Dr Anne O'Brien was employed in a fascinating position from which to observe the momentous changes that occurred in Catholic Education in Australia beginning in the 1960s when huge sums of taxpayer funds became available to the Church and Catholic parents for the education of their children. At the time she was executive officer to the director of Catholic Education in Victoria, Fr Frank Martin — a man who also sat on the Federal Government's Schools Commission and who played a momentous part in helping frame the architecture of the modern Catholic Education system which a former international head of Catholic Education, Cardinal Pio Laghi, once described as one of the "jewels in the crown" of Catholic Education in the world. She earned her doctorate writing a thesis on the history of the building of the modern Catholic Education system in Victoria and this was subsequently published as a book by David Lovell Publishing in 1999. Until now Dr O'Brien's work has not received significant discussion outside of specialist circles. Today it is our pleasure to re-publish, with the permission of Dr O'Brien, the Epilogue to her book. Titled "Looking Back, Looking Forward", this essay summarizes some of the conflicts that were encountered in building the system and the challenges Catholic education continues to face in the future. While the principal focus of her book was developments in Victoria, much of what she investigates in her book has implications for the whole of Australia and more so since the elevation to Sydney of Cardinal George Pell who today exerts probably as much, or more, influence on shaping Catholic Education in this nation as any of the players did who were influential in the 1960s and 70s. We have added to Dr O'Brien's essay more up-to-date statistical information, and links, that fill out some of the trends since she wrote this essay over a decade ago. …Brian Coyne, Editor
Looking Back, Looking Forward
From 1963 to 1979 Catholic education in Victoria underwent a period of unprecedented change which affected every group within the Catholic community. The magnitude of the changes which took place is not reflected in any significant variation in enrolments but is to be assessed rather by the qualitative educational improvements, by the changes in staffing patterns, and by the different configuration of relationships among those who were responsible for the provision of Catholic education.
Vatican II ushered in far-reaching changes in the Church's understanding of itself and of the rights and responsibilities of all its members. It promoted a wholistic understanding of education and life-centred catechesis. It summoned bishops, priests, religious, laity, students and government to act as partners in carrying out their responsibilities for education, but it gave rise to deep divisions within the Victorian church.
In the 1960s Catholic education authorities knew the solutions to their problems, but they were powerless to address them given that their only source of funding was school fees and other local contributions, and there was no structure through which authorities could come together to plan for the future. Effective structures began to develop with the establishment of the Melbourne Catholic Education Board and parish education boards in 1969, the Interdiocesan Committee on Catholic Education in 1972, and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria in 1973. These structures embodied a diminished role for the bishops and recognition of the need for educational professionals. A strong system authority was essential to supervise the Karmel programs* but the CEOV/CECV** had no coercive power except in respect of accountability for government funding. They gained significant moral power through the professionalism of their operation and their fidelity to the principles enunciated by Vatican II.
Consequent to the recommendations of the Karmel Report, the block method of recurrent funding, made available firstly to parish primary schools and subsequently to a large group of secondary schools, had a major impact on the structural configuration which emerged in Victoria. It was essential that the historical independence and decentralisation of both parish schools and order-owned schools in Victoria be respected, and hence it was imperative that a consensus-producing process be used to determine the criteria for the allocation of the block grant for which the CECV had ultimate responsibility. This forced school authorities to work together with one another and with the CECV, during which process they quickly became more aware of the situation of other schools, and more oriented towards the needs of the whole diocese/state.
If there had not been a block method of funding, there would have been a very modified level of operation of the CEO and a different structural configuration. In respect of government funding, the CEO would have been merely the conduit for money being channelled to schools. Few, if any, educational initiatives could have been sponsored by the CEO; only a limited number of Catholic parish or secondary schools would have survived.
Catholic schools epitomise the desire of communities to educate their children in a wholistic manner which includes a recognition of the spiritual dimension and is based on a view of the world and of human beings which is permeated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In doing so, they offer society an enriching view of the meaning of life. While the church's mission to education in Victoria has survived the remainder of the twentieth century, its future is by no means guaranteed. The history of Catholic education from 1963-1980 shows clearly that parents will be required to demonstrate that they are prepared to make the financial sacrifices necessary to supplement government funding.
A preserve of the elite...
