First Day at School: Catholic Priests at the Ready

Ham sandwiches were securely lodged within lunchbox’s this morning as children rushed back to school following the summer break. For many children it was their first encounter with the education system. While the majority of Irish children will be returning/entering a State faith-based education system, a small minority (approx 14,000) will be entering a multi-denominational education system, namely Educate Together.

Multi-denominational education in Ireland has steadily grown over the past number of years, which highlights the growing need of parents to enrol their children within a progressive education system. Furthermore, as highlighted by Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, the first day of school is a child’s; “first interaction with the State so it is important that it is a positive experience for them”.

Currently Educate Together Schools account for approximately 2% of primary schools in Ireland. A wide array of faith groups are represented in Educate Together schools, with the schools open to all possible social, cultural or religious backgrounds. Varying world religions are taught, with additional after school classes available to cater for those who wish to prepare for the revelant sacrament. Within these schools, children address their teachers by their first name. This is a strong statement to the child as it enriches both communicative and diplomatic skills, but more importantly it creates an environment of mutual respect.

While I am not a father, a child’s enrolment within this education system would appear to me to be the best way possible for a parent to assist their child with invaluable life skills to openly decipher their existence.

This progressive free-thinking approach to education is in stark contrast to a bygone era of Roman Catholic primary school education which is thankfully slowly being diluted. In April, the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism was launched, which recommended that approx 50 Catholic primary schools transfer to non-denominational patronage. While this is a significant step regarding the modernisation of education within Ireland, it unfortunately falls significantly short of transferring all possible control from church to state. The Catholic Church being required to pay taxes including the controversial household charge would be a step in the correct direction.

The sheer volume of concerns regarding denominational faith-based schools is quite frankly beyond quantification. Issues can range from the official requirement of a baptismal certificate for enrolment, to teachers displaying religious symbols in order to impress the interviewer (who happens to belong to a religious order). Potential teachers are often required to falsely declare that their religious beliefs are in line with the given schools denomination, in order to attain employment.

While these are mere symptoms of a void between where the church resides on modernisation, and where the government needs to take control, the reality is many children will suffer exclusion today. Exclusion due to being enrolled within a denominational, faith-based education system that is well past it’s sell by date.

The Irish Catholic Church Strikes Again

While I felt that Ireland as a whole had begun to progress, Cardinal Sean Brady recently issued a statement declaring that any attempt made by the government of Ireland to legislate for abortion due to a judgement made by the European Court of Human Rights would be; “vigorously and comprehensively opposed by many”.

While this would be quite understandable given the diversity of society, I wasn’t quite ready for the Cardinal’s perceived self importance regarding the issue. His reference to lobbying and canvassing politicians was quite frankly beyond belief. Given the findings of various reports and the contribution of Cardinal Sean Brady to the anguish of many abused Irish children, one would assume that an individual such as this would not be immune to shame and would therefore either resign, or be “relocated” like so many before him.

                                           Cardinal Sean Brady, the Primate of All Ireland.

“The debate about these issues is about to intensify in our country over coming months. It is important that we all have the courage to make our voices heard. It is important that we do justice to the logic and human reason behind the values we hold,” Cardinal Brady announced. So what moral teachings should one take from Catholic teachings regarding this subject matter? Certainly, respect towards women within religious scripture is quite frankly frightening, and alarming.

The Old Testament wasn’t exactly a ‘pillar’ of moral direction, and while most moderates don’t take much of it seriously, many fundamentalists especially within the United States of America, still do. This is quite alarming especially considering the political power and influence many of these ‘Jonah and the Whale’ believers have. The New Testament doesn’t offer much either, unless one possessed an aptitude for ‘Nostradamusing’ metaphors. My personal favourite story for moral compass aligning can be found in the Old Testament, where Abraham’s nephew Lot hospitably welcomed two angels who were sent to Sodom to warn Lot and his family to flee. While not allowing the locals of Sodom to ‘sodomise’ them, thankfully I hear you proclaim; he said;

“I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof” (Genesis 19:7-8).

While the division between the state and an organisation such as the Catholic Church in Ireland has begun to broaden, major changes are still required. While Cardinal Sean Brady wishes to “inform people of the ills of abortion” I will finish my first blog post with an interesting quote from Ecclesiastes;

“But better off are those who have never been born, who have never seen the injustice that goes on in the world” (Ecclesiastes 4:3).

(Video of Sean Brady recently posted on a different post, go to Blog homepage for video)

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