This is a post from a new contributor, Mairéad, who normally writes here.
I have been a primary teacher for 28 years, so I think that I am qualified to write about this one.
I have heard many commentators in the media calling for the church to cease their involvement in our schools and hospitals, especially since the publication of the Ryan Report and the Murphy Report.
Some people are saying that Bishops and priests only have titular roles now in our schools. These people are inferring that the church has no power and therefore, can do no harm, so should be left in situ.
In my experience, Bishops and priests do not have merely titular roles in our schools. Let me explain, and then you can tell me what you think.
* The local Catholic Bishop is the Patron of the vast majority of our primary schools.
* The Education Act (1998) made the role of the Patron a legal one, with rights and responsibilities enshrined in law.
* No principal can be appointed to a school, without the Patron sanctioning the appointment.
* No teacher can be appointed to a school, without the Patron sanctioning the appointment.
* The Bishop determines the ethos of the school, and is allowed by law to discriminate against certain teachers. For example, he is allowed to withhold sanction for an appointment if the teacher does not belong to the right religion, or happens to be gay / lesbian / bisexual.
* The Patron has the power to remove someone from the Board of Management, or indeed to dissolve the entire Board of Management.
* The Bishop sends out Religion inspectors (now called “diocesan advisors”) every single year to every single Primary school in Ireland. This, despite the fact that teachers are not even paid to teach religion.
* Until very recently, the local priest was the “Manager” of the local school, and answered to nobody at all. Many still act as if there has been no change.
* Nowadays, there are eight members of the Board of Management, but in reality the priest is still “the boss” in the vast majority of schools.
* I have met many, many priests in my years of teaching, and most of them have not been competent to “run” schools, but every single one of them has been the boss.
* Usually the priest is the Chairperson of the Board, and is the person with whom the Department of Education corresponds. This is a huge piece of power. Some priests I have known said they have written to the Department e.g. for funds, but they have not. In one case, children were left traipsing in the mud to outdoor toilets for nine unnecessary years, because the priest had refused to ask the Department for funding, but claimed that he had done so.
* The chairperson of the Board (the priest) is also the chairperson of any panel to appoint a principal or teacher. There are three usually on the selection board – the priest, the principal and an outside party taken from a list. That list, however, is compiled by the diocesan office and the priest gets to choose whoever he likes from it! In effect, then, the priest has two out of three votes, because that “outside” person is paid a fee, and will not be chosen again if they don’t play the game.
*Teachers must get a reference from their local PP and enclose it with any application for a teaching job. That reference had better say that the teacher is a regular mass-goer, or they might as well save the stamp. Did you know that?
* The priest makes sure that religion is taught in the schools, but doesn’t teach it himself.
* The priest insists that children are prepared for three sacraments (Reconciliation (confession), Eucharist (communion) and Confirmation) in the primary school – 2nd class and 5th / 6th class – but does not teach himself.
* 2nd class is almost completely taken over by two sacraments. If you’re not a Catholic, you miss out on weeks and weeks and weeks of your education.
* 5th / 6th class is the same, only maybe a bit worse, because the Bishop comes to this sacrament, so the priest wants to impress him – without doing any of the work. Again, non-Catholics are sitting there losing out on their education. Let’s face it; the Catholics are losing out on their education too!
* In other countries, including Catholic countries, religion is taught after school, so there is no loss of education, and people can choose to opt out if they wish. Not so in Ireland. In Ireland, parents have an entitlement to withdraw their children from the religion class, but as already outlined, they’d have to be at home for most of 2nd and 5th / 6th classes! In addition, many parents work, so they can’t be up and down to the school to remove their children during the religion class. Plus there is nowhere for children to go in the school, and no-one free to supervise them if there was, so these children have to sit in the classroom, absorbing the religion that their parents do not want. Worst of all, the Bishop / priests insist that religion is taught at 12 noon every day. If it were scheduled as the last lesson of the day, then the children could be collected early, but no! It is made as difficult as possible.
* Some priests go in to schools and ask the children to put up their hand if they were at mass that Sunday. Did you know that?
* Priests gather their altar servers for daily mass from the primary school, especially rural schools. Did you know that? So those children miss more of their education, not to mention what might happen to them in the church and walking unsupervised to and from the church.
* Priests often go into schools to hear the children’s confessions. Did you know that? One to one, on their own. Did you know that? Without parental permission. Did you know that?
This is merely a taste of the role of Bishops and priests in our primary schools.
So, what do you think?
Should Bishops remain as Patrons of our schools?
Should priests remain as Chairpersons of our Boards of Management?
Should priests and Bishops choose our teachers and our principal teachers?
Should teachers be regular mass goers only?
Should teachers be heterosexuals only?