Cavan Monaghan ETB schools do not teach Religion in a neutral objective way

Cavan Monaghan ETB schools, despite having no religious patron and no official partnership with the Catholic Church, do not teach religion in a neutral and objective manner. These schools are presented as the alternative to Catholic schools in Ireland.

And yet they tell parents that they do teach religion in a neutral and objective way, thus making it impossible for nonreligious parents to know when and why they need to opt their children out of these classes.

This article illustrates the extent of this problem, and includes links to other documents about religion in Cavan Monaghan ETB schools. Atheist Ireland obtained this information under the Freedom of Education Act.

ETBs across the sector charged such high fees for FOI requests that Atheist Ireland had to initiate a crowd-funding campaign to access the information.

Letter to non-religious parent from CEO of ETB

For context, after one non-religious parent asked about the religion classes in CMETB schools, the CEO of CMETB provided some answers in January 2017.

The response went on to describe separate arrangements that apply to designated schools, which come under the Model Agreement between the ETB and a local Bishop, but it began with a clear indication that religion classes in CMETB schools follow a “neutral and objective” syllabus for all year groups.

An extract from this part of the answer is illustrated below, as provided by the CEO of CMETB to a non-religious parent, who had expressed concern about faith formation within religion classes that were supposed to be for all religions and none.

2017-01-20 Letter from CEO of CMETB to a Non-Religious Parent

2017-01-20 Letter from CEO of CMETB to a Non-Religious Parent

Directive to Principals from CEO of ETB

However, the FOI documents that we have obtained show that, in January 2014, the Chief Executive chaired a meeting for the principals of all schools under CMETB patronage. At this meeting, he issued directions to all of the principals with respect to religion classes in their schools.

He also gave each principal instructions from the local Catholic Diocesan Advisors, to describe how religion classes should be managed in CMETB schools. This agreement between the Chief Executive of CMETB and the Catholic Church, is illustrated in the extract from the meeting minutes below:

2014-01-24 Extract of Minutes from Meeting of CMETB Chief Executive with all School Principals

2014-01-24 Extract of Minutes from Meeting of CMETB Chief Executive with all School Principals

These instructions from the Catholic Diocesan Advisors with respect to religion classes in CMETB schools were detailed and comprehensive, extending to several pages. They included admonishments to ETB schools, such as the instructions illustrated below, indicating that all students must have two hours of religion classes per week, from which alternative classes are not permitted.

2014-01-24 Diocesan Advisor Instructions Issued to Schools by CEO of CMETB (Part 1)

2014-01-24 Diocesan Advisor Instructions Issued to Schools by CEO of CMETB (Part 1)

The materials from the Catholic Diocesan Advisors also recommended that “… students not be withdrawn from RE class for instruction in other subjects” and that “… provision be made for retreats, masses and other liturgical services”. The requirement that religion classes should include faith formation is also illustrated in the extract below from the Catholic Diocesan Advisor instructions, which were given to all CMETB school principals.

2014-01-24 Diocesan Advisor Instructions Issued to Schools by CEO of CMETB (Part 2)

2014-01-24 Diocesan Advisor Instructions Issued to Schools by CEO of CMETB (Part 2)

The practice in Cavan Monaghan ETB schools

Following the distribution of these instructions by the Chief Executive to all principals, many of the components were reflected within CMETB schools, including non-designated colleges.

Among other things, this involved attendance at In-Service Days, whereby cover must be arranged for religion teachers, so that they can leave school to attend Catholic Church events. At such events, Catholic priests describe how Catholicism should be taught and Veritas teaching materials are advertised and promoted.

As an example of how these instructions were implemented, even within non-designated CMETB colleges, consider Virginia College. This is a non-designated college under the sole patronage of CMETB, with no Church representative on the Board of Management.

In October 2015, a Catholic Diocesan Advisor arranged a visit from Bishop Leo O’Reilly to the school. The schedule included meetings with staff in the morning and then a discussion with a class taking the State RE examinations. The curriculum for this course is defined by the NCCA and is intended to be suitable for all faiths and none. The arrangements for the visit of the Bishop are illustrated below, in communications from the school to their Catholic Diocesan Advisor.

2015-10-15 Email from ETB school to Catholic Diocesan Advisor

2015-10-15 Email from ETB school to Catholic Diocesan Advisor

Religion classes are not neutral and objective

It is clear from the documents that we obtained that religion classes in CMETB schools are not “neutral and objective”.

Even in non-designated colleges, CMETB schools can seem every bit as Catholic as schools under the direct patronage of the Catholic Church.

The description of religion classes given to a non-religious parent, does not appear to be consistent with the instructions from Catholic Diocesan Advisors, which the CEO of CMETB had already distributed to school principals.

Parents cannot exercise their constitutional right to opt out of religious material that is not consistent with their convictions, if they cannot get accurate and complete information about the nature of the religion class and how it is delivered.

