Melbourne priest speaks: Leuven has serious problems

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When it comes to the faith it will not do to give children the icing on the cake without the cake, writes Fr Brendan Arthur. PHOTO: Shutterstock

Since 2016, Catholic primary and secondary schools across a number of dioceses throughout Australia have introduced a new religious educational philosophy based on the Enhancing Catholic Schools’ Identity Project (ECSIP).

The Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium developed the project with the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria as a response to the crisis in religious education in both countries.

While the good intentions of the Project’s authors are undoubted, its underlying principles are hostile to the Faith and are therefore unable to achieve the desired improvement in our schools.

The fundamental flaw of ECSIP is the misunderstanding of what Catholic identity actually is. Belgian architects of the project, Didier Pollefeyt and Jan Bouwens, see it as the evolution of dogma in their book Identity and Dialogue:

In every new historical context throughout history, the Catholic faith necessarily ‘reprofiles’ itself according to the new situation it finds itself in, that is to say it is Recontextualised. This process of manifold Recontextualisations, which is the dynamic of the Christian tradition itself, has been going on since the dawn of Christianity… As God walks with us on our path, new revelation occurs and the faith tradition keeps expanding itself …

With this as their starting point, they then reason that the “normative point that inspires and shapes our living faith lies in the eschatological future, not in the preservation of the past” and that the “truth of Christianity is not fixed, but is to be rediscovered and made real through a continuous search for it”.

These ideas have been consistently condemned as heretical by the Church’s Magisterium.

Proposing the Catholic Faith as a body of objective truths that must be accepted as part of divine revelation is deemed “unethical”, “theologically unsound” and “impracticable”, according to an ECSIP resource kit, since “The Christian point of view is one of respect and appreciation for all people including their philosophical and religious beliefs and practices”.

On the contrary, the Catholic view is to respect all people, but not their erroneous philosophical and religious beliefs and practices. The teaching mission of the Church is to pass on the Faith as the objectively revealed truth.

Catholic institutions participate in this mission only when they do so with clarity and confidence.

Consequent to this is ECSIP’s inherent aversion from converting non-Catholic children. However, if we believe that Jesus Christ and his Church constitute the unique means of salvation, why would we want to strengthen students of other religions to be “more authentically rooted in their own religion and partners in dialogue” (as required in another ECSIP document)?

How is strengthening a non-Christian in a false religion a valid outcome of Catholic religious education? To propose Catholic teaching as just one way to the Father among many is contrary to the words of Christ, contrary to the infallible magisterial teaching of the Church – but entirely in accordance with ECSIP.

Convincing someone of the truth of the Catholic Faith is not something negative, but is one of the most important duties of the Church and by extension, of Church-run education.

The Magisterium is almost entirely absent in the philosophical and pedagogical documentation produced by ECSIP, which emphasises a primacy of experience: “What does this mean to you? How do you interpret this according to your own faith tradition?”

This is reinforced in the ECSIP-inspired teaching tool, “Pedagogy of Encounter: Hermeneutic Communicative Approach”, which instructs to “Give opportunity to students to put their own philosophical and/or religious position; confront students with a tradition that’s not necessarily theirs”.

Such questioning is entirely inappropriate in primary schools where there is not yet a foundation in Catholic Faith, and where critique of the truths of the Faith will cause confusion.

Would a school propose for discussion and interpretation facts of mathematics or grammar?

One might ask the question why Australian Catholics are seeking advice from Catholic institutions in a country where the Church has become so irrelevant in society to the point of almost disappearing?

The following statement made by Lieven Boeve (contributor to ECSIP and CEO of Catholic Education Flanders) to a Belgian newspaper shows where the project leads:

The time that we offered education for Catholics and by Catholics is gone forever. From now on, Catholic identity does not need to be shared by each student or teacher, as long as they support the school’s [Catholic Identity] project. Because of aging, the teaching staff will number more and more Muslims.

The Project is controversial even in its native Flanders, as the website of the most popular Catholic Flemish newspaper Kerk en Leven shows.

ECSIP is marked by naturalism in methodology and content. The scope and sequence of the draft curriculum for Prep to year 12 in Victorian Catholic schools does not anywhere cover the distinction between the natural and the supernatural.

It is not surprising that the words “grace”, “sin”, “virtue”, “redemption”, “holiness or sanctity” are absent. Nor is there any discussion of our eternal vocation to heaven – its correlatives “purgatory” and “hell” are completely avoided.

There is no mention of the Ten Commandments. The entire curriculum focuses only on the temporal.

When prayer or relationship with God or Jesus is covered, it is in the context of a mere religious experience. Church History is restricted to less than a semester in Year 10 and the Catholic Church is presented almost solely as an organ of social justice.

The Catholic Faith is our identity. If the immutable teachings of that Faith are not taught with confidence and conviction as they have always been understood, no amount of crucifixes, statues or liturgical experiences in our schools will give our children an integral Catholic education. It does not do to have the icing on the cake – without the cake.