The Catholic Education Service (CES) have denied that their anti-homophobic bullying guidelines document was funded by any outside organisation, in attempt to quell the storm which is gathering on the Catholic blogosphere and on social media.
However, that does not let them off the hook entirely because in the email circulated to Diocesan Schools Commissioners and Directors of Education which accompanied the document, Marie Stafford, Assistant Director of the Catholic Education Service states the following:
“The CES has received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school. Each diocese will receive a copy for each of its schools to distribute as it sees fit. If you do not want to receive hard copies for your schools, please let me know before Friday 19th May 2017.”
Therefore the question remains, who provided the funds for the distribution of the document? The statement from the CES which says “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it”, is ambiguous. It could be interpreted as a reference to the commissioning and production of the document, but not its distribution.
This 40 page glossy colour document designed to be sent to 2,245 Catholic schools educating over 845,000 children contains ideology contrary to Catholic teaching, and was lifted directly from organisations who would gladly cheer from the sidelines if Catholic schools whose RE teachings did not promote their notions of ‘equal love’, were forced to close. The fact that Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland are applauding the document ought to be ringing serious alarm bells.
More leaks than a porcupine’s raincoat:
Another misconception is that the document was ‘leaked’ as it was forwarded and circulated amongst bloggers between Cornwall and Cumbria. The ‘leak’ is to some extent irrelevant, but there has been no wrongdoing on the part of those who determined that this guidance was scandalous, required wider advance circulation and that action needed to be taken. The original email was neither marked confidential, nor was it placed under embargo and a date was given for when it was going to be put in the public domain by being posted on the CES website. All that was being asked was how many copies would be required, because someone had given a donation, to cover printing and postage costs. The question remains, who, and why? And why were parents not consulted, seeing as they are the primary educators? Why was Paul Barber’s response about the sensitive nature of the document quite so defensive when it was shortly going to be put into the public domain. Or was it that the directors of the CES were hoping for the document to be uploaded and circulated without attracting the ire or attention of any bloggers who would be certain to object?
I have an admission to make in that when I received the document, it took me a brief 5 minute search to discover that huge chunks of toolkits and resources distributed by Stonewall and LGBTYouth Scotland had been copied and pasted verbatim without even bothering to change the names of the fictitious individuals cited in the case studies and examples. This piece of work were it to be submitted by an undergraduate, would not have passed even the most basic plagiarism checking software and was resonant of the antics of the former star of liberal journalism, Johann Hari who was exposed for similar practices and thus fell from grace back in 2011. Why did the CES document not feel it necessary to cite or explain that it had employed material from other organisations as ‘best practice’?
Mandatory reporting of incidents could have potentially serious consequences for pupils, schools and Catholic education as a whole:
This guidance contains inadequate definitions of bullying which could have potentially very serious consequences for both Catholic education as a whole along with individual pupils whose playground banter could see a false accusation of homophobic bullying placed on their record for the duration of their school career.
Local Education Authorities, such as Brighton and Hove are already requiring schools to submit reports of homophobic bullying to them; we can be sure that whatever statistics Catholic schools do send, will be wilfully misinterpreted to suit the agenda of the LGBT lobby groups. A low reported figure will mean ‘under-reporting’ needing yet more training and guidelines (all provided by Stonewall for a professional fee); a high figure will be interpreted in much the same way, together with cant about how harmful Catholic teaching is perceived to be and why it must be outlawed from educational establishments.
We can see that this has already happened to some extent when we examine the reasons behind the production of these guidelines.
Our survey says “uh-oh”:
The CES states that it commissioned this guidance on homophobic bullying from the Catholic university of St Mary’s in Twickenham, whose logo appears on every single page. St Mary’s carried out a survey of Catholic schools regarding homophobic bullying on behalf of the CES in 2015, whereupon only 5% gave a positive answer, when asked whether or not they were using specific materials to combat homophobic bullying.
