In Ireland, where 92 percent of schools are owned and run by the Catholic Church, a growing number of people who turned away from Catholicism following the priest-child abuse scandals are struggling to find non-religious schools for their children.
NPR talked with Nikki Murphy and Clem Brennan from Dublin. The couple have two young children. When their son Ruben turned four they encountered problems trying to get him into school.
“Nikki and Clem chose not to baptize their son. Four years later, they've discovered they were seriously limiting the schools he could attend. Almost all public schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church, and they're allowed to discriminate in their admissions policies to give preference to baptized Catholic children. A new measure in Parliament will force schools to be open about their admissions policies, but changing them is another matter,” said NPR reporter Miranda Kennedy.
Ruben’s parents applied to 13 schools and they all turned him down. The experience is making Nikki and Clem question whether they want to send their son to a Catholic school at all.
“A generation ago, there wasn't much of a call for non-religious schools in Ireland, but since then, many people have turned against the church in the wake of horrifying revelations about priest-child abuse and its cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy,” reports Kennedy.
Ireland education minister Jan O’Sullivan said that she wants to change the rules on religious schooling, but the government is constrained by the country’s history.
“We, first of all, we've inherited a constitution which provides for religious denominations to protect their ethos. So we're constrained by that in terms of what we can do in education, but we're still, I suppose – a lot of that is determined by ownership, and the Catholic Church in particular own many of the schools – the majority of the schools in fact,” said Sullivan.
Murphy says she could baptize her son to get him into school but feels that would be sending Ruben the wrong message.
“It goes against my conscience to do it,” she said, “and if I could've done it I would've done it by now because the stress has just been so much that if it was something I could do I would've done it by now, so…”
Nikki and Clem have recently launched a campaign to open a secular school in their neighborhood. They are hoping their secular school will succeed, so they can avoid having to go through the stress of it all again when their younger child is ready for school.
Read more: Signing up for the Catholic religion should be a choice