Religion in schools

 

Sir, – The decline in weekly Mass attendance from over nine in 10 Catholics a few decades ago to less than one in three today indicates a clear failure of Catholic schools to produce sufficient numbers of practicing Catholics, resulting in the current collapse in vocations. Within a few years, many dioceses will have more parishes than priests. Census figures for 78 per cent Catholic identification are misleading; the lack of vocations is the best indicator of the true state of Catholicism in Ireland.

Vocations are formed in Catholic homes within Catholic communities where the practice of religion is an everyday event. Unfortunately, only a minority of children attending religious instruction classes in Catholic schools attend weekly Mass. The ratio is made worse by compelling children who are not Catholic to be present, even during sacramental preparation. Every teacher, regardless of personal belief, is obliged to teach religion.

There can be little doubt that any compulsion in religious instruction demeans the religion concerned and all those compelled to attend – and cannot be good for those who are there by choice.

It is in the Catholic Church’s own interest to bring this situation to an end.

It is not unusual for 20 per cent of children in Catholic schools to be of other religions, or none, and in some Catholic schools, Catholic children are now a minority. It is also clear that other than in cases where Catholic schools are due for closure, and regardless of parental demand, the current hierarchy will not allow divestment to happen. So we are at the point where it is in the interests of all – church, school, teachers and parents who do or do not want religion taught to their children – to take religious instruction and sacramental preparation out of school hours. This will enable the church to concentrate on those families who actually practise religion and who can form core Catholic family groups in the parish, and this may lead to more vocations.

The Irish Church should look at the example of France, where religious instruction is forbidden in public schools, but is permitted in the one in five private schools, most of which are Catholic and are contracted to and funded by the state. France ordained 114 priests in 2018, or three priests per million Catholics. In Ireland, there were eight ordinations – less than two priests per million Catholics, and less than two-thirds of the ordination rate in the secular republic of France. That the near-monopoly Irish Catholic school system, with 12 years of indoctrination at its disposal, is less successful than local Catholic communities and a small Catholic school system in France in producing vocations is an indicator of the stagnation in the Catholic school system in Ireland.

The cause of this stagnation? Too many dioceses, too many bishops, too many small schools, too many Catholic education associations, including associations for Catholic bishops, school managers, school trustees, teachers, schools and parents – in short, too many vested interests in the status quo, most of whom can, and do, successfully oppose change.

So nothing seems to change. Meanwhile, religious orders are disappearing fast. And without radical change in Catholic education, the priests in the parish will soon follow. So where will Catholic schools stand then? – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY O’LEARY,

Portmarnock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – It puzzles me as to why parents would object to their children sitting in for religion lessons in school. Religion classes imparts values. morals, respect and a code of conduct for decent and honest living so desperately needed in the world today.

I wonder if these parents have ever studied the religion programme prescribed for the relevant classes. It promotes love, kindness, forgiveness, and a great sense of justice and fairness for fellow human beings.

If parents do not want their children to participate in religious services or receive sacraments this is not a problem, it is entirely their decision. Why on earth would anyone not want their children to participate in a programme that instils a sense of decency, honesty and respect for humankind? – Yours, etc,

MARY O’DOWD,

Kilkee,

Co Clare.