Schools not Catholic enough
NORTH Coast Catholic schools are being pushed to make students and their parents more devout. Sydney newspapers have reported that Church leaders headed by Cardinal George Pell this week issued an edict to all Catholic schools, outlining a plan to bring back thousands of poorer families who have left the Catholic education system. The report stated the Church wants to introduce a new four-way selection test to give preference first to children from the school's local parish, then to other Catholics, then to other Christians and finally to children from other religions. It is a move proposed to maximise enrolment of Catholic students in the state's 585 Catholic schools. But Lismore Diocese Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett has hit back at the claims. Bishop Jarrett said where places were available, non-Catholic children were always welcome in Catholic schools. However he did admit Bishops would encourage families with no religious commitment, and with a bias against Catholic teachings, to 'make use of other schools which are more accommodating to their outlook'. Church of England mum Nyoli Scobie said all children, regardless of their religion, should have the same educational opportunities. Mrs Scobie's two youngest children, Holly, 9, and Tamarra, 11, attend a Catholic school in Ballina. Her eldest daughter Candace, 18, went to St Johns Woodlawn College in Lismore. Her husband and their three children were christened Uniting Church. "Restricting places in Catholic schools doesn't make any sense. "I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there whose parents aren't Catholic or even Christian, but who would like the opportunity to learn about the religion," Mrs Scobie said. "I wanted to give my kids a sense of value, caring and honesty and I knew a Catholic school could give them that. It's especially hard for families living in rural areas where there aren't many choices in terms of schools for different religions. You just want to do what's best for your kids." Bishop Jarrett said the 'edict' referred to in Sydney newspapers was actually a pastoral letter of the Bishops of NSW and ACT. He said the letter 'commands nothing', but that it signposts future directions to all involved in the enterprise of Catholic schools. "The Bishops are not seeking to exclude non-Catholic children," he said. "But are aware that there is a distinction to be made between those parents of no religious attachment who see Catholic schools as a relatively cheap private school alternative to government schools, and those parents who respect the religious values of a Catholic school and indeed practice their own faith." Bishop Jarrett said one of the points raised in the letter was that Catholic schools were founded and maintained principally for the education of Catholic children. The Bishops were concerned that more than 50 per cent of Catholic children were being educated in non-Catholic schools. "We wish to ensure enrolment patterns reflect the priority of religious belief and practice," Bishop Jarrett said.