17 June 2009

A surrender in Dublin?

So the good* Archbishop Martin has admitted that the current position where the Catholic Church controls 92% of the schools in the country "is no longer tenable".

As reported in the Irish Times today, he seems to have accepted that the Church is going to have to let go of its control some of the schools it controls.

Labour's Ruairi Quinn, for one, professes himself happy with the admission. Most of us secularists are ready to congratulate the good* prelate. Another, very different, Quinn (I am of course referring to David) has long been an advocate of a strategic retreat by the Irish Church in education. Even most of the foaming at the mouth catholic integralists at politics.ie (not that they represent anyone) seem to accept that some clawback seems necessary. All in all, one could be forgiven for thinking that peace has broken out.

I'm doubtful, though. The clue as to why is in how the good* Archbishop expresses himself: he reckons Catholic control of 92% of schools in the republic where only 87% of the people are catholic is untenable.

Now there are a couple of observations that can be made about that statement:

The first is that he's using census figures for his percentage of catholics (which are badly skewed, out of date and irrelevant anyway);

The second is that he'd have got closer to the scale of the problem presenting itself to the Irish education system if his sentence had read that Catholic control of 92% of schools is untenable in a state more than 50% of the people would prefer them not to.

In March last year, David Quinn's own Iona Institute published the least embarrassing bits of a Red C Poll they had recently commissioned. I've commented on it before, but suffice it to say that its figures (at least those that David and his friends have chosen not to keep under wraps) have 48% of respondents preferring something either non or multidenominational education for their children! And you can easily imagine what effect the publication of the Ryan Report has had on such figures since the survey was made.

Martin's contrast of 92% as against 87% makes it look like all that needs to be done is that say a BNS in Booterstown and a GNS in Mulhuddart need to be handed over to new patrons and religious harmony will once more bloom in Dublin.

All the relevant figures tell us, however, that currently more like half of catholic schools will need to be handed over before anything like a supply and demand balance is achieved. Whether the Church has the stomach to deal with such a huge loss of control is very doubtful.

Even assuming the Church can swallow losing 240 odd national schools in Dublin, which is very conservatively what demand would seem to indicate is required at primary level (never mind secondary level), there is another factor in the mix. The church's neo-cons have long been opposed to the 'catholic lite' way schools have been run over the last few years (an approach exemplified by the Alive-O programme of religious education), at least partially to prevent a flight of parents from church run schools.

One of the conservative's main motivations for supporting a radical withdrawal of the Church from education is the prospect of being in a better position to concentrate orthodox catholic teaching in their remaining schools, thus ending the 'catholic lite' philosophy. I can only speculate, but if half of nominal catholics don't want catholic lite education for the kids, how many fewer will want the real, unsweetened deal?

Now it may be that the good* Dr. Martin is just flying a kite, or that he feels he's saying something far less radical than Ruairi Quinn (and people like me) are reading into his words, and it may even be that in the end there'll be a roll back and attempt at reconsolidation by the church once a couple of Dublin schools now in the hands of the church have been safely handed over to Educate Together. But assuming the good* Archbishop is serious in his intent, and assuming he has the authority to convert words into action, how far can he and his church stomach going? And could other dioceses follow Dublin's lead?

It needs to be remembered that the reports on Dublin and Cloyne abuse and cover-up are looming, that further scandals will surely emerge and that hopefully there will be a number of prosecutions of abusers and (even more hopefully) some of their prominent protectors in the pages of our newspapers in the nearish future. In the light of all this, one wonders what the level of demand for catholic education will there be at the end of this decade, and what arrangements can be made between school owners and patrons to square this with the extraordinary oversupply of same, especially as compared to the appalling undersupply of other models.

In the Indo article linked above, David Quinn picked what I assume was doomsday figure of having to give up 70% of Irish schools to be left with a truly catholic 30%. It may turn out that the figures he picked will look optimistic (from the church's point of view) in ten years time.

In short, there may yet be an educational revolution underway in Ireland.

I certainly hope so.

*There's no sarcasm in the use of the word 'good'. The man's very, very good. Outside of their vast acreages in Irish suburbia, he's by far the best asset the catholic church have at the moment in Ireland.

16 June 2009

What is Patsy McGarry thinking?

Today's Rite and Reason article in the Irish Times, a regular Tuesday slot edited by that paper's Religious Affairs correspondent, Patsy McGarry, is quite jaw-dropping.

Rite and Reason, 16 June 2009

Some student who lives in Paris in an all-catholic hall of residence (anyone smell the signature aroma of the followers of Escrivá?) confidently tells us that Ireland and not the Catholic Church is responsible for the litany of abuse described in the Ryan Report . His basis for this view is that his breakfast companion at said hall of residence told him that 'I heard about Ireland on the news' referring to the publication of the report (presumably as opposed to 'I heard about the Catholic Church on the news").

This we are apparently to regard as proof that the French see the whole foul business as a peculiarly Irish rather than a Catholic problem.

Such incisive analysis is immediately succeeded by the sort of self-pitying craw thumping we have become used to from conservative catholic circles, which in turn is followed with a short recruitment advertisement for the priesthood ("In this climate, one wonders could God be calling some out there to serve in an experience of the church that has utterly failed to live the Gospel? Yes, God is calling and now more than ever we need young men to say 'Yes'" etc. etc.). I wonder if the repeated "Yes" is a reference to Bloomsday, the day on which day this excuse for a newspaper article was published. If so, then there we have the piece's only merit.

Eventually the writer reaches a conclusion. His formula for a better catholic church in the light of Ryan:
A simple return to Holiness
And his fervent hope:
we will have the courage to change
Are we to imagine that this the best that the collected imaginations of conservative Irish catholicism can come up with to respond to the report (I'm intentionally avoiding adjectives like "shocking" and nouns like "enormity" in relation to said report)? There is not a word about how a simple return to holiness is going to be of help to victims of abuse. Nor is there anything on what "we" need to have the courage to change into.

How in the name of all that's rational, reasonable, responsible and compassionate was this pap accepted for publication in the pages of the Irish national paper of record? It would (or, at least, should) have difficulty being printed in the Irish Catholic. After all, it's in the same category of unimaginative flailing about as the Mass Father Ted and his pals said when Dougal was trapped on a milkfloat with a bomb under it.

Patsy is a man who has done been good to me in his time and, more importantly, is an honourable and responsible journalist who has done more than most to help the victims of the abuse that Ryan reports on. But there's a series of related questions I'd like to ask him (apart from "What the hell were your thinking?"):

Would it be right for columns like Rite and Reason to retain their current format, style and content unaltered in the aftermath of Ryan? Was the publication of this article good for the column in the light of its revelations? Was it good for the Irish Times? Was it good for healthy, open discussion of religious matters in Ireland?

Lastly, was it good for the victims and for the healing of wounds among the innocent?