Secular Sunday #551 – Pope says Catholic education is evangelisation

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Pope says Catholic education is evangelisation


Pope Francis has said that Catholic education is evangelisation. This confirms again what Atheist Ireland has been saying for years: that our publicly funded school system is part of the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church.

The Pope made this statement during a private reception in the Vatican in April for educators including from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. He also told a gathering of Christian Brothers to evangelise by educating, and educate by evangelising.

The Pope absurdly elaborated that not to speak ‘the truth about God’ in schools, out of respect for those who do not believe, would be like burning books out of respect for those who are not intellectuals. By ‘the truth’, of course, he means his particular beliefs.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, has previously said that Catholic schools are vital centres for evangelisation and catechesis, and that through Religious Education all pupils should systematically learn the truths of the Catholic faith.

As is often the case, the Catholic Church leadership talking internally, and Atheist Ireland talking publicly, are the only groups open about this fact, while the Department of Education and other state bodies pretend that this is not the case.

Atheist Ireland campaigns for a secular education system that respects everybody equally, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs, and that does not promote or favour either religion or atheism.

As always, you can help us to continue our work by joining Atheist Ireland as a member, or by asking anybody who you think may be interested in joining us to do so. We are an entirely voluntary body with no paid staff, and we depend on our members to continue our work. You can join Atheist Ireland here.

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag

English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News

Pope confirms Catholic education is evangelisation

Pope Francis has confirmed that Catholic education is evangelisation, and has compared not speaking the truth about God in education to burning books, during a private reception in the Vatican on 22 April for educators including from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. He also told a gathering of Christian Brothers to evangelise by educating, and educate by evangelising.
This confirms again what Atheist Ireland has been saying for years: that our publicly funded school system is part of the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church. As is often the case, the Catholic Church and Atheist Ireland are the only groups open about this fact, while the Department of Education and other state bodies pretend that this is not the case.
Catholic education is evangelisation — Pope Francis
At the April meeting referred to above, Pope Francis said that:

“Catholic education is also evangelisation: bearing witness to the joy of the Gospel and its power to renew our communities and provide hope and strength in facing wisely the challenges of the present time. I trust that this study visit will inspire each of you to rededicate himself or herself with generous zeal to your vocation as educators, to your efforts to solidify the foundations of a more humane and solidary society, and thus the advancement Christ’s kingdom of truth, holiness, justice and peace.”

Pope Francis also said that:

“Not to speak the truth about God out of respect for those who do not believe would be, in the field of education, like burning books out of respect for those who are not intellectuals, destroying works of art out of respect for those who do not see, or silencing music out of respect for those who do not hear.”

When Mary Immaculate College reported on the reception on their website, they highlighted the section of the Pope’s speech in which he said Catholic education is evangelisation, then quoted project leader Daniel O’Connell from MIC as saying that: “Meeting with Pope Francis and other speakers was such a gift, a source of encouragement and inspiration for us all.”
Evangelise by educating, educate by evangelising — Pope Francis
In May Pope Francis addressed participants in the 46th General Chapter of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He concluded:

“It is your way of realizing what Saint Paul wrote: “Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). To educate in this way is your apostolate, your specific contribution to evangelization: to make the person grow according to Christ. In this sense, your schools are “Christian”: not because of an external label, but because they take this path… Thank you for what you are and what you do! Go forth with the joy of evangelizing by educating  and of educating by evangelizing. I bless you and all your communities.”

Vital centres for evangelisation — Archbishop Eamon Martin
In a speech in 2017 to a conference on Catholic education, Archbishop Eamon Martin said that Catholic schools remain ‘vital centres for evangelisation and catechesis’. He said:

“Despite a changed context, Catholic schools remain as vital centres for evangelisation and catechesis, closely linked to parishes and local communities. It is reasonable, then, for boards of management of Catholic schools, in establishing their admissions criteria, to be concerned about ensuring that pupils from the local parish or group of parishes, are able to access their Catholic school.”

