31 DECEMBER  2007






  A comparison of the Pastoral Letters of the Bishops in the Australian colonies of the nineteenth century and the 2007 Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of New South Wales and the A.C.T. entitled Catholic Schools at the Crossroads provides insight into the recent success of the Roman Catholic faction  in its rapidly expanding  political influence and financial advantages .

Comparison of the pastoral letters from the nineteenth and twenty first century indicates that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in particular have learned that it is easier to defeat any opposition if you stroke them to sleep rather than punch them in the face.  They have followed the adage that you catch more people with honey than vinegar,-- although the iron fist in the velvet glove lies in wait for the uninitiated and unwary.


Pastoral Letter 2007

Current bishops realise that it is more effective to praise politicians and refrain from attacks on the public education system and the egalitarian, liberal, and secular underpinnings of that system. An illustration of the above strategy is found on page 7 of the 2007 Pastoral Letter under the Heading Achievements and Potential:

We also acknowledge the significant contribution of successive governments and the wider community to our schools. We are encouraged by the confidence that they have placed in Catholic schools. We believe that trust has been deserved: Catholic schools have contributed to the whole community through educating a significant proportion of its young people, through offering a distinctive vision and values, and through complementing the government school system and enabling choice and diversity in education.

DOGS note the bishops' reference to ' complementing the government school system ' rather than 'duplicating the government school system,' a situation which is closer to the truth. Nor, like Prime Minister Rudd do they refer to the 'public school system.'

The  diversion of billions of taxpayers' dollars into the denominational system of education in Australia; the withdrawal of public money from the public systems; and the activities of the supporters and promoters of the denominational system within the state and federal bureaucracies -  have undermined rather than complemented our State systems. Nor have the problems confronting our public systems been assisted by those willing to be stroked to sleep by private school interests. After all, it is easier to be sweet talked and appear 'tolerant' than confront realities and be accused of 'sectarianism' by sectarians themselves.

Pastoral Admonition 1872, Victoria

How different this double sweet talk of 2007 is from a previous time.

 On June 20, 1872, for example, Bishop James Alipius Gould, Bishop of Melbourne issued a pastoral letter to the clergy and the laity of the diocese. DOGS quote from this letter:

It will need all the weight of your electoral and moral influence to save those sacred rights from being crushed by the gentlemen who constitute the present Government. ...they threaten the Catholics of this colony, a fourth part of the entire Christian population, with religious persecution in the shape of a Godless and compulsory system of education. Taking our share of the public revenue, to which the Catholics contribute equally with all others, and applying as much of it as is deemed needful to any system of education in which the Church we belong to declares we can have no participation, is simply robbing the Catholics of so much of their public rights....

..we entreat you to be mindful to be mindful of your conscientious obligations, a refuse your votes to those, by whomsoever recommended, who are in favour of a scheme of Godless compulsory education. He who commits himself by his vote to such a scheme places himself at once in opposition to the Church and conscience.

Pastoral Letter 1879, New South Wales

In 1879, Archbishop Vaughan, on behalf of himself and the bishops of New South Wales, in similar vein, verbally abused colonial politicians promoting public education in New South Wales :

This expenditure on Godless education, this studding the colony with Schools which the Church knows from experience will, in course of time, fill the country with indifferentists, not to speak of absolute infidels; this use of Catholic funds - of taxes paid out of Catholic pockets- for establishing a system of education throughout the land, which not merely Catholics cannot safely make use of, but which they firmly believe is calculated to sap the foundations of Christianity, is an act so galling ...

It is self-evident that education without Christianity is impossible. You may call it instruction, filling the mind with a certain quantity of secular knowledge, but you cannot dignify it with the name Education,and to divorce religion or Christianity from Education is to return to paganism, and to reject the Gospel of Christ. Thus it is that the Church condemns, with marked emphasis, those schools, and that method of teaching in which the religious element is divorced from the secular. *

.... We condemn them, ( principles of secularist education)  first, because they contravene the first principles of Christian religion, and secondly, because they are seed plots of future immorality, infidelity, and lawlessness, being established to debase the standard of human excellence, and to corrupt the political, social and individual life of future citizens. Wherefore we urge our clergy to do all in their power, in the pulpit and out of it, to instruct the people in these teachings of the Christian religion. They should not rest until each member of their congregation fully realises the true position of affairs.

They should bring before the minds of parents the terrible calamity to their children in exposing them to loss of faith and morals.


In 2007, there is muted concern about  the diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from the public to the private church school sector in Australia. There is disbelief over the accusation of the lack of 'values' in public schools, although private church schools have been dogged by evidence of sexual abuse, bullying, and greed dressed up as need. There is some concern at the entanglement between religion and the State. There is growing awareness of the direct and indirect subsidization of 'supernatural charities'. **

Some not-so-timid academics occasionally bemoan the division of our egalitarian society into class ridden networks established by private church institutions.

Those interested in the public good are starting to wake up from the long sleep induced  by soft strokes  or  fear of retribution.

Only the DOGS and a few teacher and parent organisations are prepared to take on the Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops as they line up for the taxpayer billions.

But those who believe in separation of church and state and a public education system open to all children regardless of their religious tribe, should remind themselves of the insights of our colonial forebears.

In the Australian colonies in both 1872 and 1879 there was immediate reaction to the attack up the public education system by the Roman Catholic Bishops. The Press, the politicians, the ordinary people, and the dissenting pastors sprung to defend the public system.