There are signs that some Catholic schools have become the preserve of the elite. This will ultimately work against the Church's educational mission. Parish schools are more likely to be open to all eligible enrolees than are secondary schools. However, even parish schools will only survive where there is the commitment of the whole local church to this apostolate. Several factors will determine the effectiveness and desirability of Catholic schools. Catholic education must testify to the partnership of all members of the church: parents, teachers, students, the local community and diocesan authorities; and justify its demand for society's support through government funding. It is clear that teachers will need to be adequately prepared in both secular and religious domains. Not only must they be appropriately qualified in religious education, but they will also have to be able to integrate faith and culture within themselves, and facilitate this integration for their students.
The configuration of centralised and decentralised functions in Catholic education established in the 1960s and the 1970s embodies Vatican II's principles of operation, and also respects the historical situation in Victoria. Whether the education community is prepared to maintain this balance will have to be demonstrated. Strong local support for the school will be crucial in determining the future of the system. The survival of Catholic education has depended on the commitment of priests to the school system but many priests are finding the demands of schools too onerous. The number of priests is rapidly diminishing, and it is not certain that their successors will be prepared to see the school as a priority.
Unless ordination is open to married clergy and/or women, one wonders how parishes will be administered in the coming decades. In this case, the church will have to address the issue of who will be the public juridic persons in this situation, and from whom the sacramental life of the church will be made available to the community. There is, however, another factor which will prove to be decisive in determining whether Catholic schools survive. A crucial element is the availability of leaders at every level who are competent and committed to Catholic education. This element includes the readiness of public juridic persons to assume responsibility for the oversight of schools. This ingredient cannot be presumed.
The need for visionary leadership...
In the seventeen years explored above, a structural transformation of unprecedented magnitude took place within Catholic education in Victoria. But the physical/structural change described is a manifestation of a much bigger structural change which took place in the hearts and minds of Catholic educators, a paradigm shift reified in the changes which occurred. During the 1970s the changes were effective because they were skilfully stage-managed-against considerable odds. The achievements of the 1970s have been maintained and extended during the 1980s and the 1990s. It is clear that educational transformations will be immense as we approach the twenty-first century. In the light of the experience of the 1970s, church and school will need to be fired with visionary leadership if it is to grasp the challenge of the next century.
Two opposing visions...
For nearly two decades now within the framework of the Catholic Church there has been a struggle between two intellectual groups and two groups of people as to the future of the church-in terms of its doctrine, in terms of its moral teaching, in terms of its authority structure, and its general administrative structure, priesthood and so on. As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason why the two schools of thought shouldn't fight it out.
These sentiments were expressed by Mr Santamaria* in November 1994. As the twentieth century ends and we begin a new millennium, there are many signs that this 'fight' is well under way — not just in Victoria, but throughout Australia and indeed the Western world. The conservative forces wish to return to the Roman Catholic Church as it operated prior to the Second Vatican Council. Others want to implement the teachings of Vatican II and, in some instances, move beyond the documents of the Council. This book has focused mainly on the Victorian scene, and recent events in Victoria demand similar attention.
In the 1940s Santamaria founded the 'Movement' to fight the communists in the unions. The activities of the Movement led to the split in the Australian Labor Party in 1954-1955. Due to intervention from Rome, the Movement was abandoned. Its work, however, was continued through the National Civic Council (NCC), which has had, and still has, a firm hold on the formation of the opinions of Catholic people, especially in Victoria.
With the diminution of the role that Santamaria and the NCC played in politics and the unions, their focus shifted to education, the family, and the Roman Catholic Church. These fields provided scope for new battles. To facilitate the operation of these activities, Santamaria established the Thomas More Centre in North Melbourne, which became the home for several associations and publications. The Australian Family Association was set up with Santamaria's daughter, Mary Helen Woods, at the helm. Circulation of the journal AD 2000 commenced. The Council for the National Interest (which deals with defence and foreign policy issues) operates from these premises. 'Democratic clubs' at the major universities in Victoria and summer schools for young people became an important channel of influence. Associates have also achieved success through their prolific letter-writing — especially to bishops and to Rome, where they have strong influence.
The NCC has been described as being 'on the extreme edge of the so-called respectable right in Australia'. Its members invoke Church authority to bolster their views. Discussion of differences is not permitted and dissenting voices are quashed. It has been argued that there is not an intellectual or philosophical debate going on, but rather that the 'fight' is concerned with gaining control, causing division, determining who will exercise power.
