By Netani Rika
FIJI’S Catholic church will consider the closure of its schools and public protests if it cannot successfully resolve an.impasse over the appointment of school heads.
But any form of civil disobedience will be the final option for consideration only if three other proposals fail.
Archbishop of Suva Dr Peter Loy Chong and church leaders met Education Permanent Secretary Alison Burchell in last night.
The meeting followed the appointment of non-Catholics to head key church schools.
After raising objections publicly, Loy Chong proposed last night’s meeting in an effort to find compromise.
After some heated discussions and the refusal of the Education Ministry to agree to common ground, Loy Chong issued the following statement;
FROM THE CATHOLIC COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
The Archbishop of Suva, Peter Loy Chong asks for your support and prayers in this process of continued discernment
CATHOLIC DISCERNMENT TO THE OPEN MERIT
Cathedral of the Sacred heart crypt
17th January, 2019.
Archbishop Peter Chong, after consultation with his advisors decided that he would initiate a discernment process to further reflect on the issue of the OMRS. This was to be a consultative process that will include prayer, critical reflection and a strategic plan of action, informed by the data, recognising the feelings of education leaders, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The process was to help the Archbishop develop strategies on how the Church would continue to systematically and spiritually respond to OMRS.
This discernment was part of the process that began with a meeting of Faith-based schools with the Permanent Secretary, Education Alison Burchell and the Consultant to the reform, Jane Curran.
Since there were strong reactions in social and mainstream media, to the sudden appointments of non-Catholic principals to Catholic schools, particularly to Xavier College and St. Thomas’ High School, Archbishop Chong wrote a letter to the Minister for Education, Hon. Rosy Akbar, requesting that the two Monfort Brothers remain in their positions. He did not a get a favourable answer to his request, and felt that he had to find other ways of approaching the issue, thus the discernment process with Catholic education leaders.
Ms Burchell and Ms Jane Curran were invited to speak on the OMRS to the group of fifty Catholic education leaders. Below is the summary from their presentations and question and answer session.
1. Education is about the future of the children, so the government needs to identify where we want to go and ensure that we have the ability to move forward.
2. OMRS is a sensitive issue because it is about change and challenges; but it is always for good. It aims to develop a high ranking unit to implement efficient government services.
3. OMRS is an organisational framework that is part of the Civil Service Reform; and has a history and is grounded in the constitution. It aims at higher performance.
4. OMRS is a process that includes selecting the best applicants for the leadership positions. The process is about opening things up – right person right job and qualification knowledge and ability. It is about open transparency and offers guidelines for reforms while maintaining consistency across all ministries.
5. OMRS recognise that there should always be partnership and consultation with School Managements so that open dialogue can contribute to the success of the school, and sustain a healthy working relationship with the wider community.
The Open Merit Recruitment and Selection (Education) framework is the government’s effort to armour our children for the challenges in the future. It offers a framework that includes processes that will ensure the selection of the best applicants for the leadership positions. However, it is evident that in order to ensure a trusting partnership, there needs to be better consultation amongst all stakeholders.
The Archbishop presented his ideas on the close relationship of Catholic Schools and the Church.
The participants were then asked to go into 6 Groups and reflect on the following questions:
1. How do you feel as you look into the future of the church and its moral obligation in preserving and promoting the identity/character of the catholic schools?
2. What is the Holy Spirit telling us to pass on to the Archbishop about Open Merit Recruitment and Selection (OMRS)?
3. Name one practical action that would respond question 1 and 2
At the end, each Group presented their answers. These were analysed and synthesised. Below is a synthesis of this discernment process:
It was evident that many of the participants had strong emotions and feelings about the issue, during the Q &A and the group discussions. There was a mixture of feelings from being threatened and betrayed to feelings of hope and being energised. At the end of the exercise, it was clear that the group felt challenged but they were “fired up” by the Holy Spirit to continue to join the Archbishop in carrying out his moral obligation in preserving and promoting the identity/character of the Catholic schools.
Course of Action
The participants offered several different courses of action for the Bishop to discern as he plans his next strategy. see Archbishop’s notes
Action Plan One
To initiate a critical self-reflection and an organisational review on Catholic education in the areas of identity, character, quality of teachers and planning; e.g. the plan to upgrade Corpus Christi to a Catholic university.
Action Plan Two
To continue partnership with faith-based communities and work towards partnership with the government.
To strongly insist on a structure of consultation that would ensure trust and respect for the management of the school. The job description to include the following merit criteria ‘the candidate must be able to uphold the ethos and values of faith-based and community owned schools’
Action Plan Three
To take an aggressive and urgent stand on the Church’s request to consider faith as a merit when considering appointments of Heads of Schools.
Action Plan Four
The Archdiocese considers civil disobedience which would include an open-air Mass; and to close the 44 primary and 19 secondary schools.
Archbishop concluded the discernment process by thanking the participants for their discernment and advice. He will take their advice into prayer, further consultation and discernment to arrive at the most effective response.