THE debate on the future role of the Catholic Church in primary education must be conducted in a spirit of openness, the Administrator of the Diocese of Limerick said yesterday.
Fr Tony Mullins, who has taken charge of the diocese until a successor to Bishop Donal Murray is named, said the debate on the future of faith-based education was very welcome and that change is needed.
Fr Mullins said: “We must listen to each other without prejudice and respect the views of all stakeholders, especially the so far silent majority whose voice has yet to be heard.
“We live in a changing Ireland. One that is becoming increasingly diverse. It is important that we recognise that diversity of itself does not deliver inclusivity, and not diversity in and for itself, but inclusivity and mutual respect, is what we strive for.
“We can have a diverse society, which excludes some or all beliefs, or we can have a society which respects and embraces all.
He said diversity must be met with inclusivity and that students should come first, regardless of their environment or faith.
“The reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ school ethos. In fact, a so-called neutral stance is itself a values-laden perspective and one which seeks to exclude our values from the learning process which, by definition, plays a pivotal, indeed a foundational role, in the development of the individual.”
Fr Mullins said Catholics respect those who choose not to live by their values and it is only right that this is returned.
“However, this respect must be equitable and reciprocated. To tell students and parents that there is no place for faith in the school is to tell them that there is a fundamental part of themselves that they must leave outside the classroom door. There is no inclusivity in a policy of this type.” Fr Mullins said.
He said diversity in education should not be viewed as a threat.
“It is to be welcomed, as those schools which are faith-based can be much less apologetic about their ethos where there is an alternative available to parents who do not wish for a faith-based ethos to characterise their children’s education.
“Therefore, the challenge and the opportunity is to develop a genuine form of pluralism which is built upon respectful encounter and dialogue which recognises and facilitates difference.”
Fr Mullins was speaking at a symposium on leadership in faith-based schools at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who gave the opening address, said: “I want our school system to reflect the richness of diversity of beliefs, values and faith systems of all our citizens.
“We must adapt our school system to meet the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly diverse society and to better reflect the diversity of our citizens.
“We must now build on the education system so that it is structured to meet the needs of all our pupils. The significant societal changes that have taken place in Ireland have led to increased demands for new forms of multi-denominational and non-denominational schooling.”
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