Radical change for religion in schools


A chara, – In your Editorial “Time for more radical change” (October 28th) you rightly say the present initiatives coming from the Department of Education are only a small step in the right direction and that much more radical reform is needed.

But from where? Radical reform in religious education means an end to clericalism. The dilemma, as I see it, is that Ireland lacks a Jesus figure with the courage to initiate this. Are any members of the Irish clergy prepared for the challenge? We then need a new vision of adult Christianity, which all are involved in forming, to take us out of the tutelage of Roman Empire religion and back to the teachings of Jesus and to many aspects of our own early creation-based Irish Christianity.

Radical changes were introduced into Roman Catholicism after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). I am elderly enough to have been involved, as a missionary, in early initiatives to take sacraments out of school and into parish and to experience how quickly parish life was enlivened. The role of the school was to help students, especially at second level, to enter into critical dialogue with all religions and with atheism. This greatly enlivened classroom religion. It became a very important subject in helping students see the implications of good and bad religion and acquire the tools and vocabulary for entering adult debate about religious issues in later life. No parents, believers or not, would want their children to opt out of this approach.

Sadly, this reform was turned down by the Irish hierarchy in the 1960s. Having now read Archbishop Eamon Martin’s recent address to the Association of Catholic Education, I realise that Vatican 2 thinking on this topic, is still too radical for the Irish clergy.

Meantime, the task of the Minister for Education is almost impossible as he seeks justice for the dispossessed in the present mismatch between types of schools and types of students, amid a web of legalities. Maybe a glimmer of light is breaking through that we cannot yet see! – Is mise,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – There is no reason why ceasing to teach religion in schools (which in the majority of cases refers to teaching Catholicism), would mean abandoning the concept of love thy neighbour (October 29th).

The phrase itself pre-dates Catholicism, appearing in the Torah (Leviticus). The concept is eternal and universal. Human societies could hardly have evolved without it.

Morality and ethics are not the sole preserve of either religions or the religious. It is possible to love thy neighbour even if you don’t believe in God. To suggest otherwise is an affront to secular humanists everywhere.

This may be better understood if more time was spent educating children on ethics and morality, rather than the current, narrow focus on Catholicism. – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – If broaching the subject of religion or spirituality is to be removed from schools then the subject and mention of atheism must also be banned as it, too, requires a particularly dogmatic form of belief that is as proven or unproven and as dangerous as all the religions in the world. Why not have a class that debates the tenets of both atheism and religion, their place in society and their common ground of not possessing all the facts about our existence no matter how ” scientific ” or “righteous” their explanatory language is. Then children, as people, can decide for themselves. – Yours, etc,


Firhouse, Dublin 24.