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Teachers union complaining to archbishop about interfering priests

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart will be asked to intervene in what The Age reports today as a "growing conflict between parish priests and principals in Catholic schools".

The Victorian Independent Education Union will write to Archbishop Hart, claiming that some priests are undermining the authority of principals and the work of school staff.

Victoria's Catholic school system differs from other states, in that priests are the legal employer instead of the Catholic Education Office.

Union and other school sources told The Age that disputes between the priests and principals had sometimes become so serious that principals had taken stress leave or parents had removed their children from school.

They cited cases where priests have allegedly threatened to sack staff, appointed teachers or thrown out school resources without first consulting the principal, and disrupted classes by walking in unannounced to question students on catechism.

Melbourne Archdiocesan Vicar General Monsignor Les Tomlinson said conflict between principals and priests was unusual. Tension grew from poor working relationships.

"Theoretically, the priest is the overriding authority . . . but in my observation, it would be a rare experience for there to be that sort of conflict," he said.

Monsignor Tomlinson said Archbishop Hart could not respond to the union's concerns until he received its letter.

Catholic Education Office director Susan Pascoe (pictured) agreed. She said she was aware of only a handful of serious cases in the 500 schools in Victoria.

"From time to time you're going to get some tension on a range of issues but we're talking about two to three (cases) . . . where there have been some real issues," Ms Pascoe said.

A regional school principal, who did not wish to be named, said governance needed to be improved. "It can't just be a case of father knows best," he said.

Priests, principals in school power struggle (The Age 28/11/03)

Victorian Independent Education Union
Catholic Education Office

28 Nov 2003