Catholic bishops have said the country has got more Catholic schools than it actually needs.

At the publication of a pastoral letter on education (download it here in pdf), the bishops have acknowledged that the population of Catholics here no longer warrants the current level of Catholic schools.

However, asked if the Church was prepared to cede schools, Bishop Leo O'Reilly of the Irish Bishop's Conference said the provision of different types of school was a matter for the Department of Education.

92% of the country's primary schools are managed by the Catholic Church, but the percentage of the population that identifies itself as Catholic is considerably lower.

Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh said the Catholic Church is shouldering the burden of the problems of the Irish education system.

Bishop Walsh, who is a member of the Bishops Education Commission, also said that he was unhappy about the action taken by some parents to enrol their children in a particular school to avoid integration.

He added that he felt long-term bad planning by the Department of Education had caused the current overcrowding problems in some schools.

He said the Catholic Church welcomes moves by other patrons with an interest in providing schools in Ireland.

Bishops to set up education support service

Catholic bishops are to establish a special service to support the work of those involved in Catholic education.

In today's pastoral letter, the bishops say the role of the Catholic Church in education has recently become a topic of intense discussion and debate.

They say they look forward to a fruitful dialogue about the best way of ensuring that Catholic schools can develop in the coming decades.

The bishops say growing cultural and religious pluralism has heightened the debate on the role of the Catholic school.

They say this pastoral letter is an attempt to set out their understanding of the nature and purpose of the Catholic school.

The letter also invites those engaged with the church in education to respond.

On the role of the State in education today's letter says the task of education belongs primarily to families and communities. It says the State's role should be to facilitate communities in that task.