Not getting the answer they required, the CES then carried out a second survey in which their involvement was made explicit in order to encourage participation and again received a desultory response . Only 12% of Catholic secondary schools replied. This reluctance of schools to respond to detailed questioning on specific homophobia-based bullying policies has been interpreted as meaning that they require both formal authority and guidance, or are confused and fearful about how to approach the subject, when there could be a whole host of other perfectly valid reasons for their reluctance, such as being too busy to bother with yet another piece of pointless paperwork. Or feeling that their anti-bullying policies were already so robust as not to actually need guidelines on a specific victim group.
The CES may believe that they have no other choice than to utilise Stonewall’s standard jargon, but they fail to realise that by doing so, they are further validating and entrenching values which are inimical to those of the Catholic church.
Compare and contrast:
Let me cite just one example. A friend of mine who now home-schools her children, describes the London Catholic school that her children formerly attended as a cultural melting pot, one which truly represented the diversity that is Catholicism. It was in fact, one of the reasons which inspired her to select it. A new head was appointed whose particular bugbear was, understandably, racism. The head had attended several courses all designed to eliminate racism and was up to speed with all the latest guidelines and procedures that schools are supposed to adopt. Her first remark on entering the school was that she couldn’t believe quite how low the recorded incidences of racist bullying were in the school, given it’s diversity. She felt sure that there must be some under-reporting. Clearly, the significant contribution of the Catholic ethos had escaped her.
Not long after she had begun, someone overhead a Year 5 boy who was himself an immigrant tell another student, who was from Serbia, that his country’s football team was going to lose when their two countries went head to head in a football match later that evening. “Serbia sucks!” was the phrase which was used.
The next thing that happened was that the head burst into the boy’s classroom mid-lesson, forced him to stand up, where she gave him a very thorough verbal dressing down for racism in front of the whole class. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, she informed him that what he had done constituted a criminal offence, that she was going to inform the police and that this incidence of racist bullying was going to remain on his school record for the entirety of his school career, it would she said, follow him to secondary school.
The boy ended up being put into isolation as punishment, the police were called and declined to take action on account of the fact that the child was only 9, obviously sensing that this was not to be taken seriously. It is not then, such a leap to imagine similar serious consequences for the child, who was stupid enough to refer to another child’s trainers or whatever as ‘gay’. A child falsely accused and stigmatised in such a way, could suffer significant emotional injury and trauma such that it adversely affects the rest of their education.
What should concern us in the example cited in the CES document, is not the use of the word ‘gay’ as a perjorative (though I would personally choose to explain to children that it is an unacceptable and offensive term) but that the child is being picked on because he cannot afford to buy the same trainers as the ‘in-crowd’. This would appear to have been totally overlooked and is infinitely more disturbing than the derogatory term chosen. Poverty-phobia has been relegated in favour of the trendier homo or bi-phobia, which is always the danger when you start pitting specific victim groups against each other.
Child protection and grooming:
There is also an extremely worrying issue of child protection which nobody seems to have mentioned. Nowhere in the anti-homophobic bullying guidelines is the point made that a child ought to feel free to turn down sexual advances of a friend, teacher (or indeed anyone) of the same sex, without it constituting homophobia. Nobody would attack a girl if she decided to distance herself from a male friend because he had made a pass at her, and the same principles need to apply to same-sex friendships. If Peter feels uncomfortable because Paul has made sexual overtures towards him and therefore decides to avoid being in Paul’s company because he feels awkward, it does not make him a homophobe. There is a very real danger that children could feel pressured into abusive situations because they are terrified of being stigmatised and labelled, just as there is a similar danger that children may not feel able to openly state their disagreement with some of the specious examples of homophobic attitudes cited in the classroom. Most teens are anxious to fit in with the group and nobody will want to be labelled the bigot or hateful one, even if in their hearts they believe that dad turning off the television when he feels he is being bombarded with LGBT propaganda, is not inherently homophobic.
