Catholic Church Pockets Thousands in Student Fees

catholicEvery year, substantial public funds are made available by the Irish State for student support services. As autonomous bodies, third level educational institutions have considerable flexibility in how they use these funds and so Atheist Ireland decided to find out how much of this public money is being spent on religious services for students. We picked a subset of thirteen Institutes of Technology and submitted detailed Freedom of Information requests, which revealed some interesting investments.

Eleven of the thirteen colleges employ full-time chaplains, all of which are Roman Catholics. The average spend on each chaplain by those colleges is more than €46,000 per annum. However, none of the college administrators have sought to determine how many of their students are even religious in the first instance. In fact, no college administrator has asked students which religious denominations they may belong to either. In each case, the college administrators have simply looked into their own hearts and decided on behalf of their students, that Roman Catholicism is what they need. Based on such decisions, made in secret and without consultation, substantial public monies intended for student services are simply handed over to the local Roman Catholic Bishop every year.

We also asked some questions aimed at evaluating the level of usage for religious services among third level students. We discovered that only two of the college administrators who are handing public money over to the Roman Catholic Church actually measured student interest in the religious services they are purchasing. Attendance at the Lectio Divina services in Cork IT averaged four people. There was a greater interest in the weekly Mass at IT Sligo though, where attendance averaged nine people. Even where priests are demonstrating their supernatural powers, by turning a simple cup of wine into the blood of a two thousand year old Jewish carpenter, it seems they have been unable to pique the interest of Irish students.

The two notable exceptions, where none of the student services budget was spent on a chaplain, were IT Blanchardstown and Dun Laoghaire IADT. Both of these institutions have published equality policies, prohibiting sectarian discrimination against students based on their religion. It is disappointing to say the least that such policies are a rarity among the sample of Institutes of Technology to which Freedom of Information requests were submitted. Equally importantly though, there has been no evidence of any adverse consequences at IT Blanchardstown or Dun Laoghaire IADT, from omitting a chaplaincy service. It seems that providing support services to all students equally, without privileging Roman Catholics, does not in fact cause Yahweh to visit plagues upon the student body. It also appears that devout Roman Catholic students from IT Blanchardstown and Dun Laoghaire IADT are still able to find a (mostly empty) Mass elsewhere, without the State paying for additional (mostly empty) Masses in their colleges.

When challenged on their sectarian approach to chaplaincy funding, one Registrar told Atheist Ireland that a decision to award a secret chaplaincy contract to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin from public monies was motivated by the view that “the role of compassion is central to the Christian value system”. That is, a public employee is privately awarding student services contracts to a Roman Catholic Archbishop, based on his own subjective opinion about which religious denomination is the most compassionate. No explanation was forthcoming on why Humanists are less compassionate than Roman Catholics. The President of a different Institute of Technology argued that the Roman Catholic priest employed in his chaplaincy is “available to students of all denominations and none”.

Such attitudes from the executive management teams in our Institutes of Technology demonstrate the most incredibly thoughtless disrespect towards their non-Catholic students. For example, the college Registrar did not offer a view as to how compassionate his LGBT students thought that the Roman Catholic Church was during the Marriage Equality referendum campaign. He did not describe any process by which he solicited the view of unmarried parents, about the compassion or otherwise demonstrated by the Roman Catholic Church towards them. Neither was the college President able to suggest how a non-Catholic student should view the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, which promises eternal incineration for those not baptised into the Roman Catholic Church. Would a chaplaincy that was genuinely intended for students of all faiths and none require that the only possible service provider must be one that promotes such an odious teaching?

In the interests of fairness, Atheist Ireland also considered the benefits that accrue to students from the investment of the student services budget in this way. Several chaplaincies provide prayer cards to students, typically with prayers to St Joseph of Cupertino, in advance of examinations. St Joseph was said to be a very stupid man, who was prone to miraculous levitation. For these reasons he is both the patron saint of test takers and the patron saint of aviators. It is not clear whether the Institutes of Technology consider it unfair for some students to have celestial assistance during examinations, from a seventeenth century flying Italian monk.

Other publicly funded chaplains are involved with promoting the evangelistic Alpha Course. This course is intended to introduce the basics of Christianity, in order to recruit new adherents to the faith. There are also publicly funded chaplaincies spending their time and your money, on promoting vocations to the Roman Catholic priesthood. However, a special mention must be afforded the chaplain at IT Sligo, who devoted a detailed section of his annual activity report to his investigations surrounding the theft of a Baby Jesus from his crib. Despite national coverage of the crime on RTÉ television and elsewhere, prayers for the safe recovery of the idol went unanswered and a new a new figurine had to be purchased. In an inexplicable oversight, the chaplain did not seem to consider the possibility that the statue had simply walked away. Perhaps such activities are limited to Marian effigies only.

Additional services available to students from the Roman Catholic chaplain in their college include the ability to distinguish demonic possession from psychological illness. As per Catechism 1673, the former may be dealt with by an exorcism, once “the presence of the Evil one and not an illness” is confirmed. The latter may be dealt with by a professional whose expertise is limited to this world alone. Unfortunately, while the State will fully fund exorcisms for third level students, an additional charge may apply if efficacy is considered important and some actual medical expertise is required.

So why is it that publicly funded budgets for student support services are spent in this way, and what can be done if students wish to change it? Well, one member of Atheist Ireland has sought to highlight the problem by applying to be the chaplain at Dundalk IT as a Pastafarian. It should be an embarrassment to the entire student body of Ireland that no such activities have been carried out by students themselves. Why are third level students allowing 40-something rotund atheists to wander around campus wearing a colander on their head, when such important work should be performed by a college Atheist Society? Where are all the college Atheist Societies proposing better things to be doing with €46,000 per annum? Why don’t you start one this year? If you wish to do so you’ll be able to get all the help you need by contacting We’ll be delighted to hear from you and eager to provide all the help we can.

Students need to save their support service budgets from the religious and not allow those budgets to be hijacked by the religious to “save” students.


The Higher Education Authority has confirmed that it will conduct an investigation as ordered by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan.

John Hamill is Secretary of the Atheist Ireland National Committee. If his article has gotten you all fired up, let him know on Twitter.