Three leading Catholic academics have criticised a Department of Education survey seeking views on how Church-run schools can be made more inclusive.
Prof Eamonn Conway, Dr Eugene Duffy and Dr Rik Van Nieuwenhove, from the Dept. of Theology & Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick sent their submission in a personal capacity to Education Minister Ruairí Quinn this week in response to his eight-week consultation process on religious and cultural inclusion in primary schools.
Their joint submission, seen by The Irish Catholic, accuses the department of “conveying the impression that currently in Catholic schools inclusion is the exception, rather than already the norm”.
The theologians support divesting patronage from Catholic schools where there is “sufficient and convincing evidence of parental demand”, and on the basis that schools remaining under Catholic patronage will be “allowed to function in accordance with their characteristic spirit”.
However, they “do not accept that the findings of the consultation thus far conducted by the Department of Education and Skills have produced such evidence of parental demand”.
Their submission alleges that what is being proposed requires Catholic schools “to fulfil the State’s duty of catering for children of non-Christian parents”.
“Bizarrely, Catholic schools are to be given the impossible task of supporting all faiths and none, regardless of the impact this will have on their own characteristic spirit,” the statement says.
“If these proposals are implemented, a legitimate concern to safeguard the rights of a minority will effectively vitiate the rights of the majority. The Irish State has the obligation to facilitate the provision of education of people with non-Christian worldviews.
“However, it cannot reasonably expect Christian schools to diminish their own identity and renege on their mission to provide a formation in the Christian faith for the children in their care,”
Practical suggestions made in the submission:
▪ Support fully the development of non-Catholic and non-religious schools where there is a properly documented demographic and sociological demand for same.
▪ Work with patrons of Catholic schools and support bodies, e.g. the CPSMA, to support the full, authentic and effective implementation of the characteristic spirit of Catholic schools, which includes the distinctively Catholic understanding of inclusion and respect for the richness and diversity of other beliefs and cultures. This includes co-operating with the Church in providing continuing professional development for parents, teachers, principals and members of Boards of Management of Catholic schools.
▪ Co-operate with appropriate bodies in the development of curricular and other resources that support and encourage inclusion and the acknowledgment of diversity in a manner fostered by, consistent with and founded upon the distinctiveness of Catholic education. Useful here are the principles for dialogue, and for respect for inclusion and diversity developed in the context of the ‘Courtyard of the Gentiles’ project of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the emergence of the concept of a ‘culture of encounter’ in the ministry of Pope Francis.
▪ Accept and acknowledge the reality that ‘neutrality is never neutral’, and that the ethos of a school, whether religious or secular, is never a private matter.
▪ Retain sacramental preparation as an integral part of the programme in Catholic schools, including in ‘stand-alone’ schools.
▪ Encourage Catholic and other faith-based schools in their continuing excellent work in the service of inclusion and involvement of all pupils in the life of the school and community. This means encouraging them to continue to display their religious symbols and artefacts in an authentic and integral manner, while providing proper pedagogy in regard to such symbols and artefacts to pupils of other faiths. At the same time, support schools in continuing to provide opportunities for those who hold other beliefs to respect them and deepen their own faith commitment.
▪ Acknowledge and support fully in Catholic schools the appropriately privileged position of Christian holy days, feasts, and sacraments, by showing due respect for these, and ensure that Catholic children will learn respect for the festivals of other religions, and non-Catholics will learn to cherish their own.
▪ Retain and support Catholic Religious Education as an integral dimension of the curriculum of Catholic schools. There is no need to introduce a secular Education about Religion and Beliefs, and Ethics module because Catholic RE will include engagement with other worldviews (both religious and non-religious) from a Catholic perspective; this can also involve knowledge of, and occasional exposure to, the practices and symbols of other religions.
But it should not end up in an indifferent, relativist ‘super-market style’ display throughout the school of the religious symbols of all denominations, as if they are all equally valid from a Catholic point of view.