Churches unite to defend faith schools
The main Christian churches are united in their determination to resist any moves by the Government that would dilute the ethos of faith-based schools.
The Irish Catholic has learned that Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist leaders are standing firm with Catholic leaders in their resolve to oppose legislation that would effectively eliminate the distinctive character of the schools and deny parents the right to choose such an education for their children.
As all of the Churches await the final report of the Government’s Forum on School Patronage — due before Christmas — it is understood that a threat to rule 68 has emerged as the major concern.
Rule 68 states that ”a religious ethos should inform and vivify the whole work of the school”.
A senior Catholic Church source said that the removal of the rule ”would mean that faith-based schools would effectively be prevented from being faith-based schools.
”We would be Catholic schools in name but would be prevented from doing anything active to preserve or even promote that ethos,” the source said.
Another major concern is the proposal in the draft report to reduce faith formation to merely a ‘discreet subject’ within the primary curriculum. The forum proposed discussing the handover of some schools in 47 areas of the country in 18 different Catholic dioceses.
However, The Irish Catholic understands that the thrust of the Churches’ concerns have moved away from the issue of divestment directly towards protecting the rights of so-called ‘stand alone’ schools, mostly Catholic, in communities where no faith-based school will be transferred to the State. Church leaders and educationalists are concerned that if the faith schools that remain are to enhance their authenticity, any threat to their ethos or to reduce the role of faith formation must be defeated. In its submission, the Church of Ireland insisted that it ”cannot agree to regulations on religious instruction and/or education in our schools which might restrict the time we might give to teaching children about Christian faith”.