Cultural Catholics still give cover to the criminal church that runs our schools

We need to end the alliance of convenience between the Catholic Church and cultural Catholics that enables this criminal church to maintain control over most of our State-funded public schools. We need to move towards a secular State-funded education system that treats all children equally regardless of the beliefs of their parents.

Last night’s RTE documentary presented by Michael McDowell showed how the Catholic Church was for decades more powerful than the Irish State itself. And the Church abused this unwarranted power to imprison women and children, abuse countless victims physically, sexually, and emotionally, move criminals around the country to commit further crimes, and refuse to pay its share of reparations for its criminal behaviour.

In recent years the people of Ireland have started to move away from being controlled by this church, and towards building an ethical secular Republic based on human rights. We have voted to remove constitutional bans on marriage equality, abortion, and blasphemy. Last year, for the first time, less than half of all Irish weddings were Catholic ceremonies. The law is gradually catching up with the people.

But there is still one major area in which this criminal church has undue influence in our Republic. The Catholic Church still runs 90% of our primary schools, and half of our secondary schools, despite the State funding those schools. The Catholic Church can still legally impose its religious ethos in these schools, discriminating against children, parents, and teachers.

Some parents whose children attend these schools are sincere and devout Catholics, who have an unjustified sense of entitlement that the State should pay for their children’s faith formation. Other parents are atheists, members of religious minorities, or secular Catholics, who want the State to fund schools that teach children without preaching Catholicism to them.

However, if decisions on school patronage are put to a vote of parents, as is the case with the current proposals to divest some Catholic schools to multi-denominational patrons, then the balance of power is likely to be held by cultural Catholics. They call themselves Catholic but are not committed to their religion. They don’t see the inside of a church from one end of the year to another.

But they will insist that their children make their communion and confirmation, despite the fact that they have no commitment to the religious basis of these ceremonies. And out of convenience, they want their local school to stay under the patronage of the Catholic Church, so that the school will organise the big day out for their children without the parents having to make the arrangements themselves.

This alliance of convenience also suits the Catholic Church, because it continues to control State-funded institutions in which it can evangelise children of Catholic families, and pre-evangelise children of other families, without having to use the resources of its parishes or its parishioners. Furthermore, it is scaremongering parents by inventing stories about Christmas being banned if schools are run on the basis of equality.

Despite the lack of commitment to the religious education of their children, these cultural Catholics can and will decide on how the divestment process proceeds. Children from minority families will still be unable to access a human rights based education for their children, and their children will continue to be evangelised in schools under Catholic patronage.

The State is trying to solve this problem by making it worse, by segregating small children into different schools. In addition, the majority of primary schools are stand alone schools, and there will be no divestment in those areas. Nothing is being done to protect the rights of minorities in these schools, despite the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism.

Instead, cultural Catholics will effectively decide on the rights of minorities, because the divestment process cannot disentangle the different reasons for voting in the process. The State should halt this flawed divestment process, and replace it with a plan that will respect equally the human rights of children, parents, and teachers in all State-funded schools.

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