THE Catholic Church is hoping that a "revolutionary" new national directory will spread religious teaching from the classroom and back into homes and parishes.
Describing it as a "time-bomb" thrown into the religious education establishment, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin called for a switch away from schools to new ways in which the parish and the family could hand on the Catholic faith to future generations.
He added: "What is being proposed in the directory is revolutionary for our parishes.
"It is an invitation to break away from our current situation, which is overly school-oriented, and bring back into the picture in a more focused way the central role of the parish and the family.
"It is not a document entrusted to the catechetical establishment. It is a time-bomb thrown into the catechetical establishment and indeed into the religious education establishment.
"It is a reminder that catechesis does not end with the Leaving Certificate," Dr Martin said as he welcomed the directory "wholeheartedly". The manual -- which is priced at €16.99 -- comes amid a backdrop of falling priest numbers and decreasing Mass attendance.
'Share the Good News' is the first national Catholic directory on religious instruction in Ireland and is said to provide "practical guidance to ordinary Catholics at events such as baptism, marriage and funerals".
Approved by the Irish Bishops Conference, it aims to provide a 10-year pastoral programme of Bible-based renewal of the whole Irish Catholic Church.
The report was written by Dr Gareth Byrne, a lecturer in Religious Education at the Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin, who also taught at the Church of Ireland Theological College.
The manual was described by Cardinal Sean Brady as being like "a telephone directory of religious education containing operational help for men and women as well as teachers."
All members of the Catholic faith -- including priests -- are being encouraged to use the manual, but it is mainly aimed at laypeople so they can educate themselves and their children.
"Faith is a deeper matter," Archbishop Martin said. "It is a matter of a deep encounter between the individual and God."
Insisting the new approach was not "anti-schoolteacher", he said the strongest critique of the current situation he heard came from committed teachers of religion.
The directory is not intended to replace school teaching, but to complement it. "These teachers feel left on their own. Parish and family have not been playing their part," he said.
"If the new directory is to be successful, we have to understand that it aims at much more than tweaking at the current system", which was very comfortable for parishes as principal work was done by teachers.
Dr Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, said that the directory was being published at a significant moment when the church lived among a society increasingly losing "a sense of religion".
But he pointed out that the directory was "not a magic formula or a programme which can be launched in the way one would launch a sales push or a political platform".
Dr Martin said that last year he was criticised for reportedly saying at a conference in Italy that many young people left Catholic schools "theologically illiterate".
Insisting that his speech had been misread by critics, Dr Martin said that the Irish system of school catechesis -- religious education -- was not drawing young people in sufficient numbers into church life.