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The Labour Party’s Ivana Bacik sounded indignant this morning – she’d gone to her local Catholic school to suggest that they change to a non-denominational school, thus allowing Ivana to send her child there in good conscience. “They said their ethos was important to them, and that they want to hold on to it”, she complained on RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.

Imagine going to your local GAA club and asking them to change to a basketball or soccer club because that’s the sport you want your child to play! The comparison is not ridiculous – the GAA has what it has today because they were supported by ordinary Irish people in blood, sweat, tears  – and money.  When demand for and interest in other sports began to grow, other groups of Irish people got together to build up alternative clubs etc to meet this need. And now our children and young people in most towns can choose between Gaelic, hurling, rugby, soccer and maybe even a few other options. If a child has a more minority interest, parents may have to travel a little bit to access the training and facilities. No-one is demanding the GAA get off the pitch; no-one is indignant at the position of strength of the GAA had as compared with other sports.

There is obviously a need now for a wider range of choice in Irish school. This need has arisen relatively quickly with rapid changes in society, in values and in demographics, and so there is a lag that needs to be addressed in the availability of diversity in education.  Groups of interested parents and educators are getting together to address this and things are changing. The Catholic Church itself has recognised this and offered to transfer patronage of some schools were the need arises – the key issue being parental choice.

However there should be an acknowledgement of why so many schools in Ireland are Catholic: because historically this is what the largely Catholic population wanted, and in many cases, still want. And because when Catholic children in Ireland were offered little or nothing by way of education, it was Catholic religious orders and the Catholic Church – priests and people – who stepped up to the plate.  We’ve heard the horrifying stories about those supposedly Catholic teachers who betrayed the principles under which these schools were set up, but the fact remains that a huge amount of good was done. You might even think a little bit of appreciation would be in order?

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One of the things I find most attractive about the Catholic faith is its ‘reasonableness’ – it makes sense. When the blueprint it offers is genuinely followed, it does indeed bring us to be the best we can be – as individuals and as a society. So I get really frustrated when Catholic principles are presented in the media as a set of almost arbitrary rules and regulation that don’t make any sense unless you’ve been brain-washed and certainly don’t connect with the real world. (Hence this blog – it’s a kind of therapy really!)

I’m the first to accuse media of bias and of not giving Catholic speakers a fair run – so credit where credit is due: Pat Kenny has just hosted a very cordial interview with Professor Robert George of Princeton University. Professor George outlined a rational and well thought out rationale for why he is not in favour of embryonic stem cell research; he also argues that the same-sex marriage debate should properly be seen as a debate on sexual morality and not on basic rights. Again he argues his case in a way that makes sense and recognises real world problems.

If we really believe that there is only one Truth – then what we believe should ‘work’ in the real world. There should be no mismatch between what we believe and our real experience as people living here and now in this society. (Challenge, yes – but not a disconnect)

If there appears to a mismatch then maybe we need to see if we really understand our faith – or the argument against it. If you can’t get to the Davenport Hotel in Dublin this evening to hear Professor George, have a listen to his interview with Pat.

(If you’re reading this before 12 noon on Fri 5th March, today’s programme won’t be up yet. If you’re reading more than a week from 5th Mar, the programme is likely to be gone – so don’t delay 😀 )

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I’d like to thank Robert and Catherine (see comments on last post) for drawing my attention to some links that are well worth highlighting (see expanded links list to the left) and in particular for the reminder that just because we don’t always see these statements in the mainstream media, doesn’t always mean that the Church hasn’t been trying to get its message out. I really recommend adding the link Robert suggested to your favourites : catholicbishops.ie press releases.

Even better – subscribe to an RSS feed for updates to this page. “What does that mean – ‘subscribe to an RSS feed’? ” I hear you ask. Well, it’s a really helpful way of getting your computer to let you know every time a website is updated. In this case it lets you know when a new press release is added.

On both the catholicbishops.ie home page and on the press releases page you’ll see a little orange square with the message: “Subscribe to press releases”. Click the orange square.  You have a few options: if you use Firefox (which offers some nice options) you’ll now see at the top of the new window that opens a drop-down menu with the message: “subscribe to this feed using..” You can choose between “Live Bookmarks” which puts a bookmark called ‘Catholic Communications Office’ at the top of your browser window. The other options are good if you have set up your own personalised page in iGoogle or My Yahoo! If you choose these, a new box opens in your personalised page with the headlines of the most recent press releases – you can just glance over every time you open your iGoogle or My Yahoo! page.

If you use Safari, clicking the RSS feed orange square opens a window with summaries of the most recent updates (press releases). In the right margin of the window, you’ll see a blue area with options you can select. The very last option, under Actions, is ‘Add bookmark..’ This adds a bookmark which will open a window with the most recent releases. (Not as neat as Firefox but still handy).

Kildare & Leighlin are online!

If you don’t quite get what I’m saying – just give it a try and see what happens. In his message for World Day of Communications 2010, Pope Benedict challenged priests to “proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelisation and catechesis.”  And when the priests and the Church goes to the effort of doing this, the least we can do is tune in – the Pope himself wants us to  😀

I use a Mac (so cool!) so I’m not sure how the RSS feeds work on a PC – pretty similarly I presume. But if you use a PC and don’t mind admitting it, feel free to add a comment on any differences in how you go about subscribing.  And don’t be put off by the word “subscribe” – it’s free!

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Two interesting articles in yesterday’s Irish Times deal with the recent visit of the Irish Bishops to Rome.

Paddy Agnew, (Rome correspondent) writes that in the wake of the visit “a little explanation might have gone a long way to averting some of the widespread negative Irish reaction to the Rome meeting” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0220/1224264879783.html He goes on to give step by step what the Vatican might have done to convey the message much more effectively:

“explain beforehand that meetings between the pope and abuse survivors (which have a precedent) are never pre-announced, to avoid them becoming a media scrimmage-cum-photo-op.”

“clarify in advance that the meeting would not be discussing the question of episcopal resignations, something for which the Catholic Church has its own tried and true procedures, involving the Congregation of Bishops.”

“point out that many ambassadors, including those from countries such as the USA and the UK, refuse to appear before foreign affairs committees, or the equivalent thereof.”

Breda O’ Brien makes a similar criticism of the Church here in Ireland:

“The church failed children, especially up until the 1990s, and is now failing to communicate credibly that it has changed.” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0220/1224264879612.html

After the publication of the Murphy Report, it was important that the Dublin Diocese made it clear that it had fully faced up to what went so wrong in the past – and this it did reasonably well.

But it also needed to make the full picture clear about the present state of play: that major changes have already taken place: some of these  changes are mentioned in the Report and the Diocese could have given more detail on this.

It needed to respond when some commentators exaggerated, misquoted or took mistaken interpretations from the Report – for example, the widespread use of “mentioned in the Report” as being synonymous with “criticised in the Report”.

It needed to clarify and explain the 1962 Vatican document on the crime of using Confession as a means of solicitation: this was widely mis-reported as a Vatican order not to report child abuse to civil authorities.

It needed to get these messages out over and over again – both the genuine sorrow for the past and the positive changes: our Church leaders owe it to the victims, to ordinary Catholics, to the public.

The Church here hasn’t done this – but it really really needs to start doing it now. Maybe the seperate statements issued yesterday by Dr Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns and Dr Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Conor are hopeful signs of a change? http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0220/abuse.html

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