I am proud of Catholic schools
Fr Adam Lach talks to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
Fr Adam Lach: - What is your evaluation of Catholic education in the world, from your perspective as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education?
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski: - I am proud of Catholic education. Our congregation deals with Catholic schools and universities. There are over 200,000 Catholic schools in the world, with about 45 million pupils. Catholic schools are almost in every country and what is worth admiring is that everywhere people have great in them. Let me refer to Thailand as an example. Catholics constitute only 0.5% of its population, which is 300,000 people. But 465,000 pupils go to Catholic schools there! The situation in other countries is similar, for example in the Republic of Congo 60% of all schools is Catholic and in Taiwan, where the number of Catholics is only 1.3% of the population, the president thanked us for the perfectly functioning Catholic schools.
- What does the situation in Europe look like?
- Catholic schools enjoy great recognition in liberal countries, too, e.g. in Belgium. We know that the Catholic Church is rather weak but almost 60% of all children attend Catholic schools. Sometimes we grumble that these schools are good as far as the level of education is concerned but they are relatively weak as far as their Catholic identity is concerned. Naturally, we would prefer that these Belgium schools exert more influence on faith and evolvement of Catholic pupils. Parents many a time demand that. Of course, by sending their children to Catholic schools they have the right to expect that they will get solid religious formation.
- Are there Catholic schools in the countries with the dominant Orthodox Church?
- Yes, there are. Recently I have been to Romania at the invitation of the local Ministry of Education. In Romania Catholics constitute less than 7% of the population and Orthodox Christians are over 80%. And what is interesting, there are more Catholic schools than Orthodox ones. Last year, 20 out of 28 private gymnasiums were Catholic. During our conversation the Ministry of Education even expressed his interest in opening a Catholic university.
- Talking about Catholic universities: how do they function?
- One must differentiate between ecclesiastical and Catholic universities. The former teach theology, Christian philosophy, Church history, canon law, i.e. all subjects related to the mission of the Church. The basic legislative document is the Apostolic Constitution 'Sapientia Christiana' by John Paul II. The latter have all faculties, e.g. medicine, natural sciences, diplomacy, etc. Their norm is the Apostolic Constitution 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae' (1990) by John Paul II. Currently, we can observe big dynamism in the development of Catholic universities. It is worth knowing that during the pontificate of John Paul II over 250 new universities were opened. These institutions are also in the countries where Catholics are in minority. In the above mentioned Taiwan, a small island with 1.3% Catholic population, there are three Catholic universities. When I went there I was astonished by the kindness of the government: during a solemn scientific session the local Minister of Education, a non-Christian, expressed his admiration for the ideals of Catholic universities and asked our universities to develop their activities. In turn, before my journey to Taiwan the Taiwan Ambassador to the Apostolic See, also a non-Catholic, insisted that I should remind Taiwan's President of his promise to grant more means for a new medical faculty at the Catholic university. I am glad that Catholic universities are also founded in post-communist countries, e.g. in Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia or Slovenia. The authorities of Albania expressed their request to open a Catholic university there. It is worth stressing that people, often non-Christians, see a great objective value in our education although the level of education at our universities is not obviously the same. There are very good universities and there are weaker ones.
- Does the University of Louvain belong to the second category (because of researches concerning in vitro conception at the University of Louvain the Congregation can forbid them to use the term 'Catholic')?
- The University of Louvain is good, known worldwide and prestigious, although there are actually some problems with the Faculty of Medicine. However, I hope that we can reach an agreement and cure the Catholic identity of the university. Naturally, it has happened that some universities were deprived of the title 'Catholic' or 'ecclesiastical' and the Church stopped recognising their diplomas. But these were exceptions. Such cases occur when educational institutions break the rules set in 'Sapientia Christiana' and 'Ex Corde Ecclesia'. I hope this will not be the case of Louvain. Anyway, from the international perspective the condition of Catholic universities, and in general Catholic education, makes me an optimist. We can see much good at our educational institutions and what is important is that other people can see this good.
- Does the Congregation you manage take part in international projects concerning science?
- Yes, it does. Through our Congregation the Apostolic See joined the Bologna Process, the task of which is to standardize the system of studies in Europe. We participate in all discussions and symposia at ministerial level as well as in working groups at lower levels. The symposium within the framework of the Bologna Process that we organised in the Vatican last year aroused much interest in various scientific circles. It was the biggest symposium within the framework of the Bologna Process. Furthermore, its participants included the most serious authorities in the field of higher education in Europe, including representatives of UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union. Besides Catholics the speakers and participants practiced other religions. After the symposium the head of the Jewish Academy in Paris thanked me that, as he put it, 'at last people spoke about values and not only academic credits.' A certain Muslim female professor who wanted to have a picture with me said, 'This symposium is really God's gift for me. I will never forget it'. Thus Catholic higher education is not closed in its own circle but becomes a real interlocutor in the contemporary world. I have the impression that today in the scientific circles the teaching of the Church enjoys more interest than several years ago. I could give numerous examples. It happens that non-Catholic universities discuss Catholic issues. When I was in Colombia two years ago I took part in opening a university chair for social teaching of John Paul II at one of the universities in Bogotá.
- And what educational problems can you see in the contemporary world?
- I think that one problem is the way of education. Today it often happens that universities want to produce 'robots' designed to concrete tasks. This is some impoverishment of man who is still limited in spite of having academic degree. Our vision is an integral formation of the whole person. First, one must educate an intelligent and critically thinking human being, sensitive to values and then he or she will become a professional. Other difficulties are overuse of modern methods of distant learning, e.g. through the Internet. The lack of contacts between a professor and a student makes it impossible to be influenced by teacher's personality, example, etc. We should care for certain formation of man. The achievements of science and technology can be used for good or for evil purposes. In fact, they were used in increasingly cruel wars, terrorism, injustice, etc. One should educate people who are responsible for their actions and who will want and be able to use their knowledge and achievements only for the good of humanity.
- We are talking just after the promulgation of the Holy Father's motu proprio 'Summorum Pontificum', which removed the limitations to celebrate Mass in the pre-councilar rite. Do you think that there will be changes in the teaching of liturgics in major seminaries so that young priests learn the liturgy that was obligatory before the Second Vatican Council?
-I think that this fact should be taken into account in seminaries and theological studies although it is not any revolution at all. The Trent Mass was celebrated for 400 years in the entire Church and it sanctified people. The form of Mass has changed throughout centuries but the fundamental principles are the same. The root is the mystery of the Eucharist. Nothing has changed in this aspect. First of all, we should make people understand and properly experience the Eucharist, which is the most precious treasure of the Church.
- Seminaries are under the authority of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Some seminaries experience certain difficulties and the media reported about them. Do you plan to conduct special visitations of these institutions?
- The Congregation conducts systematic visitations of seminaries. We have just ended visitations of seminaries in the USA and Italy. There is the standing bishops' commission on seminaries in Italy and it collaborates with our Congregation and sends us their reports. And in turn our Congregation sends its comments to the local bishops who are responsible for particular seminaries. We realise that during a visitation one cannot see everything. Those who conduct visitations stay in seminaries for only several days, they ask questions and give their comments. One should remember it is the diocesan bishop that is able to get to know his seminary best. If he is interested in his seminary, talks to students and superiors he is able to see the situation much better than any visitation officer. Therefore, we analyse our work in this respect very humbly but during the ad limina visits and on other occasions we try to make bishops aware of the significance of diocesan seminaries, of the proper selection and formation of academic staff and of the necessity to have systematic personal contacts. For the Church seminaries are the most important formational units.