Two significant events occurred yesterday, 20th February 2012, that more than probably will have huge implications for the future of Catholicism across Australia for decades into the future. One development has been the release of The Gonski Report – a massive review of Education Policy in Australia commissioned by the Australian Federal Government which will carry with it massive implications for the future of Catholic Education across Australia. The second development has been the retirement of Archbishop Barry James Hickey in Western Australia. This is partly significant in itself but perhaps more significant in that it marks the start of a raft of significant new episcopal appointments across this "wide, brown land" that have huge implications for where Catholicism in this country heads from here. In this editorial commentary, Brian Coyne, provides links to where you can get a handle on the significance of these events and he offers his own perspectives on the likely future direction.
The implications flowing from The Gonski Report...
The Australian Federal Government commissioned two significant studies in recent years that are more than likely going to have a huge impact on the future of education funding and policy across Australia, and particular impact on Catholic Education which in the case of primary and secondary education has been hugely dependent on State and Federal Government funding since the 1970s – ultimately the taxes of Catholics who choose a Catholic education for their children so there is some justice involved. In the case of tertiary education government funding came much later to the Catholic sector. The enquiry into the funding of primary and secondary education was headed by an Australian businessman, David Gonski, and it is his name which has been popularly given as the label to the Report. Another report into the funding of higher education, The Bradley Review, is yet to be released and it is expected to cause a big shake-up in the tertiary sector of education across this nation. At the conclusion of this editorial we will provide an extensive list of links to the official reports and to various commentaries we draw to your attention as a fast way in which you might come to an appreciation of what is likely to flow from these reports.
Catholic Education in Australia was described in the late 1990s by the then international head of Catholic Education for the world, Cardinal Pio Laghi, as the jewel in the crown of Catholic education in the world. The common understanding of what he meant is the way it is funded and the quality of the Catholic Education system in this country is on a par with the public education and other private education systems. Catholic schools in Australia today are well resourced and staffed by highly trained teachers and ancillary staff. This happy situation has only prevailed since the 1970s and some momentous changes made at that time in government policy that led to Catholic schools being largely funded by the public purse. Much of this happy situation owes much to the legacy of one Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria, himself never a politician but the intellectual brains behind the Democratic Labor Party which from a miniscule position in terms of numbers extracted some huge benefits from government which eventually led to the funding situation which has prevailed for the past four decades. (Santamaria wasn't the only player. The Parents and Friends Federations across the Australia, often with heavy input from some of Santamaria's "troops", the Knights of the Southern Cross and the Australian Bishops themselves also played major contributions that eventually created the climate where it was almost a political imperative for governments to fund education equitably whether parents chose to send their children to schools owned by religious denominations or to public schools.
The particular implications for Catholic Education...
The Federal Government review has been driven by a number of factors perhaps the most important of which is that Australian primary and secondary education standards have been slipping compared to similar nations in the OECD. Some of this slippage may have been caused by peculiarities in the education funding model we have been using in this country. Quite part from the concerns of the Federal and State governments, not to mention parents and the general public, Catholic Education has been facing significant challenges of its own. In particular, from its original roots of endeavouring to lift the poor into the mainstream of society, today it has largely become an endeavour principally of benefit to the middle classes rather than the poor and disadvantaged. A report released by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, the day before the release of the Gonski Report highlights the concern that Catholic educational administrators and the bishops are facing [SEE: "Cath schools face fee rise of up to 130%" CathNews | "Catholic schools 'facing exodus'" The Australian].
The best commentaries I have seen examining the impact of the Gonski Review, and the other sociological changes impacting on Catholic Education, are from Dr Michael Furtado – who has previously provided a commentary to Catholica [SEE: "The legacy of Dr Peter Tannock" LINK] on Catholic Education. Dr Furtado is interviewed by Stephen Crittenden in a story on the Gonski Review that has been published in The Global Mail [See: "Don't Mention The Class War" The Global Mail]. He has also written on the CathNews blog: [See: "CathBlog – What Gonski means for Catholic schools" CathBlog].
Dr Furtado argues that the present system of Catholic Education is unsustainable in the long run and eventually it will have to seek some kind of integration into the public system and the Bishops/Catholic Education bureaucrats will need to apply their funds to the religious education component of the total education endeavour. I have previously argued on Catholica that the Catholic Education system will come under increasing pressure also if the highest levels of the Church continue to insist that their interpretation of Catholic moral teaching in certain areas — particularly sexual and 'life issues' morality — is going to be imposed in its schools. The vast majority of ordinary pew-sitting Catholics themselves self-evidently no longer believe, or follow those teachings.
As superb as the Catholic Education system is that has been created in Australia over the last century and a half – and more so over the last 40+ years – I suspect Michael Furtado gives the best reading. At both the bureaucratic level, the educational administrators are constrained by the Bishops, and the Bishops themselves are either constained by this game being played internationally in the Church of jumping through hoops created by the legacy of Humanae Vitae — and that is unlikely to be changed over the lifetimes of at least two or three of the coming generations — and by the "episcopal politics" played within their own ranks within Australia. We have a situation that might be likened to two steam trains facing each other on the same set of railway tracks and heading towards one another at full power. Eventually there is going to be a God-awful mess that someone is going to have to clean up.
The implications flowing from the current series of Episcopal Appointments...
