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Irish report argues against hasty government takeover of Church-run schools

Catholic World News - April 06, 2011

A group formed to study the prospects for Catholic education in Ireland has issued a report calling for more study of alternatives to Church-run schools, and stressing the importance of parents’ rights in education.

The Catholic Schools Partnership, in a position paper released April 6, did not respond directly to the plans of Ireland’s education minister, Ruairi Quinn, who foresees cutting the number of Catholic primary schools by 50%. But the Partnership recognizes the difficulties posed by an educational system in which the Church operates 90% of the primary schools, and suggests more study and pilot programs to assess the alternatives.

The Partnership report is adamant, however, on the need to provide parents with adequate choices for the education of their children. The Report notes:

Parental choice in education is recognised in most democracies and enshrined in the Irish Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in United Nations and European legal instruments. It is also strongly affirmed in the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Schools Partnership observes that there is considerable confusion in Ireland about the distinctions between denominational, inter-denominational, and multi-denominational schools. The report argues that regardless of the “patronage” of the school (that is, the institution performing administrative oversight), children retain the right to religious education. And Partnership states that education will always involve moral judgments, saying: “There is no such thing as value-neutral education.” The Catholic School Partnership calls for careful study of any changes in school patronage. Church spokesmen, and especially spokesmen for religious orders that administer schools, have expressed disquiet about the education minister’s plans for a radical change in patronage. Some religious orders fear that the state would, in effect, seize their assets—the schools—in order to carry out Quinn’s plans.

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