Monday, January 25, 2010

The damage to Catholic Church

The damage to Catholic Church
Mon, Jan 25, 2010

THE NEED for reform of the national school system has become increasingly urgent as society undergoes rapid change. Two years ago, the Ryan report into the abuse of children in religious-run establishments generated debate on whether the Catholic Church should retain control of the sector. Now, following publication of the Murphy report, the electorate has made up its mind and supports ending that control by a margin of almost two-to-one, according to today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll.

Loss of confidence in the Catholic hierarchy, because of its handling of clerical sex abuse issues, may account for some of this shift in public opinion. Other factors should also be taken into consideration. The census of 2006 provided evidence of a growing multicultural student population and changes in religious demographics. In that context, control of more than 90 per cent of national schools by the Catholic Church, while they are fully funded by the State, raised questions concerning the right to religious practice under the Constitution while also touching on possible discriminatory treatment under equality laws.

Overcrowding at some Catholic-run national schools in the Dublin area during recent years and the refusal by the authorities there to accept immigrant children of different faiths caused Government whip Pat Carey to speculate that it might be time for the State to take responsibility for delivering an educational system. The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin believed the Catholic Church was ready to relinquish control where there was little or no demand for Catholic input. But he warned the Government would be on “dodgy ground” if it attempted to take over the entire system. Since then, apart from a handful of multi-denominational, VEC-run national schools being established, little has happened.

The Murphy report on clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese has reignited the debate. Demand for change is strongest in this area and 61 per cent of those questioned felt the Catholic Church should relinquish its control at primary school level. Fianna Fáil supporters were least committed, but large majorities favoured such a development within Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Support for a retention of the status quo amounted to less than one-third across all social classes and age groups.

The extent of the damage caused by decades of clerical child abuse and systematic cover-ups is reflected by the fact that almost three-quarters of those surveyed believe the church did not responded adequately to the Murphy report. Only 16 per cent felt it had. With close on half of those questioned now regarding the church in a more negative light, members of the hierarchy face a monumental task in rebuilding trust with their congregations. They have limited grounds for hope. A slight majority of 52 per cent believe the church will change in order to prevent future clerical abuse. But more than one-third of respondents take a negative view. As bishops prepare for their visit to Rome, they have much on which to ponder .

© 2010 The Irish Times

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