Catholic education needs a new champion

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Catholic education needs a new champion

Bishop Leahy at the launch of new Religious Education Curriculum and Religious Education series, Grow in Love, for primary schools

OKAY, so I’m no hero. If the country was invaded by alien forces in the morning, I’d be under the bed in a flash, nervously waiting for someone else to fight off the enemy and defend the flag.

So you can imagine my surprise then when I found myself - like the infamous Henry VIII – as a self-professed defender of the Faith. But somebody has to do it. Too many of the faithful are lying low in the face of this latter day onslaught on everything we hold dear, including our right to an education with a Catholic ethos for our children.

You’d think we were descended from Attila the Hun, so apologetic have we become about our religious affiliations. I was accused of being a ‘majoritarian’ last week by a friend when I suggested that the vast majority of people in this country classified themselves as Roman Catholics in the last census – although I’m not so sure about the census taken in April. Half of them are probably afraid to admit it now in the face of all this aggression.

Now I’m not a great Catholic myself by any means, although I do try and keep the rules. I’ve had my problems with the Church over the years, including the snobbery and exclusion I witnessed in my youth from individual clerics and nuns, although most of those I knew were exemplary Christians. I’m not very religious or even very charitable, and the most I can hope for is to be in the rearguard when the saints go marching in. But I’m sick and tired of the increasingly hostile, media driven disparagement of the Catholic Church and its tenets by an ever growing band of pseudo liberals who have no alternative to offer that might at least afford me a meaning for life or even comfort my fears of death.

The awful thing is that they don’t really know anything. All I can see in this new secular society which has taken upon itself the expression of true republicanism is a vague humanism that, frankly, scares the daylights out of me, knowing what I do about humanity - and an obligatory course in mindfulness, which scares me even more, knowing what I do about how my mind works. Yes, some of them want to dispense with religion in the classroom and put on a module in mindfulness instead.

Now I’m all for true republicanism – if such a state were even possible in a country with strongly defined aristocratic yearnings - but surely it can’t be that true if Catholic beliefs have to be denigrated to accommodate non-believers.

It’s not easy being a Catholic these days. Your anarchic existence is an affront to progress especially now that Education Minister, Richard Bruton, won’t get rid of this irksome Baptism requirement for enrolment priority in over-subscribed state schools under Church management. Now I’d be very cross if he did yield to their demands, although I can’t for the life of me see why he can’t supply enough school places for everyone in those over subscribed schools and call the bluff of the liberals.

The trouble is that it wouldn’t be enough, judging by the response to his proposal for 400 community national schools. For not only do the liberals want their children raised and educated without religion on the menu, but they don’t want anyone else’s children taught religion either - at least not at the taxpayers’ expense. Even when they’re welcomed to a Catholic run school with open arms and treated with the utmost kindness and respect, they don’t want their children to have to go and sit elsewhere for half an hour every day while the teacher gives religious instruction to the majority of the class. So everyone must abandon religion classes, lest their children be made to feel ‘different’.

But what’s wrong with being ‘different’? Surely the purpose of schooling – and true republicanism for that matter - is not to camouflage difference but to teach children to respect and celebrate diversity, and to honour their respective beliefs.

Of course the rights of the non-believing taxpayers have to be respected, but that shouldn’t mean obliterating the believers. Maybe Minister Bruton should remind them that Catholics pay taxes too, and from my ‘majoritarian’ stand point, there’s a hell of a lot more money going into the exchequer from Catholic taxpayers than there is from any other religious or non religious group. Fair play and a bit of respect is all I’m advocating.

Meanwhile, nobody has any problem with the practice of taking kids out of the classroom to play hurling during school hours, although not every kid wants to be a hurler. The problem lies only with the teaching of religion in the classroom, but I’d hate my grandchildren to miss out on a whole tapestry of human experience that captivated me as a child when we read stories from the Old Testament in primary school in preparation for Confirmation. Jonah in the whale’s belly was my first real hero.

The other dismal scenario in the non religious classroom is that they’re going to have to overhaul the whole curriculum. They’ll have to take Gerard Manly Hopkins off the literature list, because, no matter what way they tackle it, “Glory be to God for dappled things …” will be hard to explain to a class that never heard of God. Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ will probably be consigned to science fiction and Paddy Kavanagh’s mystical imagination will almost certainly get the boot as well, because of his oft mentioned encounters with the Holy Ghost.

The ‘Penal Times’ will have to wiped from the history books too, lest any mention of those desperate days might arouse some unwanted sympathy among the godless pupils for the past struggles of the Irish Catholic Church. But thank Heavens I’m not back there, or I’d have to shut up and crawl back under the bed.