AECQ : The change in religious education for the young a new challenge

The change in religious education for the young a new challenge

L'Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec
October 18, 2000 | Version française
Pierre Morissette
President

The Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec and Religious Education for the Young

In the month of June 2000, the Quebec Government passed a new law, Bill 118, modifying the confessional aspects of the legislation concerning Public Education. From now on, public schools can no longer be Catholic or Protestant, they become schools common to all, without a specific status or project of a religious nature.

Although the new legislation guarantees the right to religious education, these modifications, especially those concerning pastoral animation and the new school status, represent a major change in religious education for the young. The school system will still play a certain role in religious education. The Church, however, will continue to assume the responsibility of faith education outside of the public school system.

As soon as the new Bill was passed, the Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec went into action. The bishops are preparing a catechetical teaching model and some tools which will enable the dioceses to initiate locally their own plan of action with respect to religious education for the young. The bishops of Quebec wish to assure the parents of their full collaboration as this major change in religious education takes place. The bishops, however, do require a greater participation by the families and Christian communities in facing the important challenge of being discerning leaders in introducing Jesus-Christ to the young.

October 18, 2000

Notice

Please take notice that an error has been made in the translation of the Declaration entitled The change in religious education for the young, a new challenge. P. 2, 1st par., 4th l., should read : (prayers, Christian attitudes, etc.) and not Christian beliefs.

Rolande Parrot, responsable des communications (4 décembre 2000)

The change in religious education for the young a new challenge

Last June, the Quebec Government passed a new law, Bill 118, modifying the confessional aspects of the legislation concerning Public Education. From now on, parents will no longer have the right to request a confessional status for the public schools attended by their children. The existing structures contained in the previous legislation (Catholic and Protestant Committees, Catholic and Protestant deputy ministers...) were abolished on July 1st of this year.

Furthermore, starting next July in secondary schools and July 2002 in elementary schools, pastoral animation will be replaced by spiritual animation and community involvement. Some confessional religious teaching will still be offered to the students, but the hours spent in teaching religion will be shortened at the secondary level, and there is a good chance that this will happen also at the elementary level. The governing boards will have a certain latitude to assess the number of hours required and how they will fit into the study programs.

As a consequence, public schools can no longer be Catholic or Protestant as in the past; they become schools common to all, without a specific status or project of a religious nature.

A major change

Of course, the new legislation guarantees the right to religious education. However, these modifications, especially those concerning pastoral animation and the new school status, represent a major change in religious education for the young. The catechetical training, the education of the faith (prayers, Christian attitudes, etc.) will no longer be taught in school. For some time already, it was evident that the main goal of religious teaching in the schools was not to strengthen the faith or to catechize, but rather to lay the fundamental principles of Christian faith. In fact, however, due to the homogeneity of many of our milieus and the generous implication of many teachers, the catechetical education of the young remained important to several schools. This will no longer be the case in the future. The legislation clearly states this fact.

Catechetical teaching or faith education remains a major responsibility of the Church. Spreading the Gospel is the first and foremost mission of the Church. And, as Pope John Paul II did remind us « catechesis is one of these strong points - and how noteworthy - of the process of Gospel teaching ». Therefore, the Church cannot elude her responsibility. She must play a very special and precise role in the matter of religious education.

In Quebec until now, the school system had been a major partner of the Church in religious education for the young. We have to be thankful for this important contribution to religious education well interconnected with our history and culture. In our present and ever changing social context, the situation created by Bill 118 causes the Church from now on to assume a greater involvement in the education of the faith outside of the public school system.

The school, however, will still play some part with respect to religious education. All along the elementary level and secondary levels I, II and III, the school will make sure that teaching allowing the students to know their religion will be given. At the secondary levels IV and V, the teaching of other major religious traditions represented within the Quebec population will be offered. It is fortunate that the law acknowledges the importance of religious education in the schools. During the long discussions preceding the passing of this Bill, parents had the opportunity to express their desire to maintain this education. Furthermore, its cultural importance has been widely recognized. We can only hope now that the necessary resources will be allocated for the ongoing formation and support of the teachers responsible for this education.

It is important however to remember that this new situation does not preclude certain private schools to stress in their education program the importance of the Catholic tradition.

The bishops of Quebec, for their part and in collaboration with the people involved in the education system, have developed a concept with respect to the role of the school, of the families and of the Catholic communities concerning religious education. For everyone's benefit, these directions can be found in the recently published document entitled Proposer aujourd'hui la foi aux jeunes. The school remains the place of choice for educating the young, and various options offering them a balanced religious teaching can be envisioned (for instance : finding out and learning more about the spiritual and moral legacy of Christian tradition, finding their place in relation to the beliefs and religious habits of their families and their milieu... etc.).

A step forward

In the coming months, it will be necessary to become acquainted with this new situation. The committees on Christian education in the dioceses, the pastors in each milieu, the teachers will also have to explain to the parents the changes set forth by Bill 118.

At the same time, the Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec intends to come up with a catechetical teaching model and some tools which will enable the dioceses to create locally their own plan of action. Parish communities are rather well equipped and organised for the sacramental initiation. It is now time to pursue a true Christian education : to explain who is Jesus-Christ, enrol the young in the Christian community ...etc. It is difficult to be more precise at this time, the change being too recent.

Faith is a legacy to be passed on. In our cultural environment, it is handed down in the form of a discovery, of a search to be undertaken. It is presented as an invitation to step forward, to walk part of the way, to follow the road step by step leading to the discovery of all its treasures. Guidelines are required to reinforce « life experience nourished by the inspiration and strength born of the Spirit » (Proposer aujourd'hui la foi aux jeunes).

Parents will have to « invite their children to take the first steps leading to the discovery of the faith ». The responsibility of the parishes will be to develop a new approach to proposing faith to the young. The aim is to « ensure a catechetical and biblical education more advanced than the one for sacramental initiation ». The future of youth education and even of the Christian communities depends on it.

This new step forward can be taken up with confidence. Many parents are still preoccupied by their children's religious education. This was clearly apparent in several surveys. Many of these parents will no doubt accept to make the change and will even collaborate actively to its success. The clergy and the pastoral assistants will have a great role to play in helping the parents to face their new responsibilities. Already some years ago, the decision that the preparation to the sacraments be assumed by the Church rather than in the school was a sign of forthcoming problems. However, it was done and for the most part with undeniable success, which is very encouraging and promising for the future. « The teaching of catechesis is the responsibility of the entire Christian community ». Pope Jean Paul II himself insists : « The teaching of catechesis has always been and remains a responsibility for which the entire Church must feel accountable and wants to be accountable ». We are invited to start this process with faith and hope, conscious that the Holy Spirit will not abandon us. He shows us the way and we follow. Together, we will face the challenge of being the true leaders for presenting Jesus Christ to the young.

† Pierre Morissette
President
Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec