Bishop Zen further clarifies diocese's stand on proposed education bill and convenes forums for discussion
Several reporters from different newspapers kept asking me to talk about the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002. To save time I asked them to come together on April 6; it was not a press conference.
Following the meeting, some in the media chose to run the news that: "Bishop Zen has decided that the diocese will stop running schools." This obviously worried teachers and parents. To ensure everyone has accurate information, I think it appropriate to provide you with a transcript of the recording of what was said on that afternoon:
Question: How would the Church manage after the passage of the new law?
Answer: I have previously said "we will reconsider our commitment to education". This doesn't mean that we will pull out altogether, but surely we will have to reduce the size [of our commitment], because it will be very difficult for us to continue to run our schools according to Catholic vision and mission, it would be irresponsible not to reduce the quantity.
Question: To reduce to what extent?
Answer (repeated on three occasions during the conversation): I cannot give concrete answers. Being such an important matter, it's not possible for me to decide, but we have to hold meetings to discuss it. (Obviously, no individual schools were mentioned).
I said that we will probably apply for fewer new schools and maybe we will have to hand back some schools to the government. But this will not cause the government any problems, because today there many agencies running schools, there will be no danger that opportunities for schooling might be affected.
A little later, another reporter pressed on:
Question: Are you threatening the government?
Answer: We are hardly in any position to threaten the government. If we find ourselves in a position where we have no choice but to give back some schools, we will do it with regret. The government is in no way worried. (It may even be happy. So it was completely superfluous for [Secretary for Education and Manpower] Arthur Li Kwok-cheung to come out and pose as the saviour of students and teachers). I have added explicitly "if anyone should be in danger of losing the opportunity for schooling, then we will go on running that school at any cost!"
It's very sad that the government should forget the contribution given by the [Schools] Sponsoring Bodies to education and treat long time partners as enemies, depriving them of any real possibility of action under the pretext of democratisation.
New and smaller-sized Sponsoring Bodies may need the help of the new proposed legislation, but it is going to damage the larger, traditional Sponsoring Bodies (like anti-cancer treatment killing the healthy parts of the body). The new legislation will remove the ability of our central supporting organisms, like the Central Management Committee and the Diocesan Education Office, to help individual schools.
The two-tier structure allowed by the Education and Manpower Bureau's Report No. 7 (September 1997) was a sufficient guarantee of the implementation of school based management and since the Sponsoring Bodies do not have a monopoly on schools, they are offering choices in this, our pluralistic society. Why should the government, at the risk of spending much more money in a style reminiscent of how they tried to "sell" the Article 23 legislation, unilaterally destroy a system that has proved to be effective for decades? To pave the way for a uniformly "patriotic" education?
The Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper seems to have made it its sacred mission to help the government pass the law. For the second time they chose to attack me in an editorial. (What a honour for me!) They even took the initiative to interview people at the entrances of three different churches on Easter Sunday. The result is that it seems there are more faithful who disagree than agree with the bishop on the subject.
I leave the objectivity and the scientific value of such surveys to the judgment of experts. But what comes to my mind is that the faithful did not have the chance to fully acquaint themselves with the whole problem. So it will be my duty to explain the matter to our teachers, parents and the faithful in general.
I hereby convene three forums to discuss the subject. Principals, teachers, parents, alumni and faithful in general may choose the time and venue most suitable to them and come to these sharing sessions. A booklet containing the compilation of what I have written on the subject will be distributed to the participants.
April 24 (Saturday)
Wong Tai Sin Catholic Primary School
102, Ching Tak Street, Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate, Kowloon.
April 25 (Sunday)
9/F., Catholic Diocese Centre, 16 Caine Road, Hong Kong.
April 26 (Monday)
St. Francis of Assisi Church
58, Shek Kip Mei Street, Shamshuipo, Kowloon.