Bishops need to be radical to save Catholic schools
Most schools in this country remain Catholic, sort of. In fact, Catholic schools aren't Catholic enough for some parents and they are too Catholic for others. However, for most they are just about right because they don't teach that much Catholicism, just enough to make kids aware that there is an ethical system called Christianity which asks people to be nice to one another.
Last week, in a major speech on education, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, alluded to this fact. He wondered what parents actually mean by a Catholic ethos. He said: "In many cases, they might be referring to a vague concept of a religious school or a school with a fuzzier generic Christian ethos."
He went on: "I have a lurking fear that the term 'ethos' might be so ethereal it may end up an empty, yet politically correct, term, which people can interpret as they wish." As an antidote to this, he said that Catholic schools must have a "defined Catholic ethos which should be verifiable in all its aspects".
And of course, he's right. That is the only way to have truly Catholic schools. However, what if most parents prefer having a "fuzzier generic Christian ethos" in their school around the corner? What would happen if they objected to the sudden appearance in their schools of a robust Catholic ethos that actually taught their kids Catholic doctrine and morals, including all the politically incorrect and unfashionable bits?
Almost as important, what if the teachers objected? Suppose they, too, prefer the fuzzy ethos. In this case, the Bishops are in trouble - and deep down they know it.
That is why the Church's education chiefs met in Maynooth on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the future of Catholic schools. Bishop Leo O'Reilly said that Church-run schools are now operating in radically changed circumstances and that the time had come to "reassert that [Catholic] agenda and to develop a quality service appropriate to our time".
The biggest change is the advancement of secularism and the concomitant advance of an attitude that can be summed up as: 'All religions are basically the same and why would any Church insist on teaching our kids its specific, and probably sectarian, doctrines?'
At First Holy Communion time this attitude is seen at its starkest. This is now seen by many parents as basically a coming-of-age ceremony, with religious trimmings overlaid with a very thick coat of consumerism. Teachers and priests can find this demoralising, and so do the parents who would prefer the day to be much more religious in character and serve as an antidote to consumerism instead of as a reinforcement.
So, short of ramming Catholicism down the throats of the children of unwilling parents, what's to be done? It's time for the bishops to think radically. They need to recognise, and then react to, the reality that most parents, and probably most teachers as well, want a fuzzy, generic Christian ethos for their schools. They need to get out of as many schools as will meet the demand for this sort of education.
If it turns out that 70% of parents today don't want a robust Catholic ethos in their kids' schools, then they need to get out of 70% of schools. The logistics of this could be worked out with the State, which would have to somehow compensate the Church for handing over so much property.
The remaining 30pc of schools - or whatever it turned out to be - could then have the sort of robust Catholic ethos the bishops presumably want and which the parents choosing to send their kids to these schools would definitely want.
It's hard to see any other way around the mess Catholic and, indeed, other denominational schools now find themselves in. Only bold action on the part of the bishops can save Catholic education. Have they the nerve for it?
The Irish anti-war movement is misnamed. It is really an anti-American movement because the lion's share of its energy and anger is reserved for wars in which the United States is involved.
The 'anti-war' movement is still trying to convince itself that last week's election was illegitimate and that the situation in Iraq would be much improved if only the Yanks would quit. Furthermore, they claim, Iraqis were voting to kick out the Yanks.
Let's try to rebut those points quickly. An election does not have to be perfect to be valid. Nor does it have to be supported by all sectors of society. When the Serbs of Kosovo boycotted last year's election there, no one cared.
Second, the notion that violence would decrease in Iraq if the Americans left is downright dangerous. There would not be peace between the rival communities. There wasn't peace between them before the American invasion. There was only oppression. The Sunni Arabs would try once more to crush the Kurds and the Shiites, and the Kurds and the Shiites would fight back hard. There would be a bloodbath.
Finally, the notion that Iraqis were voting to kick out the Yanks is simply laughable. If that is so, then why wasn't the turn-out much higher seeing as we're always being told that the great majority of Iraqis want the Americans out? Why didn't the Sunnis vote, seeing as they're the most anti-American of all? Why did the Saddamite bitter-enders and Jihadists oppose the election? And why was the turn-out the highest in the most pro-American area of Iraq i.e the Kurdish area?