09/16/2011, 00.00
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Mgr Tong calls for prayers to save Hong Kong’s Catholic schools

The territory’s Court of Final Appeal granted the diocese a judicial review on 3-4 October. The latter had presented a petition against the 2004 Ordinance, which threatens to undermine the very nature of Catholic education. Bishop Tong urges the faithful to pray intensely for a positive ruling.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SE) – Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has ruled in favour of a petition filed by the diocese of Hong Kong against the Education (Amendment) Ordinance 2004, granting the appellant a judicial review on 3 and 4 October. The ordinance, passed by the Legislative Council in July 2004, requires the establishment of Incorporated Management Bodies in schools that are partly government funded.

The law provides various benefits to schools that implement the ordinance such as school staff insurance, greater flexibility in managing school funds and an annual financial bonus of HK$ 350,000 (US$ 45,000), but it also requires them to set up an internal School Management Committee (SMC) separate from the Sponsoring bodies, i.e. the schools.

For the government, this will allow for greater transparency and democracy, a claim school administrators reject as interference in the internal affairs of their institutions and a way to undermine freedom of education. Schools that refuse to go along are penalised, something that Christian representatives call “discriminatory and racist”.

Card Zen, Hong Kong’s emeritus bishop, said on several occasions that diocese-run schools cannot exist without such freedom. If the law does not change, “we are willing to close them”.

His successor, Mgr John Tong Hon, has recently called on the faithful to offer special prayers for the future of education in Hong Kong. The prayers will continue until the first week of October when the review will be take place.

The legislation was originally intended to go into effect on 1 January 2005, but in the face of opposition, the implementation date was extended several times and currently is set for 2012.

In February of last year, the diocese lost a judicial review in the Court of First Instance, when the judges ruled that the legislation was constitutional.

However, the Court of Final Appeal has now granted the Church a judicial review because of the matter’s extreme importance to the people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and to the future of education in the territory.

The diocese has repeatedly expressed its concern that with the introduction of a 60 per cent appointed and 40 per cent elected Incorporated Management Committee to run its schools, the ability of the School Sponsoring Body to run its schools in accordance with its own visions and mission ethos could be threatened, thus undermining the very nature of Catholic schools and education.
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