Irish state schools to phase out Catholic symbols, mandatory Masses
More than 200 state-run secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland will begin to phase out historical Catholic symbols and mandatory Masses, Irish sources have reported.
The new regulations apply to the country’s ETB schools, which are run by the government’s Education and Training Boards. The new rules officially classify those schools as “multi-denominational” which therefore can not favor Catholic or Christian symbolism or ceremonies, the Irish Times reported.
These new regulations were established in a yet unpublished document obtained by the Irish Times.
Slightly more than 78% of the population of Ireland identifies as Roman Catholic, according to the country’s latest Faith Survey in 2016.
The Times reports that these new regulations stipulate that any displayed religious symbols “must echo the beliefs of the wider school community rather than one particular religion” to reflect this multi-denominational identity. The regulations add that when religious symbols are displayed, there must be balance, such as displaying a Menorah for Hanukkah if there is also a Christmas nativity scene on display. School Masses or other religious ceremonies or events at ETB schools are now expected to be held for students only on an “opt-in” basis, rather than on a mandatory basis that requires students to opt out.
Furthermore, religious education teachers at ETB schools will be required to have training from ETB-approved groups, so as to provide religious education that matches the schools’ multi-denominational identities and the state curriculum, which covers a variety of religious traditions. The religious education department will also only be allowed to be inspected by state, rather than Church, authorities henceforth. There is a group of 70 ETB schools that will be exempt from the new regulations, due to legal agreements they have with the Catholic Church about maintaining the Catholic identity of their schools, according to the Irish Times.
Paddy Lavelle, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, told the Irish Times that the new regulations address the “multidenominational aspect of our schools specifically and the importance of catering for children of all religious and non-religious worldviews equally.” The Irish Catholic bishops’ conference has not commented on the changes.