Battle over school patronage: Marriages show change is inevitable

The CSO yesterday published data on the 21,053 marriages held last year. Of these, 664 involved same-sex couples highlighting how one of this society’s many weather vanes has spun so dramatically in a single lifetime.

However, that less than half of the weddings involved a Catholic ceremony is even more telling. Though still the most popular choice for same-sex couples, only 10,027 couples out of 21,053 chose to be part of a traditional Catholic ceremony.

As cold statistics go those figures represent a daunting challenge for Catholicism. Despite that, if they were considered in a slightly colder, more honest way, and the keep-the-mammy-happy motive/tokenism/hypocrisy/collusion behind many of today’s church weddings was factored in, they would be even more disheartening for traditional Catholicism.

Yet, when the majority of those couples become parents they will face an Irish denial of an Irish reality. One is that so many of them were happy to choose to become parents — a relatively recent option — long before they married.

Another of Catholicism’s strictures has been cast aside. Nevertheless, the growing majority who chose to get married outside Catholicism’s orthodoxy will, when the time comes to send children to school, face a situation where more than 90% of national schools are run by the institution they chose to ignore when they got married.

This hardly seems sustainable in social much less democratic terms.

The thorny issue of school patronage is alive again because of proposals to divest one of eight Catholic schools in north Co Dublin. Those opposed responded so dishonestly that the Archdiocese of Dublin postponed voting following “confusion and misinformation”. Just as with Brexit, zeal trumped integrity. The archdiocese’s intervention also shows that the Catholic Church is divided on the initiative.

That any vote would have been confined to pupils’ parents highlights another faultline. This is a social issue not a private one. After all, the taxes that support these schools — 100% State funded though not State-controlled — are levied on all citizens, not just the parents of school-going children. And, as an aside, why does the archdiocese manage any vote?

The campaign opposing change was so exaggerated that Minister for Education Joe McHugh criticised inaccurate claims that students would be prevented from marking Christmas or Easter. Ironically, those “scaremongering” claims have provoked a Government review of the process.

One of the standard responses from those opposed to making inclusion proactive is that we need new schools. Like so much of the Brexit ballyhoo that sounds plausible but hardly bears scrutiny. Similar issues arise with new schools. Are those who live in mature suburbs, where new schools are not justified to be denied access to a secular education?

Today marks 100 days since abortion became, after decades of campaigning, legal. That change was finally inevitable and could not be denied despite the most forceful campaigning. School patronage — or rather secular schools — should be seen in the same light. And, as yesterday’s changing marriage figures show, change comes one way or another.

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