“In a climate of growing secularism..”

The pastoral letter from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference [pdf file] should probably be seen as an opening gambit in a conversation with all their partners in education – including the State. There’s an early reference in the letter to Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi, and the attempt, through an appeal to a “still greater form of reason”, to re-entwine faith and reason – aka The Un-Enlightenment – although the reports have focused on other elements. RTÉ picks up on the intention to establish “a national Catholic Education Service for the whole of Ireland” and that “the country has got more Catholic schools than it actually needs”, whilst the Irish Times reports the comments by Bishop Leo O’Reilly, Chair of the Education Commission of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

He said the Vision 08 document clearly states “that all pupils whether they profess a religious belief or not are important and schools exist to care for and facilitate their growth as individuals and members of society”.

“As Ireland changes from a homogeneous country to a multi-cultural society, diversity in schools increases. We are conscious of this dynamic and we will play our part in assisting our schools in continuing to be places of welcome, respect and tolerance,” he said.

Although it isn’t clear how they’ll reconcile that objective with the commitment given in the conclusion of the letter – “we will ensure the structures, and the schools themselves, remain effective, relevant and true to an authentic vision of the Catholic school, such as we have tried to set it out in this brief letter.”Part of that “authentic vision” is described in the letter

Part of the overall pedagogy of Catholic schools involves helping pupils to grow in self-understanding and develop a language of prayer with which they can express the search for God which lies at the heart of human lives. Worship of God through prayer and the celebration of liturgy and the sacraments, ‘the doors to the sacred’, belongs at the very centre of the Catholic school’s life. Such worship is rooted in faith and inspired by wonder at the transcendent mystery of God revealed in the complex beauty of the universe. It is fundamental to Catholic self-understanding to experience everyday realities as sacramental signs of God working in the world.

And, also earlier in the letter, is the reference to Pope Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi

Faith the Foundation

In a climate of growing secularism, Catholic schools are distinguished by faith in the transcendent mystery of God as the source of all that exists and as the meaning of human existence. This faith is not simply the subject-matter of particular lessons but forms the foundation of all that we do and the horizon of all that takes place in the school. The Catholic tradition of which the schools are a part has been continually enriched through centuries of reflection and development. This not only offers our pupils a rich heritage of wisdom but also gives them stability, a framework of meaning and a sense of direction for their lives in a time of rapid and often confusing cultural and social change.

Catholic education has always placed a high value on reason, both intellectual and practical. In continuity with the earliest traditions of the Church, it regards education and the cultivation of intellectual life as precious in themselves. It sees the use of rational thought and scientific analysis as essential to the advancement of technology and human progress. Therefore, scientific and technological studies are a very important part of education. However, it rejects those diminished and mechanistic notions of rationality which attempt to limit the concept of truth to what can be scientifically established and the concept of human progress to what can be technologically achieved. On the contrary, it believes a reasonable balance must always be maintained between the humanities and technology in education. Faith and reason must be seen as vibrant partners in the human quest for understanding and ultimate fulfilment which is pursued in Catholic schools.

As I said, attempting to re-entwine faith and reason – aka The Un-Enlightenment.

Although it’s also worth pointing out that Francis Bacon, author of “a disturbing step” in the history of rational thought according to Benedict, argued for a similarly entwined approach himself.

“Just let man recover the right over nature which belongs to him by God’s gift, and give it scope; right reason and sound religion will govern its use.”

Admittedly that was in 1620.

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  • BfB

    As Ireland changes from a homogeneous country to a multi-cultural society, diversity in schools increases.

    Multi-cultural…..diversity…?

    Bye Bye Ireland…hello EEEYOUUUUU….

    Tsk, tsk.

  • George

    Pete,
    are you sure you haven’t misrepresented the position here?

    As Ireland changes from a homogeneous country to a multi-cultural society, diversity in schools increases. We are conscious of this dynamic and we will play our part in assisting our schools in continuing to be places of welcome, respect and tolerance,” he said

    This paragraph refers to Irish schools as a whole and talks about how to deal with the situation going forward.

    Although it isn’t clear how they’ll reconcile that objective with the commitment given in the conclusion of the letter – “we will ensure the structures, and the schools themselves, remain effective, relevant and true to an authentic vision of the Catholic school, such as we have tried to set it out in this brief letter.”

    This paragraph refers to Catholic schools in particular.

    I thought it was abundantly clear myself as what the Bishops are talking about has been in the pipeline for the last couple of years.

    The Catholic Church is willing to hand over the schools to the other groups within the Irish education system who are providing for or are capable of providing for the multi-cultural society and increasing the diversity.

    A major issue is liability. Once that can be sorted out then it’s full steam ahead for parents taking over at board level as trustees.

    I think there’s already a state patronage school in Drogheda running as one sort of pilot.

  • Pete Baker

    “are you sure you haven’t misrepresented the position here?”

    I don’t believe I have, George.

