In light of the recent “Catholic Schools Week”, it bears saying that it is an open secret that the vast majority of schools in Ireland, which purport to be Catholic, are merely Catholic in name only. They keep up the trappings of a Catholic school with a school Mass here and there, the pretence of having “religious education” classes, and crucifixes are, by and large, still displayed.
The very substance of Irish Catholic education however has been progressively watered down to the point of complete dissolution since the late 1960s.
A regular charge, often justly made, against the Irish language curriculum in primary and secondary education is that it fails to properly teach students the basic fundamentals of ár dteanga dhúchais. It could quite plausibly be asserted however, that it is several times worse in regards to “religious education” and Catholic doctrine, examination-based or not, in Catholic fee-paying and non-fee paying schools alike.
It was once stated by Aodh de Blácam that “though the Catechism is taught in our schools and priests are their managers, yet they are not truly and positively Catholic”. The teaching of the Penny Catechism in Irish primary schools was ended in 1976, and classical textbooks such as Michael Sheehan’s Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, or Charles Hart’s The Student’s Catholic Doctrine were phased out of Irish secondary schools at around this time.
Gone as well are priests as principals. In the present day it would be some stroke of luck to hear of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Henry Newman or St. Catherine of Sienna in a secondary school religion class, let alone what they had to say about this matter or another.
What is received in most schools now is very much like masonic indifferentism, where all religions verge upon being approximations of one supposed all-encompassing truth. Catholicism itself falls under the category of “Christianity”, with nothing specifically Catholic being discussed or taught in the majority of Irish Catholic schools for the Junior or Leaving Cycle, be it an exam subject or not (with some exceptions, of course).
Many “Catholic” schools in non-exam religion classes follow the State’s optional curriculum, despite great freedom being technically available to schools in terms of what curricula are followed in non-exam religion classes. It’s quite something to emerge from a “Catholic” school having been taught numerous things about other world religions, but having learnt absolutely nothing about the very faith such schools supposedly espouse.
A “religious education” which is apathetic towards Catholicism itself may be said to have replaced religious instruction or religious knowledge classes in practically all Irish Catholic schools. As Nicolás Gómez Dávila once opined, “violence isn’t necessary to destroy a civilisation, each civilisation dies from indifference towards the unique values which created it”.
Another related phenomenon is the proliferation of trendy teachers within these schools who assert that Catholic Social Teaching ought to be a matter of “guidelines”, and it should be subject to change based on what year it is, rather than being something inviolable in nature. This alternative creed holds that certain elements of this area can be ignored if someone personally disagrees with them, in the vein of a sort of religious cultural capitalism. Everything must “move with the times”, and if personal fault is found with something, then it ought to be consigned to outer isolation.
This is very similar to where state media, every once and awhile, present particular clerics on a national broadcast, who then cast aspersions upon Catholic Social Teaching and who are known to have voted to remove all protections for the unborn and to redefine marriage. These figures are utilised as a means to implicitly or explicitly say, not only may Catholics accept and assist others in the likes of procuring abortions, but in fact it would nearly be un-Catholic for a person to not enable the process, or to not re-define marriage.
Thus those who remain faithful to Catholic Social Teaching can be demonised without any alleged anti-Catholic speech having transpired. A number of “Catholic” schools at the time of the referendum on the 8th Amendment even asked their students to remove pro-life items of any sort from their person, as they were deemed “too political”. Meanwhile in the US, many Catholic schools encourage their students to partake in marches for the unborn.
The architectural changes resulting from the “spirit of Vatican II” (but not actually mandated by Vatican II) that befell many Irish Catholic schools in the late 1960s should also be noted, for this saw the start of schools losing their distinct Catholic identity. This saw the removal of religious statues from corridors and classrooms, reduction in religious iconography and many nearly unforgiveable changes to once resplendent school churches, chapels, and oratories, where one’s forefathers might have sat long ago. Gone are the murals of the angels and of the Sacred Heart.
Instead there are often paganistic trinkets in front of altars, and even upon them slogan-like banners such as “do more of what makes you happy” or “be who you want to be” in the place of where St. Joseph and Our Lady once were. Evelyn Waugh’s words in Brideshead Revisited easily spring to mind: “there wasn’t a chapel anymore, just an oddly decorated room”. In many Irish “Catholic” schools there isn’t even an oratory or chapel anymore. Instead there is the “reflection space” or the “prayer room”.
Where images of the Sacred Heart were once displayed in school corridors, there are now often Critical Gender Theory posters. Even within the very classrooms where Catholicism is ostensibly taught in modern Irish Catholic schools, the symbols and iconography of other religions outnumber their Catholic counterparts in prominence and visibility, thus further diminishing the alleged Catholic spirit of these places. All such things stole thence the life of the building.
