Catholic Schools Week: can you opt your child out of a full week of Catholic indoctrination?

by Michael Nugent on January 23, 2013

In Ireland, parents have a constitutional right to opt their children out of school classes, including religious education, if what is being taught is not consistent with their philosophical beliefs.

In practice, it is hard to exercise this constitutional right, because some schools will not supervise children who opt out and because the Catholic ethos of the school is integrated into the entire curriculum.

But next week will be even worse. Can you opt your child out of an entire week of the school calendar that is specifically devoted to promoting Roman Catholicism?

Next week is Catholic Schools Week in Ireland, starting on Sunday 27 January and end on 3 February. It is part of the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith, declared by the Pope as an opportunity for Catholic schools to recommit themselves to strengthening and celebrating their Catholic identity.

Aims of Catholic Schools Week

The Catholic Bishops say that this week has three aims:

  • CSW 2013 will firstly encourage schools to take time in prayer giving thanks for the gift of faith and praying for growth in faith.
  • Secondly during the week schools will be encouraged to reflect on the witness of the Christian life that is available to us in the lives of those around us and in the lives of the saints that we celebrate during CSW 2013 (Monday 28 January – St. Thomas Aquinas, Thursday 31 January – St John Bosco, Friday 1 February- St Brigid).
  • Finally we will be encouraged to look to Christ because faith has its starting and finishing points in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Catholic Bishops also say about this week that:

Share the Good News highlights the synergy between the aims of the of the Year of Faith and the day to day work of the Catholic School: ‘Catholic primary schools in the Republic and in Northern Ireland are required to follow a religious education and formation programme that fosters and deepens children’s Catholic faith.’ (#100 Share the Good News p. 14).

The Directory comments further that ‘the local Catholic school, a constitutive part of the parish, contributes generously to the children’s faith development, seeking “to inculcate in pupils the qualities of personal integrity and moral courage which are marks of an authentic Christian personality”.’ (#91 Share the Good News p. 131)

They say that the key characteristics of the Catholic School are:

  • We are Called to be Followers of Christ
  • We have a Catholic Understanding of Education
  • The School is a Christian Community
  • The School is an Agent of Personal Growth and Transformation
  • Religious Education is an Integral Part of the Life of this School

Promotional video for Catholic Schools Week

Here are some quotes from Bishop Bishop Brendan Kelly in the Catholic Church’s official promotional video for the week. The video is produced by the Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference.

We have a vision for our pupils, primarily. That vision is that each child that comes through a Catholic school is going to discover himself, and deepen his understanding of him or her self as a child of God, a unique and irreplaceable individual made in God’s image, with a unique gift for this world and with a destiny that will take him beyond this world to eternal happiness…

The theme (for Catholic schools week) first of all tells us that Catholic schools are not an isolated reality, that they are deeply embedded part of a Christian community, in other words the parish, and secondly it tells us that the purpose of a Catholic school is that it be a place where good news is shared, specifically the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news about who we are as men and women, the good news about God’s gift to us in the Gospels…

There will be a special emphasis on prayer, because after all the human person is made to be somebody who responds to the wonder of God’s creation all around us, we are people who appreciate the gift of creation…

And there will be a great emphasis, there will be a special emphasis, during Catholic schools week this year on prayer, prayer particularly within the school itself, and also prayer within the home. And we’re not just talking about verbal prayer, we are also talking about contemplative and meditative prayer….

Catholic Schools Week infringes on the rights of atheists

Catholic Schools Week infringes directly on the right of atheists and other parents to have their children educated consistently with their philosophical beliefs.

The Catholic Church has every right to preach its teachings to its members, but the State should not allow this to happen in state-funded schools that any child can attend.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Myles January 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

My principal objection to this is the amount of time wasted on trying to persuade kids to engage in delusion. I have two boys in a CBS aged 12 and 16, and although I’m confident that their atheism will not be swayed, I thoroughly resent the waste of educational resources.

As to whether my kids can opt out? Yes, I’m sure I could make a case for it, but I probably won’t because previous experience has taught me to be pragmatic in making sure my kids get the best from their school rather than creating an adversarial situation.

In a way, I understand that a CBS would want to promote catholicism, even if I don’t like it or agree with it. The real problem here is choice; my boys go to a CBS because it was the only choice (unless I can find €12K each year for private education).

