This religious domination of public education is anomalous in a developed nation. In , a government report recognised the need for change and recommended that some schools divest their religious patronage. Progress has been slow. Though the church agrees that some divestment is necessary, at local level it is reluctant to cede power.
After a survey of parents of pre-school children in an area of Dublin apparently indicated that more than a quarter wanted multi-denominational education for their children, it was decided that one of the eight local Catholic primary schools should divest.
Incomprehensibly, the state all but handed over administration of the divestment process to the church. The result? Catholic schools denied parents any objective information on alternative patrons, then warned them that if they voted for divestment there would be no opportunity to reconsider once they learned details of the proposed replacement.
Who in their right mind would vote for change under those circumstances? People want their children to have a Catholic education. Faced with public attention on its untruths and manipulations, the archdiocese of Dublin announced that the divestment votes in north Dublin would be postponed. Some things will, of course, change in a non-denominational or multi-denominational school. For example, preparation for Catholic sacraments would take place outside school hours, a shift potentially just as beneficial for Catholic children as for non-Catholics.
One parent complained that her children sit through 30 minutes of formal religious instruction daily. The decision that Irish parents are being asked to make is of great significance. Why do state schools continue to teach Irish children to respect the moral authority of the Catholic church, when most Irish adults, aware of the lessons of the Ryan report , the Ferns report , the Cloyne report and too many others , know that such respect is dangerous and misplaced?
Why do we continue to show children that it is normal for the church to play a privileged part in public life, when generations have lived the tragic effects of such indoctrination? If we continue to keep children ignorant of any religious belief but Catholicism, and teach them that children of other faiths are deviations from the norm, will we act surprised when these seeds grow into intolerance and division in our newly diverse Ireland?
And will we continue to ignore the misogyny and homophobia of the Catholic church, and to pretend that this has no effect on the children in its schools?
Imagine an Ireland in which children were taught that moral authority is to be earned and can be revoked; that Catholicism is one faith among many; that boys and girls can play equal roles in any institution; that families come in all shapes and sizes. This can happen. There is a chance right now to make it happen. But it will never happen while the Catholic church is running the show.
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