Prelude to a witch-hunt

Liz O’Donnell won’t have done herself any harm with her broadside against the Catholic Church in the Dail. There is a big liberal constituency out there in Dublin South and there’s big competition for the votes.

The Dublin South constituency has a crowded liberal market, with the likes of big hitters Alan Shatter and Eithne Fitzgerald failing to win seats the last time.

So striking the right pose is important and stoking up a bit of controversy is no harm at all. There’s no such thing as bad publicity and all that.

Or that’s all I can think of because Liz went far beyond the usual church-bashing liberal stuff. In fact, she went off the other side of ‘liberal’ altogether. 

She pretty much called for control of Catholic schools to be taken from the Catholic Church and pointed out that the state paid for 95 per cent of the costs of these schools.

She’s making a mistake. The State pays for nothing – taxpayers pay for everything. Quite a lot of taxpayers out there are Catholics who would prefer to send their children to Catholic schools.

The idea of pluralism is that people can set up their own institutions. What Liz is basically saying is that the State should confiscate money from Catholics through taxes and then tell them where to school their children.

Is this liberal?

Furthermore, implying that the church in its entirety is not to be trusted with children is very unfair on a huge number of priests, brothers and sisters who have done their very best for the children in their care.

The essence of bigotry is to characterise a group by its worse members. The ‘staff’ of the Catholic Church don’t deserve to be tarred en-masse with the sin of paedophilia or collaborating with paedophiles.

A better approach would have been support giving parents more power over their local schools, regardless of who owns them, and to make the church more accountable.

What we don’t need is more power transferred to the State. The institutions run by the state don’t have a glowing record in the care of children either and, as a matter of fact, all of the Catholic institutions were supposed to be under the supervision of the State while all this abuse was going on.

The problem with schools is largely a numerical one. If Catholics in one area want a Catholic school, then they are entitled to one. The issue then is that there are often not enough children left over to justify the setting up of other schools. So people, like myself, who would rather send their children to a multi-denominational school have no choice. That’s true, but you can’t blame the Catholic Church for that or make veiled threats to take over their schools.

Much of what Liz said was absolutely right. There was far too much deference for the church in the past. There was too much weight placed on the hierarchy, especially when it lacks accountability to ordinary Catholics in the first place. The church cannot be placed on a par with the State. 

But a wholesale attack on church-run schools cannot be justified. It sounds like the start of a witch-hunt to me. Or an election campaign.