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February 2010

Catholic Education:
A Nail in the English Coffin?


In mid-January, The Tablet reported that Bishop Malcolm McMahon, the Chairman of the Catholic Education Service, "has promised that the Church will not investigate the private lives of applicants for the headships of Catholic schools." The promise has been made in the light of the increasing difficulty encountered in the recruitment of candidates for headships whose lives fully correspond to the Church's teaching, particularly as regards marriage.

But Bishop Malcolm McMahon told The Tablet that the backgrounds of potential school leaders were not the concern of the Church and it should be up to applicants themselves to decide whether they were able to live according to church teaching. “Their family life isn’t scrutinised,” said the Bishop. “I’d be rather ashamed if the Church was doing that to people. But we do expect people in leadership in the Church to live out their Christian commitment as best they can.”

I feel this is yet another 'nail in the coffin' of Catholic Education in our country.

Outstanding witnesses
The backgrounds of potential school leaders, indeed of every living soul, is of immense concern to the Church since She is concerned about the salvation, not only of those who lead our schools, but of those whom they are charged to lead and teach. There needs to be some way of ensuring that our teachers are exemplary in their lives. Only in that way can they give example to the pupils and teach coherently what the Church teaches.

The Code of Canon Law reminds both teachers and Ordinaries of their responsibilities in this regard:

Can. 803 #2: The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.

Can. 804 #2: The local Ordinary is to be concerned that those who are designated teachers of religious instruction in schools ... are outstanding in correct doctrine, the witness of a Christian life, and teaching skill.

Can. 805: For his own diocese, the local Ordinary has the right to appoint or approve teachers of religion and even to remove them or demand that they be removed if a reason of religion or morals requires it.

So, it is evident that there needs to be some manner of establishing whether a teacher - and therefore a head teacher - is outstanding in correct doctrine and the witness of a Christian life and that there is no reason of morals why they should not be appointed. How is this to be done if not by enquiring (notice the less loaded language I choose as an alternative to "investigate") into these matters. Surely we have a right to ask, in this day and age when marriage in particular is undermined, whether a candidate's life in this regard is in keeping with the Church's teaching, in particular:

  • if married, have they been married in accordance with the laws of the Church?
  • if unmarried, are they 'living together' with anyone?
  • have they entered into a civil partnership?

and to insist that they enter into a contract to always live by the Church's teaching this regard.

Spurious line #1
But Bishop McMahon does not see that being in a civil partnership is a problem. The Tablet reports:

He also said that the Church was not opposed to civil partnerships. “Civil partnerships are precisely what they say they are. They’re not gay marriages or lesbian marriages. They’re simply a legal arrangement between two people so that they can pass on property and other rights in which they were discriminated against before,” he said. “We have many gay people in education and a large number of gay people in the Church, at least the same as the national average. I think a person who is leading a church school should live according to the Church’s teaching whether they are in a civil partnership or not. A civil partnership is not a marriage, it’s not a conjugal relationship.”

Firstly, I think it is regrettable that Bishop McMahon adopts the descriptive 'gay' to people. I prefer to follow the Catechism of the Catholic Church in thinking of so-called 'gay' people as those "who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex", acknowledging that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" as is the inclination itself. (CCC 2357,2358) Hopefully, Catholics who experience this struggle have recourse to the help of God's grace to control this inclination and even overcome it, to live chaste lives and friendships.(CCC 2358,2359)

Secondly, if by "the Church" we mean Pope Benedict and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the authentic Magisterium of the Church, we would have to point out Bishop McMahon's error in this regard. The Tablet does have the fairness to refer to the campaign of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales against civil partnerships and to say that Bishop McMahon takes a softer line on these issues - all the more reason that we should be worried that he is now Chairman of the CES.

CDF corrective
We should respectfully refer Bishop McMahon to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's June 2003 document Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons in which arguments from reason are given against the legal recognition of homosexual unions and then the position of Catholic politicians faced with the question of such legal recognition. We read:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection. (n.5)

Laws in favour of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to unions between persons of the same sex. Given the values at stake in this question, the State could not grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good.(n.6)

The normalisation of these forms of union also affect the perception of young people's perception of marriage:

Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.(n.6)

On the question of rights and discrimination:

Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition. Homosexual unions, on the other hand, do not need specific attention from the legal standpoint since they do not exercise this function for the common good.

Nor is the argument valid according to which legal recognition of homosexual unions is necessary to avoid situations in which cohabiting homosexual persons, simply because they live together, might be deprived of real recognition of their rights as persons and citizens. In reality, they can always make use of the provisions of law – like all citizens from the standpoint of their private autonomy – to protect their rights in matters of common interest. It would be gravely unjust to sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order to protect personal goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do not harm the body of society.(n.9)

On the responsibility of Catholic politicians, the CDF advise (my emphasis):

If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians.

Spurious line #2
About rights and discrimination, The Tablet reports Bishop McMahon as saying:

(Civil partnerships are) simply a legal arrangement between two people so that they can pass on property and other rights in which they were discriminated against before.

The point is, however, that this was not a form of unjust discrimination. It was a recognition that marriage is a unique form of partnership in which a family is formed, and that the goods of the partners become the goods of the family and, rightly, pass to surviving members of the family on the death of one or other spouse. This ensures not only the good of the family but the good of society too. Marriage uniquely concerns the common good.

It is now those who are unable to enter into civil partnerships who are discriminated against: unmarried siblings who spend a lifetime together, perhaps caring for one another; priests who have been served lovingly by selfless housekeepers; etc. These cannot make use of these civil partnerships precisely because the assumption is that the relationship is sexual. Therefore the notion that civil partnerships have nothing to do with homosexuality is quite naive. The fact that Bishop McMahon refers to "the many gay people (we have) in education" shows that it is homosexual people he has in mind when talking about prospective head teachers and others being in civil partnerships. Tony Blair, that celebrated "convert" to the Catholic Faith and architect of this legislation, wrote in The Independent on 21st December 2005:

It (the new legislation) gives gay and lesbian couples who register their relationship the same safeguards over inheritance, insurance and employment and pension benefits as married couples.

And at a Stonewall dinner in March, reported by UK Gay News, Blair spoke of his real pride and joy about this legislation and the rights it has given to homosexual people.

I think we are within our rights to presume that people who have entered into a civil partnership are in a same-sex relationship. Even if they are not, this common presumption will naturally give rise to scandal amongst those who uphold the natural institution of marriage. It will particularly scandalise those Catholic parents who care about this matter if their children's school's head teacher or other teacher is in such a partnership.

There is another very important matter and that is the question of discrimination within the Church that this statement implies. The reason why the CES is getting soft on recruitment is because of the pressures of equality legislation. Yet all Catholics, and our Catholic Schools, are subject to Divine Law and Ecclesiastical Law. If Catholic head teachers will not have their 'family life' scrutinised, why should Catholic priests not have the same right to privacy? Perhaps I might, after all, support the Government's move to have priests recognised not as office holders but as employees, just to illustrate the consequences for the Church of applying double standards - one for its laity and another for its clergy.

Passing on the Truth
Clergy are now less able to defend orthodox teaching in our schools. We are becoming more and more sidelined as we seek to uphold the Church's teaching by our teaching and, more importantly, by our example. Catholic head teachers and, indeed, all teachers in our Catholic schools, should have the same obligation. And if we cannot recruit satisfactory candidates, we need to reassess the provision of Catholic education, considering a redeployment of funds and resources into educational projects that will be more effective at passing on the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, to future generations.

With thanks to the writer, parish priest of St Simon Stock, South Ashford, Kent. From his blog:


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