A few elements of the Catholic literary and poetic tradition still remain on the Leaving Cert English course, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins. However, it is interesting to consider the progressive scrubbing of Catholic poets from the State Examinations, such as Chesterton, Belloc and Roy Campbell, all of whom were examinable poets on the Junior Cert up until at least the 70s.
The English curriculum in Irish Catholic schools was once concerned with, among other things, imparting the true, the beautiful and the good; as well as the recognition of virtue, and reflection upon the nature of education itself.
Passages from Edmund Burke’s, Reflection on the Revolution in France and John Henry Newman’s, The Idea of a University, to name just a few, were once studied in Catholic schools the length and the breadth of this country; as is apparent from browsing different editions of James Carey’s, New Senior Prose: Matriculation and Leaving Cert Prose. What replaced it is a focus on “the contemporary” and “what’s relevant today”, as if ideas of the likes of Newman or Burke, among others, somehow became irrelevant.
Now some “leading” Catholic fee-paying schools actually opt to study “contemporary” plays for the LC English Comparative, that portray the entirety of small “o” orthodox Catholic clerics and nuns as out-and-out malevolent beings, without exception. This is despite such schools actually having the ability to study other texts if they wished to do so. Other particular fee-paying schools even invite their students in their newsletters to read prominent doyens of ‘wokeness’.
It’s also interesting to note the sea-change that has transpired in Catholic schools, wherein such schools once promoted filial piety to God, the family and the Patria, with a distinct nationalistic spirit pervading the schools. This is apparent from reading Irish school annuals composed around the time of events of particular national significance, such as the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Clergy, lay staff and students alike within their pages invoke the importance of a national consciousness, character and outlook. One such 1930 annual from an Irish Catholic secondary school proclaimed:
“Filial duty, that is the love and regard we have for home and fatherland, gives us a tendency to do good to those about us, to promote the highest interests of the family and the State. The spirit of Nationality may, therefore, succinctly be defined as the virtue of benevolence as applied to our native land. It implies a love for and pride in one’s country and it inspires a desire to promote its full and highest good. The Patriot is the man who promotes the common good, who strives to bring about the highest moral, intellectual and material culture of his native land.”
It was also added that the spirit of Nationality “entails a desire to combat or ward off those forces which are inimical to the best interests of the country” and that “the cultivation of the National spirit and the National language should be our greatest safeguard against depravity from abroad”.
Also present within annuals of this era are Gaelic designs in conjunction with pieces in the old cló-gaelach and references to Irish mythological figures and various events over the centuries leading to Irish independence.
The Táin Bó Cuailigne, Ireland’s national Epic, may be studied for Leaving Cert Classical Studies, however other than that and some elements of the curriculum for Irish, there’s little in most Irish schools that invokes Ireland’s abundant mythological heritage. In the past Amhrán na bhFiann was also taught and sung each morning in many Irish Catholic schools, and the words of our national anthem would often be printed on the backs of copybooks.
The tri-colour was also once regularly raised above school grounds. Now the national anthem is unheard of in Irish Catholic primary and secondary schools, and instead of the tri-colour a new generation of lay principals in non-fee paying and fee-paying schools alike, on occasion, raise the banner of the rainbow. Even the stories of how individual schools came into being, which are referenced by religious and laity alike in school annuals of a past era, are often now left untold or are completely diluted.
The complete move away from “developing in the young the necessary self-reliance and communal spirit, the essential love of country and in a hundred ways foster[ing] the Christian virtues that make for the shaping of the whole man” can be seen in myriad ways. Instead of inculcating an understanding of faithful Catholicism and a love of our ancient nation, students are encouraged to become involved in things like the European Youth Parliament, which advance an out-and-out globalist conception of the world, and the clouding of the Irish national character and outlook.
Numerous Irish Catholic schools have also been known to invite speakers from globalist organisations that, among many other things, favour the availability of abortion “as late as necessary”, and have campaigned for the Irish Government to compel Catholic schools to teach material in RSE classes in a manner that would entirely contravene the ethos of said schools. Of course many “Catholic” schools have been doing exactly this for some time (with little or no consultation with parents by the lay management of said schools), but the schools that don’t teach Critical Gender Theory in RSE classes or guide students on how to procure abortions, still have some protections under the Education Act 1998.
Only on rare occasions are responses made to challenges made by faithful Catholics to the goings-on in these schools. One such instance was where the lay trustee body overseeing a school was criticised for a talk delivered by Amnesty International, who of course campaigned to remove all protections for the unborn in Ireland and to restrict the corresponding conscience rights of healthcare workers (ironically Amnesty was founded to protect conscience rights). It was replied that “good Catholic education is about ensuring young people hear lots of different viewpoints”.
