The Catholic Church opposes the Forum on Patronage’s recommendation on ERB and Ethics

The Catholic Church is opposed to the Recommendation from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism on Education About Religions, Beliefs and Ethics (ERB and ethics). Given the legal framework in Ireland, there really is little hope that this Recommendation will ever be realised.

The Recommendation from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism regarding ERB and ethics reads:-

“The Advisory Group is of the view that all children have the right to receive education in ERB and Ethics and the State has the responsibility to ensure that this is provided. The Advisory Group requests that the NCCA, with assistance from the partners and mindful of existing programmes, should develop curriculum and teacher guidelines for ERB and Ethics, in line with the Toledo Principles, the RedCo, and the Cambridge Primary Review. “

“The Advisory Group has a particular concern for those children who do not participate in religious programmes in denominational schools. They may go through their primary schooling without any ERB and ethical education. For these children, the proposed programmes in ERB and Ethics are of central importance. “

The Toledo Guiding Principles are Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs. They are based on human rights law and the ‘Holy See’ is the only ‘state’ that has rejected them. The purpose of the Toledo Guiding Principles is not to evangelise but to set out clear Guiding Principles on how to teach ABOUT Religions and Beliefs without undermining the human rights of all. It is quite understandable that the Catholic Church has a different view given the mission of Catholic education.

The Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs were issued by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2007. These Guidelines set out the human rights principles for teaching about religions and beliefs in a democratic pluralist society.

Out of the 56 States in the OSCE, the Holy See is the only one that has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles. Their reason for rejecting these human rights based guidelines was:-

The Document contains a reductive view of religion and a conception of the secular nature of States and their neutrality that obfuscates the positive role of religion, its specific nature and contribution to society.”

The Recommendation from the Forum says that the proposed ERB and Ethics course should be in line with the Toledo Guiding Principles. The Catholic Church has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles and it has not suddenly changed its mind on this issue. Given the legal framework in place, the control that the Church has over our education system, it is simply not possible for the proposed course on ERB and ethics to be delivered in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin has already criticised education about Religions, beliefs and ethics envisaged by the Recommendation from the Forum. He is quoted in an Irish Times Article as stating that:-

““He said “one does not have to be a believer to engage in interreligious dialogue or in reflection on religion as a social phenomenon”. In apparent reference to plans for classes on religion and ethics in primary schools, he continued: “But a study of religion which is entirely limited to the history and the sociology of religion may well be blinkered in its ability to understand the nature of faith and its relevance in the personal life of individuals and it relevance to public life.” “

The Catholic Church in Ireland want Catholic religious instruction in publicly funded National schools. They also want any education about ERB and Ethics to be delivered through the lens of the Catholic Church.

Rev Prof Eamon Conway, head of theology and religious studies at Mary Immaculate College of Education in Limerick, described the proposed new course about Religions, beliefs and ethics as:-

“an inherently secularist approach to the study of faiths” which seeks “to banish specific expressions of religious conviction”.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin might not have used those words but he is in agreement with the sentiment expressed in that statement. That sentiment is part and parcel of the educational philosophy of the Catholic church.

In their Response to the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism the Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal Conference set out their position. In fairness they are quite clear on this, they stated that:-

“Religious Education
The report speaks of religious education, religious instruction, faith formation, “education about religions and belief systems” and ethics. No definition of these terms is given so it is unclear what philosophy of education underpins their use in the document. Care needs to be taken that the report uses such terms in a manner that parents would recognise. We believe that parents who are committed to a religious world-view expect that Religious Education should introduce their child to that same world-view. It became clear at the forum sessions in June that all Patrons want to provide some form of programme with regard to religion and ethics. Such a programme could take a phenomenological approach as happens in many secular schools across Europe where children are introduced to religions as one datum among many others. The phenomenological approach is useful but it is very limited from a faith-based perspective. It amounts to education about religions and beliefs rather than education into and from religious faith.”

This position is in line with the recent comments of the Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Circular letter issued by the Vatican in 2009, Rev Prof Eamon Conway and the fact that the ‘Holy See’’ has rejected the Toledo Guiding Principles. Education into and from religious faith is not in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles because it is not objective, critical and pluralistic. Education into and from religious faith is not the purpose of the Toledo Guiding Principles. The Guidelines state that:-

“The starting point of the Toledo Guiding Principles is the understanding that teaching about religions and beliefs is not devotionally and denominationally oriented. It strives for student awareness of religions and beliefs, but does not press for student acceptance of any of them; it sponsors study about religions and beliefs, not their practice; it may expose students to a diversity of religious and non-religious views, but does not impose any particular view; it educates about religions and beliefs without promoting or denigrating any of them; it informs students about various religions and beliefs, it does not seek to conform or convert students to any particular religion or belief. Study about religions and beliefs should be based on sound scholarship, which is an essential precondition for giving students both a fair and deeper understanding of the various faith traditions.”(page 21)

The Recommendation from the Forum cannot be achieved, because the legal framework is not in place to ensure that this proposed course is delivered in accordance with the Toledo Guiding Principles.

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