Irish Church Schools: Have they Failed?

Nov 8, 2017 | 3 comments











Would the Celtic Tiger madness have overrun this country with such a devastating effect if our church-run schools were successful in instilling Christian values in our population?

“Would developers have been as reckless had church-run schools been effective? Would bankers have driven the economy over a cliff? Whatever happened that laudable “Protestant probity” once associated with Irish banks?”

These and other questions are asked in an opinion piece by Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, on November 15th, 2017. (Rite and Reason: church-run schools have failed at a deeper level)

We in ACI are also asking questions of our Catholic school system, especially with regard to the failure of the Irish bishops to publish research on the growing problem of the visible abandonment of religious practice by younger generations.  (See ‘Ongoing / Faith Formation’ above.)

However, is it fair to fault schools for failing to ‘teach morality’, when always the external society into which school children emerge will provide role models that exert a most powerful influence?

Does not the problem lie rather in a failure of pastoral insight into what is so commonly dismissed as ‘greed and corruption’, and a failure to engage adults with the task of ongoing faith development in a rapidly changing society?

Multiple witnesses already testify to the fact that young people are finding Mass ‘irrelevant and boring’.  This suggests a critical failure at the level of priestly formation in the psychology of ‘social climbing’ and its connection with what the Gospel calls ‘worldliness’.  The preaching of the church is too often completely disconnected from the psychology of a ‘country on the make’ – and, half-a-century after Vatican II, most of our priests shy away from the task of engaging their people in discussion of all that.

No teaching takes place without vigorous adult dialogue – and this is the crucial missing key to changing and developing the minds of Ireland’s school leavers.  When they see their parents completely disengaged from the intellectual life of the church, what models can they follow for vigorous participation?

To re-engage everyone our clergy need to develop a passionate commitment to the principles of Catholic social teaching – especially the principle of social solidarity.  Tax avoidance and the seeking of an exclusive jet-setting lifestyle are root sources of homelessness, for example – and that needs to be preached vigorously in our churches.  Why should young people turn up in church if clergy turn the social Gospel into a bland and disconnected comfort zone for everybody?

Click here to read Patsy McGarry’s complete article in the Irish Times.

(Sean O’Conaill, 8th Nov., 2017)


  1. Pascal O'Dea

    A comfort zone for everyone is an apt description of how many of us seek weekend refuge in Church , but as you point out Sean in the abscence of adult dialogue and the development of familiarity with catholic social teaching on worldliness we are not inspiring our questioning young people

  2. Anthony Neville

    Pascal, I envy you if you can find a comfort zone or weekend refuge in Church. I fail to find either due to the quality or, at times, lack of a homily.

    As Sean says this is a contributing factor to the loss of our young people at Mass.

    Sean also refers to the failure to engage adults in the task of faith development. It is more basic than that, the bishops have failed to provide adult faith development to equip them to participate in ongoing development. Diarmuid Martin has said himself that you cannot pass on what you do not have.

  3. Noel

    Regrettably I think we are speaking about a ‘horse that has bolted’. Are the young school-children & teenagers of to-day not the ‘off-spring’ of the first generation of Irish parents who have abandoned [in droves]the practice of the faith, in particular regular mass attendance?
    It is very hard to blame these people who have decided to walk away from the Institutional Church and have opted not to bring their children up in the practice of the faith. In many instances they are far more discerning and less deferential than previous generations. Their experience of the church is a very poor one characterised by clericalism, scandals and hypocrisy but little in the way of real Christianity and no investment in on-going faith development. No wonder they have opted not to expose their children to the same church experience other than when seeking the convenience of a place in the local primary school.
    The reasons behind the loss of these generations are obvious. Unfortunately a strategy to halt or reverse this trend is far less obvious. The will and determination required to devise and implement such a strategy are even less evident among our church leaders.


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