Archbishop Eamon Martin , above, head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has voiced concern at the ‘increasing numbers of Catholic children no longer attending Catholic schools’.
According to this report, Martin said this presents “clear issues” for parents, families and parishes in ensuring that these children are receiving appropriate religious instruction and are being suitably prepared for the sacraments of the Eucharist and confirmation.
Martin told a conference in Dublin that religion in a Catholic school was:
Not an added extra to be fitted in during break time or twilight hours or during registration. Everything that happens in the school community is rooted in the Gospel values.
And he wondered:
How a state – which appears to recognise the importance of ERB (Education about Religions and Beliefs) and ethics – at the same time appears to want to remove religious education from the core curriculum.
He said there was “a reasonable concern that much of current educational policy in Ireland would promote a generic model of primary education”. Such, he said, would:
Dilute the right of parents to have access to a school which unashamedly and intentionally lives by a faith-based ethos. In choosing to send their children to a Catholic school, parents not only exercise their human and constitutional right to have their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs, but they are also placing trust that the school community will assist them in accompanying their children on their itinerary of faith.
I was puzzled by Martin’s words, which suggest there are many non-Catholic schools in Ireland to which parents can send their kids. There aren’t; over 92 percent of the primary schools in Ireland are controlled by the Catholic Church.
Writing for the Irish Times in 2009, Fintan O’Toole said:
Ireland is one of the very few countries in the developed world that does not have a national system of primary education. The church controls 2,899 of the 3,282 primary schools in the State, catering for 92 per cent of pupils. This situation didn’t just happen, and nor did it arise because the church undertook a task that the State was shirking. The overwhelming church control of the system of primary education results not from charity but from the exercise of power.
No one can train to be a primary teacher in Ireland unless he or she is either a believing Christian or is prepared to pretend to be so … every single course in Ireland is run by a Christian college, and obliges every single student to both learn and teach Christian doctrine …
There are seven teacher training colleges, all of them funded by the State. These colleges are not private institutions – each is connected to a public university. Yet, in all of them, students have no choice but to learn (and pass exams in) Christian doctrine.
This 2016 report adds that almost half of the parents in Ireland who have school-age children would, if they had the option, not send them to a Christian school.
Even more importantly, this system discriminates against those who are not religious or who do not wish for their children to receive a religious education. Recent legislation has removed the rule explicitly making a religious education obligatory in schools – but barriers remain for non-Catholic families.
Education in Ireland is compulsory from ages 6 to 16. In order to attend a public school, parents must apply for admission for their children. The 90% of public schools that are Catholic nearly always require students to be baptised in the Catholic Church. This discriminates against the many non-Catholic families and children in the nation who struggle to find a school – especially in rural areas – as there are few alternatives.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn