Want to Enhance the Catholic Identity of our Schools? Just Don’t mention God or Catholicism
Not Everything that Comes out of Belgium is Fine Beer or Quality Chocolate
Recently, there has been a rise of up-market gourmet chocolate shops around Australia’s capital and regional cities. Each is a temple of the chocolate arts – a joyous celebration of the quality and taste of fine Belgian chocolate. Many of us have enjoyed more than a twinge of guilty pleasure as we enjoy the sensuous velvety, luscious and creamy chocolate treats that the tiny European country has made its own. For many decades, Belgian chocolate has become an international benchmark of desirability, style and quality.
Unfortunately there is another, very different type of Belgian export that fails to meet the same marks of quality and purity. In fact, where Belgian chocolate may clearly set the world standard for excellence, integrity and quality, the same cannot be said of a Belgian project aimed straight at the heart of a very vulnerable Australian Catholic school system.
Right now senior Australian Catholic education administrators are beginning to acknowledge that less and less Catholic teachers are sufficiently formed in their knowledge and understanding of the basic tenets of Catholicism to do their job. At a time when the Catholic identity of schools is in a state of unprecedented challenge, the Belgian-based Enhancing Catholic School Identity project (ECSIP) from the Catholic University of Leuven, is being taken up in in Catholic school systems across Victoria and Queensland, and is poised to launch into parts of South Australia and the West. Marketed as a research project, it uses a number of contentious data-gathering surveys – all of which are strongly biased towards an anti-Christian ideology. In fact, the project unashamedly sets out to change the way that Catholics believe.
Its principal researchers, Didier Pollefeyt, professor of Theology and Religious Studies, and his research assistant Jan Bouwens, make no secret of their plans to use their research tools to promote anti-Catholic propaganda. Their project involves two basic steps.
First, they ridicule the ordinary conviction of faithful Catholics, by branding it as Literal Belief. They criticise the literal believer as anxious, fundamentalist and naive. Pollefeyt and Bouwens predict that literal belief will end in Catholic ghettos that shut out the world.
Yet, every member of the clergy knows that literal believers are the backbone of every parish. They are the very people who pray and pay. These literal believers support the parish, faithfully attend the sacraments and give assent to the teachings of Christ and try to live lives of virtue. By any standard they would be seen as model Catholics – not perfect – but trying to live the Gospel as best they can. They are kind and social with their non-Catholic friends and neighbours, donate to charitable causes and help those in need.
Nevertheless, the ECSIP project portrays them all as aloof individuals who don’t feel the need to engage with the world around them and who hide from modern society – because literal belief has been unfairly branded as rigid, colourless and narrow.
Second, the Leuven–based researchers set up a new kind of religious standard, described as Post-Critical belief. For the Leuven team, their ideal type of Catholic feels free to question any, or all Church teachings, and has no need to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. The post-critical believer is comfortable with an anti-Christian view of the world and embraces all forms of diversity – even to the point of accepting anti-Catholic ideas. According to the Leuven ideology, if this person is a teacher in a Catholic school then – by some crazy twist of logic – their pattern of un-belief will somehow enhance Catholic identity in the school.
The Leuven academics argue that the Christian message has little or no meaning for modern people who live in an anti-Christian culture. These Belgian professors believe that the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus have lost their power to convince most people today. According to them, following Christ and the teachings of his Church must now give way to “post-critical belief” – a belief in symbols rather than reality. The post-critical Catholic does not need to assent to the Creed – once considered essential to one’s Baptismal faith – because Catholic doctrines and the Creeds now need to be re-contextualised (reinterpreted, even to the point of contradicting them) to make Catholicism acceptable to non-believers.
All of the above can be readily verified by reading the ECSIP material on the websites of the various Catholic education offices that have embraced the Leuven project. Page eight of the strategic plan 2015-2019 for the Catholic Education Office Melbourne says that the ECSIP project works, “… by creating rich opportunities for staff and students to engage in open and respectful dialogue with the Christian narrative and the Catholic tradition on the one hand, and a diversity of meanings, understandings and beliefs on the other.”
Note that ECSIP emphatically avoids any idea of students actually learning or believing the Catholic faith, but rather expects them to dialogue the Christian narrative and Catholic tradition within a diversity of meanings, understandings and beliefs in a spirit of openness. They’ll have the so-called Christian narrative in one hand and anti-Christian beliefs in the other. Imagine how well the little Kinder children will go at that! At a time when they most need security and a clear set of beliefs on which to build their lives of faith in friendship with Christ they will be asked to choose between two so-called narratives, neither of which will be the Gospel of Jesus. Then they will be expected to dialogue between the two aspects of relative disbelief. This is exactly what is meant by Leuven’s idea of recontextualisation. Perhaps it should be better described as deliberate confusion and appeasement of anti-Catholic ideologies.
The quote above was accompanied by a photo that leaves no doubt as to what a “diversity of meaning, understandings and beliefs” will lead to.
The boys in this picture are expressing something very far from a Catholic identity, faith or practice. They are posing in a variation of the asana or stork position, commonly used for meditation, in Yoga, Jain and Buddhist practice.
School systems that apply the Leuven philosophy are not so inclusive as to reference Scripture, the Sacraments, the Creed or Church teaching in any way whatsoever. Neither are they diverse enough to acknowledge orthodox Catholic belief as a viable option in a modern, pluralist society. For all its criticism of dogma, Leuven permits only one orthodoxy – post-critical belief – belief that is empty of Christ’s real presence in the Church and the world.
One thing that the Catholic reader is bound to notice is the complete absence of reference to Church teaching, the Scriptures, the Sacraments and Creeds in the torrent of published material, pouring out of Belgium into Australian Catholic school systems, that allegedly supports the Leuven project.
In 2010 Pollefeyt published an academic paper entitled “Framing the identity of Catholic schools: empirical methodology for quantitative research on the Catholic identity of an education institute.” It is readily available on the web.
This one article is nearly nine-and-a-half-thousand words in length. Only once in the entire article do the words Jesus and Christ occur, and, not a single Church document is quoted at all – likewise Sacred Scripture. How can these university academics claim to promote Catholic identity for schools without even referring to the Church’s remarkable legacy of insight and wisdom about this very same topic?
Of the tens of thousands of words published on the websites of the various Australian Catholic education systems that have embraced the ECSIP program – which frankly campaigns to obliterate Catholic identity – we find a systematic censoring of Catholic language and ideas. The call of the last three Popes for the renewal of a genuine Catholic identity in educational settings has been comprehensively ignored.
One does not need to be a theologian to see what’s wrong with the ECSIP materials being imposed on many hundreds of Catholic schools around Australia. All it takes is a quick glance at the anti-faith bias of their articles and research tools to see that Catholic students, teachers and parents are being offered a counterfeit mutation of Catholicism, one that seeks to appease rather than challenge the evils that society wishes to foist on us.
Let’s hope that the average Australian Catholic will ultimately judge Leuven’s goal of anti-belief to be the phony that it is – as phony as trying to pass off a Freddo frog as fine Belgian chocolate.