Parents haven’t been asked the “right” questions to gauge the level of support for divesting schools from Catholic patronage, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
“Everyone is in agreement that change is needed,” he said, “but the actual decisions will be made at local level. We haven’t gathered the right information. We haven’t really asked the people.”
“If the current Catholic school is a good school then people won’t want change. The families with two- and three-year-olds are the ones we should be talking to.”
Responding to recent divestment proposals by Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Dr Martin said he was "willing to co-operate with the Minister in real consultation".
What was involved was “an exercise in social manipulation”, which wasn’t easy, he said.
Change was “far too slow”, he continued, saying he advocated a pilot project initially under the new proposals.
The problem with giving priority to children within a local catchment was that it could lead to elitism in certain areas, he continued.
He cited the problem of “drive-by” parents who took their children to schools in other areas because they did not like a schools with disadvantaged children or Travellers. This caused the number of pupils to decrease with a subsequent loss of teachers and services, he said.
Speaking on RTE Radio One's Today with Seán O'Rourke this morning, Dr Martin said the alienation of women in the church was discussed with Pope Francis when the Irish bishops visited Rome last month.
Acknowledging this alienation, particularly of younger women, the Archbishop said “we have to find a way where women feel they have responsibility and authority in the Church.”
The church in Ireland was "until very recently, a very clerical church" which it was emerging from "very slowly". He referred to possible change through Pope's Francis's commission on women deacons and how, when discussing women in the church with Vatican congregations last month, the bishops had been told "the answer lies with you".
The bishops had also raised the matter of those six Irish priests disciplined by the Vatican and had asked that dialogue be continued with the relevant heads of the religious orders to which the priests belonged.
“I believe that dialogue between them and their superiors is the way forward,” he said.
Asked his views on Taoiseach Enda Kenny raising the priests' situation with Pope Francis in Rome last November, when he delivered a letter from one of the priests, Fr Tony Flannery, Archbishop Martin responded , "the Taoiseach is a free man, I talked to the Taoiseach before he went out to Rome".
He added: “I hope that he will be as courageous and frank when he goes to visit president Trump. And that he brings with him the concerns of the Irish people.”
He hoped the Taoiseach "would be as courageous and forthright when he meets Mr Trump and expresses the concerns that are present in people in Ireland, about some of the decisions he's been making, particularly about refugees. Putting a ban on refugees is in complete disagreement, not just with the specifics of international law, but with the culture of Irish people," the Archbishop said.
Addressing expectations about the visit to Ireland of Pope Francis next year, he said there would be "a qualitative difference" between it and the visit of Pope John Paul in 1979.
There would be “a large Mass as part of the World Meeting of Families” events. Surveys had shown there was a lot of interest in the visit but there was no point in saying Ireland hasn’t changed since 1979.
Besides, Francis was “a very different pope who doesn’t want to repeat what others have done”.
Currently in Dublin there were "too many churches in the city centre", he said. The University Church on St Stephen's Green was now being run by Notre Dame University in the US "as a niche parish" with a stress on intellectuals.
Where some larger churches were concerned, he spoke of plans to demolish one and replace it with a smaller church using the space freed up for social housing in association with Dublin City Council.