In the conclusion to this essay we've been publishing over the last three days, Dr Graham English takes us to the crux of Dr Anne O'Brien's thesis in her study of the development of the modern Catholic Education system in Australia. He names the heroes who helped build the system and the villains who nearly prevented its emergence. Ironically those who nearly wrecked the system have today gained the ascendancy and control of the institutional agenda in this nation and the future is still unclear. Dr English ponders if the present leaders are continuing to blaze a trail or marching into folly?
Catholic Education from 1963 to 1980, blazing a trail or a march into folly?
Heroes and villains...
Many institutions fail because for a while they were successful. They fail because strategies that worked and may have been wildly successful in one milieu are held onto, even strengthened in a time when they are out of date, when they are in fact doing harm.
This is the crux of Anne O'Brien's thesis. Some leaders or their minions manage change successfully. Fortunately for Catholic education there were a number of them here. These were wise men and women who exercised their judgment "acting on experience, common sense and available information" to again quote Barbara Tuchman. They acted in the Church's interest doing whatever was conducive to the "welfare or advantage of the body being governed". They changed.
On the other hand there were those who were marching into folly. They assessed a situation in terms of "preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs". Fortunately the wise people won.
Anne O'Brien's wise men, heroes almost are Father Frank Martin and Archbishop James Carroll. These two men with encouragement from others and with substantial support from some, Cardinal Knox in Melbourne, Bishop Frank Carroll in WaggaWagga first then Canberra and others adapted to the new milieu. Others, B. A. Santamaria, Bishops Fox and Stewart in Victoria, the Australian Parents' Council and Father Jordan sj for example acted against the Church's best interest and had they won would have done considerable damage.
Tuchman, describing Napoleon Bonaparte when he was a successful leader, before he became ''the classic victim of hubris", says of him that he chose officials with the "desired talents of intelligence, energy, industry and obedience". What was happening in the Church and in Catholic education in Victoria 1963-1980 demanded the same skills.
A time of change...
A great deal was happening. First it had become possible that the government would start partly funding non-government schools. This was partly political. Parents in non-government schools voted too and parties needed their votes to govern. It was partly that politicians saw the grave state of many non-government schools. Parents choose schools, or parents in obedience to bishops did then. Children were being disadvantaged because they were being sent to Catholic schools that were patently inadequate. Also educational standards were changing. In NSW for example schools were preparing for the Wyndham Scheme and the old model of Catholic schools with very limited curriculum, tiny staffs and poor plant were not going to cope. The claim of "a place for every Catholic child in a Catholic school" was clearly an idle boast and had long been so. Even before the collapse of religious vocations in the early 1970s there were not nearly enough teachers to run the schools properly.
In politics the Labor Party Split of the 1950s had occurred. This had been for Santamaria and his followers an apparent success though in the long run it was a pyrrhic victory. It had kept the conservatives in power, eventually for twenty three years and it had left Labor divided but it also split the Church in ways that have lasted ever since.
And the Church was changing in ways people at the time could scarce have imagined. Vatican II began in 1962. Humanae Vitae happened in 1968. The 'New Catechetics' was happening with 'religion readiness', 'life centered catechesis', the Jocist method in YCS, the Catholic biblical revival, the liturgical revival, and the first stirrings of lay participation in the Church were beginning. This coincided with the first generation of young Catholics going to university doing philosophy and arts — those people who are now in their late seventies and early eighties but were then the hope of the Church. The Catholic Worker group in Melbourne, the Manna group and the Living Parish group in Sydney promised new ways of being Catholic. The old authoritarian model was quietly collapsing. Ironically this collapse had begun with the Split when bishops in different cities were seen to be on different sides. Some of them had to be wrong. Catholics began thinking for themselves and making their own decisions about whom they would vote for. Soon this thinking for themselves was going to spread to other areas of their lives.
And despite Santamaria's best efforts the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam was recovering. The federal election held on 25 October 1969 was won by the Coalition government but it was close and Labor felt that the next one they might win. The Coalition had begun some state aid to Catholic schools in 1968. It became clear that in the struggle for state aid and for the continuation of Catholic schools the bishops and their officials might have to deal with more than one political party, with more than one philosophy and with a new political reality.
