Pell cautiously welcomes school chaplain plan

Describing the Federal Government's plan to fund school chaplains as "nothing completely new", Sydney Cardinal George Pell says that the Australian bishops would consider the proposal "optimistically" but that any vetting would need to based on "public criteria".

Speaking to the ABC's PM program, Cardinal said that "first of all, (the scheme) is nothing completely new. In I think the four major mainland states, apart from New South Wales, there are already school chaplains paid by the state governments.

"So we'd be cautiously approving of it. We'd like to see just what it means.

"The bishops are yet to meet to discuss it, but we'll look at it optimistically," Cardinal Pell added.

Explaining his caution, Cardinal Pell said that the scheme was "something that's a little bit new to myself. There are talks about government vetting, of just who would be appropriate".

"I think there'd have to be public criteria, so that we could see just why somebody was rejected or not," he added.

"But it's early days, and we need to know a few more details about it," he said.

The Cardinal said that a chaplain would need to have some "appropriate" professional religious background or experience with young people.

Describing the contribution of school chaplains, Cardinal Pell said that the pressures on young people today are "very, very considerable".

"For chaplains, people who have a gift for working with young people, they really are able to help them when they're confused or under pressure, depressed. There are all sorts of, especially in times of crisis, times of tragedy, but well short of that too, a good chaplain will be able to do, to offer all sorts of support," he said.

Cardinal Pell also recognised what he characterised as a "limited" capacity of the scheme to cause division.

"A very rough sort of parallel might be the chaplains in the armed forces, where they look after people of ever religion and no religion.

So I think the capacity for division is limited. There is some potential for trouble there, or even differences between the religious groupings, but they should be quite minor," he concluded.

Also welcoming the new scheme, the Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) said that "students are applauding the Federal Government's intention to fund chaplaincies in schools across Australia".

National President Aaron Russell says that young people today need someone who they can discuss the "spiritual aspect of their experience with".

He says the scheme "wouldn't constitute an imposition upon students who aren't religious, or who are of a different religious persuasion".

"Adolescence is a crucial time for students to explore their beliefs and worldviews, and to have someone available to thrash out these issues and provide guidance and support is very helpful," he said.

However, Mr Russell also agreed that the Government should outline more clearly its proposal to vet chaplain appointments.

"We echo some of the sentiment expressed by the NSW Catholic Education Commission, that it would be unprecedented for the Federal Government to delve into employment choices, especially in such a sensitive area," he concluded.

Photo: School Chaplain at Mt Lawley SHS (For illustration only)

Cardinal Pell welcomes school chaplain plan (PM, ABC, 30/10/06)
Students Welcome Chaplaincy Initiative (Australian Catholic Students Association, Media Release, 30/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sydney Archdiocese
Cardinal George Pell
Australian Catholic Students Association

Veto fears over Govt's chaplaincy funding scheme (CathNews, 30/10/06)
Chaplains on agenda for state schools (CathNews 19/6/06)
Sydney Archdiocese to double chaplaincy on campuses (CathNews 31/5/2005)
NSW Govt "backflip" on hospital chaplaincies (CathNews 11/2/05)

31 Oct 2006