Parish priests will be stripped of their power over hundreds of Catholic schools in Melbourne, with the archbishop to take sole authority from next year as the church responds to new laws that enable survivors of sexual abuse to sue institutions, The Age reports.
The archdiocese is centralising control over its schools so it can meet a recommendation made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The changes will also ensure that Melbourne’s Catholic education system meets new Victorian government laws that give survivors of child sexual abuse more power to sue non-government schools.
Almost all Victorian Catholic schools are run by the local parish priest who appoints principals, employs staff and signs off on financial statements in a system of governance that is unique in Australia.
But the long-standing devolved power structure is set to be scrapped, with authority over 292 primary and secondary schools to be transferred to a new company that will be headed by Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli.
A not-for-profit company, Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools Limited, will be established by July next year, with the archbishop its sole shareholder and a board in charge of governance.
Catholic Education Melbourne will become the new management body, taking over many of the responsibilities currently held by priests.
The new centralised governance model will be introduced by January 1, 2021, according to a Catholic Education Melbourne document seen by The Age.
The proposed governance model will be put to priests and principals for consultation in the weeks ahead.
Catholic school principals and education experts welcomed the reform.