Catholics must 'let go' of schools - Martin

The reluctance of some Catholic groups to accept the proposed changes in school patronage has been criticised by the Archbishop…

The reluctance of some Catholic groups to accept the proposed changes in school patronage has been criticised by the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

Dr Martin pointed to the hesitation among some parts of the Catholic education system to let go.

His comments come as polling continues in 38 areas across the State where parents have been asked to select their preferred choice of school patron.

Dr Martin made his remarks yesterday in the course of a homily reflecting on Catholic Schools Week at the Church of Our Lady’s Nativity, Leixlip, Co Kildare.

“It might seem to some a paradox if I say that Catholic education will only survive in the Ireland of the future in the robust presence of other forms of education,” he said.

“We have been speaking about a greater pluralism in patronage but I sometimes feel that there exists within parts of our Catholic education system a hesitation to let go or to feeling that somehow Catholic patronage can provide within its own structures the necessary pluralism required in society.’’

Dr Martin pointed out how the nature and the demography of Irish society are changing. “The culture of today’s Ireland is changing. In this more pluralistic society, educational policy has to find new ways to foster both diversity and inclusively. This is a challenging task. Simple uniformity fosters neither diversity nor true inclusivity.”

Catholic education, he said, must find its place today within a more pluralistic society. “It must adapt to the changing society but never abdicate its specific role. Denominational education is a valid pillar of our future educational system," he said. “Government has a responsibility to foster the desire of parents who wish for denominational education but all those associated with denominational education must also ensure that the education offered in our Catholic schools is of the highest level.”

“Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is the essential pillar of Catholic education. The Catholic school - to bring its original contribution to society - must be allowed then to be truly Catholic. People who are strong and mature in their own religious identity are the ones who are best able to live within and foster diversity and dialogue. Insecurity about one’s faith is at the root of fundamentalism.”

At present, the Catholic Church controls about 3,000 of the 3,200 primary schools in the State.

Dr Martin was the first Catholic bishop to acknowledge how the overwhelming dominance of the Catholic church in school patronage no longer reflected contemporary Irish society.

It was largely in response to these comments that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn established the Forum on School Patronage in primary schools during his first week in the Department of Education in 2011.

Last year, the report of the forum proposed that parents should be surveyed on their preferred choice of school patron in areas where the Catholic Church is over represented.

Over recent weeks, parents in 38 areas have been giving their views on school patronage as part of this process- polling will continue until February 8th.

Last year, parents in five pilot areas backed changes to school patronage but the turnout – less than 25 per cent in some areas- was much lower than anticipated. Mr Quinn said the surveys indicated strong support for greater choice but the Catholic Schools Partnership highlighted how many parents appear satisfied with current arrangements.

Seán Flynn

Seán Flynn

The late Seán Flynn was education editor of The Irish Times