Alternative to Catholic schools coming 'too slowly' – Martin
ARCHBISHOP Diarmuid Martin has admitted that options for parents who do not want to send their children to a Catholic school are developing "far too slowly".
In his most clear-cut comments yet on the future control of schools, the Archbishop of Dublin said the Catholic Church had no "divine right" to a near monopoly on education in Ireland.
And he said the longer the church exercised such a near monopoly in the primary sector, the more difficult it would be to foster and maintain a genuine Catholic ethos in its own schools.
And he stressed the need to form "new working relationships between church and State" to break down resistance to change.
Dr Martin set out his forthright views in an address in Galway to the annual conference of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents managers of Catholic secondary schools.
He put forward a staunch defence of Catholic education, but made an equally strong case for more choice, in order to respect the rights and beliefs of families of different faiths and traditions.
Dr Martin referred to the recent amalgamation of two Catholic primary schools in Dublin to free up a premises for a multi-denominational Educate Together school.
It was the first such handover facilitated by the Catholic Church, which he described as "an expression not of a retreat from the tradition of Catholic education, but of the beginnings of a new presence".
The Catholic Church runs about 3,000 of the State's 3,200 primary school while Educate Together has 68.
He said in the Dublin area, with an increasing number of Educate Together and other schools, that the alternative was growing – "albeit far too slowly".
He said that opposition often came from within local Catholic communities but it can also come – as he said said to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn – from local political representatives, including some from the Labour Party.
Archbishop Martin said Catholic education had a vital place in the Irish system, and would continue to play that role, but in future would be working alongside other schools that embraced a different ethos.
"Pluralism is something we should welcome. The Catholic children of the Ireland of the future will live in a climate of pluralism – and must learn not to fear pluralism," he said.
He said Catholic schools could accommodate children of families of different faiths and outlooks, but that "did not mean that the current situation in which the number of Catholic schools greatly exceeds the percentage of Catholics in the population is one that is satisfactory.
"There are people in Ireland who wish their children to attend schools without any religious ethos.
"The State would be failing in its duty if it did not see that such citizens can exercise that right."
He said for the Catholic school system to work and to be able to provide authentic Catholic religious education, it required that there be a viable, accessible and tested system of alternatives.
"It may seem a paradox, but the longer the church exercises a near monopoly in primary education, the more difficult it will be to foster and maintain a genuine Catholic ethos in those schools," the archbishop added.