Parents and church clash over school values

Parents and church clash

Under rules recently set by the Sydney Anglican diocese, the next principal of Australia’s oldest private girls’ school can accept the job only if they agree that marriage is just between a man and a woman.

St Catherine’s is in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where more than 80 per cent of residents supported same-sex marriage in the 2017 referendum. Some of the school’s parents are in same-sex relationships.

While most families in the suburb are not practising Anglicans, the conservative, evangelical Sydney Anglican diocese dominates the school’s board.

The news about the terms to which their new principal will have to agree prompted an outcry. The school’s council was inundated with complaints.

A former dux of the school and now doctor, Rebecca James, pointed out that about 7 per cent of young females identify as LGBTQ. “That’s two per class,” she wrote on the school’s Facebook page. “Let’s see the school remove this hideous, discriminatory, un-Christian clause.”

The outgoing principal, Julie Townsend, was sympathetic. She said discriminatory views had no place at the school. “Although we are a diocesan school, we are not the Sydney Diocese.”

The Sydney Diocese holds control over the board of St Catherine’s and those of many of Sydney’s most sought-after schools including Shore, Kings’, Trinity Grammar, Abbotsleigh and St Andrew’s Cathedral School. While parents pay $30,000 a year or more, the ultimate decisions about how the schools are run lie not with them but with the church.

A local mum, Catherine Wilson, had all but settled on St Catherine’s and Shore for her children’s high schooling. Now she is having second thoughts, and she is not alone. “It fundamentally goes against our own beliefs,” she says.

Wilson, who describes herself as agnostic, and her husband had already decided against Catholic high schools due to the religion’s stance on social issues. “We’re losing schools by the day and … now I do think [Catholics are] more transparent [about their views].”

“What’s the next clause – will it be about women?” asked one of several principals opposed to the move. “It’s a huge rift between the schools and the synod.”

The Sydney Diocese has become increasingly conservative over the past few decades. It is at odds with other Australian Anglicans on the ordination of women and blessing of same-sex relationships.

In 2019, the Sydney diocese told its 34 Anglican principals to sign a letter to federal MPs, saying that while schools would not expel gay students or staff, they wanted to reserve the right to employ people who supported the ethos of the school.


The Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian

The Sydney Morning Herald

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