Editorials in AD 2000 reveal that Santamaria and Michael Gilchrist (deputy editor) do not hold in high regard the ability of the bishops to control the Church bureaucracy and hence ensure fidelity to orthodoxy. Gilchrist maintains that while the Catholic Education Office and its personnel are theoretically under the control of the bishop, what in practice is occurring in Catholic institutions is often out of line with what he believes to be the traditional teaching of the Catholic faith — a view that flatters neither the bishops nor their leadership. Gilchrist claims that it is his responsibility to encourage bishops to use the authority which they have, an authority which has not been used to establish the proper bounds of the Catholic faith.
The agendas of George Pell...
On 16 July 1996 Auxiliary Bishop George Pell was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne — an appointment which surprised Melbourne clergy and their parishioners. When Pell's induction as Archbishop of Melbourne took place there was a banner outside which stated 'We have waited 22 years for this'. This is the length of time that the recently retired Frank Little had been Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell's appointment signalled that the time for the Santamaria 'fight' was at hand. His support for and allegiance to the catechetical and theological position held by Santamaria had been clearly articulated on 12 May 1988 at a seminar at Melbourne's La Trobe University, where he spoke of Santamaria's contribution to Australian life:
No discussion of contemporary Catholicism can fail to take account of his pivotal role. He is without doubt the most controversial and most influential Catholic individual in Australia, a position he has richly deserved through more than fifty years' involvement in public life, the intellectual quality of his interventions and his access to the public through News Weekly, television, his column in The Australian, and his recently launched magazine, AD 2000.
Pell continued: "... an increasing dependence on government handouts cannot be conducive to long-term religious vitality". He added that "When Latin was abandoned, ecumenism embraced and junior clergy and religious emancipated in their dress and lifestyles, many wondered whether the core of the tradition had been abandoned or was next on the list". His central claim was that "the primary task of Catholicism in Australia is to maintain the integrity of the Catholic tradition, the central inalienable core of faith and practice".
Pell advocated "a style which is a mite more confrontational and certainly much less conciliatory towards secular values ... The doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched, at least in our schools". He maintained that a "resurgence of vocations to the celibate priesthood and religious life is even more important than the continued expansion of lay activism for the future of the Church".
Yet, in 1999***, there is no sign of a resurgence of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Currently 73 per cent of priests in the Melbourne archdiocese are over fifty years of age. The number of seminarians in no way equates to the number of parishes where priests are needed. In addition, there is no indication of how the needs of Catholics for religious services, education and social welfare in the burgeoning outer suburbs will be met. The appointment of lay administrators of parishes has been ruled out by Pell.
CATHOLICA EDITORIAL EXPANSION:
Pell has also moved swiftly to tighten control over all key portfolios through the appointment of loyal conservative personnel. Given the previous history of the catechetical/theological debates associated with the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne, and given that the CEO is the most important bureaucracy in the Melbourne church, it is not surprising that Fr Tom Doyle was removed from his role as Director of Religious Education and replaced by Mgr Peter Elliott, Episcopal Vicar for Religious Education. New texts and resources for religious education are being produced by a team including Mary Helen Woods as assistant editor and primary writer.
Within the archdiocese, meaningful consultation has virtually ceased. Dissent is dealt with swiftly. Morale among priests and many Catholics is low. Catholics who cannot relate to the dictatorial environment withdraw their allegiance to the church and its rituals.
The regime currently in power in Melbourne claims to have returned to the spirit of Archbishop Mannix. It is interesting to note the response of Mannix to the Schema on the Church which was first proposed by Roman bureaucrats for the Second Vatican Council and subsequently rejected by the bishops at the Council. Mannix, too, voted against it. In his ninety-ninth year he observed:
The Schema smacks more of a legal document than a spiritual proclamation of religious faith ... it treats too much of juridical aspects of the Church ... It is too preoccupied with the rule and rights of a Church desiring power and authority ... No other function is seen to be allotted to the laity in the Church than carrying out the commands of the Hierarchy.
There are indeed opposing forces operating within the Catholic Church today. Right-wing conservatives are intent on returning the church to a pre-Vatican II model. An impenetrable web ensures that their activities maintain a degree of respectability. Nevertheless, throughout the Western world, there are many signs that modern-day prophets are continuing the struggle for a church based on the spirit of Vatican II. Whether or not the church is relevant to people in the Twenty-First Century will depend on the outcome of this struggle.
Dr Anne O'Brien. This commentary was originally published as the Epilogue to her book "Blazing a Trail: Catholic Education in Victoria, 1963-1980", David Lovell Publishing, 1999. Dr O'Brien's permission to re-publish the essay on Catholica was obtained on 30th March 2012.
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