Bishops Philip Egan and Mark Davies said an 'equalities agenda' could lead to intolerance
Two English bishops have responded after a government advisor criticised Catholic schools.
Two days ago, Dame Louise Casey, a senior government adviser on integration, told a Commons select committee: “It is not OK for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage.” She added: “I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities.”
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that any restrictions on Catholic schools passing on the Church’s moral teachings would be worthy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The bishop said it was increasingly difficult to engage in reasonable discussion and argument over anything to do with sexuality.
Trying to preach sexual morality in Britain has become “like arguing with an alcoholic”, he said. “After a while, they won’t argue with you on grounds of reason, they just become furious and respond that way. There is something in our culture increasingly like that.”
The Church must develop new apologetics to address such intolerance, he said, and would also benefit internationally from a papal or magisterial document on anthropology to counter emerging ideologies about the person.
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury told CNS that Britain’s Christian heritage shaped the country’s values. “These values would be undermined if an ‘equalities agenda’ in schools became the vehicle for an increasing intolerance of Christian teaching,” Bishop Davies said.
He added: “Strangely, it is the historic teachings of Christianity and the Christian vision of marriage which might be in need of toleration.”
The Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, told CNS that Catholic schools in Britain were not guilty of homophobia.
“Catholic education focuses around the formation of the whole person, and all Catholic schools must be a safe, open and tolerant environment for all pupils,” the statement said.
“As such, we expect all Catholic schools to have a zero tolerance approach to homophobic bullying,” it said.
Casey gave her evidence to Parliament a month after she published a major review on social integration in Britain.
Her report proposed that migrants should swear an “oath of integration with British values and society” before they become British citizens.
It recommended that children should be taught British values of tolerance, democracy and respect in schools and that all public office holders swear an “oath of integration enshrining British values.”
Catholic lawyer Neil Addison, director of the Thomas More Legal Centre in Liverpool, told CNS in a telephone interview that British values required citizens to obey laws and not necessarily agree with them.
The danger of using oaths to make people agree with a law, he said, lay in turning “law-abiding citizens into potential criminals,” representing a “threat to the idea that people can have differences of opinion.”
“A healthy society should accept differences of opinion,” Addison said.
Should Catholic schools be forbidden to teach the faith in areas of sexuality then “the Church would have to question whether it was worth” funding such institutions, Addison said.
Same-sex marriage was legalised by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which came into force a year later.