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Church monopoly in schools ‘anything but healthy’, says archbishop

Diarmuid Martin claims removing church for education entirely would damage pluralism

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said religion has a role to play in schools. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The monopoly of the Catholic Church in the Irish education system is “anything but healthy”, but to remove it entirely would lead to an “impoverishment” of pluralism in society, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

Dr Martin, speaking during his homily at Saint Patrick Campus, Dublin City University, on Tuesday, said there were “certainly” reasons why many people had lost confidence in the ability of the church to “act as a moral guarantor in tomorrow’s Ireland”.

“There are questions of trust and accountability in the way the Catholic Church addressed abuse,” he said. “There are questions of closed clericalism.

Pope Francis himself warned the Irish Bishops not to repeat ‘the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic church’.”

However, Dr Martin said there was “another side” to the church, which ought to be recognised in order for “minimum fairness”.

“A sense of community and care for the marginalised is not the monopoly of a few well-known figures in the church, and I say that not to minimise their contribution,” he said.

“The history of the Catholic Church is not just the history of haughty and power-controlling prelates distant and indifferent from the lives and sufferings of ordinary lives. It is the history of extraordinary-ordinary figures of priests and religious.”

He said that “removing the Catholic Church entirely from the realm of education would lead to an impoverishment of what pluralism means”.

“Religion gives believers an integrated vision of life that today’s splintered society needs,” he continued.

“I am not saying that the current situation in which one church dominates the patronage of such a large portion of Irish education should continue. Quite the opposite. I have said on more than one occasion that it is an anachronism inherited from the past.

“Indeed such a near monopoly position for the Catholic Church is anything but healthy. Removing the church entirely from the world of education, however, can be in some cases the fruit of a deliberate misreading of Irish history.”

Dr Martin also paid tribute to teachers who “unassumingly continue even when they feel that they are sometimes unjustly almost harassed because of the defects of others”.