Criticisms of the present-day Catholic school system have generally been brushed off as arising from the ignorant fears of the uninformed. Two developments have made it impossible to continue this dismissive policy.
The primary purpose of the Catholic schools system can only be the transmission of the knowledge of the essential Catholic doctrines and moral teachings: competently, without apology or equivocation, let alone outright subversion. It is no secret that, over the past twenty years, this objective has not been fulfilled by Catholic schools either in Australia, or abroad. The Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod (1985) stated:
"Everywhere on earth today the transmission to the young of the faith and the moral values deriving from the Gospel is endangered ... The knowledge of the faith and the acceptance of the moral order are often reduced to a minimum."
That the Australian situation differed in no way was evidenced by a recent article by Archbishop D'Arcy of Hobart, cited in the February AD2000 editorial.
Br. Kelvin Canavan, executive director of schools, Catholic Education Office, Sydney, outlined a different aspect of the Australian problem in a report in the Melbourne Herald (4 April). "The decision by the Commonwealth in 1974," he wrote, "to channel funds to most Catholic parish and regional schools through Catholic education offices and commissions led to the growth of Catholic educational bureaucracies.
"The government makes use of these bureaucracies at diocesan, state and national levels to influence schools' educational policies. A letter or telephone call from the Department Of Employment and Training to the National Catholic Education Commission can begin an involvement with every Catholic school in this country."
Those who actually won State Aid in the 1960s were not those who negotiated with Mr Whitlam in the 1970s. Their leaders were very well aware of the danger to which Br Canavan now adverts. They knew - and stated - that the only acceptable method for the transmission of monies from the Government to independent schools was by way of an "education benefit", directed pro-forma to the parent of each child in an independent school, who would thereupon endorse it with the name of the school which his child attended. The schools would then claim and collect the money, as is done by mothers with family allowances today.
Those who foresaw the dangers were simply swept aside and have remained in the dustbin of Catholic history ever since. The Catholic schools have become increasingly a Catholic department of an essentially public system.
That Br Canavan's statement cannot be dismissed as alarmist is illustrated by the financial disaster in the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn. A $3.2 million blow out was reported in the education budget last year The Director of the CEO resigned. Now it is disclosed that the diocese is facing further major trouble meeting repayments on school loans totalling an extra $7.5 million. This would never have happened had the system been decentralised from the beginning, if, as Br. Canavan puts it, "they were faced with consulting each of the 2400 non-government schools". Nor could it have occurred in a decentralised system that "a 1.5% mistake in working out average teacher costs in November 1988 was mainly responsible for the $3.2 million budget blow out" (Canberra Times, April 2, 1989). Each school, with limited responsibility, would have been far more careful with its funds.
To the education bureaucrats, however, any form of parental or parochial control was anathema.
The same arrogance was demonstrated in another matter also likely to have the worst consequences: the ineradicable opposition of the Catholic education offices to the registration of a new teachers union (TAA), which is extremely favourable to the private schools. That opposition, combined with that of the two major teacher unions has already cost members of TAA $250,000 in legal fees alone. Were it to succeed it would leave a monopoly of union representation in the Catholic system to the left-wing ITA (Independent Teachers Association), soon scheduled to merge with the Marxist-oriented Australian Teachers Federation. That type of blunder is worse than a crime. Who is responsible for it? Why does it continue?
So mutual confidence has been lost, not only because of the morass into which the Catholic education system is obviously falling, but because of the financial scandals associated in years past with ACR.
It will be difficult for the bishops to find new men who combine a philosophic understanding of the Catholic system with managerial skills. Yet new men would seem to be urgently required.