In an alarmist edition of the Irish Catholic, Senator Ronan Mullen has called upon Irish Catholic bishops to mobilise Irish Catholic parents to fight off likely Irish government plans to “kick the Church out of education”.
Calling a proposed ‘citizen’s assembly’ in the Republic of Ireland a likely ploy to ‘cut the constitutional thread’ that give churches the right to run schools Senator Mullen calls upon Ireland’s Catholic bishops to ‘engage Catholic families’ for resistance.
This alarmist note is echoed by Dr Tom Finegan of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and Dr John Murray of Dublin City University.
However, given the complete absence of evidence that Ireland’s Catholic schools are currently developing an enduring Catholic faith in their students, for what exactly should – or could – Ireland’s Catholic parents be ‘mobilised’?
This question must be in the minds of Ireland’s bishops also, given the following:
- The typical and increasing absence not only of Irish teenagers but of their parents’ generations from Catholic services, even before the onset of the coronavirus lockdown in the spring of 2020;
- The complete absence of 21st century research evidence that Irish faith schools are effective in forming a Christian faith in their students.
- The failure of Irish Catholic educators, bishops included, to determine if even a majority of teachers involved in a faith formation role are themselves committed Christian believers.
- The bishops’ own declaration of a pivot towards adult faith formation, to take place in all parishes, in the programme ‘Share the Good News’, published in 2011.
- The apparent collapse of this plan subsequently – it was to be fully implemented in all Irish parishes by next year, 2021. ‘Where is it?’ asked Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin in an Irish Times interview of April 2019.
- The Dublin archdiocesan declaration of intent to train lay parish personnel for the task of preparation of children and families for sacraments of initiation, in Dec 2019.
In answer to Dr Diarmuid Martin’s question, the reason for the disappearance of Share the Good News seems fairly obvious: taken as a complete body, Ireland’s Catholic diocesan clergy are unable to engage confidently in open dialogue with adult Catholics – parents included – in a faith formation role.
This inability is all the more serious in light of the series of cataclysmic shocks suffered by the Irish church since 1992. Not even our bishops have felt able to assemble their people for frank admission and open dialogue on all of that.
Given this background, what is the likelihood that Irish Catholic parents should – or could – now be mobilised merely for the constitutional defence of the mere existence of nominally Catholic faith schools?
If ‘mobilisation’ is now even to be considered, the only feasible agenda is one that frankly admits the entirety of the crisis of continuity that now threatens the future of Catholic faith in Ireland – and invites all interested adults into frank discussion of all of that. Until the indispensable faith-forming role of parents is recognised ‘the Church’ will continue to kick itself out of Irish education.
Sean O’Conaill, 14th July, 2020