The Teaching of the Catholic Religion in Schools

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization released the Directory for Catechesis in June 2020. It succeeds the General Directory for Catechesis (1997). Chapter 9, “The Christian Community as Participant in Catechesis”, concludes with a final section on The Teaching of the Catholic Schools. CARFLEO has scanned this important section and reproduced it below. The Directory for Catechesis will be available in October from CCCB Publications.

Directory for Catechesis


313. The teaching of the Catholic religion has undergone substantial changes over time. Its relationship with catechesis is one of distinction in complementarity. Where the distinction is not clear, there is the danger that both may lose their identity. Catechesis “promotes personal adherence to Christ and maturing of the Christian life, [whilst] school teaching gives the students knowledge about Christianity’s identity and the Christian life”17. “What confers on religious instruction in schools its proper evangelising character is the fact that it is called to penetrate a particular area of culture and to relate with other areas of knowledge. As an original form of the ministry of the Word, it makes present the Gospel in a personal process of cultural, systematic and critical assimilation.”18 In the present context, “religious education is often the sole opportunity available for students to encounter the message of faith”19.

314. Where it is carried out, it is a service to humanity and a valuable contribution to the school’s educational programme. “The religious dimension is in fact intrinsic to culture. It contributes to the overall formation of the person and makes it possible to transform knowledge into wisdom of life.”20 It is a right of parents and of students to receive a complete formation, since the religious factor is a dimension of existence and cannot be overlooked in a context, such as school is, that proposes to undertake the harmonious development of the personality. The teaching of the Catholic religion, in this sense, has great educational value and serves the development of society itself.

315. As a discipline, it is necessary that the teaching of the Catholic religion present the same demand for rigour and for being systematic as the other disciplines, since in this area in particular improvisation is harmful and is to be rejected. It is appropriate that its goals should be realised according to the aims proper to the educational institution. With respect to the other disciplines, the teaching of the Catholic religion is called to develop the disposition for a respectful and open dialogue, especially in these times in which positions are easily taken to the extreme, to the point of resulting in violent ideological conflicts. “Therefore, religion passes on the witness and message of integral humanism. This humanism, enriched by religion’s identity, appreciates religion’s great traditions such as: faith; respect for human life from conception until its natural end; and respect for the family, for community, for education and for work. These are opportunities and tools not of closure but of openness and dialogue with everyone and everything, leading to what is good and true. Dialogue remains the only possible solution, even when faced with the denial of religious sentiment, with atheism and agnosticism.” 21

316. “It is not possible to reduce to a single model the various forms of religious instruction in schools, which have developed as a result of accords between individual states and Episcopal Conferences. It is, however, necessary that efforts be made so that religious instruction in schools respond to its objectives and its own characteristics.”22 Taking the local situations into account, the episcopal conferences (and in particular cases, the diocesan bishops) will be able to discern the different tendencies in order to implement the teaching of the Catholic religion.

Moreover, episcopal conferences are asked to see to it that textbooks be made available, and, if appropriate, other materials and aid.

317. It is desirable that episcopal conferences should pay similar attention to the teaching of religion in schools where members of different Christian confessions are present, both when the school is entrusted to teachers of a specific confession and when the teachers have no confessional allegiance. Such teaching takes on ecumenical value in any case when Christian doctrine is presented in a genuine way. In this sense the willingness for dialogue, although it is more difficult to implement, should also inspire relationships with the new religious movements of Christian origin and of evangelical inspiration that have arisen in more recent times.

318. In order for the teaching of the Catholic religion to be fruitful, it is fundamental that the teachers be capable of presenting the relationship between faith and culture, human and religious components, science and religion, school and other educational agencies. The task of the teacher is purely educational, oriented toward the human maturation of the students. At the same time, it is required that the teachers be believers committed to personal growth in the faith, incorporated into a Christian community, desirous of giving the reason for their faith through their professional expertise as well”23.

16 Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (28th December 1997), 9.

17 Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilisation of Love (28th October 2013), 74.

18 GDC 73.

19 Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (30th September 2010), 111.

20 Benedict XVI, Address to participants in the meeting of Catholic religious teachers (25th April 2009).

21 Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Intercultural Dialogue, op. cit., 72.

22 GDC 74.

23  Cf Codex Ioris Canonici c. 804 2 and c. 805 (Code of Canon Law)

A print copy of the Directory for Catechesis is available from Joseph’s Inspirational

Leave a Reply