The Congregation for Catholic Education
By Gabriella Ceraso – Vatican City
Tens of millions of children in the world are experiencing an “educational catastrophe”. They are excluded from the scholastic community. The Global Compact on Education proposed by the Pope seeks to contribute to heal this profound wound. About thirty people are working toward this behind the scenes, following, directing, supervising and promoting scholastic and academic formation in Catholic institutions throughout the world. Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi tells us about the mission of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
Education is one of the central themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In October 2020, he relaunched the proposal of a Global Compact directed to all the educational entities in society responsible for the future of the younger generations. In what way has the Dicastery been involved in sustaining and implementing the campaign the Pope inspired?
From the beginning of his pontificate, following his previous pastoral style, Pope Francis has insisted on the necessity of investing everyone’s talents, above all those of the younger generations, to foster a new universal solidarity and a more welcoming society. With the launch of the Global Compact on Education, he renewed the invitation to forge an alliance toward a global convergence of education that knows how to unite every people, with all their components, so as to discover solutions to the problems created due to the ongoing epochal transformation, to initiate processes of transformation without fear and to look to the future with hope. This invitation was directed to everyone: teachers, students, parents, society; every field and discipline; the various intellectual, scientific, artistic, athletic, political, economic, entrepreneurial expressions, in support of young people.
Entrusted with the task of accompanying the implementation of this project, the Congregation for Catholic Education, in addition to promoting a series of conventions and events to develop the various components of the educational pact (undertaken immediately after the Holy Father’s first message of 12 September 2019), began to follow and gather the most significant experiences in place in Catholic schools and universities and in many other educational institutions in many countries throughout the world. Given the proliferation of initiatives and perspectives which will be constantly evolving in the next years, a Committee was created with the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum educationis, LUMSA University (Rome) and the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan). This allowed the preparation of a vademecum for educators and a volume containing guidelines for universities. While the former, the objectives of the Global Compact indicated by the Pope are developed, the guidelines expand on five thematic areas in which the Compact can be applied to develop academic, scientific and cultural initiatives: human dignity and rights; fraternity and cooperation; technology and integral ecology; peace and citizenship; culture and religion.
Keeping in mind that the proposal of an educational compact aims at finding a global convergence in a “common home” for the Earth’s inhabitants, and an alliance that generates peace, justice, acceptance between all peoples and dialogue among religions, the Dicastery’s work is carried out in fruitful and productive collaboration with other entities in the Holy See.
What types of formative institutions fall under the Congregation’s competence and what tasks are assigned to it at the level of organizating, directing and promoting their activity?
The Congregation has the task of deepening, developing and promoting the fundamental principles of Catholic education, as proposed by the Magisterium of the Church, both regarding the People of God, as well as society at large. In this sense, it is committed to ensuring that the faithful can fulfill their obligations in this area, and that society at large might also recognize and protect their rights. In that context, constructive dialogue undertaken with national institutions and international organisms is significant.
In particular, the Congregation establishes guidelines for Catholic schools, many of which were founded by and are managed by religious Congregations. It assists Diocesan Bishops in their role of supervision over the quality of service these schools provide, the training of formators, religious education and the pastoral care of students. In addition to schools, the Dicastery follows Catholic universities and assists the Bishops in the formulation of norms for the application of the Constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae so that they might accompany these academic institutions in developing the various disciplines while taking into account Christian inspiration, and in promoting various forms of pastoral care at the university level.
Another specific task entrusted to the Congregation concerns Universities and Institutes of ecclesiastical studies. Implementing the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium (approved by Pope Francis on 8 December 2017), the Dicastery ratifies the statutes of these types of institutions, maintains a high level of direction regarding them to ensure the quality of the doctrinal teaching offered and to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic Faith. There are approximately 217 thousand Catholic schools in the world, with over 60 million students. Catholic Universities number 1,360; there are 487 Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties, including Institutes affiliated or connected with them. Students attending these institutions for higher education number about 11 million.
How many people are on staff at the Dicastery and how is their work organized? What are the areas of the Dicastery’s mission that absorb the majority of its budget?
