|Subject: Pastoral Letter from the two
bishops of TL on national curriculum
PASTORAL NOTE FROM THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF TIMOR-LESTE ABOUT TEACHING RELIGION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The ministry of education of Timor-Leste issued a memorandum to a press conference which took place on November 19th, 2004, regarding primary school curriculum. The memo says that "the plan of implementation of primary school curriculum was approved by the minister council in October 2004 and the programs related to it were approved to be tested in 32 experimental schools, in 13 districts, ranging 1st to 6th grade, from January 2005 on".
Further on it says: "Religion is an optional subject. Its timetable will be determined individually by each school, without prejudice to mandatory subjects (...) Religion won't be accountable for evaluation nor conditional for grade transition (...) Regarding teaching staff, they must be qualified enough and accordingly credited by suitable religious institutions, with no extra cost to national budget (...)".
Recently, the Minister of Education stated further that "We respect the freedom of belief, bound by the Human Rights [Declaration] which we signed and acknowledged that this is a freedom, we can't force someone to follow any religion he/she doesn't believe in, that's wrong enough, but that doesn't mean it's forbidden, instead it's an option, lots of people think that optional means forbidden. Optional means that we can teach any subject, not as a mandatory one, like in indonesian time (...)" (Semanário, 11-02-05, p.5). Statements from many government officials have been presented to the public according to STL, 11-02-05, Timor Post, 10-02-05 and 11-02-05. In 12-02-05, Timor Post published a story presenting allegations from the Ministry of Education in favor of an optional [Religion subject]. At the same time, it leaves to schools and parents the responsability of organizing Religion classes, without specifying any structural mechanisms.
I. THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION OF LIFE
Considering the fact that most of the population of Timor-Leste being catholic by its option, the catholic bishops have the pastoral duty of addressing christians and presenting to the whole catholic community and to the public opinion which relevant catholic principles apply to this matter. The Concillium Vaticanus II says that "Amidst every other mean of education, school has a special importance because of its mission which, while attentively cultivating intellectual faculties, develops the capacity of judging rightfully, introduces [us] to the cultural heritage left by past generations, promotes the sense of values, prepares to working life and, creating a friendly relationship between students with different nature or condition, favours mutual understanding. Besides, school is like a center and families, teachers, groups who promote cultural, civic and religious life, civil society and the whole human community should take part in its functionality and progress (Gravissimum Educationis 5a). In this context the parents' role is extremely important because they are guardians of their sons' and daughters' integral good: "Parents, whose first and inalienable duty and right is to educate their sons and daughters, must have real freedom to choose any school. Therefore the public power, responsible for protecting and defending citizens' freedoms, must assure, following distributive justice, that public money should be granted in a way that parents may be able to choose, by their own conscience, with all freedom, in which schools to put their sons and daughters" (Gravissimum Educationis 6a).
Based on these principles, the role of the State is a service to the community: "Besides, is part of the public power role to provide that every citizen may reach a just participation in culture and be prepared to rightfully exercise their civil rights and duties" (Gravissimum Educationis 6b). So, the Church reminds the parents that "the important duty they have of using everything or demanding everything, so that their sons and daughters may benefit from that aid and progress harmonically within christian and profane education. Therefore, the Church praises those civil authorities and societies which, despite pluralism in modern society and because of fair religious freedom, do help families so that their sons and daughters' education may happen in every school according to those families' moral and religious principles" (Gravissimum Educationis 7b). The Church itself, aware of its most serious duty of taking care of its sons' and daughters' moral and religious education, "knows that it must be present with its affection and help to those who are educated in non-catholic schools: either through the apostolate action of colleagues, or mostly by the ministry of priests and non-priests who teach them the doctrine of salvation, adapted to the age and condition of each one, and help them spiritually according to circumstances" (Gravissimum Educationis 7a). Public school has a role of educating according to some values, including the transcendental values of the religious dimension of life, which children and youngsters are entitled to. Those values are transmitted through culture, history and faith. This happens in many religions and cultures. To most East-Timorese, that faith is the Catholic Faith, which lives peacefully side by side with other religions.