By Sarah Mac Donald - 20 August, 2015
A prominent member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has lashed out at the “condescending nature of the orchestrated campaign” to force Catholic schools to divest to alternative patrons.
Writing in The Western People, Fr Brendan Hoban claims a heavy-handed approach is being pursued in order to “facilitate an ideological agenda by a vocal minority”.
The Co Mayo-based parish priest tackles what he sees as the “campaign being waged to force the Catholic Church to hand over half of its primary level schools to patrons with a different ethos” and to introduce ‘religion-less’ schools.
He warns that the real demand in Ireland is not for secular schools but for school places and providing adequate places is the responsibility, not of the Catholic Church, but of the State.
Though soundings from hard-pressed ‘Catholic’ schools in city areas struggling to retain a ‘Catholic’ ethos, seemed to indicate a willingness to divest, Fr Hoban highlights that this has not been the case with schools elsewhere in the country.
He says the experience has been that parishes and generations of parents, after pouring their savings into buying sites, building schools, fund-raising to develop facilities, have no intention of handing over their local school to anyone.
Another mistaken presumption of those pushing for divestment has been the belief that there is huge demand for a secular school system.
“Even though every effort was made to present this presumption as fact, the surveys conducted by the Department of Education indicated clearly that this was not the case,” according to Fr Hoban.
The support for secular schools ran at between 1% in rural and 8% in urban areas according to the surveys. “In other words the vast majority of parents want the present system retained,” Fr Hoban underlines.
Elsewhere in his article, Fr Hoban, who is a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, says those supporting secular education and divesting made the mistake of believing that the Archbishop of Dublin or any other bishop could deliver the divesting programme through an edict from Maynooth.
“The truth is that only Catholic parents can make that decision,” he emphasises.
Another presumption, the parish priest takes issue with is that secularism could claim special status and presume special treatment because, unlike religions, it had no values-agenda or ethos.
“This is patently untrue,” he writes and adds, “Secularism is, effectively, a form of ‘religion’ in that it has its values, its agenda and its ethos. Giving the secularist minority support in this debate is helping the tail to wag the dog.”
This is evident in the pretence that secularism and atheism inhabit some higher ground and unlike religion don’t seek converts to their cause.
Evident too in the new-found (and unconvincing) worry of atheists, agnostics and angry former Catholics that the sacrament of Baptism might be brought into disrepute by using it as an entry requirement for Catholic schools!
And evident in letters to the Irish Times like the one describing the Catholic Church’s policy of admitting Catholics first to its schools as ‘discriminatory’, he highlights.