Irish Catholic Schools: Avoidance of Research Threatens Integrity

Dec 17, 2019 | 0 comments

Upbeat classroom illustration from recent Irish Bishops’ pastoral reflection on Christian Mindfulness

‘I was a hypocrite through need’ – so declares Peter Gunning, retired Irish Primary Catholic School Principal, in an article for the Irish Times, 17th Dec 2019.

He explains that, had he still been in that principal’s role he could not in conscience have heeded the recent advice of Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismoreto pray the Rosary and to spend time with Jesus in adoration or in quiet meditation in the classroom“.

Mr Gunning continued:

“In my 40 years working in Catholic schools teaching prayer was something I found both difficult and hypocritical. The hypocrisy did not just stem from my own non-praying self, but also from the knowledge that, more often than not, children came from homes where Home and Away out-donged the peal of the Angelus bell at six o’clock each evening.”

As for Bishop Cullinan’s reported advice on teaching Christian mindfulness in schools, Gunning responds:

“This requires far more pedagogical technique than rote-teaching mantras. To bring the children to Jesus through meditation requires skilful practice only attainable by someone who truly believes in what they are doing. We of little faith or none cannot hide behind our shields of hypocrisy.”

The fact that Peter Gunning tells us this only post-retirement raises a question that the Irish Bishops’ Conference needs to address directly:

Just how many Irish Catholic school teachers currently in that same faith-forming role consider themselves to be ‘hypocrites through need‘?

And given that for at least two decades there has been an avoidance of the obvious need for comprehensive research on a range of issues connected with faith formation in Irish Catholic education, another even more serious question needs to be asked:

In resisting the increasing secularising pressure on faith schooling in Ireland, are Irish bishops consciously maintaining a protocol of ‘don’t ask: don’t tell’ in the Irish Catholic educational system? 

That is, do they believe that to defeat the campaign against Irish Catholic faith schools it is best that no church research should probe where teachers truly stand on the ‘faith’ issue, and that no teacher should think of ‘coming out’ as an unbeliever while still so employed?

The recent decision of the Dublin archdiocese to begin shifting the burden of child faith formation and sacramental preparation onto parents and parishes is a clear sign that not all Irish bishops see Catholic schools as reliable any longer in this role.  This, and Peter Gunning’s post-retirement candour, speak volumes about the shortfalls of the current ‘don’t ask: don’t tell’ situation in Ireland more widely.

It follows inexorably that to allay fears on this matter, the Irish Bishops Conference should either immediately initiate credible research into the true state of integrity in Irish Catholic education, or declare an intent to follow the Dublin archdiocesan example.

Sean O’Conaill, 17th Dec 2019

[For other ACI related articles see also the ACI category page:  Faith formation ]

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