Children are not sophisticated adults:
What has to be remembered is that children are by their very nature, emotionally immature and socially underdeveloped and will often express things in ways which are clumsy and inappropriate. Our role as adults should be to gently guide and correct errors with love, and in a holistic way, getting to the root of the issue, rather than with a superficial authoritarian fist which encourages them to police each other’s speech. What matters is not so much the insult used, but the attitude which underlies it. If a classmate comes out as ‘bi’, then other children are bound to be curious and have questions about it; teenagers do invariably spend hours pondering and discussing sex in often the most unhelpful of ways. If we want them to have healthy attitudes, then we need to allow for freedom of expression, in order that we can then engage with anything which we feel they need to reflect upon further, instead of telling them what they must think. If needs to be remembered that in these lesson plans children are being instructed in terms of how to close down their critical faculties and being told that they must uncritically accept sexual behaviour and values which do not conform to their own.
The Christian content:
To be fair the document is not devoid of Christian teaching, it devotes an entire section to what it means to be made in the image of God and makes reference to many magisterial sources, such as Evangelium Vitae. While rightly using human dignity as a backdrop to hammer home the unacceptability of bullying, the document’s main weakness is that it uncritically accepts and validates secular notions of what constitutes homophobia along with false statements about sexuality and gender identity.
At the heart of the dismay is a failure to specifically outline and refer to Catholic teaching regarding relationships and marriage which would provide valuable context for vulnerable pupils and teachers Instead of being invited to consider Scripture, teaching and tradition, the tweets of Pope Francis, which thanks to the 140 character limit of the medium are superficial, are used as a resource. It is assumed that those within Catholic schools will already be aware of doctrine and thus they are presented with secular assumptions about sexual relationships together with vague Christian themes of mercy, acceptance, non-judgementalism and forgiveness.
Same-sex relationships are now enshrined as a British value, political litmus test and then we have the Equalities Act:
What doesn’t help matters is that this document follows hot on the heels of a fevered few weeks in British politics, where Christian politicians such as Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Tim Farron have been forced to air their religious consciences and asked their views on sexuality. Both they, and other high-profile church-attending politicians have repeatedly stated that they don’t believe sexual activity between two people of the same sex as constituting a sin. This has now become a litmus test for political and social respectability with acceptance of same-sex relationships being frequently referred to as a ‘British value’ to which faith schools must conform and to which the CES refers.
The challenge for the CES is to demonstrate that they are complying with the UK Equalities Act which holds LGBT status as a protected characteristic, but they need to remember that so too is freedom of religion and therefore Catholic schools should be able to confidently proclaim God’s plan or mankind. The document could still have jumped through the various legal hoops to demonstrate that Catholic schools are complying with legislation designed to address homophobia, while at the same time engaging children and teachers with the beautiful vision of relationships proposed by the Church. The CES/St Mary’s (and it’s not clear who was responsible for the authorship of the document) did not need to copy large chunks of Stonewall propaganda and ought to have made an attempt to defend Catholic values.
Slippery slope innit?:
Even if one is liberal on the subject of same-sex relationships or sex outside of marriage, most parents, including non-Christian ones are deeply concerned about the recent trend to normalise transgenderism and indoctrinate young children into believing that biological sex is irrelevant, that gender is simply a matter of feelings and therefore if you feel that you were born in the wrong body, you can simply change into your desired sex, with a little bit of help from the doctors. These specific guidelines may only address homophobia and bi-phobia, but given Stonewall’s recent push to promote and advance the cause of transgenderism, then it is only a matter of time, before this will seep into a revised version of the guidelines.
Do the bishops really endorse this?:
One also has to wonder what the bishops make of all this. Back in 2006, when he was in charge of the CES, Cardinal Nichols stated that there was no need for specific guidelines on homophobia, telling the Commons education committee that a ‘robust policy on bullying of all kinds was the “best way forward”.
On the 2nd March 2017, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury diocese delivered a homily during a Mass for education officials in which he warned that Catholic schools may increasingly become ‘the focus of ideological groups demanding the acceptance of their agenda’ using the superficially worthy values of equality, respect and the prevention of bullying and unjust discrimination. He also reminded the congregation that “we have no need of false notions of equality which can insist that right and wrong, truth and error are cultural constructs, and that being male or female are interchangeable personal choices.”
In an address to the International Child Catholic Bureau in 2014, Pope Francis denounced educational experimentation upon children who “are not guinea pigs”, noting that “the horrors of the manipulation of education that we have experienced in the great genodical dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared.”
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.