Vatican backs cardinal in schools battle
by Martin Newland CARDINAL Hume, who has said he is prepared to go to jail rather than capitulate to parents' demands over the fate of a central London Catholic school, this week received top level Vatican backing for his attempts to "secure an equitable system for as many Catholic children as possible" within his diocese.
Responding to the cardinal's request earlier this month that the Vatican clarify parents' rights concerning their children's education Cardinal William Baum, President of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, warned that "too little attention is being paid by some groups of parents to the heavy responsibility and duties of the diocesan bishop in educational matters as the focus of unity and leader of the people of God in his particular Church."
Cardinal Baum invoked John Paul II's 1988 address to the bishops of Westminster on education in which he called on parents to sacrifice "personal preference in favour of the common good" where muchneeded diocesan education reforms are concerned.
The Vatican message of support came after parents with children at Cardinal Vaughan School in Holland Park, London, decided to take Cardinal Flume to court for refusing to appoint foundation governors now that the school has applied for grant maintained status (Catholic Herald, May 26). At a press conference last week the cardinal said that the opting out provisions laid down by the 1988 Education Act were not intended to enable a church school to dodge diocesan reorganisation plans as is happening in this case but rather to enable it to sever links with its local education
Parents of the Vaughan have applied for grant maintained status because they do not want the school to lose its sixth form to a proposed new diocesan Sixth Form College. Their hand was strengthened last week by a court decision to reinstate two governors of the school, sacked by Cardinal Hume because of their opposition to the reorganisation plans.
Last week Cardinal Hume indicated that he might be ready to go to jail rather than accede to any court decision to force him to appoint governors. "I have to decide what is the prudent way to proceed . . . It may be staying put, it may be being in contempt of court, Just as a journalist is prepared to go to jail not to reveal his sources, then maybe I will have to take the same kind of action," he said.
The cardinal launched an outspoken attack on the new Education Act's provisions concerning opting out, saying that the Act required trustees to make sweeping reforms in education whilst at the same time denying them the powers necessary to do so. If diocesan reorganisation plans could be
thwarted by schools opting out, and if governors sacked by the bishop trustee could be reinstated by the courts, then this constituted a "serious erosion" of the bishop's powers in his diocese, said the cardinal.
"We (the trustees) are left with more responsibility, but diminished powers, whereas parents are given greater powers with none of the responsibility," he said.
To this end the bishops of England and Wales will be seeking an amendment to the Education Act whereby diocesan reorganisation plans will take precedence over opting out proposals put forward by groups of parents. "This touches the whole way in which Catholic schools are run and organised," said the cardinal. "The freedom of a Catholic bishop to act as a Catholic bishop depends on his freedom as a trustee in English Law.
"When a school in the maintained sector gets grant maintained status it becomes the property of the governors. In our case it remains the property of the trustee," said Cardinal Hume. "The 1988 Act failed to make a distinction between local education authority schools and those pertaining to' a diocesan trust. This will have to be changed."
The Cardinal's ease, page 3