Catholic schools are coming under increasing pressure to ban Amnesty International from addressing their students, given the organisation’s support for a liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws.
Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute told The Irish Catholic that Catholic schools had to “draw a line in the sand” on the issue after Amnesty International Ireland visited a number of schools in the Dublin archdiocese recently.
“If you are a group campaigning aggressively for abortion, something that is completely contrary to a Catholic ethos, then you don’t have a right to visit Catholic schools and attempt to gain support for your organisation.
“If you are a Catholic school you are obliged – and parents expect you – to adhere to the ethos of the Catholic Church,” she warned.
Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said the issue extended “wider” than just Amnesty International.
“In general, I think that we have to be very careful that any groups we invite into our schools reflect the ethos of the school. There is the notion of giving everybody a fair crack at the whip but essentially you either stand for something or you don’t.
“When we invite groups into our schools we need to make sure that what they stand for is consistent with our ethos. The school board has clear responsibility that any group that comes into the school to make a presentation is coming from a point of view that is consistent with the ethos of the school,” Dr Doran said.
Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign questioned whether it was appropriate for schools to allow Amnesty to address children given their stance in favour of repealing the Eighth (Life Equality) Amendment.
“Given Amnesty is perhaps best known in Ireland for its vocal stance in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, I would question whether it is appropriate for them to be speaking to young schoolchildren who can’t understand the full implications of abortion.
“I don’t think that promoting the end of a human being’s life, which is what abortion means and which is what Amnesty is promoting, is something that children should be exposed to,” she said.
“There has been a radical shift within Amnesty away from protecting life towards ending it. At the very least there needs to be a very serious discussion between parents and between schools about whether Amnesty is an appropriate entity to be coming into to address children,” she added.
Fr Tom Deenihan, General Secretary of Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), insisted that “anyone who is invited to a primary school to speak should be delivering a message that is in accordance with the ethos of that school”.
He said “it would be best practice to indicate to parents beforehand that such a visit was taking place” adding that “a teacher should always be present for any guest presentation and it was a matter for school management to ensure that the message was both age and ethos appropriate”.
Claiming that Amnesty International had “upended their mission” in recent years by supporting abortion, Ms Uí Bhriain said the organisation were being “entirely hypocritical by trying to use Catholic schools to gain support”.
“They have no right to vigorously campaign for abortion and at the same time approach Catholic schools looking for support. They can’t have it both ways,” she insisted.