‘Baptism barrier’ and schools

Sir, – In his article "A baptism barrier would solve our hospital crisis" (Opinion & Analysis, January 16th), Fintan O'Toole satirises the continued Catholic patronage of voluntary schools through a crass and flawed comparison with Catholic voluntary hospitals.

Your columnist argues that while the hypothetical application of a “baptism barrier” in the admissions policy of a State-funded Catholic hospital would be unthinkable, it is equivalent to the very real injustice of the application of a baptism barrier to deny an education to children of alternative beliefs in an oversubscribed State-funded Catholic school within their community.

In other words, if we would not for a moment contemplate denying healthcare to a person because of their religion or beliefs, then why do we accept the same supposedly discriminatory principle in our education system?

While not for a moment arguing that oversubscribed Catholic schools should exclude non-Catholic students who would in no way undermine the school’s ethos, the flaw in Fintan O’Toole’s argument lies in his misunderstanding of the mission of Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals.


The Catholic school has the avowed purpose of supporting parents in the "religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education" (Article 42, Bunreacht na hÉireann) of their children and must intentionally and actively affirm the religious faith of its Catholic students through faith formation classes and liturgies. This is the raison d'être of the Catholic school.

In contrast, the mission of the Catholic hospital is not evangelical. It is to provide healthcare to all patients within a Catholic ethos.

As a result, the religion or belief of the patient is of no consequence to the upholding of the hospital’s ethos.

Regardless of the appropriateness of the continued existence of State-funded voluntary schools and hospitals, Fintan O’Toole’s comparison between State-funded voluntary healthcare and education is clumsy and unsustainable. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Well said, Fintan O’Toole. Sometimes it takes a little bit of irony to throw the inherent unfairness of a system into sharp relief. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.