The Government has an obligation to protect schools that are truly Catholic from being stripped of church control, the Archbishop of Dublin has said.
The Most Rev Diarmuid Martin said parents who do not wish to have their children educated within a religious framework have every right. But he insisted that truly Catholic schools must be saved for those who do.
"Ireland needs plurality of provision of schools," said the Archbishop in a lecture on the reform of the Catholic Church.
"But the rights of those Irish citizens who wish their children to receive Catholic education can only be respected by fostering Catholic schools that are truly Catholic and there is an obligation of the State to foster that possibility also."
Nearly 90% of state-funded schools are controlled by the Catholic Church, but the Archbishop pointed out that some welcome children of all faiths.
"There are very few alternatives available and Catholic schools welcome children of all faiths and none," said the Archbishop. "This shows that the Catholic Church is open and welcoming to children of different cultural backgrounds but it has inevitably contributed to an erosion of the concept of what a Catholic school truly is."
The Archbishop was responding to Government moves to strip the church of its patronage.
He pointed out that while there are talks of Ireland moving towards a more secular education system, most parents on a local level still want their children to be educated with some degree of religion.
A report by the Forum of Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector is being finalised, which is expected to make recommendations for Catholic schools to improve how they accommodate non-Catholic children.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ruiri Quinn is to regulate school enrolment policies to ensure all children regardless of background are treated fairly.