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Raise Confirmation age to 16, says Bishop of Limerick

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Bishop Brendan Leahy 
Picture: Frank Mc Grath

Bishop Brendan Leahy Picture: Frank Mc Grath

Bishop Brendan Leahy Picture: Frank Mc Grath

The Catholic Bishop of Limerick has said children are receiving the sacrament of Confirmation too young and has suggested they wait until they are 16 and can 'opt in'.

Children are currently confirmed at 12 years old while in sixth class in primary school.

But Bishop Brendan Leahy has suggested it could take place while children are in Transition Year and be more parish-based with a project element carried out in schools.

The bishop's idea would entail a massive shake-up of religious education at both primary and second level.

In a major address to launch Catholic Schools Week in the diocese of Limerick last night, Bishop Leahy asked if 12-year-olds are really aware of what is going on when they are confirmed. He suggested they might be "floating" into Confirmation rather than "opting" to be confirmed.

Speaking at the Woodlands Hotel in Adare, Dr Leahy said it is important in Ireland that "we re-awaken students to the fact that being a Catholic is an option".

The bishop also underlined that the removal of Confirmation from the primary school, which would result from having Confirmation at an older age, would not have to mean less religious education.

His proposal is likely to be welcomed by many sixth class teachers who feel students spend too much time on sacramental preparation in their final year of the primary cycle.

The bishop, who oversees scores of Confirmation ceremonies around his diocese, said: "We can have wonderful sacramental ceremonies but the child finds little resonance between that and what is going on in his or her everyday life at home."

He also assessed the failings of Confirmation practice currently, warning that instead of coming to know the Catholic faith as a new, challenging and meaningful horizon that can be opted into, "it often appears like a pre-fabricated cultural package of Irish heritage we are born into - to be discarded nonchalantly later in life as part of our throwaway culture".

While Confirmation continues to be seen as an important ritual which parents and family members make an effort to be present for, the bishop proposed its incorporation as part of a parish-based programme during Transition Year, possibly linked to a project in school.

Addressing the quality of religious culture in Catholic schools, he said such schools are today located within a vast variety of cultural traditions, family arrangements, moral views and convictions.

But he warned against giving in to a "superficial description of decline in religious practice simply in terms of waywardness, bad will or rejection of church authority".

In reality, the Catholic Church is in the process of a major social and cultural transformation, he said.

Dr Leahy also admitted that historical baggage has left people "a little reticent about the value of Catholic schools".

However, he appealed to people, while acknowledging the failures of the past, "not to have a baby and bathwater situation." "There is much that was and is great about Catholic schools in Limerick," he said.

Irish Independent