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School funding key topic at PM meeting

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

Archbishops from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have met with Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull in Sydney to discuss school funding.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the conference, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, its vice-president, and Melbourne Archbishop-designate Peter A. Comensoli attended the meeting following the Government’s admission earlier this month that its funding model for non-government schools, including Catholic schools, is flawed.

“The bishops were grateful to Mr Turnbull for the time he gave and for his readiness to discuss issues of mutual concern,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

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The meeting focused on school funding – an area of great concern for the Catholic Church as the educators of one in five Australian children.

“It was good that the Prime Minister was prepared to engage directly with the issue and showed such interest,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

The Prime Minister and the bishops agreed that they would continue the discussions in practical ways and without undue delay.

The long-awaited review released earlier this month into the Government’s socioeconomic status funding model confirmed Catholic criticism of a system that was biased against low-fee-paying non-government schools.

Meanwhile hours before the meeting, Mr Turnbull called for Pope Francis to sack Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson who was found guilty in May of knowing that late priest James Fletcher had abused two boys but failed to act on the information.

“As far as Philip Wilson is concerned, he should have resigned,” Mr Turnbull said.

“He should have resigned and the time has come for the Pope to sack him. I think it’s time … for the ultimate authority in the Church to take action and sack him.”

The Australian newspaper has reported Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See has now made representations on his behalf to the Vatican.

Archbishop Wilson is facing 12 months’ home detention with a non-parole period of six months for knowing that late priest James Fletcher had abused two boys but failed to act on the information.

He has stepped aside from his role pending an appeal, but not resigned.

The prosecution said the Archbishop knew Fletcher had indecently assaulted Hunter Valley man Peter Creigh when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, and that despite knowing that information, he failed to assist police in prosecuting Fletcher.

Earlier this month the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference stated that while it respects the right of the Archbishop of Adelaide to appeal his conviction “only Pope Francis can compel him to resign”.

In a statement released 5 July Archbishop Coleridge said the Catholic bishops of Australia “have closely followed Archbishop Philip Wilson’s court case, including his conviction, his sentencing and now his intention to appeal his conviction”.

“We respect Archbishop Wilson’s right to lodge that appeal; it is the right of any citizen,” he said.

“We also recognise the ongoing pain this has caused survivors, especially those who were abused by Jim Fletcher.

“Although we have no authority to compel him to do so, a number of Australian bishops have also offered their advice privately.

“Only the Pope can compel a bishop to resign.”

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