Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has warned that it is the job of parents and not the State to bring up children.
The Archbishop made his remarks in the course of a wide-ranging lecture on church-state relations in the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin.
In a thinly-veiled reference to the promised constitutional referendum to strengthen children's rights, he said there had been many cases where parental neglect had resulted in serious damage to children.
While acknowledging that mechanisms were needed to ensure that children's rights are adequately protected, he said that in general it would be wrong to think that simply moving responsibility from parents to the State would provide a more effective answer.
'It is not the State's job to bring up children', he remarked, 'it is the job of parents', adding that it was not the comment of a Pope, but of former US President Bill Clinton.
The Archbishop cited weaknesses in the health service and international criticism of Irish prisons as proof that exclusive and direct State provision of services is no guarantee of their quality.
On education, he welcomed Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn's decision to convene a Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.
But he warned that parents, although the most crucial factor at local level, were the most difficult stakeholders to consult because they were the least organised.
Archbishop Martin confessed that the lack of real parental representation was partly due to the Church's emphasis in the past on controlling schools.
He reiterated his church's opposition to gay marriage, which is to be discussed by the Government's promised Constitutional Convention.
However, he was at pains to emphasise that he did not regard the new Government as particularly anti-church.