The 2018 Admissions to Schools Act has prevented Catholic Bishops from discriminating in this particular way, but the Bishops lobbied the government last year to be able to do this again in return for divesting some schools to multi-denominational patrons.
In the speech above, Archbishop Martin went on to say:

“In cooperation with diocesan advisers, it is important that there is a strong catechetical component to Religious Education so that all pupils can systematically learn the truths of the Catholic faith, be instructed in all aspects of the moral life and grasp the essentials of Catholic social teaching.”
“Everything that happens in the school community is rooted in the Gospel values of Respect for Life, Love, Solidarity, Truth and Justice; the Catholic school seeks to harmonise faith and culture.”

Catholic schools vital to new evangelisation — Archbishop Eamon Martin
In an article in Catholic Culture in 2014, Archbishop Eamon Martin wrote:

“A few weeks ago we celebrated Catholic Schools Week, acknowledging that our schools are distinctive – they are not only centres of excellence and learning, but they are also places of faith. So, if the Holy Father is calling on our young people to be agents of the new evangelisation, it is important to ask ourselves: to what extent do we, in our Catholic schools, facilitate young people in grasping the truths of faith, growing in love of God and neighbour, and in becoming witnesses for Christ?”
“Pope Francis has no doubt that Catholic schools are vital to the New Evangelisation. Just before Christmas he published the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Gospel of Joy) in response to the XIII Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelisation. In ‘The Gospel of Joy’ he says: ‘Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture’.”
“Obviously this means finding more opportunities in Catholic schools for pupils to hear or read God’s Word, and then to reflect on what it is asking of them. The Word of God is the ‘wellspring of renewal’ in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives (Verbum Domini). But if this is to happen then we need to make the Bible a more natural part of the daily life of our schools.”
“Our Catholic schools remain a valuable resource in helping our young people, parents and teachers to understand and bear witness to our faith in public and to bring the Gospel of Joy to the world. In reflecting with you on the New Context, a New Mission and New Partnerships this evening, I am inviting our superb Catholic schools to join us in the New Evangelisation and help us to sing a new song to The Lord!”

The relevance of religion — Irish State religion course
The Irish State continues to help the Catholic Church to evangelise schoolchildren. Children are taught to respect religious beliefs and their codes of conduct. This is not just in the religion courses developed by the Patron bodies, but also courses developed by the State. The Main Aim of the State Religious Education course at second level is:

“Religious Education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world.”

If the main aim of any course was to develop values to enable all students to see the relevance of atheism to their lives, it would be seen as indoctrination. But the people who control and influence our education system cannot see the problem with doing this for religion.
These are just some examples of how the Catholic Church evangelises culture in Ireland, and how it specifically uses our publicly funded schools to evangelise Catholicism. This church-state coalition of evangelisation has to stop. Atheist Ireland continues to lobby for full separation of church and state, and a secular state that respects equally everybody’s right to freedom of religion or belief without taking sides in favour of either religion or atheism. Read online…

Loreto school in Balbriggan wants to control ‘NPRE’ parents and their children


In Loreto second level school in Balbriggan, students who exercise their Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction are referred to as ‘NPRE students’, and their parents are referred to as ‘parents of NPRE students’.

‘NPRE’ stands for Non Participation in Religious Education. It could more accurately be described as ‘Not Protecting Rights Equally’.

This Loreto policy breaches the Constitution and the Education Act. It also breaches GDPR law, as the school draws up a list of these ‘NPRE’ students and puts their names on a database along with the reasons why they are not participating in religious education.

This Loreto policy is absolutely disrespectful to minorities and undermines pluralism and the right to freedom of religious and belief. It reflects Catholic power and control over our education system.

We are aware that publicly funded Catholic schools are not inclusive, and that they discriminate on religious grounds. However, this policy is worse than that. It attempts to actively control how atheist and other minority belief parents bring up their children in accordance with their own personal philosophical beliefs.

The Department of Education simply ignores the Constitutional rights of parents. In particular it has failed to put in place an Administrative scheme to give practical application to the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.

