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A la carte parents queue at baptism font

AND so it's started. My eldest boy has gone into second class, a year in his life when most of the children in Ireland will make their First Communion. Except he, along with two other boys in his class, won't be partaking. He is not a Catholic, indeed he doesn't belong to any religion, and, up until now, that hasn't had any significant meaning for him.

But he's attending a Catholic school – a really great school, I might add – and they'll spend a few hours each week on religion. Mid-October his class will attend a special Mass for their ceremony of enrolment, a Sunday Mass that officially marks the kids' journey towards Communion.

His class is already learning songs for the big day and he's expressed an interest in attending the ceremony. (Apparently it's because he wants to sing this "really nice song" although I suspect it may be more to do with his FOMO – fear of missing out.)

Brought up as Catholics, both his dad and I are now firmly in the non-believer camp. However, he's being educated in a Catholic school and I'm more than happy to bring him to Mass with his buddies. The last thing I want is for him to feel like he's missing out.

Like all the kids in his class he knows his prayers, occasionally goes to Mass with his grandparents and is aware that he's growing up in a country where Catholicism is the main religion. At the upcoming ceremony I'm expecting the church to be bulging with families in their glad rags accompanied by excited kids eager to embrace the upcoming sacrament.

I'm also aware that many of these kids won't have been to Mass since their Christening, aside from, perhaps, Christmas, family occasions or maybe with devout grandparents. Mass attendance does not make a Catholic, but I'm also sure there will be hundreds of kids making their communions this year who are Catholic only in name.

I'm referring to the ones who got preferential treatment at school enrolment time because their parents rocked up with a baptism cert in their hands; hypocritical parents who have no intention of bringing their kids up as practicing Catholics, or ever saying a prayer with their kids at home. Sure, they'll jump through the hoops at First Confession, first Holy Communion and Confirmation time, and then they'll move on, pleased as punch, oblivious to their deceit.

In the majority of Irish primary schools (just shy of 90pc) a baptism cert is a golden key that guarantees entrance. It ensures you avoid that heart-stopping period of lying awake at night wondering if your non-Catholic child has been allocated a place in your local school. This broken and discriminatory system fails to address the fact that people, irrespective of personal beliefs, are signing their kids up as Catholics simply to make their lives easier.

Since 2011, Minister Ruairi Quinn has been tackling the issue of school patronage, and it looks like things are moving, albeit slowly, towards a more pluralist system. Transferring some schools out of the patronage of the Catholic Church is one progressive step, but one wonders if it will be enough to stop the wave of hypocritical parents queuing up at the baptism font.

I've told my seven-year-old I'm more than happy to bring him to the special Mass in two weeks' time, although did point out we'd have to miss rugby practice that week. "It's ok then Mum," he replied decisively. "I don't want to go. I'm not missing rugby for anything!"


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