Nancy Bicchieri, a lawyer, was appointed Deputy Director of the Melbourne Catholic Education Office in August 2008 and takes up her appointment this week.

This appointment is critical because of Archbishop Hart’s re-structuring of the CEO leadership which took place during 2006. Several key persons in the CEO leadership team had been eliminated or demoted. Stephen Elder had been appointed Acting Director while a new Director was sought.

Stephen Elder’s appointment as Acting Director alarmed many principals, teachers and CEO administrators. He has little education qualification or teaching experience. He has not demonstrated an understanding of church relationships or church policy.

To complicate matters Stephen Elder is identified with the Liberal Party. A Victorian MLA during the Kennett administration, he got a Liberal staff job with David Kemp after he lost his seat in the 1999 election and moved to an administrative position at the CEO in 2001.

Since the Director’s task includes consulting with State and Federal governments on funding, being aligned with one party complicates this task.
Archbishop Hart tried to allay the concern that Mr Elder might be appointed Director by assuring his Council of Priests that the search for the next Director would be an open one. Despite this, he appointed Mr Elder Director on 20 December 2006 without any public advertisement or selection process.

The period since Mr. Elder’s appointment has been notable for lack of vision and leadership. Consultation with governments has been confrontational and political rather than diplomatic.

Consequently many had been hoping that the new Deputy would be a person of rich experience in Catholic education and with the diplomacy skills needed for negotiating with governments.

The appointment of a lawyer to the position of Deputy goes counter to those hopes. The stated rationale is that the leadership team needs a lawyer because of recent trends in educational administration. Very strange when legal consultants abound.

Let’s hope that Ms Bicchieri is a very good listener to a demoralized CEO administration and a very fast learner of diplomatic skills for dealing both with staff, politicians and the various levels of church authorities.

Eric Hodgens recently retired after 14 years as parish priest of St Bede’s Parish, North Balwyn, Victoria.