The Catholic primate has expressed concern at the prospect of "a generic model of primary education" being promoted in Ireland. Catholic schools "cannot stand back and allow faith and religion to be sidelined or privatised out of the realm of schools and education," he said.
Archbishop Eamon Martin told a conference in Dublin on Thursday that religion in a Catholic school was "not an added extra to be fitted in during break time or twilight hours or during registration. Everything that happens in the school community is rooted in the Gospel values," he said.
Principals and boards in Catholic schools would “ensure that Religious Education is given a high priority in curriculum planning and resourcing”.
It was “important that there is a strong catechetical component to Religious Education so that all pupils can systematically learn the truths of the Catholic faith, be instructed in all aspects of the moral life and grasp the essentials of Catholic social teaching,” he said.
Archbishop Martin said he wondered “how a State – which appears to recognise the importance of ERB (Education about Religions and Beliefs) and Ethics – at the same time appears to want to remove Religious Education from the core curriculum”.
The decision by the Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) to end faith formation during the school day in its Community National Schools, presented “clear issues for parents, families and parishes in ensuring that these children are receiving appropriate religious instruction and are being suitably prepared for the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation,” he said.
"We should not ignore the fact that increasing numbers of Catholic children are no longer attending Catholic schools," he told the Irish Catholic conference on education.
There was “a reasonable concern that much of current educational policy in Ireland would promote a generic model of primary education,” he said. Such would “dilute the right of parents to have access to a school which unashamedly and intentionally lives by a faith-based ethos”, he said.
"In choosing to send their children to a Catholic school, parents not only exercise their human and constitutional right to have their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs, but they are also placing trust that the school community will assist them [his emphasis] in accompanying their [his emphasis] children on their itinerary of faith," he said.
For decades the Catholic schools of Ireland “have played an essential role in supporting parents and families in their role as first educators of their children”. This remained so, he added, which was why it was reasonable for boards of management of Catholic schools, in establishing their admissions criteria, to be concerned about ensuring that pupils from the local parish or group of parishes, are able to access their Catholic school.”
It was “no surprise” that Catholic parents, families and parishes would “defend the importance of their school’s ethos, or ‘characteristic spirit’ against those who lack an understanding of it, or would actively seek to undermine it”.
He continued: “Of course Catholic schools are not simply ‘schools for Catholics’; the ethos of Catholic schools aims to be inclusive and welcoming; it is respectful of, and engages with, people of all beliefs and ideological backgrounds; it encourages the religious development of all in their own faith.”