Abuse scandals being used against denominational schools

The issue of abuse of minors by priests and religious is being used to advance all parts of what we’ll call the secular agenda. A big part of that agenda is to secularise the education system by bringing both primary and secondary schools under State control and to detach them from the various denominations. 

This agenda is now gathering pace with Government Chief Whip, Pat Carey, appearing to add his voice to it over the weekend. Those who care about denominational education cannot afford to be complacent about what is happening. In Newfoundland in 1997 a referendum was passed which withdrew State funding from all denominational schools in response to the clerical abuse crisis there. Although the abuse scandal centred on the Catholic Church, Protestant schools also lost funding and became, as it were, collateral damage in the crisis. 

The future of denominational schooling is being presented as a row between the Church and the State. We need to be clear, and to make clear, that this is not the proper way to frame it. The Iona Institute has consistently argued that it is neither the Church nor the State that should have the final say regarding the future of which school receive public money, but parents. Once again, we need to put parental choice at the centre of this debate. 

A little over a year ago we commissioned a survey, conducted by Red C, that addressed the question of parental choice and found that three-quarters of the public want parents to have a choice of schools to which they can send their children, rather than a State dominated system. In addition, it found that 51 per cent of parents still want to send their children to a denominational school. 

Hopefully if a Newfoundland-style referendum was attempted here it would fail because the make-up of our population is quite different than Newfoundland’s. 

However, it appears that instead an attempt may be made to morally blackmail the Church out of education by insisting that the orders and the parishes hand over their schools in reparation for the scandals. (When the report into abuse in the Dublin archdiocese comes out the spotlight will likely switch to the schools that come under the local bishop). 

As we know, in other countries many parents are anxious to take their children out of State-controlled schools and place them in Church-run schools. Britain comes to mind. We may well be corralled into a British-style education system in which the wishes of parents will be utterly lost from view and their children will be stuck in a State-controlled system that few will have any faith in. 

In fact, we may end up in a worse situation than Britain because there a third of publicly-funded schools are still run by the Churches, mainly by the Church of England. 

In all discussions about the future of denominational schools those who care about such schools must put the issue of parental choice front and centre.