New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have written to members of boards of trustees of Catholic schools warning against giving priority to secular concerns at the expense of Catholic character. In a letter dated July 1, the bishops reminded members of boards of trustees and trust boards of a “critical” responsibility — ensuring “that the school is true to its nature as a Catholic school, and true to its purpose, which is to provide Catholic education for young people by forming them as disciples of Christ”.

The bishops acknowledged that “the preservation and enhancement of Catholic character can easily be marginalised by state compliance requirements or a narrow drive for academic success”.

They told board members that responsibility for Catholic character belongs to them, not just the proprietor’s representative on the board.

Board members were also reminded that if their priorities are “predominantly secular in nature”, then it is difficult for the principal to fulfil his or her role in relation to Catholic character. That role is one of being the spiritual leader of the school.

The letter stated that directors of religious studies in schools “should not have to plead for space for Catholic character among other priorities being driven by the board through the senior management of the school”.

Speaking of the critical roles of principals, DRS’s and tagged teachers in Catholic schools, the bishops cited pressures many such people find themselves under.

One obstacle was “a view on some boards that underplaying the Catholic character of the school will attract more enrolments”.

The bishops appealed to board members to “support the principal in maintaining the minimum requirements for religious education hours against pressure from other curriculum areas . . . “.

Board members were asked to be honest about their priorities.

“Is the board giving greater weight to secular priorities while the maintenance of the Catholic character of the school is somewhat token or pedestrian?”

“What you value will be valued in the school, and reflected in the people appointed
to your staff,” the bishops noted.

The bishops also thanked board members for their generosity in serving the Catholic community.