Catholic Church Stubbornly Reluctant To Relinquish Control Of Irish Schools

Archbishop Martin fears people could help foster a "hostile relationship" between Catholic Church and State

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of the Catholic Church with his hands raised in a black suit
Image: P Dave / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

“The risk now looms large that effectively it will become more and more difficult to maintain a true Catholic ethos in Catholic schools.”

Speaking in Germany this weekend, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said there is a “stubborn reluctance” from within the Catholic Church with regard to reconfiguring the preparation for First Communion and Confirmation to take place outside of primary school.

Martin brought to light the fact that the number of schools which are under the patronage of the Catholic Church is significantly higher than the percentage of Ireland’s population which declared themselves Catholic in the last census.

The Archbishop is an advocate for divestment which is edging closer to becoming a reality since the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has announced plans to remove the baptismal barrier.

“Preparation for First Communion and Confirmation is carried out primarily in the schools,” Martin said. “There is a stubborn reluctance within the Church to allow that situation to change.”

“With the exception of Catholic Schools Week, the Irish religious education establishment is fixated on questions of ownership and management and too little on the purpose of the Catholic school and the outcomes of Catholic education in terms of faith formation,” he added.


Education Reform

Although Catholic schools in Ireland are open to pupils of varying faiths, Martin emphasised that this is not a reason to maintain patronage, especially when a large portion of people want an alternative system to be put in place.

“More and more parents look on their local Catholic schools primarily as State schools somehow under Catholic patronage.

“If enrolment policies become more diversified, equality and non-discrimination legislation will be used to challenge any exclusive denominational character in the ethos of a State school, except where necessary to protect the rights of minorities.

“The risk now looms large that effectively it will become more and more difficult to maintain a true Catholic ethos in Catholic schools,” Martin added.

“The move towards parishes undertaking more effective faith formation of young people is miniscule.

“I fear much of the debate about schools fails to address the real challenges about the religious education of our young people.”

Ireland is today undergoing a further phase of revolution of its religious culture


Societal Shift

Archbishop Martin also commented on the radical changes which have taken place in Irish society in recent times, with regular religious practice rapidly declining in recent years.

Secularisation had been “on the Irish radar screen for many years”, Martin told the Pope when he had been appointed.

“Ireland is today undergoing a further phase of revolution of its religious culture,” he said.

“Secularisation is well advanced in Irish society and yet there are many residual elements of faith and religiosity present in daily life. Irish national radio and television both transmit the Angelus bells twice a day!”

Speaking about the 2015 marriage equality referendum, Martin concluded that the outcome “was not about doctrine,” rather it was “about a conviction that gay and lesbian people should be permitted in civil law to have their stable loving relationships recognised in marriage.”

What do you think about the possible secularisation of schools in Ireland? Do you think it’s a step in the right direction or should the Church continue to have such a big hand in education in Ireland? Let us know in the comments below

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