Former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has urged fellow politicians to resist the temptation to demonise the huge contribution of Catholic education simply because it has become fashionable to criticise the Church.
Mr Flanagan said that citizens owed priests and religious a huge debt of gratitude for their tireless commitment, especially when the State lacked the will to be more hands-on in education or other areas of society.
“Too often nowadays it’s popular – or almost fashionable – to knock the Catholic Church, to dismiss the Catholic Church.
“Undoubtedly its [the Church’s] role in the education in our country has been substantial and still remains significant,” He said.
Mr Flanagan – a senior Fine Gael backbencher who is TD for Laois-Offaly – was speaking at the blessing of refurbished and extended buildings at his former school Knockbeg College. The ceremony was presided over by Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty.
Pointing out that there is currently a debate about the future of education in Ireland, Bishop Nulty said “I welcome this debate.
“The Church has over the years made an enormous contribution through its teachers – lay, religious and clerical to education in our country. Our diocesan schools have many examples of staff members who went way beyond the call of duty or indeed post of responsibility in their care of their students,” he said.
Taking this theme up, Mr Flanagan said that the contribution of priests and religious to education had been immeasurable over the years “particularly evident in the history of Knockbeg when the State intuitions lacked the will or the expertise, or both, to deliver an appropriate level of education for the young people of our country.
“Looking back on the 230-year-old history of Knockbeg, we see it as one of the oldest secondary schools in the entire land and I want in particular, to acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church in the story of Knockbeg,” Mr Flanagan said.
Mr Flanagan, who is President of the Past Pupils’ Union, added that the priests who served the college have been “responsible for great leadership in the delivery of top drawer education of thousands of young men in this region over a long period of time”.
As a diocesan college, Knockbeg is under the patronage of Bishop Nulty.