This was affirmed in a circular letter on "Religious Education in Schools" sent from the Congregation for Catholic Education to the presidents of the bishops' conferences.
The letter, signed by the congregation's prefect, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, and its secretary, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, underlined the necessity of providing a "clarification and instruction about the role of schools in the Catholic formation of young people, about the nature and identity of the Catholic school, about religious education in schools, and about the freedom of choice of school and confessional religious education."
Due to the complexity of the educative task faced to today's culture, the letter stated, there is a risk that we will lose "what is essential, that is, the formation of the human person in its totality, particularly as regards the religious and spiritual dimension."
Education is a team effort, it acknowledged, but parents are the ones who are primarily responsible for training their children.
This parental responsibility also encompasses the "right to choose the school that guarantees an education in accordance with one's own religious and moral principles," the congregation explained.
The Catholic school, it continued, "is truly an ecclesial subject because of its teaching activity, in which faith, culture, and life unite in harmony."
The letter affirmed, "Catholic schools are characterized by the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy, which guarantees that the instruction and education be grounded in the principles of the Catholic faith and imparted by teachers of right doctrine and probity of life."
The schools should be "permeated by the evangelical spirit of freedom and charity, which fosters the harmonious development of each one's personality."
"In this setting," the letter added, "human culture as a whole is harmonized with the message of salvation, so that the pupils gradually acquire a knowledge of the world, life and humanity that is be enlightened by the Gospel."
The congregation emphasized the need for collaboration between the family and the educational institution, as an exercise of the principle of subsidiarity.
It underlined religious education as an "inalienable characteristic" of the Catholic school's educational goal.
The letter explained: "Religious education is different from, and complementary to, catechesis, as it is school education that does not require the assent of faith, but conveys knowledge on the identity of Christianity and Christian life.
"Moreover, it enriches the Church and humanity with areas for growth, of both culture and humanity."
The letter acknowledged that in many places, "now as in earlier periods, religious freedom is not fully in force, both in law and in practice."
The congregation denounced this injustice, and called on Catholics to "commit themselves so that those rights may become effective."
It stressed the Church's commitment to offer "to each generation the revelation of God from which it can learn the ultimate truth about life and the end of history."
"This is not an easy task in a secularized world, characterized by the fragmentation of knowledge and moral confusion," the congregation acknowledged.
It affirmed, however, that education founded on truth and at the service of the person can be a "powerful instrument of hope."
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On ZENIT's Web page:
Full text: http://zenit.org/article-26802?l=english