Constitutional rights of parents

Article 44.2.4 states that students have a right to attend any school receiving public funds and ‘not attend’ religious instruction. Article 44.2.4 does not say ‘opt out’ or ‘not participate’ in religious instruction. It clearly says ‘not attend’, which means the right to physically leave the classroom. Nor does it say that reasons must be given for not attending.

Section 30-2(e) of the Education Act 1998 reflects this right. This right is the responsibility of the Minister for Education. There is no dispute in relation to the right to ‘not attend’. The Constitution is clear and so is the Education Act.

The Oireachtas has also decided that practical application must be given to Constitutional rights (Section 6 (a) Education Act 1998) and that Boards of Management of schools must ensure that the Constitutional rights of all are complied with.

The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case has upheld parental rights and said that parental authority over the education of their children was a foundational pillar of the constitution. Not in Loreto for the NPRE parents and students though. They obviously missed that Supreme Court case.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 obliges schools to put in their Admissions policy the arrangement for students not attending religious instruction.

The vast majority of schools just ignore that legal requirement and the Minister for Education, Norma Foley has done nothing about this. Schools simply put in their Admission policies that parents should come into a meeting to discuss the issue.

Loreto, Balbriggan Admission Policy

In the case of the Loreto in Balbriggan, this is what their Admission Policy says:-

“16. Arrangements regarding students not attending religious instruction.

Where the parents, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, have requested that the student attend the school without attending the religious instruction in the school, arrangements are set out in the school’s policy on Non Participation in Religious Education as per the school website. This policy is available on the school website or by contacting the school office.”

As an aside, by putting ‘Non Participation in Religious Education’ as their response to the law about ‘Religious Instruction’, they are acknowledging that ‘religious education’ and ‘religious instruction’ are the same thing. This is significant as some schools and patron bodies deny this fact.

Loreto, Balbriggan ‘Non Participation in Religious Education’ policy

The policy says that Religious Education is a non exam subject in Loreto. We are aware that this RE course was also developed by the NCCA for schools that do not have Junior Certificate Religious Education as an exam subject.  We can always depend on the NCCA to assist in undermining the rights of minorities in schools.

Loreto, Balbriggan say that:

 “The general aim of Religious Education is to continue to awaken our students to faith and to help them throughout their lives to deepen and strengthen that faith”

The school policy then claims that the course is open to students of all faiths and none. It is open to all faiths and none if parents wish for their child to be evangelised into the Catholic religion. They actually claim that the course is inclusive and promotes diversity.

The Loreto school policy then says that students who do not participate will be supervised in the religion class, and if that is not satisfactory then parents are responsible for the supervision of their child. So they just ignore the Constitution and the Education Act 1998 with regard to the right to not attend religious instruction. Read more…


Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at

List of Atheist Ireland Submissions

Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…
Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.

Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $37,075 to 1292 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1932 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,113 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

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Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions




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Abortion law falls short of women’s needs and creates ‘chilling effect’ on clinicians, HSE report warns


By Kitty Holland


Abortion legislation in Ireland “falls short” of women’s needs, creating anguish and shame, while causing a “chilling” effect on clinicians, a Health Service Executive report published on Tuesday warns. Read more…


NSS urges MoD to address Christian-centric approach to welfare


By The National Secular Society


The National Secular Society has urged the Ministry of Defence to ensure its welfare provision is fully inclusive of all service personnel, irrespective of religion or belief.Read more…

House of Lords votes against inclusive RE during Schools Bill debate


By Humanists UK


An amendment to the Government’s Schools Bill that would have reformed religious education (RE) in schools without a religious character was defeated in the House of Lords last night. Humanists UK has long called for changes to the law in this area, and worked with members and supporters of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to see the amendment tabled. Read more…

Humanists International welcomes new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief


By Humanists International


The UN Human Rights Council has appointed a new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Nazila Ghanea. Dr. Ghanea is a professor of international human rights law and director of international human rights programmes at the University of Oxford. She was appointed by the Council on 8 July, during the 50th session of the Council. Read online… 

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Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.



Freethought Radio – Not a Christian nation
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – Condemning Bigotry Isn’t Christian Persecution

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