Catholics have been urged to fight any proposal to weaken Catholic schools after the Programme for Government published this week proposed a citizens’ assembly on the future of education.
Theologian Dr John Murray of Dublin City University told The Irish Catholic that he would be concerned that “such an assembly could be used to give the illusion that there is a huge desire for a State takeover of education.
“That would amount to a complete rejection of Catholic education, but also the input of the minority faith communities,” he said.
Dr Murray said “given previous citizens’ assemblies, I would be concerned that it would be used to give the illusion of a landslide for change” that would effectively ban denominational schools and replace them with a one size fits all model regardless of parents’ choice.
“That’s the overall agenda as far as I can see,” he told The Irish Catholic.
However, Dr Murray warned that there is need for change and the process of divesting some Catholic schools must continue “where there is local demand”.
Prof. Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick said he believed “it is time for a well-thought out negotiated settlement in regard to education between Church and State.
“The various Church bodies concerned urgently need to seize the initiative by preparing their own programme for appropriate divestment in return for key guarantees that will result in an authentic and well-resourced Catholic educational system.
“This is in the State’s interest as well as it will enhance plurality of provision and parental choice,” Prof. Conway said.
Dr Murray warned that it is important that the Church not allow Catholic schools to be “emptied out of their Catholic character”.
He said that while respect for all religious traditions is evident in schools, any move to insist that Catholic schools teach that all religious traditions are equal would be “another stepping stone on the way to empty out the schools of all their character”.
Meanwhile, Bishop Tom Deenihan of Meath told this newspaper that the Church “rightly sees education as a vital component for a flourishing society.
“The Catholic Church will be anxious to work with the new Minister for Education in a spirit of partnership,” he said.