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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Monica Doumit: Catholic faith education project has a lot in common with Safe Schools

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Is ECSIP a sound way of communicating the Faith or an uncritical reification of the dominant values of our own age? PHOTO: CNS

I don’t want to sound like a drama queen, but I am a little concerned that just as we are beginning to see the demise of Safe Schools in classrooms across Australia, we are voluntarily introducing a program based on the same logic into our Catholic schools.

A couple of weeks ago, Father John Flader answered a question in his column about the Leuven Project, more formally known as ECSIP (the Enhancing Catholic School Identity Project).

Rather than sexual orientation and sexual identity, ECSIP is about the approach of schools to faith education, but in reading a little more about it, I couldn’t help but be struck by some of the similarities between how each of these two programs approach the concept of truth.

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I don’t have a background in education, but I have spent a lot of time over the past year reading, thinking and writing about Safe Schools.

Apart from some of its extreme content (sex education has now become way more complex than the birds and the bees), one of the serious problems with the program is that it challenges the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth.

Safe Schools tells kids that gender is fluid, and that only they know whether they are a boy or a girl. ECSIP is similarly equivocal when it comes to matters of faith.

I know that’s a big claim, so I am going to refer to the “for dummies” guides produced by the ECSIP creators to explain my point.

Using three different scales of measurement, ECSIP categorises schools into four different categories according to the ways they present the faith in an increasingly secular world, with the “ideal” school being categorised as having Post-Critical Belief. The other categories of belief are “literal,” “relativist” or “external critique.”

“Literal belief” is described as literal belief in a transcendent, personal and immutable God, with truths of the faith being certain and unchanging. A literal believer places high importance on Church authority and hierarchy (i.e., magisterial teaching), and believes that when the Gospels record Jesus walking on water, that He actually did walk on water (rather than it being a literary tool to demonstrate His divinity.)

A school which promotes literal belief – a “monologue” school – responds to an increasingly secular world by asserting its Catholic identity, striving for Catholic faith formation of staff and students, and seeking to improve its relationship with the local parish and the Church more broadly.

It teaches students growing up in a plural culture that while salvation can be found outside Catholicism, it is still found in Christ through the Holy Spirit. In other words, it teaches what the Catechism does.

However, ECSIP says that the “monologue” school approach does not indicate receptiveness to other religions and philosophies of life, and is criticised as demonstrating a lack of solidarity with others. According to ECSIP, it is not the preferred model for today’s world.

Post-critical belief, on the other hand, encourages a little more fluidity in these matters. A post-critical believer believes that “contact with God never occurs directly, but is always mediated by means of symbols … God is never immediately present.” For this reason, post-critical belief understands that “the sacraments should be symbolically interpreted instead of taken literally.” Given that the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, taught that the Eucharistic sacrifice is the “fount and apex of the Christian life,” a belief that the Eucharist is merely a symbol instead of God being immediately – and intimately – present to us should be raising all types of questions.

Post-critical belief argues that because belief must always be interpreted in its historical context, religious answers can never be definite, final or fixed and we cannot have “absolute certainty, consistency, or clarity in matters of faith.”

A school which promotes post-critical belief – a “dialogue” school – does not encourage the Christian faith formation of all students, but shows a preference for the Christian message alongside a receptiveness and openness for what is different, because it sees the goal of the Catholic school as being in the service of society as a whole, irrespective of society’s faith tradition – or lack thereof. The “dialogue” school responds to a changing cultural context by evolving with it, encouraging students to show their distinctiveness and “give shape to their personal identity.”

This type of school teaches children that there can never be any certainty or objective truth in matters of faith, and that these are instead matters for them to discover as part of their identity. Is this not what Safe Schools teaches children about gender? That, notwithstanding biology, there can be no certainty in their gender, and rather that it is up to them to decide.

I know it’s a big call, but it seems to me that ECSIP is to the truths of the faith what Safe Schools is to gender.

Even the way that ECSIP describes the faith profiles of schools has a Safe Schools feel to them. It contrasts the negative connotation of a “monologue” schools with a “dialogue” school, which is strikingly similar to the way Safe Schools uses words like ‘diverse’ and ‘tolerant’ to promote its brand.

Even the name itself is misleading. Just as there is little about Safe Schools which is safe, there appears to be very little about the Enhancing Catholic School Identity Project which enhances the Catholic identity of a school.

No doubt ECSIP was developed with the good intention of trying to figure out how we might continue the Catholic education of students in an ever-changing world, but unfortunately they seem to think the solution is to dilute the faith so that it is merely the preferred option out of other valid choices. In this way, I imagine, the creators are hoping to retain as many believers in the Catholic fold as possible.

But educating children in the Catholic faith isn’t about trying to ensure the Church maintains or increases the number of its faithful. We present our kids with the fullness of the Catholic faith because frankly, it is true – objectively true – and therefore it is what is best for them. We owe it to them to allow them to encounter the richness of the Catholic faith, which means we owe them better than ECSIP.

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