Catholic dominance of schools not 'tenable'


THE DOMINANCE of the Catholic Church in the patronage of the State’s primary schools is “a remnant of the past and no longer tenable today”, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

The Government had been “very slow in providing a plurality of patronage models”, Dr Martin added, calling for a national forum to debate such plurality.

In a lengthy address to the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies at Magdalene College yesterday, he said: “I am the patron of about 93 per cent of all primary schools in the archdiocese of Dublin, while Catholics compose only about 85 per cent of the population.”

Such “a massive presence of the Catholic Church in the management of schools is, however, patently a remnant of the past and no longer tenable today”.

It was “obvious that there is a desire for change in the management structure of Irish schools. It is recognised that the Irish Government has an obligation to ensure that parents who do not want a religious ethos in the formation of their children can, as far as possible, exercise their rights.”

A very high proportion of Catholics would prefer their children to attend a school with a pluralist mix, albeit with some basic religious culture. “I believe that there is need for a national forum to debate the issue. Plurality in management is needed to address the changed Irish culture. Plurality in school management can only benefit the true Catholic identity of Catholic schools.”

Dr Martin said the Catholic Church in Ireland would “inevitably become more a minority culture. The challenge is to ensure that it is not an irrelevant minority culture”.

In the talk, Keeping the Show on the Road: Is this the Future of the Irish Catholic Church?, he said the place of the church in the political discussion was increasingly marginal. “I would say that none of the political parties even thought of seeking the views of the church around their policies for the current general election. If anything, they would seem to prefer not to be seen in any way to be associated with the church.”

Ireland was “undergoing a further phase in a veritable revolution of its religious culture”.

In Dublin there were parishes “where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5 per cent of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2 per cent”.

On any Sunday, “about 18 per cent of the Catholic population in the archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass. That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland”.

For the second time since he had become archbishop, this year there would be no ordination of priests in Dublin, “and the coming years indicate only a tiny trickle of new vocations”. His greatest discouragement as archbishop came “from the failure of interaction between the church and young people. I visit parishes where I encounter no young people . . .”

Change required in the life of the church in Ireland was such that “even experts in change management would feel daunted”.

Dr Martin added: “Despite all my efforts, I am failing in my attempts to lead such change. Change management has to have the patience and the strategy to bring everyone along with it, and that may not be my talent.”

Catholic culture in Ireland “does not have the prominence or the intellectual leadership that it should have”, with “few writers or artists who would present themselves as Catholic”.

He was convinced that “one of the principal ways in which the church can reform itself and bring its message more incisively to society is through developing a renewed biblical apostolate”.

The Irish church, in its recent history, had “failed to introduce its people into a real relationship with Jesus and his life and teaching.” Such “a biblical basis for its action” was “also a sound basis for ecumenical collaboration”.