Even if this assertion were true, how is it that most Irish Catholic schools never invite speakers who are faithful to Catholic Social Teaching, or speakers who promote the revival of the Irish national spirit? Instead these schools, by and large, only invite speakers who uphold the “values” of relativism and global homogenisation. A “good Catholic education”, something which is nearly entirely absent from Ireland, at second level in particular, would perhaps teach its students at least some of the very basic fundamentals of Catholicism.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once noted that a number of Enlightenment thinkers, such as the Marquis De Sade and Benjamin Rush, thought that children ought to be considered the property of the state, rather than of their parents. Some figures, such as Frances Wright, even openly advocated for a system of state-sponsored boarding schools, wherein all children aged 2 to 16 could be removed from the supposed baneful influence of church and family.
Khrushchev would later favour a similar idea, albeit a system of state-controlled boarding schools for 6 to 16 year olds. Fr. Edward Cahill in the Frameworks of a Christian State also wrote at length about this pernicious Enlightenment idea, that the state ought to have greater power over children than the family itself, and following on from this a near absolute right over the education of children.
His writings on this front would greatly influence the philosophy underpinning Article 42 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, where parents were to have more influence over the educational path of their children than the Irish State. For instance parents can’t be compelled to have their children sent to State schools, and may choose to have their children educated in private schools or the home itself. The parent is the “primary and natural educator of children” as per Article 42, not the State. It’s also worth noting the wording of the Constitution, in that the State provides “for” education rather than is the provider of education. The influence of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on Catholic education Divini Illlius Magstri also seems apparent:
“In such a case it becomes the duty of the state […] to leave free scope to the initiative of the Church and the family, while giving them such assistance as justice demands. That this can be done to the full satisfaction of families and to the advantage of education […] is clear from the actual experience of some countries comprising different religious denominations.”
Elements of the aforementioned Enlightenment weltanschauung, wherein the state is to have greater power over children than parents themselves, are apparent in the present day. This is clear in the case of the current Programme for Government to abolish or alter Section 9 (d) of the Education Act 1998 (“making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary”), as was previously recommended by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills’ report on Relationships and Sexuality Education in 2019. This would have the result that the State could mandate what would be taught and the manner in which said material would be delivered in RSE classes, regardless of a school’s ethos.
Ultimately this would entail the State determining the ethos of every school in the country, as well as its characteristic spirit. Given that attendance in RSE classes is mandatory and there is no right of withdrawal for any particular section of it, faithful practitioners of the various faiths in Ireland would be unable to remove their children from classes where things that are opposed to their faiths, such as Critical Gender Theory, would be presented as fact.
The Programme for Government also calls for a Citizen’s Assembly on the Future of Education “ensuring that the voices of young people and those being educated are central”. Some have interpreted this as having the potential for a referendum on rewording Article 42.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann that holds that “the State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children” and other sub-sections of Article 42. Given the manner in which all previous Citizen’s Assemblies have been steered in a certain direction by particular forces, there may well be more than an element of truth to this. Fine Gael prohibiting Catholic primary schools from giving preference to baptised Catholics in the event of oversubscription, while permitting schools of every other religion to give preference to co-religionists in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 is something that shouldn’t be forgotten on this front.
It seriously needs to be considered that most “Catholic” schools should be divested of their patronage. The remaining schools, even if few in number, could then cater towards those who desire an authentic Catholic education encompassing proper catechesis, familiarity with Catholic doctrine, a strong emphasis on the importance of social works, as well as facilitating a well-rounded education, co-curricular activities and the formation of character. As Aodh de Blácam elucidated, “A true Christian education would be based on the vision of Dante, Leo, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Lamennais, Montalembert, Ketteler”.
Perhaps some schools might even adopt the pre-1960s classical style of education, which can still be found in countries such as France, and one that is seeing a revival in a number of places in the US. All in all there is a great need for schools that genuinely respect the beliefs of faithful Catholics, and that are resistant to the encroach of Critical Gender Theory, among other things, that’s becoming pervasive in many Irish Catholic schools.
Fantastic article. Removing the patronage of the Church is at least a decade overdue. Lets have a smaller , stronger, truly Catholic education
The Freemasons closed their schools in Dublin not because they were on the way out but because they didn’t need a specifically masonic curriculum anymore.
Not a Roman Catholic any more, but agree with a lot of what you say. Some time ago I heard a number of student teachers being interviewed at St Pat’s Teacher Training School. None of them wanted to teach pupils about the Catholic faith. It seems reasonable to think that if you wish to become a teacher in a Catholic primary school, that you would be a practicing Catholic and this would be part of the entrance requirement.