As long as the Catholic Church pushes homophobia, it shouldn’t be allowed to run state schools
You have to hand it to the Catholic Church. It takes a certain level of chutzpah to come through arguably the most widespread global paedophile scandal in human history and its subsequent alleged cover-up, and still be dishing out moral guidance on ‘disordered sexual practices.’
A few days ago, it was revealed that the Catholic Education Service, the body responsible for all state-funded Catholic schools in England and Wales, had sent a letter to all of the schools in their network urging them to encourage their pupils to sign a petition against gay marriage. Critics, including the British Humanist Association, who hope to mount a legal challenge, claim that the move contravenes the Equality Act of 2010, which prohibits, amongst other things, discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.
This isn’t the first time that Catholic schools have been accused of breaking equality laws. Earlier this year, a number of schools across the Lancashire region distributed a booklet to pupils with the enticing title “Pure Manhood: How to Become the Man God Wants You to Be.” This US publication, by a Jesuit priest discussed a boy dealing with homosexual attractions, that suggested, could stem from “an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys or even sexual abuse.” It went on to claim that the homosexual act is “disordered” and was directed against “God’s natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding.”
At the time, The TUC wrote to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, drawing his attention to the pamphlet which they believed to be the contravention of current equality legislation. Gove, himself a vocal supporter of faith schools, insisted that “the law did not extend to the school curriculum, and any materials used in sex or relationship education would not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the Act.”
This is no theoretical debate about legal technicalities. Experience in the US has shown us that institutionalised homophobia can have tragic consequences. A school district in Minnesota recently saw a string of nine suicides over two years by gay students in one middle school after enacting a so-called ‘no homo’ policy in the district, in which teachers were forbidden from doing anything to normalise homosexuality in lessons. When the subject did come up, they were forced to portray the lifestyle as a sinful or “wrong” choice, on pain of being fired. A shocking 2008 study by the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre suggests that at least 30% of American gay youth have attempted suicide, compared to 7.1%, straight youth, and evidence points to “minority stress” – presumably exacerbated by a discriminatory environment at school as a major contributing factor.
Gove’s distinction between the curriculum and the rest of the school day makes no sense. It is hard to see how a school could provide a non-discriminatory environment in the playground if, when the bell goes, they are seen to be pushing a strong anti-gay agenda in the classroom. Given the very real potential for tragedy and to me, begs the question as to whether the Catholic Church should be permitted to run schools in the 21st century.
The Church of Rome runs the largest non-governmental school system in the world, including over 2300 part taxpayer-funded state schools in England and Wales alone, between them currently educating over 800,000 British school children. The Coalition Government is a huge supporter of the faith school agenda and their ‘free school’ policies have paved the way for a new wave of religious primaries and secondaries. But as Catholic organisations play an ever-greater role in the state education system, institutionalised homophobia will only increase.
Their position is also not a popular one. Recent polls suggest that the majority of people in the UK are supportive of gay rights. This growing trend towards tolerance and inclusivity was evidenced in the recent outcry over the proposed adverts on London buses, which suggested that homosexuality was disease that needed to be ‘cured.’ London Mayor Boris Johnson was hailed as a hero when he ordered the adverts’ immediate withdrawal, saying: “it is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”
It seems absurd that we, as a society, would support this level protection from homophobia for adults, while simultaneously allowing the opposite message to be seemingly pushed onto children.
Last month, a vicar resigned over the Church’s homophobia surrounding gay couples marrying. Reverend Andrew Morton said “I felt that the church’s position on same-sex relationships, never mind same-sex marriages, was increasingly judgemental and not really inclusive in the way that I felt that it should be.” Cardinal Keith O’Brien had previously described gay marriage as an “aberration” and compared it to slavery and abortion. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone also recently said how Church leaders are ‘fanning the flames of homophobia’ in their opposition to gay marriage.
Catholic state schools are in large part funded by the taxpayer, and surely in the 21st century, the taxpayer shouldn’t be expected to sponsor bigotry. As long as the Catholic Church insists on pursuing, in my opinion, an openly homophobic agenda, it cannot be the right institution to be educating vulnerable young people.Tagged in: catholic school, gay marriage, homesexuality, homophobia, Religion
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter