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New Governance Models Proposed for Catholic Schools

Posted on 16 February 2018
New Governance Models Proposed for Catholic Schools

Above: St Joseph's Primary School principal Michael Gray supports reform in Catholic primary schools. Picture: Rob Gunstone

At the coming CaSPA Board meeting to be held in early March at Merici College in Canberra, the Directors will be considering the issue of Governance of Catholic Schools - especially in light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse.  Clearly this is a significant issue for others in the Catholic Sector as evidenced by this recent media article:

Catholic primary schools in Victoria are facing one of the most significant overhauls in their 150-year history, with principals pushing to strip priests of their power over schools.

A report commissioned by the Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals calls for a review of the governance of the state's parish primary schools.

"The model absolutely fails," a principal quoted in the report said.

"I build structures around my staff to protect them from the parish priest," another said.

The report, by Australian Catholic University researchers, comes as parish priests in the Sale diocese have surrendered their power in schools. Unlike other Australian states and territories, parish priests in Victoria appoint principals, employ staff and sign off on the annual financial statement of parish schools. They also oversee occupational health and safety protocols.

In Sale, the diocese has set up a new company and board of directors that will oversee the employment of staff and the management of school properties, reporting to the bishop.

In a letter to clergy, teachers and principals, Sale Bishop Patrick O'Regan said the new model would let priests focus on the pastoral and spiritual aspects of schools and parishes "without having to deal with complex management and legislative compliance issues".

"It will also alleviate them of the responsibility and personal legal liability in relation to the management of schools," he wrote.

Other dioceses are considering the same, as they digest the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. "The position of the parish priest as the employer of staff of diocesan schools has the potential to adversely impact on the open and effective reporting of complaints against priests," the royal commission's report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne said.

Association's president Michael Gray said: "The expertise and knowledge of running a school is very complicated and parish priests don't necessarily have that training." Mr Gray, who is also the principal of St Joseph's Primary School in Warrnambool, said these complexities took priests away from what they did best - pastoral work.

The report highlighted several anonymous examples of interference: "If I call tradesmen for emergencies, I am told to cancel the work required," one school head said. Another said that the parish priest ordered them to replace the school captain with another child.

The report comes as the Catholic Education system faces criticism about transparency and funding, including in a 2016 report by the Victorian Auditor-General. Victorian Catholic schools receive more than $2 billion a year in federal and state government funding.

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria has refused to disclose to the federal government the assets and liabilities of more than 350 of its Victorian schools despite a legal requirement to provide audited financial statements. Only about a quarter of Catholic schools provided the information, The Age has found through a freedom of information request.

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria did not provide comment.


Age, Melbourne  by Henrietta Cook Ben Schneiders Royce Millar
15 Feb 2018

Tags: NCEC Strategic Catholic Secondary Principals Australia

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