Ireland’s government is moving forward with plans to end the Catholic Church’s monopoly of the nation’s primary school system. More diversity in institutions and ideas will be good for students. The change should promote healing in a country traumatized by the church’s cover-up of years of sexual abuse of children by rogue priests.
An initial government study last week identified 50 schools in Dublin and 43 towns where the demand for multi-denominational education was greatest and school control could be shifted to other sponsors, secular or religious. The government has not yet announced a timetable, emphasizing that the shift will be respectful of religious tradition but firmly nondiscriminatory. Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, foresees “radical change,” estimating that as many as 1,500 of the 3,169 schools controlled by the church will eventually be transferred to other sponsors.
The study made no mention of the church’s plummeting reputation because of its failure to protect children and its long refusal to admit culpability. But the scandal, documented in blistering government investigations, can only have strengthened the resolve of reformers in the government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny. He closed the Irish embassy to the Vatican in November after criticizing Rome as riddled with “dysfunction, disconnection and elitism” when the Vatican denied any responsibility for the scandal.
Leading Irish clergy members have praised the plan as a good step forward, noting that surveys find only half of Irish parents want their children in religious schools. State control is favored by 61 percent of the population, according to The Irish Times. The government’s resolve to face up to a more diverse reality is good news for foreign-born residents, whose representation has tripled since 1991 to 17 percent of the population. It offers reassurance to modern Catholics who want a clearer break from the worst of the past.
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