A senior Vatican official has warned Catholic primary school managers here that removing religious education from the public sphere could nourish fundamentalism.

Fr Friedrich Bechina, the Undersecretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, also urged the retention of art, music, and physical education in the curriculum in spite of arguments that they do not enhance economic growth.

Fr Bechina  was speaking at the annual general meeting of the Catholic Primary School Managers' Association, which opened this morning in Dublin.

General Secretary Fr Tom Deenihan reacted to the recent call by the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn for some class-time devoted to religion to be allocated to literacy and numeracy instead.

Fr Deenihan did not mention Mr Quinn by name when he dismissed as "untenable" the impression given that Catholic primary schools have an unhealthy obsession with the teaching of religion, even to the detriment of literacy and numeracy.

He also dismissed as false, if not mischievous, the view that Catholic schools are selective, sectarian, and that they fail to educate children together.

Fr Bechina told delegates that while there is a momentum in some countries to remove the teaching of faith from schools, countries like Germany, with large immigrant populations, are making a lot of effort to accommodate and include religious education in the curriculum.

He said the experience is that if religious education is removed from the public sphere, then it runs the risk of becoming separated from human reasoning and may subsequently develop in a more fundamentalist way.