Goodbye, Catholic teaching. The worldwide network of schools that the pope is fostering and promoting with great fervor has a completely secularized educational paradigm. Instead of saints, the stars of sports and entertainment
by Sandro Magister
ROME, June 3, 2016 – More than a dozen public meetings in less than three years, almost always with a steady stream of stars from sports and entertainment. There is no other creature of his for which Francis shows greater affection: the last time was Sunday, May 29, with the pope’s guests being none less than George Clooney and Richard Gere.
This beloved creature of his is called Scholas Occurrentes, schools for encounter. And it came to light in Buenos Aires when he was archbishop there.
This is how the pope described its birth, in one of the video conferences with which he loves to address students of the Scholas all over the world from the Vatican, on September 4, 2014, with the two founders by his side:
“Scholas was born… I was about to say by accident, but no, it was not by accident. It was born from an idea of this gentleman here, José María del Corral, assisted by Enrique Palmeyro. It was born by forming a network of ‘escuelas de vecinos,’ neighborhood schools, to build bridges among the schools of Buenos Aires. And it has built many bridges, and now even transoceanic bridges. It began as a small thing, as a dream, as something that we didn’t know if it would succeed, and today we can communicate among ourselves. Why? Because we are convinced that young people need to communicate with each other, they need to show their values and share their values. Young people today need three fundamental pillars: instruction, sports, and culture.”
Today there are more than 400,000 Scholas Occurrentes, in about eighty countries on five continents. And since August 15, 2015 they have been a “pious foundation” of pontifical right, established as such by a chirograph of Pope Francis:
The chirograph recognizes their aims as “congruent with the mission of the Church.”
But if one explores the official website of the Scholas, with the programs, objectives, activities, one can find nothing, absolutely nothing that is specifically Christian, much less Catholic:
In this, with the evident agreement of the pope. Because even in scanning the now numerous talks that Francis has given to the Scholas, the silence over the Christian God, over Jesus and the Gospel is almost sepulchral.
The exceptions, extremely marginal, can be counted on the fingers of one hand:
– on September 4, 2014 a cursory “Jesus said it many times: Do not be afraid” and a final “God bless you”;
– on February 6, 2015 a hasty “The book of Wisdom says that God played” to introduce a thought about play;
– on May 29, 2016 a final, intentionally interreligious invocation: “And let us turn to God with the text of the most ancient blessing, which is valid and used by the three monotheistic religions: The Lord bless you and protect you; may he let his face shine upon you and show you his grace; may he turn his face to you and grant you peace. Amen.”
What instead throw their weight around in the talks of Pope Francis to the Scholas, as also in his question-and-answers with students, are neutral words and concepts like “dialogue,” “listening,” “identity,” “belonging,” “integration,” “bridges,” “peace,” “harmony,” “educational pact,” culture of encounter,” better world,” “new humanism.”
With the three pillars “instruction, sports, culture,” the pope also loves to associate the three languages “mind, heart, hands.” And “instruction” is often replaced with “technology.” With practical applications like that at the end of May, when he met for an hour at the Vatican with twelve of the most enterprising young YouTubers in the world, with millions of followers, with whom he also had a selfie taken that immediately went viral.
But sports is the biggest draw at the Scholas. In the top spot, soccer.
A few months after being made pope, on August 13, 2013, Francis promptly associated the Scholas with the friendly match between Argentina and Italy at the Olympic stadium in Rome, which he sponsored together with Lionel Messi and Gigi Buffon.
On March 19 of the following year, Messi and Buffon again attended the first official pontifical recognition of the Scholas, set up under the aegis of the pontifical academy of sciences, the chancellor of which, Argentine bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, became their vice-president.
On September 1, 2014 another “interreligious match for peace” at the Olympic stadium, with a large presence of the Scholas and with Diego Armando Maradona, Xavier Zanetti, and Alessandro Del Piero received by the pope.
On April 25, 2015 Maradona made another appearance at the Vatican, at the launch of the new activities of the Scholas. In an interview with Vatican Radio, he revealed that he had again met with the pope.
On May 9, 2015 José María del Corral, executive director of the Scholas, announced that at the upcoming Copa América the Latin American national teams would give 10,000 dollars “for every goal scored and for every blocked penalty kick” in support of the activities of Scholas Occurrentes, in the respective countries.
But two days later, on May 11, the day after the start of the Copa, from the Vatican Bishop Sánchez Sorondo backpedaled. He declared the agreement between the national soccer teams and the Scholas cancelled, to keep the Vatican from getting mixed up in the financial scandal that in the meantime had taken hold of the FIFA, the world soccer federation.
On February 3, 2016, in the context of a meeting with students of the Scholas – although this time no transcription of the conversation was released, except for a line from the pope against religious proselytism – Francis received Ronaldinho. And Vatican Radio issued the news that the pope was promoting on the following May 7 “a boxing match between a Catholic and a Muslim in Las Vegas.”
The encounter did in fact take place, and inaugurated the collaboration between Scholas Occurrentes and the World Boxing Council. The contest was between the Mexican Saúl Alvarez, middleweight world champion for the WBC, a Catholic, and Pakistan-born fighter Amir Kahn, British welterweight champion, a Muslim. In part because of his weight advantage Alvares won with a sixth-round knockout of his opponent, who lay dazed on the mat for several minutes and ended up in the hospital.
On May 28 the two boxers, accompanied by former U.S.champion Óscar de la Hoya, were received in private audience by Pope Francis, in conjunction with the umpteenth world congress of Scholas Occurrentes.
That brings us up to the present. The congress just ended, which ran from May 27-30, was the sixth over the span of this pontificate. And all six were held at the Vatican, where the Scholas are now at home and have announced in recent days that they have established an office. At the end of the congress came the news that the Argentine government of Mauricio Macri has earmarked 1.16 million dollars for the support of the educational program of the Scholas.
But there’s more. The directors of Scholas Occurrentes are also called upon at times to speak at conferences organized by other Vatican organisms. For example, that of November 13-16, 2015, sponsored by the pontifical academy of sciences, on the theme: “Children and sustainable development, a challenge for education.”
Noteworthy among the speakers, in addition to the famous neo-Malthusian economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has become inevitable at such appointments, were Enrique Palmeyro and another top director of the Scholas, the Argentine María Paz Jurado, this latter on the issue of “global citizenship” as “a paradigm shift in education.”
Here as well, to read the final recommendations of the conference, there is no trace of Christianity to be found.
There is instead a quite visible place for the pope in a series of booklets for students published by Scholas Occurrentes and entitled “Con Francisco a mi lado,” with Francis at my side.
In the April 2016 issue of the online magazine “Christian Order,” the Catholic scholar Maike Hickson commented on a few of these booklets, sent to her by María Paz Jurado.
In the one dedicated to the theme of “diversity,” she noted that different forms of “family” are all put on a par, including homosexual couples with children.
In another booklet, entitled “Self-esteem,” she found promotion of the idea of the variable selection of personal identity, including sexual.
To the written request for an explanation of an educational stance so far from the magisterium of the Church, Maike Hickson reports that she has received no response from any director of Scholas Occurrentes.
The schools of the Society of Jesus were for centuries a beacon of Catholic instruction.
The paradox is that today the first Jesuit pope is making himself a highly active promoter of a completely secularized scholastic education.