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Teaching of the Roman Catholic religion in public schools

Lay and Protestants ask respect for the established rules on religion in the public schools.
To respect the free choice of those who do not wish to partake of the teaching of the Roman Catholic religion (IRC) offered in the public school system, to permit those who ask to attend an alternative class as established by law: this is what the Committee School of the Republic and the Forum of Democratic Parents ask in a press release sent to school administrators. This communiqué was supported by the "Association 31 October, for a lay and pluralistic school", promoted by Italian Protestants and by the Committee of Italian Protestant Teachers (CIEI) as well. "The alternative class to the IRC is not being organized in the schools in ever increasing cases in the name of financial economy, a practice which will end up with creating a serious discrimination against religious minorities", explained Nicola Pantaleo, President of "31 October". In the communiqué it was recalled that "both the new Concordat (1984) as well as the applied laws promulgated following this treaty between the Vatican and the Italian State, and the declarations of the Constitutional and Administrative Justice Court and even in directives of the Ministry of Public Education, require to respect the fact that the IRC be entirely the free choice of each student, and contextually, to see to it that the equal rights of those who do not choose the IRC have the possibility for an educational activity with its own teacher, or to have assisted or individual study time, or even have the possibility to be absent from school during that hour.

Since we are dealing with rights, it is the duty of the scholastic administration to assure the implementation of this program. Those who do not choose the IRC cannot simply be transferred from one class to another, or be forced to remain in class during the IRC as ‘auditors’, or be invited to go out of the school during that hour so as not to create problems. Every alternative solution must be agreed upon by the students and/or their parents".
Meanwhile, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) and "31 October", together with other associations, have signed a defensive appeal to the Italian Council of the State after the act of impugnment of the Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini of the sentence of the Court of Appeals of the Region of Lazio (TAR) which decreed that scholastic credits for the IRC was not legitimate.
Following the sentence of the TAR and the counter move of the Minister of Education, Cardinal Angelo Bognasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) spoke of the IRC as a "public service" given in the schools, stating further that "the knowledge of doctrine, of Christianity and of Roman Catholicism, that are our history, is not a question of catechism but of culture. The IRC is foreseen by the Concordat and must be present in the whole framework of the aims of the schools".

Commenting on these statements, Domenico Maselli, President of the FCEI, stated: "Let's not forget that the IRC in Italy is optional. The statements of Card. Bagnasco have at least the merit of clarity, cleaning the scene of a lot of confusion. In fact we are talking of a teaching of the Roman Catholic religion according to the ecclesiastical teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. However, by a careful reading of the words of the Cardinal, it seems that he is referring to the Concordat of 1929, when that teaching was considered the "foundation and completion of public instruction". In reality the new Concordat foresees the option of the student to choose or not to choose the IRC: it is made optional. The followers of other Christian denominations or other religions, or those of no religion, are now hundreds of thousands and a democratic and lay State cannot discriminate among its citizens. That would be a contradiction to the freedom of religion that even the Vatican proclaims, at least in words".

The annual Assembly of the Association "31 October" held in Genoa on the theme "Religion, pluralism, integration in a multi-cultural school" concentrated its attention on the teaching of the IRC in the public schools as the main obstacle in terms of citizenship and the maintenance of the lay character of the State, of integration of foreign students in today's pluralistic society. "Unfortunately the school, in the face of a society increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious, tends to fortify itself on positions of conservation, limiting democratic participation, and relinquishing in this way its prerogative to favor integration", observed Nicola Pantaleo. "The alternative hour to that of the IRC is avoided in the overwhelming majority of the schools. The idea now is that of focalizing our attention on the potentialities of an hour of teaching that, on an equal basis with the IRC, offers the possibility of scholastic credits", continued Pantaleo. The Assembly, in a motion, pointed the finger against the legal action taken by the Minister of Public Education "that overturns administratively the decision of the regional judges and announces an appeal to the Council of State, that denies the necessary lay character of the school institutions".

Serious concern was registered also about the recent "declaration of the Congregation for Catholic Instruction", where it is held that the IRC should have the same status as that of other disciplines and, refusing any prospective of a multi-confessional character, insists on putting the Roman Catholic culture at the center as the only holder of a knowledge of religion that should instead be the object of non-confessional analysis.

From press release NEV - Notizie evangeliche, 30 September 2009

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