Zen stages protest over school ruling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has embarked on a three-day hunger strike in protest against last week's Court of Final Appeal ruling that ends the Catholic Diocese's full control over its schools.

Last week the court rejected the church's legal challenge against a 2004 education reform initiative requiring schools to set up incorporated management committees, and forcing religious schools to appoint up to 40 per cent of committee members from outside the church.

Zen, who hosted a press conference yesterday in response to the ruling, said he was saddened by it but stressed that the church must follow the rule of law.

He also announced, however, that he would go on a hunger strike to express his grievance. He will eat no food except communion until Saturday morning. 'This is sad. I need to leave my record in history. Hong Kong has lost something that must be treasured,' he said.

The diocese has argued that the reform violates the Basic Law, which says religious organisations can run schools the way they did before the 1997 handover.

Zen is worried that 'opponents' of the diocese could easily get onto the committees and affect policy-making, sometimes at the expense of the church. The diocese is a major school-sponsoring body in the city, operating 80 aided schools.

'Catholic schools may become non-Catholic schools. We may be forced to quit,' he said.

'Schools will be very chaotic. The committees may pass something that the Catholic church cannot accept. The situation will be very difficult.'

Vicar General Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, a senior cleric , said yesterday that the church would 'look ahead' and submit to the government a constitution for each management committee, in preparation for their establishment. So far, half the diocese's schools have submitted draft constitutions.

The diocese would work with the government to ensure the church's vision can be implemented, Father Chan said, adding that it will take six months to a year to set up the committees.

The Education Bureau said authorities would continue to work with schools to set up their own committees as soon as possible.

An amendment to the Education Ordinance in 2004 gave schools until July 1, 2009, to set up the committees. That deadline was extended to July this year after opposition to the policy.

An education bureau spokeswoman said yesterday that by mid-October, 489 of the 846 aided schools had formed committees, while 67 had handed in draft constitutions.

Schools that have not formed a committee also included those sponsored by the Anglican Church.