The Irish Times

Further strain on relationsh­ip of church and State

- PATSY McGARRY

I

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.

Institutio­nal ethos

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.

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