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Thursday 8 December 2016

Sinead Ryan: Bishops won't have to remain worried for too much longer

The Bishops' missive read out at Sunday masses on the marriage equality referendum and its alleged consequences in our schools will have been met with mixed reactions in most congregations.

While the Catholic church's new-found concern for the children of society is refreshing, most adults won't have had to cast their minds back far to a time when children, especially those from single-parent or mixed-faith families, were given short shrift. Those unlucky enough to be born 'illegitimate' were often shovelled into church-run institutions and put to work as child labour in laundries, or worse.

So, for today's clerics to warn about what messages teachers might be forced to issue about same-sex relationships in the event of a 'Yes' vote will surely have caused a wry reaction even from the many good, kind and rational Catholics hearing it.

Worry

Bishops such as Galway's Martin Drennan needn't worry. When divorce was introduced - vehemently against Catholic teaching - the Church, as is its right, said: "No, not us, not ever."

This is why today people who have been legitimately and legally divorced and who may be practising Catholics have a door closed in their face if they attempt to walk down the aisle a second time. That referendum, just like this one, is a purely civil matter. Any church may instruct its flock differently on its own rules, even if they jar with the State's legal position.

If priests are so worried about school teaching after a 'Yes' vote, they might start by showing compassion for the thousands of children of divorced parents. Teachers do this every single day with great inclusivity for pupils, so I think they're managing grand.

Bishop Drennan seems concerned at the message they will 'have' to give and doesn't appear to trust teachers to go about their business. Instead, he claims it will be "increasingly difficult to speak or teach in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman". He appears excessively worried also about what teachers will be expected to tell children "about marriage or about homosexual acts".

Well, don't you worry, Bishop. Teachers have been doing just fine. As for kids, well, they're pretty smart too. Surely teachers in Catholic schools can be counted on to remind pupils that God loves everybody.

They might point out too that all children are the same and should be treated the same and that love is the most wonderful, important and sought-after quality in life, family and partnerships. They will also teach, I'm sure, that 'families' come in all shapes and sizes and that nobody is less than anybody else because of the persons they love.

What alternative message were you planning on them giving, Bishop?

This is not the first threat to come from the church over this civil referendum. They recently threw all the toys out of the ecclesiastical pram when they loftily opined that they may not be able to continue the "signing of the register" part of wedding ceremonies if marriage equality was passed.

So, let's make it dead simple since it's causing such concern. How about we finally remove, totally and completely, church teaching from all state matters and school curricula?

The United Nations last year rapped Ireland on the knuckles for still requiring state office-holders such as presidents to take a religious oath. They condemned us also for not divesting enough schools from religious patronage - you'll recall this is supposed to be done, and despite Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's expressed intent it's been at snail's pace.

Overloaded

Well, hurry up, and you'll free bishops from their worries. Surely they wouldn't get in the way of secular school teaching? Perish the thought.

Schools are places for academic, sporting and civil teaching. The curricula is already overloaded. In many countries, parents who desire religious instruction must provide it privately and externally via Sunday School and the like. Couples are required to marry civilly first, and then within whatever religious ceremony they desire.

Civil equality can only occur when the same rules apply to all. Religious instruction is already biased and should be kept to places of worship.

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