being recruited does not comply with the requirements of the Catholic school and its belonging to the church community, the school is responsible for taking the necessary steps. Dismissal may also be resorted to, taking into account all circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”
According to the document, it is the right and duty of a bishop to watch over all Catholic schools in his diocese.
“Although the privileged locus for the diocesan/eparchial Bishop to exercise his right of vigilance is during the canonical visitation, he can intervene whenever he considers it appropriate, and he must do so whenever the Catholic identity of a school situated in his diocese/eparchy is seriously affected,” the document states.
Further, it states that it is the right of the local bishop to “appoint or at least approve teachers of religion” for his diocese, and likewise, if reasons of religion or morals require it, to remove them or to demand that they be removed.
Since all teachers participate in the ecclesial mission, the diocesan bishop may also “remove a teacher” in the case of a Catholic school run by the diocese.
The Bishop must make explicit the reasons and decisive evidence which justify a possible removal, while always respecting the teacher’s right of defense and giving him or her the possibility of defending him or herself in writing, also with the help of an advocate expert in canon law.
At the same time, it said, “a narrow Catholic school model” is not acceptable either. “In such schools, there is no room for those who are not ‘totally’ Catholic. This approach contradicts the vision of an ‘open’ Catholic school that intends to apply to the educational sphere the model of a ‘church which goes forth’ in dialogue with everyone.”
The document insisted that Catholic education is not strictly catechetical, nor is it a “mere philanthropic work aimed at responding to a social need,” but is an essential part of the church’s identity and mission.
When conflicts over “disciplinary and/or doctrinal” matters do arise, it said, everyone involved must be aware how “these situations can bring discredit to the Catholic institution and scandal in the community.”
“Dismissal should be the last resort, legitimately taken after all other remedial attempts have failed,” it said.
Noting that “in many countries civil law bars ‘discrimination’ on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and other aspects of private life,” the document nevertheless noted that when “state laws impose choices that conflict with religious freedom and the very Catholic identity of a school,” the rights of Catholics and their schools should be defended “both through dialogue with state authorities and through recourse to the courts having jurisdiction in these matters.”
Rhode Island Catholic contributed to this story.
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