A worrisome project, which operates in only a handful of schools in the rest of the world, is sweeping into entire Catholic school systems in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. Under the title, “Enhancing Catholic School Identity Project” (ECSIP), its central message is explicit: teachers and students need no longer learn about, let alone believe, the Gospel of Jesus, but must constantly critique, even contradict, everything – Creed, Commandments and Christian teachings – all under the guise of a research project allegedly designed to enhance Catholic identity.
The program, known to insiders as the “Leuven Project,” or, just “Leuven,” originates from the Belgian Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) and focuses with unerring accuracy on the most vulnerable people within the Catholic system: teachers who are unsure in their personal faith and students who are struggling to understand Catholic teaching in a world that holds religion in contempt. If we are to prevent Leuven from gaining traction in NSW and encourage others to begin to question this program, we need to understand what it is.
Leuven is a direct attack on the faith of the Catholic Church. This attack doesn’t come from Hollywood or the Internet, but is promoted by Catholic school systems within schools.
1. Leuven believes that Christianity is irrelevant
Why would anyone purporting to enhance Catholic identity attempt to undermine it? Since Christianity is no longer meaningful for modern, secular people and societies (so the Leuven mindset goes) the remaining threads of the Gospel should be reinterpreted by each Catholic in a radical dialogue with modern sensibilities. The thinking that underpins ECSIP comes from the KUL-based “interruptive” theologian Lieven Boeve. He says: “Christianity as a master narrative has also lost much of its credibility … Christianity, however, has no future as an all-encompassing meta-narrative.” Boeve argues that the Catholic faith must be “recontextualised” or re-interpreted to make it more acceptable to today’s anything-but-Catholic worldview.
2. Leuven exploits the vulnerable
The Leuven Project preys upon vulnerable teachers, students and Catholic Education Office staff. It exploits individual Catholics, including children, whose friendship with Jesus and knowledge of Catholicism is fragile or not yet established. Catholic teachers who have questions or even misgivings about the faith, who are themselves morally compromised or who can’t see the relevance of the Church are vulnerable to the idea that faith isn’t real, but merely symbolic. Leuven is absurdly comforting to these Catholics who would prefer to arbitrarily judge the content of the faith for themselves – like a diner ordering a dish that is off-menu. Catholicism is supposed to be an inexhaustible banquet, not a pick-and-choose buffet. A multitude who attend Catholic schools as students and as teachers are vulnerable to being formed in an ideology that is not Catholic at all, but which merely pretends to be.
3. Leuven runs counter to the New Evangelisation
Recontextualisation might sound like re-evangelisation; it is anything but. Pope St John Paul II inaugurated a new vision for evangelisation in the increasingly secular, but Christian-founded West. His vision was confirmed and resourced by Benedict XVI and now by Pope Francis. The New Evangelisation seeks to proclaim the joy of the Gospel in its fullness to Catholics who have forgotten their faith. Leuven, on the other hand, encourages Catholics by way of “recontextualisation” to reject the authentic Gospel, to conform to the secular, pluralist society, while jettisoning core Catholic beliefs and all the while believing they are Catholics in good standing with the Church. For the Leuven-adherent, Jesus isn’t for everyone – in fact the Gospel of Jesus is up for grabs. Recontextualisation is pursued by way of an extreme dialogue with modern, secular culture that is taken as the new measure of what Catholics believe, rather than the truths of the faith. Leuven never acknowledges the authority of Scripture, Tradition or the Magisterium. Leuven never quotes, references or gives way to the authority of the Church. The Holy Name of Jesus is almost entirely absent. This from a program that is supposed to enhance Catholic identity.
4. Leuven takes cover (hides its real message) under obscure language
The Enhancing Catholic School Identity Project – is surprisingly similar to programs like the Safe Schools Coalition and Marriage Equality; it claims to protect what it actually sets out to destroy. Who could be opposed to safety or equality? Like Safe schools and marriage “equality” the Leuven project sets out to fool us by clever, but insidious, labels that belie the truth of what these programs seek to achieve. Similarly, Leuven is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes. Rather than enhance Catholic identity, Leuven is better placed to destroy it. Ancient (Pagan) sophist philosophers would be as proud as the ECSIP researchers are of the language of Leuven – words like: meta-narrative, recontextualisation, post-critical belief are just a few of the deceptive terms Leuven uses to persuade teachers and students. The meaning of these terms needs to be exposed so that faithful Catholics can appreciate the insidious nature of the Leuven program.
5. Leuven is anything but a research project
Leuven presents itself as a research project. Surveys are completed; results are analysed according to various scales; reports are issued to Catholic schools and systems. However, the survey questions are deeply biased and value-laden; the scales deride schools that support authentic Catholic belief; the reports openly use the data, such as it is, to encourage a symbolic brand of faith. This is not research, but propaganda aimed at supplanting authentic Catholicism with “post-critical belief.”
Over the next few months, the Faith and Truth Institute will publish articles and resources designed to inform Australian Catholics: parish priests, teachers, students and parents – to shed light on the programs that threaten the faith of parishioners and students. Only together can we prevent Leuven from sweeping through NSW Catholic schools and sweeping away the faith of our children.