If I thought I could get the support of a reasonably significant portion of parents I could be persuaded to do something. However, I’ve been very disappointed on previous occasions when other non-religious or non-practising parents objected in private but melted away as soon as they were called to publicly support a position…

2 Anna B McCabe January 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm

It’s like adding insult to injury. Not content with indoctrinating children in catholic schools and having the catholic religion integrated into the curriculum they now want a whole week of proselytizing. We can only hope it is a sign they are afraid they are losing their grip. The move towards Educate Together schools is probably a threat to their position of power which they have enjoyed for far too long.

3 CunningPike January 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Why enroll in a Catholic school if you don’t like it? I went to a non-Catholic school in Ireland from 1971 to 1985, no less – if people keep going to Catholic schools and do nothing more than grumble, nothing will change. Vote with your feet!

4 Anna B McCabe January 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I don’t think that parents have an option when it comes to choosing a school for their children of primary school age, at the moment. In the vast majority of cases the only school available to them in their locality is a catholic school. But hopefully this may be about to change if the Minister for Education, Mr Ruairi Quinn’s Diversity of Patronage Project gets approval from enough parents throughout the country. I just had my leaflet in through the door today, compliments of An Post.

5 Brian Mulligan January 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

We shouldn’t get too uptight about this. There are probably more important issues to worry about. Catholic schools are quite well run and for any atheist parent whose children attend religious instruction it provides a great basis for discussion at dinner and particularly in relation to teaching children about the important of scepticism, evidence and reason. I now have two teenagers who are competent sceptics and top of their classes in religious education.

6 Jenna January 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I have to respectfully disagree with those who say “vote with your feet” or that we “shouldn’t get too uptight” about this. To the first: it’s not that simple. I am fortunate enough to live in an area with an ET primary school. Not everyone is. Not everyone can simply pick up and move somewhere else, or afford the time/cost of commuting. To the second: I don’t think it’s being “uptight”. To say there are “more important things” is like saying that women had “more important things” to worry about than suffrage. They probably did – they may have had to struggle to make ends meet, to put clothes on their children’s backs and scrape together meals from meagre rations, but it doesn’t mean that their social rights were unimportant. The rights of every single non-Catholics in this country are violated by the lack of secular education. Maybe some non-Catholics can make it work to their advantage, or just “put up with it” but the point is that nobody should have to.

But, to both points, there is a bigger picture – every child, regardless of the religion of their or their parents’ choosing, should have the right to an all-inclusive full-time education that teaches them the skills and knowledge relevant to living in contemporary society. Religion (and sacraments) are a sap on the time that could be better spend learning maths, English, or science.

7 Neil Allen January 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Catholic schools also teach children that raping children, especially if it is done by priests, called “Christ on earth”, should be hidden and lied about, and that the victims should be bullied, adn that anyone who talks about it shoudl be ignored, and that all this should be done in God’s name.

8 Brian Mulligan January 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Yes, but teaching that it is OK to cover up child abuse makes for very interesting dinner conversation with kids.

9 Neil Allen January 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Except the parents have learned from their Catholic leaders to hide the truth and not let the children voice their objections. Of course, children aren’t stupid, and they know the evil of the crimes, and they know what it means if someone covers up that level of evil, especially in God’s name.

10 Jack Butler February 9, 2013 at 1:28 am

the elephant in the room here (i seems to me) is that the majority of kids in any given Catholic school are the offspring of “Catholics”. Just think about this for a minute. I believe that the Catholic church’s involvement in education is not to educate but to indoctrinate and ensure the propagation of their beliefs. They have engineered a majority view that is supportive of them over the years precisely because of their control of the educational system and now flaunt the result as an exercise in democracy (ignoring the tenet that the measure of the quality of a democracy is the manner in which it treats minorities). The majority of kids in any given class probably bring the views expressed to them by their parents with them and will rarely be exposed, even by skeptical parents to any views that might put them in conflict with the consensus. Decent parents don’t do this to their kids. Patrons of the Catholic church (most of whom are not parents) have no such scruples -they are not necessarily bad people, they themselves have been indoctrinated. How do we break this vicious circle?

11 Neil Allen February 9, 2013 at 1:43 am

Jack, God gave us the Internet, and kids can now find the truth.

They won’t believe their Catholic priests and teachers, and will look to the Internet to seek the truth.

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