Who are Ireland’s Catholics?

There have been other posts, here and elsewhere, that have examined a central problem of counting adherents to faith. A publicly-understandable conception of secularisation is that of a decline in the number of people attending religious worship (but not religious funerals, for example) and a smaller decline in the number of people who self-identify as Catholic, Buddhist, none of the above etc. This is not the post for rehashing these although I will have to write a section of my thesis on the philosophical and geographical reasons outlining why aggregating adherents makes no sense. Right now, I am engaged with a document published earlier this month in a Poulet-esque Friday newsdump about a framework for the divestment of patronage of primary schools. Got to love the use of the word ‘divestment’ there.

It is a document with many faults and contains a number of shortcomings with scant enough methodological detail. Strange: given that this whole process is about the methods used to determine where and how the Catholic Church is going to switch some schools over ‘the State’s’ patronage. I’m going to post again about that document next week but returning to the Notaro quandary ™, Eoin Daly’s preponderance issue and organisational frustration about who identifies as a Catholic, Census 2011 presents us with an interesting choice. Will over 85% of the population continue to self-identify as Catholics and jump scales in this self-identification and tacitly support the position of the Bishops? Or will the thousands of people who were rightly furious at the contents of the Murphy and Ryan reports choose instead to tick the ‘Not stated’ box?

In each of these choices that people make, there may be no more thought given to how educational policy is devised than is given to the true nature of the Holy Trinity. If the highly centralised Department lay the groundwork for educational policy, and it would appear that they do so only partially, Catholics ordinarily resident in Portmarnock or Tramore could do themselves a favour by thinking about which box they tick for their ‘religion’ next April. (As an aside, if religious faith is private, why is the State so concerned with its determination across space?) The Department are framing choices for educational patronage, and questions remain about this process of framing. It seems like they’re avoiding a sectarian methodology but by not mentioning stated religion in their Criteria for Selection of Areas, it is a half-choice. It’s the elephant in the well-apportioned room and they’re not seeing it. One of the implications of the document as it is framed right now is the forcing of parents to bring children to their chosen school over longer distances in a kind of mutated bussing policy.

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