As an example, DOGS quote from Edmund Barton's reaction to Archbishop Vaughan  in the New South Wales Parliament in 1879:

I may say that I do strongly resent the statement that the system under which I have grown up is calculated to produce infidelity, immorality, or lawlessness. The gentleman who uttered that condemnation is to be listened to with the greatest respect, even by those who are not members of his communion; but if that prelate descends to make statements like this, and supplements them by saying that he is ready to shed his blood in defence of the views he propounds, and goes on almost to express a wish to be disembowelled, it is right that I, as one of those who have been educated under the system so sweepingly condemned, should say a word or two in its defence.

 I was for two years a pupil at the Model School in Fort street which was then conducted upon the Irish national system, and if any special religious instruction was given in connection with that system, I do not recollect it. I was afterwards educated in another purely secular institution where I met the sons of many Roman Catholic citizens with whom, I am happy to say, I am still on terms of close friendship; and I was subsequently educated at an equally secular institution ( the Sydney University) I point this out because I object that those who were educated with me under a system which has been stigmatised as producing infidelity, immorality, and lawlessness, should have it imputed to them that they are other than what I know them to be, namely, upright and God fearing citizens.

We have been told that every legitimate means is to be used to upset the present system of education...

I may state at once that I shall give a very warm and hearty support to the second reading of this is a Bill which tends to bring about that system of education which ought to be and will inevitably become the policy of the future - a system of education which is general, consistent, and uniform in its character. I suppose it will scarcely be denied that a system of education undertaken by the State should be in its grasp as large and comprehensive as possible, because it is not to be forgotten that those who are to be educated under it  will become the fathers and mothers, the voters and jurymen of the future - that to their hands the greatest powers, fraught with the most momentous consequences, are to be entrusted; and that the future of this country depends very much upon the manner in which they exercise them. ..

It is the duty of the State to educate, and the right of the people to demand education. If it be the duty of the State to institute a wide and comprehensive system of education, it is also the duty of the people to take advantage of the education which is offered, because the end of education is to make the State a better one - to fit the component parts of it to properly exercise their functions.  A State which has universal suffrage and a wide extension of the jury franchise, must qualify the people by education to rightly exercise the great powers with which they are invested.

I go on to say that in my belief the system of education should be free. ..

If it is the duty of the State to educate, it is the duty of the State also to bear the burden of education, namely, the taxation out of which education is provided. It is not a good thing that for the want of 3 pence, supposing such a want to exist, any number of children should sit in our public schools in a position in which they may consider themselves as pauper children, or be spoke of as such. I do not believe there would be many of them, but in proportion as they are few, will their position be the more isolated and irksome?  It will be an injustice to make the children of any such tax-payer sit on the same bench with those of his more fortunate neighbour who on the strength of the payment of a three-penny - bit will think  he can afford to laugh at them...

I say further that our system of education should be unsectarian. I cannot support for a moment any system of education which in the name of denominationalism or under any other name, draws funds from the coffers of the State manifestly for the propagation of creeds and dogmas widely divergent.  Taxpayers ought not to be called upon to support a system of that kind. It ought not to be compulsory upon any man to support that which he believes to be untrue, but that is inevitable under a system which subsidises what to different minds must appear as truth and error in the various and discordant dogmas and beliefs.  What we want is a system which, while tolerating all religious beliefs, places them on a footing of perfect equality. The difference between the denominational system and the public school system is all the difference between bolstering them up on the one hand and letting them alone of the other. Denominational education supported by the State bolsters them up, while the policy of the country as affirmed in the abolition of State aid to religion is to let all religions alone, neither to discourage nor support any of them.  That principle is now the law of the land as applicable to public worship; and it if it is a wise principle when applied to teaching religion to adults, why in the name of common sense is it not a good principle to apply to the teaching of religion in the schools? By the passing of the Bill to abolish grants in aid to public worship, the people have said, "We acknowledge our obligation o support the State as a State. We acknowledge that we ought to pay our taxes for the support of all the elements of harmony prosperity and peace; but there we must stop.

If, as tax-payers, we are asked to support religion we say, "No; you must leave that to our consciences as individuals, and not impose it upon us as tax-payers." That is really the opinion which the people have expressed with regard to the teaching of religion to the adult population, and I say it is inconsistent to deal with the teaching of youth on any other principle at variance with it.

...Holding the opinions I do as to the functions of the State and the Church - believing that the concern of the State is merely temporal, and that the concern of the Church is something widely different from that, - I say let each go on in the exercise of their proper functions - let the Church continue to endeavour to fit us and our children for a better world, and let the State seek to promote the elements of social harmony and material prosperity - let them do their work separately, although, if you will, side by side.

While the State concerns itself to give such an education as will fit citizens for the discharge of all temporal duties, let every facility be given at the same time for the teachers of religion to do their work so long as they do not infringe upon the province of the State by the manner in which they seek to indoctrinate the children of their communion in the particular tenets which they hold. ...


 Supporters of Public Education and the public good should not be duped and stroked to sleep by a skilful, political, clerical cadre. Nor should they fear their influence. Public Education is at the Crossroads, and now is the time to fight for it for the same reasons that Barton, Griffiths, Parkes  Higgins and Inglis Clark and others did in previous generations.

 * This was not the overwhelming point of view taken by the religious witnesses in the 1979 Trial of Facts in the DOGS case. Religious witnesses, where willing, were trained to show that church schools were no more religious than State schools and in their schools  religion was separated from secular instruction.

 ** See Max Wallace; The Purple Economy; Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State, Australian National Secular Association,  2007  



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Last modified:Monday, 31 December 2007