The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has indicated its support for tackling homophobia in Scottish schools, as the debate surrounding LGBTI inclusive education progresses.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Scotland, speaking with the Sunday Herald in relation to the objectives of the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign to better equip teachers, stated: “The Church is working with the Catholic Head Teacher association to ensure that all teachers have adequate knowledge, understanding and training and feel confident in addressing all aspects of relationships education, including LGBTI matters, in an appropriate and sensitive way.”
The church also indicated its support for the campaign’s aims to tackle gender identity and sexual orientation-based discrimination in schools, insisting that there is already a “zero tolerance approach” to this in Catholic schools.
TIE has been calling for LGBTI issues to be taught in all Scottish schools in an effort to tackle high rates of mental health, self harm and suicide amongst LGBTI young people. During this year’s Scottish elections, every major political party had manifesto commitments endorsing the group’s calls for teachers from all schools to received specific training on how to challenge homophobia and discuss LGBTI issues in the classroom.
While this positive statement from the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has been welcomed by campaigners, some have also expressed concern that it is insufficiently specific and is at odds with stated teachings of the Church as declared within the catechism, which states in relation to same-sex relationships: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” It also defines same-sex attraction as an “inclination that is objectively disordered”.
Roman Catholic official teaching also accepts that sexual orientation is not a choice and that LGBTI people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”, and states that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Quite what respect, compassion and sensitivity means in practice, however, is difficult to ascertain. Pope Francis made headlines with his famous “Who am I to judge gay people?” statement but he has more recently compared transgender rights to the nuclear arms race.
While clearly respect and sensitivity are very much part of the Church’s official position, so to is the assertion that non-heterosexual orientations – and, by inference, same-sex relationships – are unnatural. It is therefore difficult, in the absence of any categorical statement of commitment, to see whether there will be any significant changes in the way in which Catholic schools in Scotland will deliver relationships, sexual health and parenthood education (RSHPE) – which is currently not a statutory part of the curriculum.
The statement from the Church evidently represents progress, but it is also telling that the Church is working with its own Head Teacher Association rather than with secular campaigns – which will in all likelihood not involve any discussion with young LGBTI people or their families. The “appropriate and sensitive” way to deal with such matters would arguably be through engagement with the very people directly affected, and liaison with teaching unions and other non-Catholic organisations would surely inform the Church’s thinking. The statement also fails to give any commitment to the teaching of LGBTI matters in Catholic schools. Furthermore, in some respects, the Church spokesperson’s statement suggests that it fails to see the need for significant changes in the way its schools operate.
Last month, party leaders pledged swift action on the group’s calls for LGBTI inclusive education during a parliamentary debate on which steps should be taken to advance equality following the Orlando shootings. During the session, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has publicly supported the TIE campaign, restated her pledge to work with the campaigners during her term in government. She said: “I don’t want to live in a country, yet alone be First Minister of a country, where any young person has to feel that, somehow, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they are subject to judgement or made to feel in any way less than any other individual in our society. I have given a commitment to working with the campaign for inclusive education.”
TIE has received the support of a host of cross party politicians including Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party Patrick Harvie and SNP MP Mhairi Black.