BY DAVID V BARRETT
SCOTLAND’S Cardinal has openly disagreed with one of his own bishops in a rift over gay teachers in Catholic schools — and the bishop at the heart of the controversy has been forced to retreat from his earlier remarks.
Last week Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell caused a furore by saying that Catholic schools should not employ gay teachers. Referring to the Charter for Catholic Schools that was released last year he said that an openly gay lifestyle would “cut across the whole moral vision enshrined in the charter and would be offering a lifestyle incompatible with Catholic social teaching”.
But on Sunday Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said homosexuals would not be banned from teaching in Catholic schools. “If there happens to be a gay teacher and he does happen to be living with a partner, that’s their personal, private life. I don’t see it as a problem,” he told a Sunday newspaper. Cardinal O’Brien’s intervention is being seen as a rebuke for Bishop Devine, president of the Scottish Catholic Education Commission (CEC).
Cardinal O’Brien said there would be no investigation into whether prospective or practising teachers were gay or lesbian, and insisted that there was no “witch hunt with regard to morality or lifestyle”.
The Cardinal’s rebuttal of Bishop Devine’s stance follows a statement from Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service (CES), which describes itself as “the operational arm of the CEC”. Mr McGrath told the Times Educational Supplement Scotland last week that the Church “has no interest in the sexual orientation of any teacher and it is not an issue of relevance to the Church”. The charter has nothing to do with an individual’s sexuality, he said.
Asked if he was comfortable with gays teaching in Catholic schools he replied: “Yes.” Bishop Devine’s remarks have been attacked by educationalists and by politicians. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) has stated that banning gay teachers would be illegal. The issue was even raised in the Scottish parliament.
Jack McConnell, Scotland’s First Minister, said in the First Minister’s Questions session last week: “Local authorities cannot discriminate against teachers solely on the grounds of sexual orientation in faith schools or any other schools.” He added: “And can I make it clear that teachers in Scotland’s schools should be chosen on their ability in the classroom, not on their personal relationships.” Green MSP Patrick Harvie was even more forthright. He said: “It would be absolutely outrageous for an employer to pry into their employees’private lives in this way. The CES should acknowledge that Catholic school teachers’ sex lives are none of its business.” Last Friday Bishop Devine issued a statement in which he said he was concerned that his “views had been misrepresented in recent news coverage”.
“The Church assumes that all staff would wish to work in support of the aims, values and ethos of the school,” he said.
“Adifficulty would only arise if someone were to actively promote a view which was in direct opposition to Church teaching — eg advocating opposition to marriage or encouraging a pro-abortion stance.” He concluded: “The sexual orientation of teachers is not in itself — an issue of interest to the Church.” John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Bishops’Conference of Scotland, has denied that there was a rift between the Scottish bishops. “There is no wedge between Cardinal O’Brien and Bishop Devine,” he said. He quoted the Cardinal as saying: “Morally and objectively same-sex relationships would be wrong, but that does not mean there would be a witch hunt for people in these situations. Where there would be a difficulty is where people promulgated their beliefs when these were contrary to the ethos which should be supported in Catholic schools, in which case it would be up to the head teacher to ensure that ethos was preserved.”