Bishop suggests postponing Confirmation until pupils are at least 16

Cleric says religious sacraments often appear ‘pre-fabricated’ to young children

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy outside St John’s Cathedral in Limerick City.

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy outside St John’s Cathedral in Limerick City.

 

A Catholic bishop has suggested that the sacrament of confirmation be taken out of primary schools and not administered until pupils reach 16 years of age.

Speaking at the launch of Catholic Schools Week in Adare on Wednesday, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said it is important in Ireland that students are re-awoken to the fact that being a Catholic is an option.

Addressing an audience of parents, teachers and some students, Dr Leahy said that sacramental ceremonies can have little resonance for the child and often appear like a pre-fabricated package of Irish heritage that is to be discarded nonchalantly later in life as part of a “throwaway culture”.

“By way of helping us reflect on how we might envision the future, I would like to suggest one practical avenue for consideration and that is whether we should change the age at which young people make their confirmation?” he asked.

“I have been really impressed by the level of ceremonies, the care to detail, the level of preparation. And here I want to express enormous gratitude to teachers for their commitment.

“And yet, we have to ask the question: is 12 years of age too young? Are the boys and girls really aware of what’s going on? Is Confirmation too detached from the experience of a living Christian community of faith? Does our current practice offer the best model of interaction between child, parish, school and family? Are children opting or floating into Confirmation?”

Removing Confirmation from the primary school would not mean, Dr Leahy stressed, less religious education as the religious education programme would still be very central in a Catholic school.

Sixth class, he said, could still include a module on the Holy Spirit and there could be a final blessing ceremony in parishes linked to “graduation” ceremonies to mark the child’s completion of primary, which could amount to a large family event.

“I have a sense that we should build on a good pastoral opportunity that exists in Ireland. It is still a positive thing that parents and family members will make the effort to be present for the Confirmation day. People will take a day of their holiday leave to be present. It is impressive that Confirmation is a big family event.

“Might we not avail of the fact that Confirmation is still viewed as an important ritual and invite 16 year olds to celebrate the sacrament?

“For many students, that would mean committing themselves to a parish-based programme during Transition Year, possibly linked to a project in school. Not all students would opt into it. But some/many would and at least it would come as an option with also a more living ‘adult’ contact with the parish.”

Dr Leahy also said that while there is historical baggage that has left people a little reticent about the value of Catholic schools, in acknowledging the limitations and failures of the past we need to be careful not to have a “baby and bathwater” situation.

“There is much that was and is great about catholic schools in Limerick. It’s enough to think of the vast number of teachers and students involved in education in these schools. School principals, teacher and school staff, as well as parents’ councils and boards of management/governing boards have contributed well over and beyond the call of duty.”

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