Teachers union backs Catholic identity review

Backing a move by bishops to promote a stronger Catholic identity in church schools, New South Wales Independent Education Union secretary, Dick Shearman, says that it is only natural that the church should "reassess the religious nature of its education message".

ABC News reports that Mr Shearman says it is only natural the church should from time-to-time reassess the religious nature of its education message.

"There has been a massive change, particularly in the secondary sector in terms of the number of students in those schools, there's been an increase in non-Catholic enrolments and it would be natural from time-to-time that the bishops would have a look at what are these schools doing in terms of the Catholic faith and reviewing that," he said.

Wollongong Catholic Bishop Peter Ingham also backed the move for a greater effort from teachers and staff to abide by Catholic teachings while Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Chris Toohey told the ABC that times have changed and the faith which the schools were based on needs to be re-established.

"I think it's us saying, 'hang on, what do we need to reclaim? What is it that we really wouldn't want to lose that our forebears had?'" he said.

"And of course the answer to that is the question surrounding our faith and our commitment to the gospel and to people."

He says the faith which underpins the schools needs to be re-emphasised.

In South Australia, The Advertiser reports that Catholic schools in the state are supporting the call by church leaders that students and parents be more devout.

SA Church leaders are refusing to be interviewed on the issue, but the Sydney Bishop driving the proposed reform of Catholic education, David Walker, yesterday said he had the backing of the Auxiliary Bishop of Adelaide, Gregory O'Kelly, the paper says.

Bishop Walker yesterday said Catholic schools, regardless of which state they were in, needed to remind parents of their Christian ethos.

He said too many parents were enrolling their children simply for "quality" or "prestige" reasons.

"I think that's true and the document we released can be applied to anywhere in Australia," he said.

"What we've tried to do here is say who we are, what is Catholic identity, to say what we're expecting. It's a wake-up call to ourselves."

He warned Catholic education was "at a crossroads" and said SA's Bishop O'Kelly had called him to express his support. "He (Bishop O'Kelly) was complimentary about the pastoral letter," he said.

Bishop O'Kelly yesterday declined to be interviewed by The Advertiser as did Catholic Education director Allan Dolley.

But in an emailed statement to the paper he reaffirmed the Church's decision not to proceed with a proposed ban on non-Catholic students.

"There is no suggestion whatsover to exclude non-Catholic children from Catholic schools in this (Adelaide) archdiocese," he said.

"A priority has been given to Catholic families as schools are a product of the labour of Catholic families over a century."

In Victoria, the Herald-Sun quoted Br Tony Paterson, principal at MacKillop College in Swan Hill, as saying that non-Catholic students offered an important and healthy balance of perspectives.

"It's healthy to have another group of people in the school who support the Catholic ethos but also represent the society we live in - a very mixed society.

"(The Catholic students) can see there's another dimension to the world, other than the Catholic one, and that it needs to be respected.

"Jesus wasn't choosy about whether people were Jews or gentiles."

Br Bill Firman, principal of De La Salle College in Malvern, said it was important for Catholic students to mix with non-Catholics.

"Our approach is always every child is precious, no matter what religion they are," he said.

Xavier College in Kew has an unusually high proportion of Catholic students, about 96 per cent.

Principal Chris McCabe said: "We're very happy to receive people of other religious faiths if there is opportunity, but in our particular case we don't have much room to manoeuvre."

Union backs call for greater focus on Catholic teachings (ABC News, 9/8/07)
Bishop backs new direction for Catholic schools (ABC News, 8/8/07)
Catholics say mix is a match (Herald-Sun, 10/8/07)
Schools call to be more devout (Adelaide Now, 10/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Education Office Sydney
Independent Education Union ACT New South Wales <

NSW to introduce Catholic pre-school (CathNews, 8/8/07)
Tas church presses for school anti-discrimination exemption (CathNews, 30/4/07)

10 Aug 2007