Today’s TV news had a story about the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney attacking Labor’s schools policy. Before coming to my main point, I’ll say that I have no sympathy with the view that the churches should stay out of politics. It’s hard to imagine a religious viewpoint that doesn’t have political implications. On the other hand, like anyone else who engages in politics, bishops should remember that if the can’t take the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.
I’ll begin by observing that the Anglican Church (like most of the other mainline protestant denominations) is in a moral position somewhere between dubious and reprehensible when it comes to schools. They own schools which have a huge capital value but yield no return. Those schools could be sold and the proceeds invested to yield a flow of money for charitable works. So they are effectively subsidising these schools by the income forgone.
Subsidising schools would be fine if they were performing the charitable mission laid on them by Christ, of ministering to the poor. It would be reasonable if, like the Catholics, they offered an education to the faithful in general and made efforts to ensure that everyone could get access. But these schools are aimed, quite openly, at the well-off. So church funds, mostly given in charity or on favorable terms by the state, are being used to subsidise education for the rich.
Given his position at the head of, what is, in effect an upper-class interest group, it’s not surprising that the Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, should oppose Labor’s policy. But it’s pretty poor stuff, if not a stunning surprise, that George Pell should prefer episcopal and class solidarity to the doctrine of social justice.
Update The Anglican primate of Australia, Peter Carnley, has disavowed the statement. It’s good to see some debate within the churches. In poltiical terms, I think this issue is a winner for Labor, and I’m glad to see it back on the front pages.
fn1. I don’t claim that there are explicit policy statements to this effect, or that everyone who attends Anglican schools comes from a wealthy background. But anyone who has had any dealings with any of these institutions knows that a privileged student body is taken for granted, and that there are no serious efforts to offer an Anglican education to the poor, with the exception of a handful of scholarship students.