Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Ferns Report: Statements (Resumed).


12:00 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)

They have lay boards but they have not changed their ethos. They are still Jesuit or Holy Ghost schools. However, they have pulled out of middle of the road secondary schools in country towns and no longer influence these. The same situation arises with regard to health. The hospitals which were established to serve the poor have become instruments for the preaching of particular views. We saw a recent example of this in the ethical conflicts in certain major hospitals.

The role of the State is to demand that issues are addressed. I do not have a simple prescriptive solution to this problem. While parents have the right to send their children to schools with the ethos they prefer, limits must exist to that choice. It is appropriate for the State to take an interest in the curricula of Muslim and Catholic schools and it has the right to refuse to exempt clergy from being fully accountable to civil law. Such a situation does not yet obtain. Take, for instance, the cloak and dagger relations among schools' boards of management, where it is pretended that significant parental responsibility is involved but where bishops continue to place people in the majority of positions. They are only accountable to the bishop concerned.

Last year, the current Pope issued a letter on women in society, which began with the phrase "The church, expert in humanity...". Each bishop in Ireland should acknowledge he is not an expert in humanity if this issue is to be confronted. Like the rest of us, they can only learn from experience.

The framework document which is supposed to guide bishops in addressing these issues was submitted to Rome in 1996. A decision in that city is required to give that document the force of Canon Law in Ireland but, almost ten years on, it has not yet been given that force and continues to be entirely voluntary. That raises a fundamental question about whether they really accept the gravity of what has happened and the need for fundamental change. If the Roman Catholic Church authorities do not give that document the full force of Canon Law it is our duty to give it the full force of civil law.


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