I turn down a lot of radio and tv stuff these days: I am just too busy and distracted. But there are some programmes I’m always happy to do including Spirit Moves on RTE Radio 1. This one hour long show gives contributors a chance to discuss issues in a reasonable fashion and without pigeon holing the guests.
Yesterday’s show was about religious involvement in primary schools and there was a great panel – David Quinn, the Indo columnist and Iona Institute director, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, John Carr, head of the INTO and Paul Roe, head of Educate Together.
We agreed that RC domination of primary education will begin to ease as new State Primary VEC/Community schools will be built. We also agreed that this will see the emergence of a two-tier system – the “good” catholic national primary schools and the lesser state VEC schools – just as the “tech’s” were seen as the poor relation (and therefore had to take the poorer student at secondary level).
We also agreed that the church won’t walk away from their existing schools. There’ll be no question of a handover.
Finally we agreed (there was a lot of agreement!) that the teaching of religion in the new community “multi-faith” schools is practically very difficult since all the teacher training colleges are denominational! We speculated that the system might operate along the line envisaged by the then Chief Secretary Stanley, who in 1831 set up the Board of Education. He planned that the schools would be secular and that religious teaching would be done at specified times by local clergy so that students could be separated at that stage. By the 1880’s the clergy on both sides had defeated him and set up their own denominational schools.
However, towards the end of the show I asked Bishop O’Reilly why he put up with parents who clearly had no interest in religion but showed up for the first communion just for the day out. “Would you not run them?” I asked.
He replied “Well I wouldn’t be as judgmental as that”.
Driving home later I was laughing to myself: ‘Gee, a bishop not being judgmental! Now there’s a turnaround. Sure, what’s religion without a bit of judgement? Isn’t that the whole point?”
But by this morning I had turned around. Here’s the thing: he genuinely meant it. He didn’t judge people. And our local priest who has every right to run me when I show up needing things signed or being a tourist at mass, despite my publicly proclaimed atheism honestly doesn’t judge either. I think they really believe in keeping the door open. Let everyone come in on their own terms and take whatever they want home. The most malevolent interpretation you could make is that they are arrogant because they have the kids so they don’t have to worry about the adults (the McDonalds approach). You could also claim that they know adults are like teenagers, they know we’ll have our little rebellions but we’ll all go through their doors at the end.
With the monopoly on schools and funerals, they hold all the aces.
But my real feeling is that O’Reilly, and our local men here, honestly don’t see it in those terms. I think they are happy to make themselves, and their services, available to anyone that wants them however selectively. I also know that if someone in this house dropped dead tomorrow I could call our local PP and he’d be up here straight away to offer practical help and words of comfort. No questions asked. Like Cromwell said, God will sort us out in the end 😉