Culture & Religion
May Fri 04, 2012
Catholic Voices has been doing a series of interviews following an attack by secularists on Catholic schools for attempting to teach the Catholic understanding of marriage. (Hear Austen Ivereigh debate Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association on Saturday's Today programme, and the interview with Jack Valero on the Sunday programme).The story follows a March letter from the Catholic Education Service to schools, inviting parents and students to join more than 473,000 people in signing the Coalition for Marriage's petition to preserve marriage as the voluntary lifelong and exclusive union of a man and a woman. The CES wrote to 385 Catholic secondary schools in England and Wales, drawing their attention to the archbishops’ letter on the subject of marriage. The schools educate more than 300,000 students, many of whom are from ethnic minorities and the poorest sections of society, and educate them in a way that Ofsted has found more likely to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ than most British schools. The Catholic Church was reminding Catholic schools of the Catholic understanding of marriage and the threat to it of redefining marriage.Remarkably, Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society claimed that it was no part of the Catholic Education Service (CES)’s remit "to promote a specific political campaign" and further that it was "disgraceful that children are being encouraged into bigotry when they are attending a state-school paid for by taxpayers". Ben Summerskill, of gay-rights lobby group Stonewall, insisted that schools "categorically shouldn’t be involved in such a live political issue, particularly in a way that demeans gay pupils". Writing in Pink News, the online ‘gay news service’, Richy Thompson of the BHA accused the CES of being in breach of the Education Act 1996 and the Equalities Act 2010. "The Coalition for Marriage is very obviously a political coalition with a very clear political aim," he said. "We think there is a real argument to be made that the Catholic Education Service has both discriminated against LGBT pupils, and promoted partisan political views to all students."
A specific accusation, made by a pupil at St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls in Carshalton in south London, was that the school’s headteacher encouraged all pupils to sign the marriage petition, regardless of their age. The school denies this. "Contrary to what has been published, those under the age of 16 were expressly informed that they could not sign the petition, which simply proposes that the legal definition of marriage remains the same," the school points out, adding: "The assembly was based on the Pastoral Letter of The Bishops Conference on the Church's teaching on marriage and was delivered in response to a request from the Catholic Education Service. As a Catholic school, we have a duty to inform our students of the Church's teaching on social issues while also promoting, supporting and respecting pupils' right to think for themselves."
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