The Irish Times
Further strain on relationship of church and State
Bishops see repeal of rule 68 as a new dilution of religious rights
It has not been a good week for the bishops. As they see it the State is insinuating itself into areas of ethos as stealthily as the Shannon has into the homes of Athlone.
The latest inroad occurred last Tuesday, when Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she planned to repeal “rule 68”, which states religious instruction is “by far the most important” part of the school curriculum.
“In January it will be removed, along with any other rules that don’t speak to the diverse and welcoming nature of our modern school system,” she said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Council for Education was clear: this was interference.
“It is not the role of the Minister to determine or interfere with the ethos of faith schools,” it said.
This was just the latest such assault by the State on bishops’ attempts to protect the ethos of their institutions. The previous Wednesday, the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill passed its final stages without opposition in the Dáil.
It means members of the LGBT community, divorcees and single parents working in schools and hospitals under religious patronage cannot be discriminated against by patrons in such places.
Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allowed religious-run institutions “to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution”. Such as gay people, divorcees and/or single parents might be deemed to do.
In 2000, under pressure from churches – and not just the Catholic Church – then minister for justice John O’Donoghue was allowed an exemption from the European Equality Directive, upholding this section 37.
Then, in June 2013 during debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, Fr Kevin Doran drew on this EU directive saying it “specifically makes provision for the protection of institutional ethos” in Catholic voluntary hospitals.
Then a member of the board of governors at the Mater, he said such hospitals “will uphold their ethos and will never facilitate or tolerate the deliberate termination of human life, at any stage”.
“What’s happening is the Minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos,” he said.
In September 2013 the Mater said it would comply with the law. Fr Doran resigned from relevant boards. “I can’t reconcile my own conscience personally with the statement,” he said.