12/11/2006, 00.00
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Card. Zen: “Government is heartless, disrespectful of Church regarding schools”

The bishop of Hong Kong yesterday declared another legal battle against the 2004 Education Ordinance that paves the way for state interference in the running of private schools. The government has responded by describing the cardinal “an old man, who should not grumble so much."

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The diocese of Hong Kong is preparing to appeal against the dismissal by the Court of First Instance of a judicial review of the government's school management reforms.

This was revealed yesterday by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun who described the government as “heartless” and “disrespectful” of the long-term contribution of the Catholic Church to education. Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, head of the department of education, replied by describing the cardinal “an old man, who should not grumble so much."

The Court of First Instance last month rejected the church's application for a judicial review of the Education Ordinance 2004. The new law, approved by the Department of Education, offers incentives to schools that immediately implement its provisions such as insurance for staff, flexible funding, and an annual bonus for each school worth HK0,000 (around 35,000 euros).

Christian leaders have slammed the law as “discriminatory and racist" because it penalizes those schools that refuse to apply the government reforms within the timeframe established by the reform plan (by 2012).

Under the law, schools that receive public funds must set up a School Management Committee that is legally separate from the schools' Sponsoring bodies. The government claims this will ensure greater transparency and democracy; by contrast, school administrators say this is just a government move to meddle in school affairs.

Cardinal Zen said the diocese would "very likely" file an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal, instead of the Court of Appeal, because more judges, five instead of three, would sit for the hearing. However the cardinal said a final decision would only be made after a meeting with the legal team of the diocese next week.

The bishop said: “The government is heartless. The church helped the government a lot in local education when the government had difficulties. The church has put a lot of money and manpower into running schools but now the government disrespects us.”

The diocese and Catholic congregations are running 221 primary and secondary schools in the territory. The cardinal has often warned the government that the diocese would close its schools should the new directives prevent their management according to Catholic criteria.

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