By Darragh Nolan
It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is frighteningly out of touch with broader Irish society. The results in referenda on gay marriage and abortion are indicative of that. The Bishop of Waterford’s recent comments on practicing yoga in schools are yet more proof of that which has been plain to see for years now. The Church refuses to adapt. Modern Ireland is leaving this narrowminded form of Catholicism behind.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinane lamented that yoga’s “not of Christian origin” in the letter he sent out to schools across Waterford. Regardless of its origins, it’s a great form of physical activity. It teaches children lessons on mindfulness and mental wellbeing, while keeping them active at a time where young people are known to be getting insufficient exercise.
On the subject of mindfulness, Cullinane insisted that Catholicism implements a form of mindfulness more conducive with becoming “aware of the presence and love of Christ”. This is not to say the Church has no place in society. Freedom of religion is an important pillar of democracy. But it is this short-sighted, backward attitude that is seeing Irish people increasingly distance themselves from the Church.
It’s certainly not a case of doing one or the other. One could be a devout Catholic and partake in yoga all the same. The Church would be well served to be more inclusive. Catholic practice is dwindling at an alarming rate. The 2016 census found that just 35% of the Irish population attend mass weekly. Bishop Cullinane’s comments are just more of the same from prominent Catholic figures. There’s no wiggle room for a more reasonable form of Catholicism, one that isn’t so rigid and can fit into a country that has changed so much since the uber-religious 20th century.
An alternative to yoga proposed by the Bishop was saying a decade of the rosary. With all due respect, that just doesn’t benefit schoolchildren the same way yoga would. Shooting down a popular and beneficial pastime just alienates the same people the Church wants to bring back to regular practice.
Overall, this calls the Church’s role in schools into question. It would appear that Catholic values are being prioritised over the wellbeing of children. Indeed, these values seem to come into direct conflict with children’s good health. The mental and physical benefits of yoga are numerous and it’s well known that Ireland’s younger generations are growing up more anxious. They’re often in poorer physical health than their parents and older siblings were growing up. If Bishop Cullinane’s words are reflective of wider Catholic belief, perhaps the Church is of more harm in the education system than previously thought.
The Church is painfully detached from reality. That much is clear. That being the case, is there any justification for so many schools across Ireland to teach religious education, to cover their walls in Catholic symbols? Aside from the fact that this inherently excludes a growing population of kids from non-Catholic backgrounds, Church beliefs may not even have our children’s best interests at heart. If so, there is no place for the Catholic Church in the education system in any capacity.