Baptising your child to gain school place just an 'abuse' - Archbishop
Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said that baptising children simply so they can attend a particular school is an "abuse" of the sacrament.
Dr Martin's comments come amid an intense debate over the number of so-called 'baptisms of convenience' because of the pressure for places in some Catholic schools.
The Catholic Church controls about 90pc of primary schools, and those that are oversubscribed use the baptism rule to prioritise admissions.
The Archbishop used his homily at the annual Schools Mass in the Pro-Cathedral to launch a strong defence of Catholic education, while also advocating the rights of those who wanted choice.
He said: "Catholic education should be a realistic free choice and possibility for parents who genuinely wish it. Baptising children simply to be able to attend a specific school is an abuse of baptism."
He also voiced his most forthright support yet for parents and teachers who want more choice regarding the teaching of religion in primary schools.
As Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Martin is the single biggest patron of primary education, with about 470 of the country's 3,000 schools under Church control.
He said in his homily that parents who did "not wish their children to attend religious education have a right to see their wish respected".
Dr Martin added that teachers "who do not believe should not feel compelled to teach religious education or faith formation".
He said: "Those who do not believe - who may be very well men and women of great personal integrity and goodness - are in any case not the ones who can transmit what faith means."
The Archbishop has been a strong supporter of divesting Catholic schools to other patron bodies as a way of creating choice, and has expressed regret at the slow pace of that initiative. But defending his own schools, he repeated that he had "no interest in being patron to any school which does not have an avowed Catholic ethos".
He said: "Catholic education is not poison, as one might sometimes get the impression from certain debates."
While international bodies have been critical of the lack of opportunity for children of parents who not believe, he said "they do not criticise Irish religious and denominational education as such".
Dr Martin said he was "strongly in favour of the presence of Catholic education as a component of a new pluralism in education. There are some who, in the name of pluralism, would wish to exclude denominational education from the overall framework. That to me sounds like an ideologically truncated pluralism.
"They say that publicly funded education should contain no traces of denominational education. But if parents, the primary educators, wish their children to receive education with a robust religious ethos, why should a pluralist society exclude support for their decision?"
He admitted that "Catholic education in Ireland is not perfect" and warned of the dangers of popular schools becoming elitist.
"The temptation can easily emerge to look on those with learning difficulties or from different cultural or social backgrounds as a threat to such success, a temptation to close ranks. Every Catholic school has an obligation to make an annual examination of conscience and carry out its very own 'elitist check'," he added.