Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pope urges Irish Church to defend ‘quality’ Catholic schools

Pope Francis has encouraged the Church in Ireland to maintain and enhance the strong values of Catholic schools, despite a background of negativity from some vested interests.

Speaking to the bishops in a closed-door meeting at the Vatican on Friday, the Pontiff said that to be truly Catholic, schools have to be of the highest quality, not merely intellectually but holistically.

As the Church here marks Catholic Schools Week, a celebration aimed at underling the unique importance of parish-based schools, Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin revealed that the Pope told the Irish bishops in Rome that “it was important that we maintain the institution of Catholics schools”.

Presence

He talked about education and the value of Catholic schools,” Dr Martin said. He underlined the fact that the Pope emphasised that “the real secret in any society, whether it be pluralistic or one that has a broad Catholic presence, was the quality of Catholic schools.

“Not just ‘up here’,” the archbishop said referring to academic formation, “but in “the broad quality of education that Catholic schools can provide.”

The Pope’s intervention comes as it has been revealed that just 1.2% of applicants for admission turned down by Catholic schools in Dublin were on the basis of not being baptised, despite campaigners portraying the issue as a growing problem.

Prompted to undertake the study amid an ongoing debate around the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ and Minister for Education Richard Bruton’s proposed consultation on the issue, the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) sent surveys to 456 schools in the Dublin area receiving 384 responses to its question on admission policy and baptism certificates.

Those responses demonstrated that only 17 schools refused enrolment on issues relating to baptism certificates, just 4.4% of the total. All of the 17 were oversubscribed by 2.1 applicants per place, the CPSMA further revealed. 

Unveiling the findings, the CPSMA general secretary, Seamus Mulconry, said, “That the issue the Minister rightfully seeks to address is more to do with the lack of school places, than anything to do with an issue surrounding baptism certificates is demonstrated starkly by these figures.”

Focus

Mr Mulconry went on to describe the focus on the ‘baptism barrier’ as “frankly insulting to the principals, staff and volunteer boards of management of Catholic schools throughout the State. No Catholic school requires a baptism certificate as an absolute condition of enrolment and Catholic schools are inclusive and welcoming environments to children from all faith backgrounds and none.”

Pointing to the “acute shortage of school places” in Dublin revealed through the survey, Mulconry added that “the real issue is one of resources and the need to create school places through the opening of new schools or the expansion of existing ones”.

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