Parents must ensure the religious ethos of Catholic schools is not abandoned, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tuam Dr Michael Neary has said.
In an increasingly pluralist society, he said, Catholics needed to be clear about the identity of their schools and why this is important.
“We have Catholic schools because parents want them. It is parents who must insist that the religious ethos of our schools is respected and not abandoned,” Dr Neary said.
“For those who do not want faith education for their children, it is appropriate that non-faith schools be provided. It is faith that makes Catholic schools Catholic and what makes Catholic education different.”
Control of schools
His comments come just days after Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the Catholic Church was too slow to free itself from control of schools.
The church's patronage of 90 per cent of all primary schools in Ireland has sparked controversy in recent years in light of the refusal of school places to non-Catholics in some over-subscribed schools.
An attempt by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn to increase the number of non-denominational schools resulted in the transfer of a handful of schools – one Catholic and two Protestant – to non-religious patrons out of 3,200 primary schools nationwide.
Speaking at the launch of a new primary education religious curriculum, Dr Neary said the importance of a good foundation was vital if any significant development is to take place later in life.
“This is very true with regard to education, and particularly with regard to religious education. The church has always acknowledged that the first educators in the faith of any child must be the parents,” he said.
He said a new Catholic pre-school curriculum, as well as the new primary school religious series “Grow in love”, help provide this foundation.
“Through this programme, children will be introduced to a religious literacy that will enable them to express their understanding of the faith in prayer and knowledge,” he said.
“Catholic religious education was confined to school. Now we have an opportunity whereby school, home and parish community will co-operate in introducing children to Jesus Christ and impressing on them a sense of their own dignity and the fact that they are loved by God, and because of that they are expected to respond to each other in an appropriate manner,” he said.
On the issue of access to schools, the Minister for Education earlier this week proposed that primary schools should be obliged to accept pupils based on proximity rather than their religious denomination in cases where schools are oversubscribed.
Strike a balance
Jan O’Sullivan said such a move would have to strike a balance and allow, for instance, minority faith schools to continue to serve dispersed populations.
However, any measure affecting the ability of schools to discriminate on the basis of religion would require changes to equality legislation.
This means any changes relating to religion are unlikely to feature in amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, due to come before the Oireachtas shortly.