Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education

Says Quebec's Religious Culture Program Violates Parents' Rights

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By Kris Dmytrenko

ROME, FEB. 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The new religious diversity curriculum introduced in the Quebec school system is a violation of parents' rights and borders on being "anti-Catholic," according to the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski discussed the Canadian province's "Ethics and Religious Culture" program with ZENIT on Monday, after a conference held at Rome's Pontifical Antonianum University on "State Financing of Catholic Schools," hosted by the Acton Institute.

In September 2008, the Quebec Ministry of Education introduced the new curriculum into all public and private schools in the province. The mandatory courses replaced the "Catholic Religious and Moral Instruction," "Protestant Moral and Religious Education" and "Moral Education" programs, between which parents could choose for their children.

In the new program, students are taught a diversity of world religions and secular ethics.

"Talking about all religions violates the right of parents to educate their own children according to their own religion," explained the Polish cardinal, echoing the protests of some parents in the province who say the textbooks are not ideologically neutral.

"Talking in the same way about all religions," Cardinal Grocholewski continued, "is almost like an anti-Catholic education, because this creates a certain relativism." He concluded that this approach to instruction could ultimately be anti-religious, since youth are left with the impression that each faith is a fictional narrative.

The Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops have been measured in their criticism of the "Ethics and Religious Culture" program, recognizing in a March 2008 statement that the curriculum would "promote the development of a better mutual understanding between those who have different religious or secular beliefs." The bishops also applauded the course for highlighting the distinct role played by Catholicism in the French Canadian province's history.

However, the bishops reaffirmed their preference for parental choice and described their stance as "critical and vigilant." The bishops further worried that teaching religion from a purely socio-cultural view could lead to a restrictive understanding of religious experience.

Some Canadian clerics, such as Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, maintain that parents should be able to exempt their children from the program for reasons of conscience. Presently, the provincial government has permitted no such allowances for concerned parents. Students who consistently miss "Ethics and Religious Culture" classes could face suspension.