Catholic schools have been urged to be vigilant when approached by groups offering to speak to students, following claims that a group that has been described as a ‘cult’ has targeted Cork schools. “It’s very important that there is Garda vetting, and that people are sure that whoever is talking is going to respect and promote the ethos of the school,” Achonry’s Bishop Brendan Kelly told The Irish Catholic.
The bishop, who chairs the Church’s Council for Education, was responding to reports that speakers from the so-called Church of Scientology have been in contact with schools in the Cork area, under the guise of the ‘front groups’ Foundation for a Drug-Free World and Youth for Human Rights.
The Irish Catholic understands that representatives of the US-based group, which last October opened a National Affairs Office in Dublin, claim to have spoken before Christmas in Cork schools on the dangers of drugs.
Critics argue that the groups, along with related projects Narconon, The Truth About Drugs, and the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights, are recruitment fronts for the controversial organisation, which was invented by American science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. Recognised as a religion in some countries, other countries have denied it such status, with a French government report having described it as a “dangerous cult”, and a French court in 2009 finding it guilty of organised fraud.
One Catholic parish is known to have been sent a parcel of material from the group.
One Church of Ireland school is also known to have received material from the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, the school withdrawing the material from circulation after one student alerted a teacher as to its provenance.
The foundation was active last summer seeking translators to render its material into Irish, as well as arranging photo opportunities with the mayors of Galway, Limerick, and Waterford, but Dr Kelly told The Irish Catholic that no evidence has been found to support claims that scientologists have been speaking in Cork’s Catholic schools.
“The Cork diocese has conducted a trawl of their schools and they can’t find any evidence of it,” Dr Kelly said, adding: “The reality is that schools have to be vigilant on all these things. There are some principles that schools know well about in this area, for example that speakers that come in have to be Garda vetted.”
Pointing out that best practice requires boards of management to be consulted before allowing students to be addressed by guest speakers, and that schools would be aware of this, he said: “It brings home the fact that schools need to be vigilant and need to be conscious of their own ethos; it’s very important they make sure that whatever happens is very much in keeping with the fundamental Catholic ethos of the schools.”