In light of the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, the worst offender, the Catholic Church, has immediately hunkered down, absolutely refusing to even consider the recommendations that they reconsider some of their canon laws as they have been a contributing factor to the ongoing abuse of children.
They refuse to report child sex abuse revealed to them in the confessional and they will not consider making celibacy optional.
If this institution, which has failed its children so badly, refuses to change, then the government should not be facilitating their hold over our kids’ education.
Historically, public funding of denominational schools had ceased by 1880 after the colonies set up public primary school systems without the involvement of churches.
They decided not to include religious education in public schools because it was too difficult to try and respect everybody’s consciences.
The Protestant churches largely accepted the arrival of state-run public education but the Catholics resisted saying it was impossible to teach common Christianity, that it must be grounded in the Catholic faith, and damning the secular schools as godless.
The Federal government played no role in education funding until Robert Menzies, facing a close election in 1961, suddenly did a backflip.
Dr Helen Proctor, a specialist in educational history, sociology and philosophy at the University of Sydney explains on Radio National.
‘There was a baby boom so there was a huge influx of students and also a hugely increased demand for secondary schooling. Menzies introduced funding for science blocks very suddenly. Having been absolutely opposed to any sort of federal intervention in state schools, suddenly with a close election hanging in the balance, [he] decided that he’d kill a number of birds with one stone.
‘One is that it’s good for the Catholic vote. Another one is that there was a lot of anxiety about the arms race, about science in the post-Sputnik era, about Australia catching up with science, so he did give money to all secondary schools: public, Catholic, independent, for science labs and then funding for libraries.’
Following the report of the Interim Schools Commission headed by Peter Karmel, Gough Whitlam ramped up federal funding to both government and non-government schools in order to remedy the terrible state of Australian education.
With funding based on need, most of it went to government schools, but a lot also went to poor Catholic schools. In the process, and throughout the following Fraser years, a system evolved whereby federal governments had a responsibility for non-government schools, and state governments for government schools.
In 1986, the Hawke government brought in the New Schools Policy to stop new private schools setting up in places where there wasn’t a demonstrated demographic need. When this policy was overturned by the Howard government in 1996, it allowed for the creation of many more small private schools.
‘Once the New Schools Policy was removed, that made it possible to have a proliferation of private schools in a district without paying too much attention to what educational resources were already available in a local area,’ explains Professor Maddox. ‘That opened the way for the situation that we have now, with a lot of what you might call boutique religious schools catering to different, quite specific religious groups with specific enrolment requirements about having to belong to or subscribe to a particular theological position, and also requiring teachers to sign up to lifestyle agreements and adhere to particular theological positions.’
‘When the funding arrangements are readjusted, what we’ve seen is that in every recalibration of school funding there is this impression that it’s too politically dangerous to even talk about reducing the amount of federal money that goes to private schools, however wealthy they may be in terms of assets that they’ve amassed over the years, or however well-funded they might already be through fees or investments. At the same time, allocations to public schools—even very underfunded public schools—haven’t increased at a comparable rate.’
During the post-war period, religious instruction, in the form of scripture lessons given by volunteers with denominational affiliations, began to be offered in public schools. All the states except Queensland, after conducting inquiries, concluded that denominational religious instruction should be either replaced with or, in the case of NSW, supplemented by general religious education, meaning education about religions taught as an academic subject by the classroom teacher but this was resisted by conservative Christian groups
In 2006, Howard introduced funding for the school chaplains program allowing any school, public or private, primary or secondary, to offer up to $20,000 a year for a chaplain, who would be employed to offer ‘spiritual comfort’ to staff and students. They had to be endorsed by a religious organisation of some sort.
In 2012, the Gillard government expanded the national school chaplaincy program both in terms of funding and numbers of chaplains, but also in scope, allowing schools to employ secular welfare workers not affiliated with religious organisations.
In 2014, the Abbott government changed the rules back, making it once again only available to religious personnel.
Abbott gave two men a few months to review the National Curriculum which had been devised over several years from tens of thousands of submissions from experts and stakeholders. The reviewers decided we needed more emphasis on our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Cardinal Pell told him to get rid of the national charity regulator, something Abbott tried unsuccessfully to do, because the Catholic Church didn’t want anyone looking into their finances.
The churches are now fighting for their right to reject marriage equality and any mention of it in their schools despite it being the law of the land.
Our country is becoming increasingly non-religious, as shown by last year’s census, yet religion’s hold over education is expanding. Religious schools demand more federal funding at the expense of public schools who serve the vast majority of disadvantaged students.
Trainee teachers spend four years at university, part funded by the federal government and part by racking up a sizable personal debt. The churches then have access to these trained staff, further depleting the public system.
Australia has one of the largest non-government school sectors in the OECD with below average spending on public schooling. Our most disadvantaged children get the least well-funded education.
The idea that some Catholic schools are poor is ridiculous. Perhaps they exist where there is no need for another school. Besides which, the church has plenty of money to keep them open if required.
It was revealed to the royal commission in 2014 that the Sydney Catholic archdiocese alone had property and cash worth $1.24 billion that were ultimately controlled by the archbishop. Surpluses (from $7.7 million to $44 million between 2004 and 2007) are exempt from income and capital gains tax and are reinvested to allow the church to do “good works”. Assets such as schools and nursing homes are not included in the archdiocese accounts.
Sydney Archdiocese business manager Danny Casey said the archdiocese had grown its assets by 86 per cent in the 13 years since 2001, which is when Cardinal George Pell became archbishop.
Considering their track record of abuse and cover-up, their aversion to oversight, their intransigence to change, and their enormous wealth, I can see no reason to continue public funding for Catholic, or any other, religious schools.
Our ancestors recognised how inappropriate religious instruction in state schools was and how financial resources should be devoted to an education system available to all. If the church wants to provide an exclusive alternative, then they can fund it themselves charging whatever they feel appropriate.
My father, a public school teacher, always said “We build a public transport system. If you would rather use a car, buy it yourself.”