The issue of the Catholic Church’s control of the Irish education system comes up now and again. Last week was one of those times.
In Malta, a similar conversation is taking place, however public opinion seems to be very different in the two countries towards Catholic education.
In Ireland, the debate came about after the 2016 census results were published on Thursday.
The Irish Times summed up the census in one simple sentence.
“We are older, less religious and speak less Irish.”
Probably the most notable change in Ireland’s demographics between 2011 and 2016 is the drop in Catholics and the rise of those with ‘no religion’.
In 2011 Catholics made up 84% of the Irish population. Now Catholics account for just 78%.
This means Ireland is now less Catholic than Italy.
The country is swiftly moving in the direction of Spain, where only 64% now consider themselves Catholics with 27% of no religion.
In the Republic of Malta, Catholicism is the state religion, unlike in Ireland. Catholics make up 88% of the population on the Mediterranean island.
Recently, both nations have seen debates played out in the media and online regarding catholic education.
With the census results proving that we are less religious, some TDs have called for the removal of the Church from the education system.
The Catholic Church still controls about 90% of schools, a consequence of the historical influence of the church on public institutions.
However, the Catholic bishops of Ireland don’t seem to be phased by the results.
They have recently blocked the introduction of religious textbooks that are not published by their own publishing house in Ireland, Veritas.
They wrote to the principals of their schools and said that there were only two books, both published by Veritas, which were acceptable for use in the classroom.
In Malta, there has also been a debate about Catholic state schools and calls from an Imam to introduce the teaching of Islam to Muslim pupils in these schools. The suggestion has been met with criticism.
In some ways Malta and Ireland are quite different.
As Catholicism is the state religion in Malta, it is therefore seen as the role of the education system to teach that religion to its pupils. Teaching Islam in Catholic schools may need a change in the Constitution.
But Archbishop Charles Scicluna in Malta said Catholic schools should not block religious freedoms, which leaves the possibility of Islam being taught in Maltese schools a possibility.
Meanwhile in Ireland, the Constitution gives students the right to abstain from religious teaching, however, Ireland’s state broadcaster RTÉ found recently that this was not the case in some schools which stated that religious education was compulsory.
They found that one school targeted Muslims specifically, saying they needed to fully participate in Christian liturgies.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has been devastated recently and there is no sign of a revival on the horizon. It is likely that the Church will lose its grip on the education system in the near future as the demographics of Ireland show a continuing drop in the percentage of Catholics living in the country.