Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 60 – January 2009

Non-Catholic Pupils in Catholic Schools

The Catholic Education Service of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has published (October 2008) a new document "Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion: Cherishing Education for Human Growth". The introduction to this publication by Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and Chairman of the Department of Catholic Education and Formation gives weight and direction to the document which sets out new rules, guidelines and suggestions mostly for schools that have non-Catholic staff or students on their rolls. Even if the document might raise some people's eyebrows, in fact it does nothing but spell out the practical conclusions derived from the way the post Vatican II Church regards relations with people of other religions.

Non-Catholic children in other countries, like the Indian subcontinent, have for years enjoyed the benefit of education in Catholic schools. Indian graduates who settled in the UK have often wondered why they could not send their children to Catholic schools in the UK as they did in Mumbai, Calcutta or Delhi. Rabindranath Tagore, Abdul Kalam, ex-President of India, Jyoti Basu ex-Chief Minister of West Bengal and many other outstanding national figures in Indian public life are the products of Catholic education. About 15 million students pass through Christian institutions every year. The answer to this difference between policies in the UK and India is quite clear. The history of Catholic education in India is quite different from that in the UK. Schools in India and the UK were generally set up for different purposes. But strategies and policies are not set in stone. The Catholic Church in the UK is now formalising its policies on this question to fit not only the official teaching of the Catholic Church but also to endorse already existing good practice and to encourage those who may have so far been waiting to get the lead from the hierarchy.

A focal concept of this short document is "Ecology". "An all-round education seeks to develop every aspect of the individual, social, intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual. For there is an ecology of human growth which means that if any one of these elements is overlooked all the others suffer." Taking the cue from the Church Document "Dialogue and Proclamation" three areas of human growth are spelled out: the ecology of daily living, that of action and that of Faith and religious Experience, each of these three areas being rooted respectively in the well known passage in Scripture (Micah 6:8) Loving Tenderly, Acting Justly and Walking Humbly.

This document will have achieved its aim if its bold suggestions, like having a separate worship space for persons of other faiths, are introduced where prudently appropriate. It is a challenge to people who find it hard to appreciate that the religious landscape of the UK has changed. This document also shows people in public life as well as those critical of Faith schools that Catholics are actively involved in efforts at promoting community cohesion.

Apart from the not uncommon misspelling of the word Gandhi (p.11), the document is elegantly produced and reasonably priced at £5 plus £2.50 p&p available from C.E.S. 39 Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1BX. Email: general@cesew.org.uk

Alfred Agius

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