Catholic control of schooling not tenable, says archbishop


THE CATHOLIC near monopoly over schooling is “not tenable” and does not reflect current realities, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said last night.

Catholic education had a place in society today, but that did not mean things should not change, he said in a speech to members of the Irish Primary Principals Network in Dublin. He emphasised that Catholic schools could only carry out their role if there were viable alternatives for parents. “It is clear that a system in which 92 per cent of all primary schools are managed by the Roman Catholic Church in a country where the Catholic population is 87 per cent is certainly not tenable,” Archbishop Martin said.

“The current almost monopoly is a historical hangover that doesn’t reflect the realities of the times and is, in addition, in many ways detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools.”

The constitutional rights of parents and religious denominations could not be brushed aside by those who say schools should “simply be handed over to the State and the church should return to its sacristies”, he said,

While Catholic schools should be open to all, they should have a “real Catholic ethos,” as in Church of Ireland or Islamic schools. Possible models for the future were also set out by the archbishop, including one which would give parents choice. This model would involve one Catholic school among a wide variety of schools in a catchment area.

The archbishop warned of moving to a new educational situation by “single-issue plebiscite, a panic reaction or a managed strategic action by one grouping”. The process of changing education should be over a period of years, he said. The archbishop suggested that a widely consulting national forum on the future of education should be set up.

Decisions based on the “polemics of the moment” are less likely to be successful, he said. “Education is too important an issue for it to be left just to teachers, or just to the Department of Education, or just to one or other political or religious grouping.”

When setting out his vision for the Catholic school as based on “the belief that God is love”, the archbishop spoke of the Ryan report into abuse. “Sadly, the Ryan report documents systemic failure in that commitment of love,” he said. The archbishop also defended the ability of present day Catholic schools to protect children.

“The impression is at times being given that religiously run schools are somehow or other deficient in the matter of child protection structures and that children in such schools may be at risk.

“The State guidelines Children First operate in schools, in all schools,” he said.