Church should give some rural schools to State

Absence of choice for those who want alternatives to Catholic education is a problem

The education of children with no religious belief is a problem for parents. It straddles the rural-urban divide – city schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church are oversubscribed and give priority to children who are baptised, while there is virtually no alternative to the Catholic school in rural area.

The Second Vatican Council, in its document on education, defined Catholic education as a process that enables the young person to become aware of the gift of faith received at baptism.

It strives to form people who will live their lives in accordance with the teaching of Jesus Christ and go on to build up the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice and love, on this earth. It aims to help the young person to cultivate a spirit of prayer and to understand and participate in the liturgy.

The council affirmed the right of the Catholic Church to conduct schools at all levels of education and says Catholic parents have a duty, where possible, to send their children to such schools which are seen as micro-faith communities –pupils, parents and teachers. A community where attitudes are illuminated by faith.



This implies that Catholic education only makes sense for young people whose families are committed to the faith and whose parents wish to pass on this faith to their children. So what about the parents who do not want their children to grow up in the Catholic faith; parents who do not accept this faith in their own lives?

The council was clear on the matter of parental choice.

It demands that the state provide subsidies so that all parents can enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school for their children. It states that there must be no monopoly of schools which would be prejudicial to the natural rights of the human person (Austin Flannery p.731 No. 6).

If there is a demand that parents who choose the Catholic school be facilitated by the state it follows logically that parents who choose not to have their children educated in a Catholic school also be facilitated.

While there is some acknowledgment of this idea among the Catholic bishops, little has happened at parish level.

Teachers too must have choice. The Catholic school, as outlined by the Second Vatican Council, should have teachers who are committed to the central tenets of the Catholic faith.

Unfortunately we have a history of judging the faith of a teacher solely by his/her adherence to the church’s teaching on sexual morality rather than on their fidelity to the law of love which Jesus promulgated.

While we don’t have a witch hunt against teachers in second relationships or in same-sex unions, as is happening in some dioceses in the US, it has to be acknowledged that some teachers are fearful that they may lose their jobs if their domestic arrangements were to be scrutinised by some Catholic employers.

God of love

It makes sense that a teacher in a Catholic school would believe in a God of love, a God who holds this world in the palm of His hand, and who publicly and without embarrassment professes this belief and who, as a results, prays.

But the absence of choice for parents and teachers who want an alternative to a Catholic education remains a problem.

It can hardly be said that all Catholic schools measure up to the ideal proposed by the Second Vatican Council. If their past pupils brought the values of Jesus Christ into the market place we should have a more egalitarian society.

The so-called voluntary contribution and the expensive school trips can exclude children who are less well off. Many Catholic schools mirror the class system, which begs the question as to whether these schools confirm the divisions in Irish society rather than heal them.

I believe that it would be in the church's best interest to be proactive in handing over some rural schools to the State, which would then have to decide whether it wanted to operate these schools under the auspices of a body like the VEC or Educate Together.

The church could then concentrate on having genuine faith-based schools where it could promote and foster its particular practices and traditions unapologetically.

It has been shown in other countries that Catholic schools can hold their own against any competition when it comes to enrolment and that, given a choice, many people actively choose the Catholic school.

Then too, parents could no longer complain of not having a choice in having to put their children forward for the sacraments because "every other child" is going to wear a white dress or collect the Confirmation money.

Margaret Lee is a member of the Seeds of Hope group in Killaloe's Catholic diocese, which affiliated to the lay Association of Catholics in Ireland last year.