Ireland: Cardinal Brady defends role of church in education

Cardinal Seán Brady

Cardinal Seán Brady

Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, has defended the role of the Catholic Church in education, at  the launch of Catholic Schools Week  and the inauguration of the Catholic Schools Partnership yesterday in the Emmaus Centre, Swords, Co Dublin.

The partnership is a collaboration between the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Bishops’ Conference in their mutual service of Catholic education.

In his address, the Cardinal said it was “blatantly unjust” and “a complete red herring” to say that the Catholic Church had no right to be involved in schools that receive State funding.

The Cardinal said parents had a right to have their children educated in accordance with their philosophical and religious convictions and the State had a duty to support this with public funds.

“Those parents who choose and value the Catholic education provided for their children are taxpayers in exactly the same way as parents who send their children to other types of schools.

“To disadvantage any group of parents because of their faith is completely contrary to the principle of equality and pluralism,” he said

The presumption the Catholic Church wanted to control as many schools as it could, irrespective of parental demands, was increasingly seen to be unfounded, he added.

“Equally, the idea that the only way to accommodate religious and cultural diversity in society is to remove the church completely from State-funded schools is increasingly seen as unjust, unhelpful and contrary to the principle of pluralism.”

Cardinal Brady said a new maturity had entered the debate about education and the church, and this had cleared the way “for what could be the most creative and constructive dialogue about the future of education in this country since partition”.

The church was willing to be an enthusiastic and constructive partner if the debate was based on mutual respect and genuine concern for the rights of parents and children.

“If, on the other hand, the dialogue is simply a Trojan horse for removing faith from schools – whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim – then we are destined to remain locked in unnecessary tensions about the future of education, to the detriment of children and society.”

Cardinal Brady said the suggestion schools were unable to be overtly Catholic and accommodate a degree of religious, cultural or ethnic diversity was “unfair and not borne out by experience”. Nor should the church create an impression that no room existed for sharing with other religious and secular approaches, he added.

“We should not apologise for who we are. In an increasingly diverse culture the future lies in ensuring that our schools become more authentically Catholic, both in terms of the authentic Catholic doctrine they teach and the Christian environment which they create.”

Setting out possible guiding principles for agreement on the future of schooling, the Cardinal suggested that the Catholic Church should not create the impression that no room existed for mutual collaboration with other religious and secular approaches; that parents had the right to have their children educated in accordance with their convictions; and that the Catholic Church was open to diversity of provision, but Catholic parents had to be treated on the same basis as others.

Cardinal Brady said he was “surprised and saddened” at the results of an Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll, which found that 61 per cent of people believed the church should give up control of the school system. “But opinion polls change and it’s the task of people who believe in Catholic schools to proclaim their worth,” he said.

He also called for stronger systems of inspection and accountability by the State in applying best practice in safeguarding children at school.

Source: Irish Catholic Media Office

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