Is the Catholic Church really moving sacramental preparation out of schools?

Reports that the Catholic Church in Dublin is to start moving the preparation of children for sacraments out of the classroom are welcome, but they are exaggerated when compared to the full policy document published by the Archdiocese.

The full policy document says that schools will continue to “educate children for the sacraments”, with “content specific to” each sacrament being “a two year process”. Whatever this means, it seems to have quite an overlap with “preparing children for sacraments”.

Also, there is no schedule for the changes, other than that they “will take place gradually over time as parish and school dialogue and resources are continuously built up”.

What the full policy document says

Here are the relevant sections from the full policy document, titled titled ‘Accompanying Families: Sacraments of Initiation Policy Dublin 2022’:

“4.5 The parish prepares families for sacramental celebrations by means of a blended approach, where there are in-person gatherings as well as making use of online technologies and other applications to connect with families at home.

5.2. Catholic schools educate children for the sacraments through the promotion of Catholic ethos and the provision of Religious Education and faith formation informed by The Catholic Preschool and Primary R.E. Curriculum for Ireland 2015 [CPPRECI 2015] using the Grow In Love programme, in line with the Schedule for Catholic Schools.

5.3. Education for the sacraments in the school setting begins with Junior Infants and continues through the curriculum to Sixth Class.

5.4. Content specific to the first celebration of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist is a two-year process beginning in First Class.

5.5. Content specific to the celebration the Sacrament of Confirmation is also a two-year process beginning in Fifth Class.

7.3. The development of new local parish capacities to accompany children and their families will take place gradually over time as parish and school dialogue and resources are continuously built up.”

The irreplaceable role of parents

The policy document also contains a statement that highlights the double standards of the Catholic Church with regard to the role of parents. It says:

“3.1 Parents have an irreplaceable role as primary agents in their children’s faith life. Parish and school seek to support the primary role of the parents in partnership with them.”

This principle should also apply to parents who are atheists or are members of minority religious faiths. These parents also “have an irreplaceable role as primary agents in their children’s (faith or philosophical belief) life”, and schools should also “seek to support the primary role of these parents in partnership with them.”

At a minimum this should mean that schools respect the right of freedom of conscience of all parents, and their right to have their children not attend religious instruction, and schools should give those children an alternative timetabled subject. As well as being the ethically correct thing to do, this is based on the constitutional rights of all parents.

Even if parents do manage to get their children to not attend the Religious Education curriculum, they are not given an alternative subject. That means that children of Catholic parents get two and a half hours more education every week, for eight years, than do children of atheist or minority faith parents. This is religious discrimination, and goes against the claim in paragraph 3.1 about the irreplaceable role of parents.

Catholic Preschool and Primary R.E. Curriculum

The new policy document states that:

“5.2. Catholic schools educate children for the sacraments through the promotion of Catholic ethos and the provision of Religious Education and faith formation informed by The Catholic Preschool and Primary R.E. Curriculum for Ireland 2015 [CPPRECI 2015] using the Grow In Love programme, in line with the Schedule for Catholic Schools.”

The faith formation goals of Religious Education in the Curriculum mentioned here [CPPRECI 2015] include:

  • appreciate God’s forgiveness and love and celebrate it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • relate to Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the context of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • enter into sacraments as special meetings with the Risen Jesus.
  • encounter the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • consider how sacraments contribute to their life journeys.
  • develop their appreciation of the role of symbols in sacramental celebration.
  • prepare carefully to celebrate the sacraments.
  • appreciate how the sacraments help them to become more holy.

Even if we remove the phrase “prepare carefully to celebrate the sacraments”, there are still a lot of goals here that are effectively part of preparing children for the sacraments. These goals are developed in greater detail for each level of primary school throughout the curriculum.

Conclusion

Reports that the Catholic Church in Dublin is to start moving the preparation of children for sacraments out of the classroom are welcome, but they are exaggerated when compared to the full policy document published by the Archdiocese.

The full policy document says that schools will continue to “educate children for the sacraments”, with “content specific to” each sacrament being “a two year process”. Whatever this means, it seems to have quite an overlap with “preparing children for sacraments”.

Also, there is no schedule for the changes, other than that they “will take place gradually over time as parish and school dialogue and resources are continuously built up”.

State-funded schools should not promote either religion or atheism. They should treat everybody equally, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs. In the meantime, schools should respect the right of parents and students to not attend religious instruction, and should offer them an alternative timetabled subject.

Atheist Ireland

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