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Melbourne Archbishop to step in on schools

The Archbishop of Melbourne will investigate claims that Catholic priests are increasingly undermining school principals and the work of their staff, The Age reported on Saturday.

The paper revealed last month that the Victorian Independent Education Union had written to Archbishop Denis Hart with claims of a "growing conflict" between parish priests - the legal employer in Catholic schools - and principals.

The union, and other school sources, cited cases where priests had threatened to sack staff, appointed teachers or thrown out school resources without consulting the principal and encouraged parents to bypass the principal and go straight to the priest with any concerns.

In its letter, they asked Archbishop Hart to intervene and review the way in which Victorian Catholic schools are owned and operated.

Melbourne Archdiocesan Vicar General, Monsignor Les Tomlinson, told The Age on Friday that the archbishop had agreed to meet the union to examine its concerns.

"Certainly he is open to discussions and will meet with the union to ascertain their perceptions," Monsignor Tomlinson said.

But he said the way in which Catholic schools were governed was adequate and that he was aware of only a few disputes. "Often when there is a difficulty, it's because of relationship breakdowns," he said. "It doesn't necessarily follow that the system is bad and therefore has caused the breakdown. It would certainly be our perception that we have in place a very satisfactory system."

Some disagree. One former Catholic school principal who took stress leave after a dispute with her parish priest said she believed priests were increasingly overriding decisions and making principals feel obsolete.

Union deputy general secretary Debra James said the cases of which the archbishop was aware were just the "tip of the iceberg".

Archbishop to step in on schools (The Age 12/12/03)

Teachers union complaining to archbishop about interfering priests (CathNews 28/11/03)
Priests, principals in school power struggle (The Age 28/11/03)
Archdiocese of Melbourne
Victorian Independent Education Union
Catholic Education Office

15 Dec 2003