Ideologies and ideologues...
An ideologue is an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology. Everyone has an ideology. Paul Ricoeur describes ideology as "something in which humans beings live and think (rather than) a concept which they form". It is "a system of images and symbols which preserves the identity of the group and of its members against internal or external threats". Both these approaches to ideology are positive. It is what helps us give meaning to our lives. But for some people ideology "appears as a kind of rhetoric of persuasion at the service of the power structure. Its function is the justification of the dominion of the rulers on the ruled". Not everyone with an ideology is an ideologue but in the case of those whose aim is "the justification of the dominion of the rulers on the ruled" it is more likely. In Anne O'Brien's description of B. A. Santamaria he and his followers sound very like ideologues trying to justify the dominion of their part of the Church.
Looking back, looking forward...
In an epilogue O'Brien notes that Catholic schools since the 1980s have achieved substantial qualitative improvements in plant, in teacher pupil ratios and in education. I would add that with the help of the Australian Catholic University and other teacher pre-service and in-service programs they also have a better religiously educated teaching body. They do not have a heavily socialized group of obedient teachers as they did when the schools before Vatican II were staffed almost entirely by sisters and brothers but that is not longer possible even if we thought it a good idea. That time has passed. I have been involved in Catholic education as a student then teacher since 1949. I have no doubt at all that Catholic schools now are better than when I began as a teacher in 1964.
The struggles between the conservative clique and the main educational establishment have continued. Schools, university lecturers as well as some priests and parishes are reported to the authorities for supposed breaches just as Santamaria intended in AD2000. A bishop has been deposed. In some dioceses party hacks are appointed to university chaplaincies and other roles. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "So it goes".
In Victoria the Santamaria's machine, the NCC (National Civic Council) still has some influence though I do not know how much. There are so few priests and religious now I think its hold on them if it exists can do little harm especially as so few Catholics listen to them.
Some Catholic schools, usually the independent sector have become the preserve of the wealthier parents and their children. As the Australian standard of living increased and as Catholics became mainstream this was probably inevitable. Another irony is that Santamaria's DLP and NCC organisations helped upwardly mobile Catholics to move from the Labor Party to the Conservative Parties. Many of the leaders in the conservative parties, both state and federal were educated by the Jesuits and other elite Catholic schools. To be fair to the Jesuits they now have a systemic Catholic school in a poorer part of Sydney and via Eureka Street, their refugee program and other works they are very much part of the Church's outreach to the poor. I didn't know the Jesuits when I was a young man but I presume that even then Father Jordan did not represent many of his colleagues.
There is an issue with leadership in Australian Catholicism. Many Catholics have lost confidence in our leaders.
As a group Catholic school teachers are the best educated Catholics. More of them have undergraduate or post graduate qualifications in religion than in any other sector of the Church and I suspect that more of them are involved in parishes than in any other sector of the Catholic community given that fewer than 14% of Catholics now attend church regularly. I think some parishes only survive because they have an active Catholic primary school.
The religious orders are dying out. The teaching orders founded mostly in the 19th century seem to be finished in Western countries. What will happen next we have to wait and see.
In 1996 George Pell was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne, "an appointment which surprised Melbourne clergy and parishioners" says O'Brien. In 2001 few were surprised when he moved to Sydney though a number were dismayed. People will argue about his success or otherwise at bringing Santamaria's fight to NSW. He has certainly appointed some like-minded people here. He has had a World Youth Day. He spends money on his projects. But it takes more than that to win hearts and minds.
Barbara Tuchman says of the total failure of Phillip II of Spain, "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence". I think she might have said it of Santamaria on many occasions.
Thankfully it does not apply to Father Frank Martin, Archbishop James Carroll and their co-workers who as Anne O'Brien says blazed a trail and we inherited a much better system of Catholic education as a result.
Whether some of our present Church leaders are blazing a trail or grandly marching into folly we shall just have to wait and see.
Dr Graham English. Submitted to Catholica on 17th April 2012.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?