He called on Catholic educators not to be discouraged, however, but to appreciate their relevance in society and look at how best they can serve today’s young people.
Dr Martin was addressing members of the Christian Brothers during Mass for the order’s European Province in Dublin when he spoke of Ireland’s changing society and the wealth of statistics he said “would send a saint into despair”.
“In today’s climate of secularisation there is the temptation for men and women of faith to feel that there are people who are out to disconcert us.
“Traditional values are scorned. The contribution of the Church in the area of education is often presented in a negative light. Even the word ‘Catholic’ with reference to education is presented in negative terms, almost as if the Church is at the root of everything that went wrong in Irish society.
“Sadly the Church has provided ample ammunition for such criticism. There is the temptation is such a situation to gather the wagons around us to defence ourselves.
“But I am not one who sets out in the face of this situation in a purely defensive mode. Unjust criticism must be refuted. But we must go deeper in our response.”
Dr Martin said it was important to examine the difference between the way Catholic institutions provided services to the community and the way the State or other non-governmental organisations did so.
“Certainly other organisations can provide better services in a technical sense than we have been providing. They may well have greater resources to do so. We have to focus, however, on what is the essentially different contribution that we as believers are called to bring.”
Ireland was a remarkably young society, he said, giving the example of his own archdiocese which had more people under the age of four than over the age of 70.
“The challenge of authentic education is therefore a vital one for the future of Ireland.
“Even though the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers may not be as present in schools as they were in the past, the witness of the brother who is a man of God, a man of prayer, a man of wisdom, a man who represents the caring embrace of the Church, is vital.”