On 25 January 2022, the Congregation for Catholic Education signed off on an Instruction on The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (ICS). As an Instruction issued by a Congregation, its purpose is to highlight:
- “awareness and consistency of the Catholic identity of the Church’s educational institutions all over the world” (ICS #1)
- the necessity for the collaboration of the whole school community
- the prevention of “conflicts and divisions in the critical area of education” (ICS #7).
It also aims to underscore the unique focus and contribution of Catholic education which can provide the “sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people.”
Why has this Instruction been written now?
In the hierarchy of Vatican documents, an Instruction is issued by Congregations, with the approval of the pope, and has authority to explain Council documents or decrees. They often outline pertinent legislation of the Church in an organic fashion, give encouragement and help to the Bishops in the fulfilment of their obligations (cf. can. 34) by calling to mind the norms of canon law, explain their various provisions, and define and make explicit the processes by which they are implemented. An Instruction does not contain new legislation, this is outside its remit and possibilities, the purpose of which is to “set out the provisions of a law and develop the manner in which it is to be put into effect” (can. 34 §1) hoping to apply the law in a better way.
This Instruction builds on a range of Vatican documents on Catholic education, from the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum educationis to the 11 other documents from Congregation for Catholic Education and its predecessor the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, as outlined in n.17 of the Instruction. A fuller list can be found in the Handout – Key Vatican documents on Catholic education.
But the key driver for the Instruction arises from “different interpretations of the traditional concept of Catholic identity by educational institutions in the face of the rapid changes” (ICS #1). The Congregation had been asked to resolve disputes that arose from these conflicts, many it said, concerned rapid changes in society, including the process of globalisation and the growth of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
“It seemed therefore appropriate to offer a more in-depth and up-to-date reflection and guidelines on the value of the Catholic identity of educational institutions in the Church, so as to provide a set of criteria responding to the challenges of our times, in continuity with the criteria that always apply.” (ICS #2).
The focus on the value of the Catholic identity of educational institutions in the Church is why this document is so important to those of us involved in Catholic education.