Secular Dublin City University is using State resources to research and advance faith development of adults

Dublin City University, a non-denominational secular University, is conducting a three-year research project on Adult Religious Education and Faith Development (AREFD), funded by the Presentation Sisters North East Province, and run through the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at the University.

The aim of the project will be to enable adults to explore and develop their faith lives.

We keep hearing about the University sector in Ireland being starved of cash, but this non-denominational secular University is making its staff available for research to advance faith development among adults, research that will mainly benefit the Catholic Church.

The DCU website says of the project that:

“As a project of the MDDCE, the work will be guided by the framework provided by Share the Good News: National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland. The aim of the project is to explore, and develop, models of adult religious education and faith development in Ireland. While mainly based in the Catholic context, the research team will endeavour to learn from models in other Christian denominations and faith traditions. The outcomes of the project will aim to benefit those seeking to develop adult religious education and faith development in a range of faith communities and traditions in Ireland.”

There are no similar DCU staff resources or research time going into assisting the second largest group in society after Catholics, the non-religious, to examine and develop their worldviews. Yet this is the group that suffers discrimination in the education system. However, there is plenty of funding for schools to keep evangelising the non-religious.

Nor does there seem to be any DCU staff resources or research time committed to examining why the UN and Council of Europe keep making Recommendations regarding the failure of the State to protect the rights of the non-religious in the education system to freedom of conscience, freedom from discrimination, and the right to equality before the law.

Mater Dei and DCU Incorporation Agreement

The incorporation of St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, Mater Dei Institute of Education, and Church of Ireland College of Education, into Dublin City University has given this secular University a new mission to evangelise and to contribute to religious education for adults as well as children. Each of the three incorporated Institutions is represented on the Governing Authority of DCU.

Their version of their public sector duty means that they now see themselves as contributing to the faith development of adults as well as children. It seems that the religious majority in Ireland needs a secular University to try and keep a grip on adults who might stray from the teachings of the church.

We are now in a situation where DCU, a secular University, trains teachers to indoctrinate minorities. It also educates school chaplains and other chaplains, and people participating in faith formation programmes as deacons, parish pastoral workers or catechists, who are supported by the college in engaging with and reflecting on their faith-based role. All of this is paid for by the taxpayer.

The tangled web of privilege and influence

In an article this week in the Irish Times, Dr. Bernadette Sweetman from DCU outlined the Research project and invited people to share their wisdom with them. At DCU, Dr. Sweetman is answerable to an outside Advisory Council appointed by the Archbishop of Dublin.

Dr. Gareth Byrne from DCU is also involved in the research project, and he is also answerable to the outside Advisory Council appointed by the Archbishop. He was appointed by the President of the University in consultation with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. He is also on the Bishops’ Conference for Adult Faith Development.

As Director, Dr. Byrne is a member of DCU’s Institute of Education Management Committee. So Catholic nuns are funding a project in a secular University to research and contribute to the faith development of adults (of whom Catholics are the vast majority).

The researchers are answerable to an outside Advisory Council set up by the Archbishop of Dublin. One of the Researchers, the Director, is on the Bishops’ Conference for Adult Faith Development and is also a member of DCU’s Institute of Education Management Committee.

This is what State privilege and influence means on the ground. Having this privilege and influence means that you can now get funding to evangelise adults as well as children, while working in a non-denominational secular University, and still be answerable to an outside Advisory Council set up by the local Archbishop.


If all this State privilege is not enough, you can still complain in an article in the Irish Times, as Dr. Sweetman does, that the “Dominant public view of religious persons as less intelligent is lamentable” and announce that you are conducting research because encouraging adults to explore and deepen their faith experience and grow more fully into their faith community is desirable.

“If you hold a belief, you are often called upon to justify it,” says Dr. Sweetman in the Irish Times article. “But are we equipped with the insight and language to explore and explain ourselves?”

If you cannot explain what you believe, then the role of a secular University should be to help you to objectively examine whether or not you should believe it, not to give you a language to explain the belief that you do not understand in a biased religious context.


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