Twenty-nine people who come from twelve different countries work in the Dicastery. They are distributed between the Office for Schools, Office for Universities, the Department for International Organisms and various other services: treasurer, protocol, archives, library, IT, porters. The largest expense is the payroll, then IT services which have recently become absolutely essential so as to accompany the work of the educational institutions throughout the world. We have publishing expenses (the Dicastery’s journal and various documents), as well as the consultation costs stemming from work entrusted to a group of consultants. Part of our budget goes toward the organization of particular events – conventions, study seminars or congresses organized for a variety of circumstances – which are subsidized in part by third parties. For the past six years, the Congregation has housed the Papal Foundation Gravissimum educationis, established by Pope Francis to support the area of research and new projects in the field of education. There are four people who work there.
The Holy See ensures a “diplomatic” presence in the cultural and academic fields at the international level through the Dicastery and the agreements and initiatives it has adhered to at various levels. What principles inspire this aspect and what are the most significant results?
Besides collaborating with numerous international scholastic, university, parent and alumni associations, the Dicastery, in close collaboration with the Secretariat of State, is in contact with international organizations such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union. Constant relations are maintained with these organizations through the Holy See’s Observers from whom the Congregation receives information regarding the strategies developed, topics of study and events being promoted. On some particular occasions, in addition to the internal work of the officials who follow these activities, we choose qualified experts to send to meetings who represent the Church’s position and who learn about the orientations that might have an obvious impact on the work of Catholic educational institutions as they are developed.
After adhering to the Bologna Process, the AVEPRO Agency was established in 2007. What role does it fulfill in promoting a culture of quality within academic institutions? What are the tasks of the International Center for Recognition, instead?
In September 2003, in one of the periodic meetings of the Ministers of Universities of the countries already participating in the Bologna Process, the Holy See also gave its adhesion and was welcomed into this important collaborative process launched initially at the European level and now present in other continents. Its goal is to facilitate the international movement of teachers and students of higher learning. A series of criteria has been adopted to facilitate the recognition of studies among the countries who have adhered to the Process. In terms of ecclesiastical institutions, it represented an important step that, under the Dicastery’s leadership, led them to re-evaluate various aspects of academic life, especially the quality of education.
One of the objectives inherent to the Bologna Process has been the commitment to create an agency monitoring the quality of education in every member country. In the Holy See as well, Pope Benedict XVI created such an Agency, called AVEPRO (Agency of the Holy See for the Evaluation and the Promotion of Quality in Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties), to emphasize not only its task of evaluation, but primarily that of helping to promote the development and the quality of ecclesiastic studies. As has happened in all other countries, so also in every institution of higher studies, the Church has undertaken the creation of an internal auditing system that would monitor the consistency and effectiveness of academic life. Every five years, AVEPRO, an organism independent of the Dicastery, undertakes an external evaluation of every institution, and produces a final report.
As far as the International Center for Recognition is concerned, all the countries who adhere to one of the UNESCO Conventions in this area are required to have a particular office to promote recognition and awareness of the national educational systems. This includes a database of all the educational institutions of higher learning that have been recognized. Having signed four regional Conventions, and having committed itself to promote the recently adopted UNESCO’s Global Convention, the Holy See created the International Center for Recognition (ICR) within the Congregation for Catholic Education. Its competence embraces the world, and it has the right to make binding decisions and to manage the database of all the educational institutions of higher education founded or approved by the Holy See. This database is accessible online.
The pandemic has profoundly affected the learning experience on a global level, penalizing networks of personal relationships and impoverishing resources and sources of support that educational institutions relied on. How will this situation influence the formation of the young generation? What has the Congregation suggested and prioritized in this area?
The pandemic accelerated and amplified many of the emergencies that were already present and revealed many others. This includes the field of education. We are facing a sort of “educational catastrophe” due to the fact that about ten million children were forced to leave school. This is in addition to the 250 million school-age children who are excluded from any educational activity. Computer-based education was rapidly put in place to respond to this emergency. But the marked disparity of access to technology, together with other deficiencies, made the educational divide more obvious everywhere.
The Congregation suggests two things regarding this situation, which will not be resolved quickly: on the one hand, the emergency needs to be dealt with as soon as possible with technological tools and teacher updating so the effort can be made in the direction of educational accompaniment to heal the new marginalities that have been created. On the other hand, efforts need to be made to produce a new cultural model to change the current model of development and to adopt pedagogical paradigms capable of safeguarding the dignity of the human person, of promoting adequate socialization processes within the perspective of universal fraternity, and to promote a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge to form the younger generations as protagonists of the common good.
Note to the reader: with the publication of the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, the Congregation for Catholic Education became the Dicastery for Culture and Education.