The so-called ‘liberal’ class in Ireland has recently become more and more vociferous in its calls to ‘take the Catholic Church out of education.’
Let the ‘Educate Together’ movement (which is entirely secular in its approach to education) take control of schools, particularly primary schools, they say. The Catholic Church – and, logically, all others such as the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Muslims, etc. – should relinquish their ‘hold’ on primary education.
However, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, has spoken out very forcefully against such a suggestion. In the course of an address at the launch of Catholic Schools Week and the inauguration of the Catholic Schools Partnership, at the end of January 2010, Cardinal Brady said:
‘[…] The presumption that the Catholic Church wants to control as many schools as it can, irrespective of parental demands, in increasingly seen to be unfounded.
‘Equally, the idea that the only way to accommodate religious and cultural diversity in society is to remove the church completely from State-funded schools is increasingly seen as unjust, unhelpful and contrary to the principle of pluralism.[…]
‘If […]the dialogue is simply a Trojan horse for removing faith from schools – whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim – then we are destined to remain locked in unnecessary tensions about the future of education, to the detriment of children and society. […]
‘Critical to this dialogue is the clear recognition that parents have a right to have their children educated in accordance with their philosophical and religious convictions. Consequently, the State has a duty to support this right with public funds. […]
‘Those parents who choose and value the Catholic education provided for their children are taxpayers in exactly the same way as parents who send their children to other types of schools. To disadvantage any group of parents because of their faith is completely contrary to the principle of equality and pluralism.
‘There is no such thing as a value-free school. If parents want the government of the day to define and manage the ethos of their schools, it is important to ask what philosophy of life, of the human person, of the child would the government of the day promote? What system of values would it seek to promote? That of the particular party in power? Would it change from government to government? […]’
Referring to the results of a recent poll on the subject of religious involvement in education, he went on to say:
‘If the editorial comment on the poll is right, then a key factor in the result was the completely justified anger with bishops and religious orders over the findings of the Ryan and Murphy reports [on the sexual abuse of children on the part of clerics]. But what, then, of the implications of the less publicised but very significant criticisms of State-run organisations in the same reports? …
‘Catholic schools today are well placed to win the support and confidence of parents who want a values-based education for their children.
‘We should not apologise for who we are. In an increasingly diverse culture, the future lies in ensuring that our schools become more authentically Catholic, both in terms of the authentic Catholic doctrine they teach and the Christian environment which they create.’
It is interesting to note that, back in 1980, a ‘National Women’s Forum’ – called to formulate a National Plan of Action ‘specifically relevant to Ireland’, following the UN World Conference of Women held in Copenhagen – presented a report to the government via the Council for the Status of Women. Among the proposals put forward at that time were:
* The abolition of ‘sexism’, i.e., role identification with respect to sex, in education, with the demand that teacher training include input on the topic. Progress was to be monitored by a government-funded National Committee under the auspices of the CSW.
* Sex education for all students, beginning at primary level, and including ‘remedial and slow learners’, and giving top priority to the ‘physically and mentally disabled’.
* The end of Catholic control of education in Ireland.
* A national programme covering sexuality for schools, community health centres and the media.
* A charter of children’s rights, to include the right to ‘freedom of sexual expression’.
And that’s only a sample! It’s frightening to think that all this was being planned thirty years ago. What plans are afoot today that could very well affect family and life in Ireland in the years to come? Take, for instance, the Civil Partnership Bill. Many individuals and groups who are concerned about the dangers inherent in this Bill are trying to warn the Government about it. But will they be listened to? The current Irish Government seems to be unwilling to do so.
I would like to draw the attention of readers to John Smeaton’s blogs (www.spuc-director.blogspot.com) on various related matters during the past few weeks. Of particular interest to Irish readers are items on the Children, Schools and Families Bill in the UK, and the growing erosion of parental authority that would come about if the Bill becomes law. Strongly recommended reading, too, is the text of Pope Benedict’s recent address, in Rome, to the Hierarchy of England and Wales.