By Peter J. Smith
BELFAST, August 31, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Irish teachers union has urged its members to rebel against a request from Northern Ireland’s Catholic Bishops to hold an annual “Catholic ethos day” in Catholic schools. Catholic advocate Gregory Carlin told LifeSiteNews he believes this is the first time the teachers have publicly opposed the bishops and the matter therefore sets a serious precedent.
In a letter to principals, the Bishops had asked them to dedicate one of the five annual “Baker” days – days usually allotted for teacher training – to focus on the theme of “Vision of the Catholic School”. The Bishops informed principals that they had commissioned the Consultative Group for Catholic Education to “facilitate the development of Catholic education”, which would prepare educational materials for the teachers about the schools’ Catholic ethos.
”[The idea] came from a group primarily made up of lay teachers who have been working for this past couple of years to say: ‘What is a Catholic school and specifically what is a Catholic school in Northern Ireland in this age of secularisation and need for reconciliation’?” Bishop Donal McKeown of the Down and Connor diocese told the BCC. Clearly, because of the alarming secularist trends in Ireland, the bishops decided their schools needed to be strengthened in their founding purpose.
However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) has urged its members to defy the Bishops’ request, insisting that teachers cannot bother to consider the importance of a school’s Catholic ethos, and ought to use those training days to focus on matters like bullying and harassment.
“It is totally unacceptable to this organization and our members that the Catholic bishops should be requiring schools to give up one of their professional development days to consider the ethos of the schools. This in our view is neither necessary or desirable,” said Senior INTO official Tony Carlin.
“We cannot get training for members on how to deal with bullying and harassment, on equality of opportunity and we cannot get training for staff on things like their terms of condition and employment,” said Carlin to BBC’s Good Morning Ulster. “Now we are being told that as a priority you must look at the ethos of the school.”
INTO has said the Bishops ought to have consulted them first, and they also claim that the theme of a “Catholic ethos” raises problems of equality, since the material would be dedicated solely to the Catholic sector of Northern Irish education.
However, according to Catholic advocate Gregory Carlin, “If a parent or child chooses a Catholic school, it is important that they recognise that the Catholicity of the school is an essential part of the package – that is non-negotiable.”