https://pixabay.com/photos/teacher-learning-school-teaching-4784916/The religious identity of students enrolled in Catholic schools is increasingly diverse. In most classrooms today, it is common to find students who identify themselves as Catholic, those who practice other religions, and some who are not religious. It goes without saying that a Catholic school would want all of its students, regardless of their religious orientation, to feel included in the school community. However, this goal must be achieved in a way that does not compromise the school’s ability to fulfill its distinct mission of educating, evangelizing, and catechizing its students. What, then, is the best approach for welcoming members of the school community who are not Catholic, while simultaneously catechizing those who are receptive to the faith?
Some schools, in an effort to welcome non-Catholic students, choose to “neutralize” the Catholic aspects of their school. They downplay the school’s Catholicity by reducing its visible signs on their website (e.g., removing overt references to its history). They also remove statues, crucifixes, and other religious art from public spaces and relocate them to private ones. Because requiring Catholic theology classes might appear to proselytize non-Catholic students, these schools adjust their curricula to be more flexible and open to individual differences. Participation in courses that address Catholic doctrine is made optional, or they adopt a “religious studies” approach that presents Catholicism within the broader context of world religions. In these schools the number of shared, faith-based events (e.g., Mass, Confession, and retreats) may be reduced or also made optional.
Admittedly, these efforts are likely to minimize the discomfort a non-Catholic might feel from certain aspects of a Catholic school experience. It makes sense that such actions would reduce the times when a student might confront concepts she does not understand, be invited to consider traditions that are different than her own, and be required to attend rituals in which she is unable to fully participate. Although the intentions behind these “neutralizing” actions might be considered good, their effect is not neutral and can be harmful.