My kids go to Catholic schools. They were Christened in the local Catholic church, make their Communion and Confirmation there, and at some stage down the road they may very well get married in a Catholic church, just as my wife and I did. We don’t go to Mass, nor do we pray, nor do we engage in anything vaguely Catholic, apart from having more kids than we can afford. I am not a Catholic…anymore. There are parts of Catholicism that I miss, mostly the social functions: I sometimes think it might be nice to have the Stations, but you get tired of them too, such as the moment when the priest asks who is going to host it next and some fella who owns half the farmland in the parish slips out the door so fast that all is left is a spinning biscuit on a Denby plate and a half-supped tea. But generally, I have made my peace with the faith and bid it farewell, but we still operate within the general structures of Catholicism, because this is Ireland, and you don’t really get much choice.
My parents were devout Catholics, my sister once wanted to become a nun, and when I was a kid I used to collect Bibles. No, not in the church after Mass, I mean I actually had a collection of Bibles. Back then, to be Irish was to be Catholic, a fact driven home to me by attending a Protestant secondary school, and being singled out for sectarian abuse while wearing the uniform, despite the fact that the goons calling me a ‘black Proddy bastard’ would be standing behind me in Mass the following Sunday. The Protestant faith is the only religion I have any vague experience of, outside of Catholicism, and even then my grasp on it is tenuous at best. I know they have better hymns, drive estate cars and are great gardeners, and that’s about it. Oh, and there’s something to do with transubstantiation. Aside from that brief window into another faith, my youth was intensely Catholic. I’d love to rattle out the old, well it never did me any harm line, but in reality it did, as I never knew a whole lot about other faiths, and thus, other cultures, and thus, geopolitics.
When it came to sending my kids to a school, I could have joined the clamouring throng trying to get their little ones into the local Educate Together, where my children would receive a well rounded religious education, where all faiths are considered and discussed.
Or I could just walk the path of least resistance and send them to a Catholic schools, which is exactly what I did, mainly because the Educate Together is at the other end of the town from the main school cluster, and saintly as I am I am not capable of being in two places at the same time to drop off half the kids to one school and the other somewhere else.
It was an easy choice, as I’m not especially worried about my kids being indoctrinated into a religion that I have little affinity for, because in the end, religion has a purpose. It offers easier answers to difficult questions, and enables me to explain to my children that my family are in heaven, as opposed to telling them, well actually they are in the town’s main cemetery, conveniently located at the rear of the CBS playground, perhaps during small break you could stare across towards the family headstone whilst Carmina Burana plays in the background? There is time enough for the hard facts.
The reaction by some wings of the Catholic Church to divestment was a thing to behold. Threatening a school with some sort of Logan’s Run style programme, as well as the end of Christmas, is just the sort of thing that is keeping people from returning to the faith. Our local church recently had a stab at modernity by bringing in Lizzie’s Answers, a hyper-Catholic American YouTube star, to talk to the students of the local convent school. By the accounts my daughter gave me, the person was even more grating in person than she is on YouTube, and the high point of the talk was when she said that back when she was a Protestant she used to weep for being unable to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic church. I’ve received communion in Protestant and Catholic churches, and this, also, never did me any harm. Even if I was a practising Christian I’d tend to see them as more or less the same, like when you order lasagne but you get spaghetti – you just get on with it. If the Catholic Church wants to continue to exist, they need to relinquish control of the schools, and allow people to find a way to them, rather than forcing us into their system, which will only breed resentment, like when U2 gave us all a free U2 album via iTunes whether we wanted it or not. And if even Bono received such a terrible reaction, what chance does God have?