The alternative to Catholic schools in Ireland seems to often be just other Catholic schools, except that they have an ETB logo above the door. The suggestion that religion in ETB schools is delivered in a “neutral and objective” seems to often be just a pretence.

This can sometimes cause even greater difficulties for non-religious parents than Catholic schools. At least Catholic schools are honest about what they teach, but indoctrination and evangelising can be almost impossible for non-religious parents to avoid, if they do not know when and where that it is happening.

Links to other documents

Atheist Ireland obtained many more documents under this FOI request than those that this article refers to. Here are links to some of the documents that we obtained from Cavan Monaghan ETB.

The numbers refer to the sequence in which Cavan Monaghan ETB numbered the pages that they sent to us. Some documents have more than one page: where this is the case, the file number is that of the first page of the document.

FOI CMETB 10 – Letter from Bishops to ETBI

FOI CMETB 17 – Diocesan Advisors Part 1 of 2

FOI CMETB 146 – Diocesan Advisors Part 2 of 2

FOI CMETB 22 – Letter from UL to CMETB

FOI CMETB 64 – Minutes of CMETB 2013

FOI CMETB 68 – Email on Nutrition for the Soul

FOI CMETB 82 – Email from RTAI 2015

FOI CMETB 180 – Meeting for RE Teachers 2015

FOI CMETB 210 – Minutes of CMETB 2017

FOI CMETB 213 – Minutes of CMETB 2017

FOI CMETB 219 – Minutes of CMETB 2014

FOI CMETB 254 – CMETB Report 2014

FOI CMETB 257 – CMETB Report 2017

FOI CMETB – Letter to College from Bishop 2016


  1. Avatar
    ed killian December 10, 2017

    This is ridiculous. Religion is a colossal ego trip.
    Here in the United States, Trump is putting theocratic judges on the bench.

  2. Avatar
    JJ February 17, 2019

    Teaching religion in a neutral way is a misnomer . It is logically impossible . Just as atheist teaching about faith is not neutral but has a bias we ought not to kid ourselves . Both Atheist and Catholic ,Protestant, Evangelical Christian faith have biases and to deny this is to deny logic itself . The atheist view is that there is no God . This is a worldview . It is not provable that there is no God . One is welcome to have the view but it cannot be proven that God does not exist . All one can do is provide premises in an argument which lead to a conclusion- a conclusion which the person can assent to or not.
    One has to have faith that a God does not exist. Both atheist and theist must have faith. So there is no neutrality here. Both groups have a bias, a faith, a religion . A Bishop would be quite wrong if he thinks that he is offering something neutral in an RE programme. We all have a bias an underlying , presuppositional worldview.

    That said , the atheist child who is in the RE classroom has the freedom to either refrain from speaking or to speak on the subject just as the religious faith child can either refrain from speaking or to speak on anti faith opinions. Both must remain in the classroom in the way the ETB works at this point.The ETB set up means that there must be inclusivity or diversity which must be accommodated . This means that a all faiths including atheist faith is allowed in each school. Atheist faith is secularist in that it trusts primarily in humanity i.e. The human /self being the arbiter of morality for instance.That is a relativist position and it still has to be accommodated into the ethos as must all views be accommodated . This is due to the imposition of diversity. It is like a law . However there is another law which is the Irish Constitution. Constitutional law which allows for the parents’ right to have their children educated in their own faith ( incl atheist faith)must also be adhered to – in the name of diversity . After all fair is fair .
    The ETB is by and large a type of governance by the state and then it is delegated out at local level i.e. cmetb cavan monaghan have a duty to follow this diverse line so that parents and students are catered for . So , in practice what really happens is that in any one school year most schools will have RE classes which will be taught with sacred and secular underpinnings. There will be biases towards ” faith” in the sense of catholic /new age/ christian/Islamic/ faith etc but there will also be bias toward secular atheist , humanist , relativist, even Buddhist positions. In short the constitutional requirement for parents isn’t really being met fully but rather a watering down or wishy washy teaching of individual religious doctrine at the expense of diversity . Atheist Ireland ought to welcome this as this is what this group wishes to see happen – ultimately the demise of particular faith based education in the ETB sector and in all sectors.

    As for the voluntary second level sector ? Well , that’s another story but has similar problems . When we dilute the freedom of religion by offering wishy washy lightweight teaching of the various religions’ doctrines we don’t serve anyone well . That includes atheism which is a religion. This is the main bone of contention for parents of evangelical Christians in Irish schools.
    Solution : take those children out of RE class who do not want to be taught any particular denom faith or religion and teach them the faith that their parents wish. One comprehensive school in Cavan/Monaghan area does that for denom Protestants/Christians of similar cultures in the local school and it seems to work because the teachers are vetted by Garda, have local ministries and are approved by parents .They work voluntarily in the classroom as far as I know – for 1-2 hours per week for a group of up to 15 adolescents of all ages who are taken out of RE classes .
    Similar approaches could be taken by Moslem, New Age,Atheist even Catholic parents who do not feel that the school can deliver the correct faith doctrine or dogma .


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