School patronage debate 'is about quality of faith'
THE Catholic Church does not see this week's national debate on primary school patronage as being about the number of buildings it will hand over to other bodies, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said last night.
Speaking in St Colmcille's parish at Knocklyon, Dublin, Archbishop Martin insisted that bishops were concerned about "the quality of the faith life of the Catholic school".
He was responding to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's call for the church to divest itself of 50pc of its 3,000 schools from its control to accommodate the growing non-Catholic sector. The debate opens on Wednesday in the Department of Education.
"The current discussion on changes in school patronage is not just about management or ethos or about numbers," said Archbishop Martin. "Catholic patronage of a school does not on its own bring about a truly Catholic culture to a school.
"For the church the discussion about schools today is not about the number of schools that may change patronage, but about the quality of the faith life of the Catholic school."
Ninety per cent of Dublin primary schools are under Archbishop Martin's patronage, although parents wanting a Catholic education for their children could be as low as 50pc of the school population.
But in a submission to forum chairman Professor John Coolahan, four bishops heading the Council for Education of the Episcopal Conference challenged Mr Quinn's 50pc suggestion as "very unhelpful".
Bishop of Kilmore, Leo O'Reilly, explained that Mr Quinn's stance suggested that Catholic schools "will be forced into change against their will".
"We are not involved in social engineering but in the voluntary transfer of patronage where there is demonstrable demand for such," added Bishop O'Reilly.
The bishops' education council said any change in patronage must be negotiated locally.
"A decision to change patronage must be a voluntary operation," they warned, pointing out that in any case of a change of patronage, provision must be made for the rights of Catholic parents and their children.
Last April Mr Quinn set an "ambitious" objective for the forum. "If we aim high, there is a greater chance of success," he said, stressing that he was not rigid about the 50pc figure.
The archbishop was speaking at a commissioning ceremony of nine pastoral workers who will ease the pressure arising from numbers of clergy by assisting in parish work.