PARENTS will be asked to accompany their children to weekend religious classes, under plans drawn up by the Catholic bishops.
The Sunday school-type classes are on the way for Catholic families who don't send their children to church schools but still want them to get religious instruction.
In a move that will test their commitment, parents will also be encouraged to get involved in the preparation of the classes and even join their children for the weekly sessions.
The bishops have drawn up a blueprint for parish-based religious education, although planning is at the early stages.
A new policy document -- 'Religious Education of Catholic Children Not Attending Catholic Schools' -- takes account of the changing educational landscape.
"Not all the children of Catholic families attend Catholic schools," states the document by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference.
It adds that there is a need for more parish-based programmes to minister to these children and their families.
While the proposed model wouldn't necessarily replicate the Church of Ireland's Sunday school, the bishops' document suggests classes should be held weekly during term time.
Saturday would be another obvious day for the sessions, which would be run by trained, paid cathechism teachers.
It is the first time the bishops have published a formal policy on the provision of religious education outside school.
Catholic religious education and preparation for sacraments, such as First Communion and Confirmation, has been traditionally entrusted to schools.
The Catholic Church controls 92pc of primary schools, but there is growing diversity, and further change is expected as talks begin on the handover of some schools to other patron organisations.
By choice, many parents raised as Catholic send their children to a growing number of multi-denominational Educate Together schools, where there is no religious instruction.
However, some of these parents also send their children to religious education and preparation classes for the sacraments, which are classes organised within the parish, paying perhaps €100 a year.
These have been established on an ad hoc basis, and the new document is the first step towards an official framework.
The bishops' document states that the purpose of the programmes is to support and guide parents in their task as prime religious educators.
It adds that local circumstances will dictate matters such as frequency, length of sessions and who is involved in the delivery of the programme
"However, to offer children the best support, ideally parents are involved in the preparation of classes and accompany children at the sessions," it says.
While there is no link between the new policy document and the plans to divest Catholic schools to other patron bodies, it could play a role.