The Archdiocese of Sydney has decided to draft a statement by which its 167 school principals, vice principals, and religious education coordinators will make a commitment to Catholic education, to the Church and its teachings.
The archdiocese opted for this form of commitment after first considering a public “vow of fidelity” to all Church teachings, including on homosexuality, birth control, and women’s ordination.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney had wanted to extend the oath of fidelity and profession of faith, a requirement of Church law for bishops, priests, and heads of seminaries, to all senior educational leaders. The oath would have been a formal statement in canon law.
However, the cardinal’s proposal proved too controversial and was withdrawn. The new statement will serve as a dedication rather than an oath of office.
The bishops have been taking a close look at Catholic education in Australia and had issued a statement earlier this week, recommending ways to strengthen Catholic schools.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, some parents have complained about feeling pressured by priests and principals to attend Mass with their child and to have their children receive the sacraments of initiation.
Elite Catholic high schools, they add, were accepting only children from Catholic primary schools and giving preference to those parents who were active in their parish.
But the secretary of the Independent Teachers Union, Dick Shearman, told the Herald it was perfectly reasonable for Catholic bishops to insist that their schools reflect Catholic faith and values.
"All parents are pressured to be involved in the activities of their school, be it a public or Christian school, to attend speech nights and fundraisers, and for Catholic schools that will include a spiritual dimension," he was quoted as saying. "Why would anyone think otherwise?"
Br. Kelvin Canavan, executive director of the Catholic Education Office, told the Herald it is customary but not compulsory that Catholic school students be prepared for Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation. He also clarified that there is a longstanding tradition in schools with high enrolment to give preference to churchgoing families.