The retirement of Archbishop Barry Hickey in Western Australia and the appointment of a successor in Bishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, currently an Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne is the start of a watershed moment in the Australian Church. The general consensus I pick up from people who follow these matters is that this is the best appointment in the present circumstances. Barry Hickey is generally perceived to have been a highly successful administrator — in both the financial sense as well as in personnel management. His achievements in bringing the Perth Archdiocese "back from the financial brink" that he inherited from Archbishop Bill Foley have been well documented. He has been assisted in this by the marvellous legacy left to him by the foresight of an earlier Archbishop, Redmond Prendiville, who made some astute property investments "out in the sandhills" of what are now the Northern suburbs of Perth in the 1950s. With the assistance of a handful of lay people with superb financial and business skills he has not only rebuilt the finances of the Archdiocese but he has managed to effectively build a Cathedral (well he was "completing it" but given the amount of money involved that was as good as building a new Cathedral from scratch); he has re-established the Archdiocesan seminary and created a second Redemptorist Mater seminary based on the Neo-Catechumenal Way which has effectively given him a graced position compared to most other dioceses in this country of having a surplus of priests and he has been able to lend some of them to other needy diocese. On top of all that he has seen the establishment of a Catholic University on the West Coast and a significant expansion in the number of schools and even parishes. Timothy Costelloe is a very lucky man compared to many others who will soon be inheriting other Archdioceses around this nation.
The elephant in the room...
There is of course one "big elephant in the room" amidst all of these achievements — somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of the baptized Catholics in Western Australia have stopped paying much attention to what Catholic bishops might have to say about anything much and they have ceased contributing much to the ordinary sacramental and social life of the institution. The exit from participation, and listening, in the younger cohorts of the population is even more worrying particularly given they are "the future" for Catholicism. Barry Hickey was once accused by one of his priests of "lacking vision". It led to Barry Hickey publishing in his newspaper and on the Archdiocesan website a dot-point list summarising his "vision". My own sense is that to this day he still does not understand the criticism that was being made of him. Certainly he was not lacking in "vision" in completing St Mary's Cathedral, or in what he has achieved financially for the Archdiocese, nor in the encouragement given to the establishment of the University of Notre Dame. My sense is that the original criticism directed at him is that he lacked a "theological vision". Barry Hickey is your classic "company man" — the branch manager for the pope, whoever that happens to be from time to time. His "vision" is, or has been, "the pope's vision" ..... and that's the problem ..... it has been the flawed "theological visions" of the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI which has been largely responsible for the decimation in Catholic participation right across the face of the educated, affluent, socially sophisticated Western world.
Barry Hickey is an apostle also of the vision of the late Bob Santamaria and the National Civic Council (Santamaria's principal structure). As his parting junket from the Archdiocese he's off leading a pilgrimage in June organised by Brian Peachey, one of the long time stalwarts of the Santamaria legacy in Western Australia. The pilgrimage departs in June and is advertised on the Archdiocesan website and presumably the Archbishop's fares are paid for by the other pilgrims. The Santamaria legacy has been deeply problematical for the health of Catholicism in Australia. It continues to "drive the agenda" for Catholicism in Australia though the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney and while it might be in superb syncopation with the vision of Pope's John Paul II and Benedict XVI it has been a disaster for ordinary, educated pewsitters. It is simply a fallacy that the great majority of people in the Western world have been "sucked out of the Church" by the allures in secular culture and factors like the "relativism" that Benedict is constantly banging on about. Many of the people who have ceased listening have ceasing listening because they simply no longer believe the "theological and moral vision" offered by Pope Benedict.
The challenge Timothy Costelloe faces — and all those who will be shortly taking on similar roles elsewhere around Australia — is whether they are going to cast themselves as "obedient sheep" — "company men" — who will continue to lead this church into societal irrelevance, or whether they are going to at last "stand for truth" and assist their flocks in the discernment of the will of God in the nitty-gritty challenges of their lived lives?
A footnote to this editorial is that Western Australia has made an "above its weight" contribution to the future direction of Catholic Education in Australia. The National Catholic Education Commission — the Australian Catholic Bishops principal interface body with the Federal Government, and the body which will make most of the running in the implementation of the Gonski Review in the decades ahead of us — is presently headed by two from the Hickey stable: Mrs Therese Temby is the Chairperson of the NCEC. She was formerly the Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia (and my former boss – as was Barry Hickey himself) and she also headed for a time the secular Curriculum Council of Western Australia. Therese Temby is a superb bureaucrat. More interesting perhaps is Dr Peter Tannock, the predecessor Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia to Mrs Temby and later the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame and also a former Chairperson of the NCEC. Peter Tannock is presently heading a review of the NCEC itself. Peter Tannock, I suspect, has more "vision" than almost anybody else in this country, particularly in the education realm. I endeavoured in one of the interviews I had with him to elicit from him what his "theological or spiritual vision" might be. It was the only question he refused to answer in the interviews I did with him. Part of the last interview I did with him has been published on Catholica HERE.
We truly do live at a fascinating moment in both world and ecclesial history. We might all ask, Archbishops, Bishops as well as lay people: what will be our legacy — what institution will we be leaving to our children and the generations to come?
Brian Coyne, Editor and Publisher, 21 Feb 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?