    The letter talks about – “With the number of priests and religious involved in educational leadership and in education as a whole currently in decline, many religious congregations are now
    engaged, in some instances through collaboration with other congregations, in the process of exploring, planning and setting up new forms of trusteeship. By these means, some or all responsibility for the schools they formerly administered will be transferred to trusts made up wholly or partly of lay people.”

    But also says,

    Catholic education values tolerance
    and inclusiveness. In an increasingly multicultural society, it is open to generous dialogue with Christians of other traditions and those of other faiths and none, while remaining true to its own distinctive ethos. Catholic Schools are open to children of all denominations. The presence of children from other denominations is seen as an enrichment of the educational experience offered by the school and as a practical expression of the commitment to inclusivity6. Indeed, Catholic schools are to the fore in welcoming the ‘New Irish’ in both primary and post-primary schools on this island. The schools see such diversity as offering opportunities for deeper understanding among people holding diverse convictions. They also promote the common good of society as a whole.

    As I said in the original post, it should probably be seen as an opening gambit in that wider conversation.

  • Mark McGregor

    Pete,

    I thought the survey on the attitudes of parents with children at Catholic primary schools was interesting, particularly the sections that detailed significant variance in attitudes from parents in the north and south across several areas.

    Page 64 on

    Seems northern parents place a lot stronger emphasis on the role of the church in education than their southern counterparts.

  • Pete Baker

    “Seems northern parents place a lot stronger emphasis on the role of the church in education than their southern counterparts.”

    Mark,

    Does that come as a surprise?

  • willowfield

    Seems northern parents place a lot stronger emphasis on the role of the church in education than their southern counterparts.

    Hardly surprising, given NI’s sectarian society.

    RC schools are not merely about religion: they are (in my view, primarily) about inculcating a specific ethnic (or cultural, if you prefer) identity in children, part of which is a “Catholic” identity, and a particular “Irish Catholic” and nationalist identity.

    It is this identity that parents want to retain in NI and they rightly see the RC schools as the primary vehicle for doing so. This is a more important reason in NI, in my view, than parents’ religious beliefs.

  • michael

    Willowfield

    I left secondary education in 2004, so my experience of it is fairly recent. Both schools that i attended were part of the catholic sector. You claim that RC schools are more about ethnicity than religion . I’d like to know what policies you think these schools pursue that promote such an agenda. I cant think of any from my experience.

    Your statement is sweeping and quite offensive to the hard work that those teachers (catholic, protestant and other) that worked in my school to give the best education they could to pupils. Although im not too keen on the flying spagetti monster myself, my experience of the pastoral care that the school offered in a wider Christian/ catholic framework appeared honestly felt and well meaning (if misguided).

    Based on previous posts that you’ve left on slugger, I’m guessing that you don’t have much experience with RC schools, as such, are you sure you’re really in the best position to make such statements.

    For the record, I’m not a fan of state funded religious education. I merely wish to understand where your coming from on this one.

  • willowfield

    MICHAEL

    You claim that RC schools are more about ethnicity than religion . I’d like to know what policies you think these schools pursue that promote such an agenda. I cant think of any from my experience.

    They don’t really need to pursue “policies” – the fact that they are segregated and only include those from the Catholic/nationalist ethnicity ensures that they help promote that ethnicity in an exclusive way. History and other subjects, for example, are taught by nationalist teachers to pupils from nationalist backgrounds. Gaelic games – exclusive to the nationalist community – are promoted. These are more important reasons why parents want to send their children to RC schools – moreso than genuine religious reasons.

    Your statement is sweeping and quite offensive to the hard work that those teachers (catholic, protestant and other) that worked in my school to give the best education they could to pupils. Although im not too keen on the flying spagetti monster myself, my experience of the pastoral care that the school offered in a wider Christian/ catholic framework appeared honestly felt and well meaning (if misguided).

    I’ve no doubt that, educationally and pastorally, the schools are often excellent – just like non-RC schools, educationally and pastorally, are often excellent. The point is I am making is about their social and cultural importance to parents (over and above their religious importance).

  • michael

    willowfield

    The concept of segregation of education being more important in terms of parents social and cultural concerns is equally applicable to the grammar school/ secondary division, in that education in one promotes an exclusive identification with that sector, i.e. intellectual snobbery (BTW i went to a grammar school).

    You’re right however that RC schools tend to play Gaelic games. However, you have it the wrong way around. The schools play the sports because the children in the schools play the sport, not because the school wishes to encourage children to participate in a sport, which could be viewed as exclusive to one community in N Ireland. I’m quite sure that in an integrated school, if the demand existed, Gaelic sports would be offered. Could the school help it if only catholic children signed up? The point is further made by the fact that my school offered rugby also. This sport, although nowhere close to the extent of Gaelic games, could be identified with protestant communities in N Ireland.

    I understand where you’re coming from on this one. Religiously segregated education is a problem in N Ireland, a problem that I’d like to see fixed. It is however a symptom of the problem, and indeed it helps to perpetuate it. However, it isn’t necessarily the cause. Your glib claims that it is undermine the arguments for the removal of religious segregation (and eventually religion altogether) from our education system by polarising the debate.

