Vatican’s Global Education Pact and Christian education

by Maria Madise

Last week in Rome, Pope Francis hosted three events which seemed to have a shared significance: on 5 October, a meeting with world religious leaders on “Religions and Education: towards a Global Compact on Education”, an ecumenical encounter to enhance religious and cultural dialogue at the Colosseum on 7 October, and the opening of the synod of bishops on “synodality” on 10 October.

Looking at these in reverse order, the two-year synod presents a “listening” and “learning church” — an inversion of the perennial idea of the teaching Church, the Mother of the Word Himself who speaks to mankind from all eternity. A listening and learning church would inevitably have to conceal, or worse still, deny that she has the salvific truth. And given that the truth the Church possesses is Truth Incarnate, Jesus Christ, the apparent abdication of her speaking and teaching authority would leave her children helpless in the world of doctrinal and moral chaos.

The same abdication of the Church’s teaching authority seemed to characterise the 7 October event. It was the 450th anniversary of Lepanto, the battle where Christianity triumphed over the Ottomans and the light of faith conquered the power of darkness. A glorious High Mass to commemorate the victory was celebrated at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in front of the tomb of St Pius V. But in chilling contrast, at the same time in the Colosseum the Pope together with other world religious leaders celebrated universal brotherhood and the protection of the environment.

And finally, while the first of the three events may have received the least attention its aims are no less ambitious than the other two. On 5 October, representatives of the world’s religions met with Pope Francis to discuss their collaboration in the Global Compact on Education. The Pope used this occasion to restate his commitment to the initiative “renewing our passion for a more open and inclusive education, including patient listening, constructive dialogue and better mutual understanding”.

The “Global Compact on Education” was originally scheduled for May 2020, when representatives of various world religions, international organisations, humanitarian institutions, prominent figures from the academic, economic and political world, as well as popular culture, were to gather in the Vatican to sign the manifesto of the “Global Compact on Education”. In launching this Pope Francis called on everyone “to create a global change of mentality through education”and to forge a “new humanism”. 

From the beginning of this initiative, it was clear that it would represent a radical break with the Church’s understanding of education exemplified by Pius XI’s 1929 encyclical Divini illius magistri on Christian education. There was no indication that the Compact would be concerned with teaching children to know, love and serve God in this world so they could be with Him forever in the next. Instead, it sought to utilise children as agents of global change.

The large gathering in Rome never took place due to the outbreak of the pandemic shortly before the event. Nevertheless, the initiative continues and Pope Francis publicly renewed his commitment to it last week.

One of the partners of the Global Compact on Education also represented at the meeting was UNESCO, a United Nations agency with a long track record in promoting birth control and anti-life, anti-family sex education. In January 2018, despite the objections of UN member states, UNESCO published technical guidance on “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” that aims to promote a global standard for governments, educators, and sexual and reproductive health advocates.[1] Stefano Gennarini of C-Fam pointed out that the guidelines recommend helping children as young as five to identify “trusted adults” other than their parents to “help them understand themselves, their feelings and their bodies”. It proposes teaching children from the age of five that gender is a social construct and, from the age of nine to “appreciate their own gender identity and demonstrate respect for the gender identity of others”. These objectives also include telling children about various types of “non-traditional families” and places a heavy emphasis on LGBTI “rights”.[2]

In September 2019, during an inflight press conference on his return from an apostolic visit to Africa, Pope Francis said that it is our “duty” to “obey international institutions”, such as the UN and the European Union.[3] He has also promoted school-based sex education. During a flight to Rome from Panama, January 2019, he told reporters that bishops did not know what to do about the clerical sex abuse scandal. He said: “We felt the responsibility to give […] catechesis on this problem to the bishops’ conferences” and went on to say: “I believe that we must provide sex education in schools”.[4]

UNESCO has made very clear what it believes: graphic sexuality education as a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools.

In Divini illius magistri, Pope Pius XI, on the other hand, speaks forcefully about the dangers of naturalist education stripped of the truth of the gospel. Those who claim to liberate children, he argues, would really make them slaves to sin. In particular, he warns us of the threat such education poses to innocence and holy purity saying:

“Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education, falsely imagining they can forearm youths against the dangers of sensuality by means purely natural, such as a foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public; and, worse still, by exposing them at an early age to the occasions, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers. 

“Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognise the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the Apostle speaks, fighting against the law of the mind; and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace.” (no. 65-66)

One of the most perplexing aspects of the Global Compact on Education is the ambiguous concept of “new humanism”. Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, when asked about it back in 2020, explained it with the idea of creation which belongs to the three monotheistic religions and, therefore “is the very important root”. “It’s the centrality of the person,” he said. “God creates but then withdraws. He leaves man, saying, ‘Go!’”[5]

The idea of a “new humanism” seems to be designed to provide a theoretical platform on which the socio-ecological vision of education can be presented to people of all faiths and none. It deforms the sacred duty of Christian parents and educators of raising citizens for Heaven by adopting an entirely naturalistic, anthropocentric approach, which is non-dogmatic and, therefore, is not Catholic. 

Again, Pope Pius XI instructs the faithful to “make no mistake in education, as it is to make no mistake in the pursuit of the last end, with which the whole work of education is intimately and necessarily connected”. 

 “In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life’, there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education.” (no. 7)

The pontificate of Pope Francis is characterised by repeated and dramatic departures from the teaching of the popes who have gone before him. His ideas on education are no exception to this pattern. The desire of the globalist powers within the UN to gain access to the more than 60 million children in the 216,000 Catholic schools and around 1,750 universities with over 11 million students worldwide is easy to understand. An education system devoid of a Christian ethos has always been the preferred means of spreading secular political ideologies. For them, all education is political. Throughout history, the Church has steadfastly resisted their attempts to win her over. But with Pope Francis’s global education initiative she now seems poised to trade true knowledge of the living God for the empty promise of dialogue and fraternity with the world.

Any meaningful education ought to prepare a person “whole and entire, soul united to body in unity of nature, with all his faculties natural and supernatural, such as right reason and revelation show him to be”[6] to live a fruitful and purposeful life directed towards serving God and neighbour, with the ultimate goal of eternal life in Heaven.

The question asked by many Catholic families today is this: how are children to be educated in a society where hedonism and the blatant disregard of Christian standards have become the norm; where fewer and fewer grow up in intact families, where birth rates have fallen below replacement, where substance abuse and school violence continually rise and every area of modern life has been sexualised? And for those asking that question in a world where Christian parenthood is marked by a daily struggle to safeguard their children from the poison that has engulfed so large a portion of the world, the Vatican’s pact with those responsible for this disastrous state of affairs represents a betrayal on a global scale.

Catholic fathers and mothers, therefore, may feel completely abandoned, left to cope alone with the increasingly arduous task of raising their children in the faith. And yet, now more than ever, we must renew our commitment to the mission of knowing, loving and spreading the truths of our faith. We, the laity, are not the teaching Church but the Church has the teaching which we must help to spread.

To assist Catholic parents in their tremendous task, Voice of the Family has produced an entire video catechism course graciously recommended by His Eminence Cardinal Burke and based on the classic Baltimore Catechism. Named after Our Lady of the Rosary, this programme was launched exactly a year ago today, on the anniversary of the great miracle of Fatima. In its first year, nearly 10,000 families and individuals followed the course. The easily accessible lessons are presented by Fr Anthony Pillari JCL, MCL, STL with the aim that all children commit the Catechism to memory, as generations of Catholics who really wished to know and love our Faith used to do. In taking up this delightful challenge, we are invited to join the mission proclaimed by Our Lady at Fatima: to work for the salvation of souls by striving for holiness in our daily lives. 

Click here to watch the trailer of Our Lady of the Rosary Family Catechism.

We must never, never forget, that no matter how dark the times may seem, we have a treasure far beyond anything the world can offer – our Catholic Faith!

[1] International technical guidance on sexuality education, UNESCO, 2018, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000260770/PDF/260770eng.pdf.multi

[2] Stefano Gennarini, “UN Agency Defies General Assembly, Promotes ‘Comprehensive Sexuality Education’”, Center for Family and Human Rights, 19 January, 2018, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/un-agency-defies-general-assembly-promotes-comprehensive-sexuality-education-part-1/

[3] Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference: full text, Vatican News, 10 September 2019; https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-09/pope-francis-inflight-press-conference-full-text.html

[4] Diane Montagna, “Pope Francis: ‘We must provide sex education in schools’”, LifeSiteNews, 28 January 2019, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-francis-we-must-provide-sex-education-in-schools

[5] Diane Montagna, “Vatican Abp organizing Global Education Pact touts pope’s ‘new humanism’ where God ‘withdraws’”, LifeSiteNews, 25 February 2020, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archbishop-organizing-vatican-education-pact-touts-popes-new-humanism

[6] Pius XI, Divini illius magistri, no. 58, 1929; https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_31121929_divini-illius-magistri.html