  • they say they want pluralism, but in fact they want catholic privileged pluralism

  • Greenflag

    It’s all about ‘market share’ . If you can’t keep your brand on the shelf prominently displayed the punters won’t buy it .

    Brand loyalty in religious /ethnic/ identification matters is most easily imprinted on the three to fifteen year old cohort . Tobacco companies like to get them hooked early on too.

  • its about a monopoly

  • willowfield

    MICHAEL

    The concept of segregation of education being more important in terms of parents [sic] social and cultural concerns is equally applicable to the grammar school/ secondary division, in that education in one promotes an exclusive identification with that sector, i.e. intellectual snobbery (BTW i went to a grammar school).

    And?? How does it follow from that that sectarian segregation is not supported by parents for ethnic and cultural reasons moreso than religious?

    You’re right however that RC schools tend to play Gaelic games. However, you have it the wrong way around. The schools play the sports because the children in the schools play the sport, not because the school wishes to encourage children to participate in a sport, which could be viewed as exclusive to one community in N Ireland.

    Really? So before each school year there is a clean slate – the pupils are all asked which sports they want to play, and then the school goes out and recruits teachers able to teach those sports? Sorry, I don’t believe you!

    The reality is that the schools provide GAA on their curriculum, and they do so because parents want them to do so, and parents want them to do so because they attach importance to Gaelic games for ethnic and cultural reasons and want the schools to provide and promote the games in order that the ethnic and cultural ethos can be maintained and advanced. Nothing to do with religion.

    I’m quite sure that in an integrated school, if the demand existed, Gaelic sports would be offered.

    Gaelic sports are offered in integrated schools!

    Could the school help it if only catholic children signed up?

    Of course not – Catholic children will only sign up because Gaelic games are exclusive to that community! Just like RC schools.

  • michael

    Willowfield

    And?? How does it follow from that that sectarian segregation is not supported by parents for ethnic and cultural reasons moreso than religious?

    It doesn’t, I just don’t see why you’ve chosen to highlight this group association (exclusivity, ethnic identification etc.) over other forms, academic ability for example. Furthermore, by phrasing it the way you do(i.e. all parents who send their children to catholic schools are b*gots), you reduce the legitimacy of the argument against religious segregation in our schools and indeed religion in our education system all together.

    Really? So before each school year there is a clean slate – the pupils are all asked which sports they want to play, and then the school goes out and recruits teachers able to teach those sports? Sorry, I don’t believe you!

    Obviously not, however, if no children played the sport it would cease to be offered.

    The reality is that the schools provide GAA on their curriculum, and they do so because parents want them to do so, and parents want them to do so because they attach importance to Gaelic games for ethnic and cultural reasons and want the schools to provide and promote the games in order that the ethnic and cultural ethos can be maintained and advanced. Nothing to do with religion.

    My schools (and I’m sure many others in the RC sector) didn’t provide Gealic sports on the curriculum, it was an after school activity. Only those who wished to play did so. As such, if only 5 pupils showed up for training, there was no team.

    I attended two schools, both in the maintained sector for 14 years. I’ve never played gealic sports, I cant speak Irish and as far as i can remember there weren’t any tricolours or easter rising commemorations dotted about the school. What does that say for the supposed maintainance of the Irish nationalist cultural/ ethnic identity.

    I agree that the continuance of religious segregation in our schools perpetuates the entanglement between religious, political and cultural identity in a social circumstance (N Ireland) where it is damaging. But your claims that parents choices of where they send their children to school are based purely on ethnic/ cultural b*gotry is unhelpful. It denies the strong influence of the historical movements of children from various areas to specific schools. Considering that settlement in NI is strongly segregated on ‘religious’ lines, this will have an obvious effect. This is the case with any school, regardless of sector. It may come as a surprise, but the majority of people don’t consider the wider social effects of their school choices, they simply follow the trend.

    Furthermore, segregation it part of our society at the moment. To send a protestant child to a catholic school would cause additional stress to that child that need not otherwise exist. Why would a parent place such a burden on their child, at the same time as separating them from their peer groups (i.e. the children from the community that they live in). People want an easy life.

    Why make an obviously complex problem into something as glib as ‘nationalist b*gotry’. Chill the rhetoric, it helps no-one!

  • The pastoral letter is an opening gambit in a fight that it has become clear lately will have to be fought in the next few years.

    A few relatively recent surveys on attitudes to education (the bishop’s one was not the first of those) accidentally came up with the datum that there were not just more catholic schools in the south than required by demand, but that there were approximately twice as many places in catholic schools as the number required by parents who preferred denominational education for their children. This has come as a bit of a shock to the church, and I would have thought was a pleasant surprise to non and interdenominational providers, Educate Together.

    As with most opening gambits by the catholic church, it concedes absolutely nothing, and acknowledges nothing but the obvious.

    How John Walshe of the Irish Independent gave it the raving review he did is well beyond me.