Scottish School Apology Is a Model for the Church

In Scotland, a Catholic secondary school official responded in an extremely appropriate and effective way when anti-gay leaflets were discovered on campus:  he apologized to the students.

Glasgow’s Herald newspaper reported that when Stephen Phee, the Head teacher (chief administrator) at St. Mungo’s school, Falkirk, was informed of the leaflets’ existence by the student who discovered them, he immediately offered an apology. The student, Aidan Callaghan, said:

“Mr. Phee apologised straight away and said they shouldn’t have been there, and he would investigate how they got there.”

St. Mungo High School

The fliers, which were published by an organization called “The Catholic Truth Society,” were immediately removed from the school.  Entitled “The Church and same-sex attraction,” the tract used terms like “deep-seated tendencies” and “acts of grave depravity” to discuss, respectively, homosexual orientation and gay sex.”  These terms are often used in Catholic magisterial writing. Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harrassment,

Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harassment.  That is a task that every Catholic institution administrator should consider as part of the job description.

Scottish LGBT advocates noted how important it is for the school to respond strongly to this situation. The Herald reported that Cara Spence, Senior Programmes Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland, explained:

 “[These] messages are deeply damaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners and could have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence and their ability to talk to others about how they feel.”

With a positive response like Phee’s, it’s not surprising that Callahan, the student who found the fliers, noted that the school’s atmosphere is an accepting one.  He stated:

“Homophobia isn’t an issue at our school, so I was really surprised to see something like this.”

Last June, Pope Francis had called on church leaders to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the ill-treatment they have received from religious institutions.  Few leaders have done so, which makes the school administrator’s statement all the more remarkable.

The spirit of apology seems to be infused in Scotland lately.   The theological forum of the Church of Scotland (the established Presbyterian church) has announced that it will ask the General Assembly of the denomination meeting this month to offer an apology to lesbian and gay people.  A report issued by the forum stated:

“We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults.”

Let us pray that this action from the Church of Scotland will inspire other Christian churches to follow suit.  And let us pray that the action of this Scottish Roman Catholic school official will spark other Catholic officials to begin the process of reconciliation with the LGBT community by offering their own apologies.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2017


0 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Yes, appropriate indeed. Unfortunately, the deeply offensive language in this leaflet is taken directly from standard Vatican documents. On the other hand, those same documents also insist that “homosexuals” should be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion”, and that “all forms of violence and malice, in speech or in action, must be opposed”. Current teaching on sexual orientation is itself inherently contradictory and confused, and itself uses language which is grossly insensitive, disrespectful and lacking in compassion,
    Under Pope Francis’ leadership, the tone and language coming from the Vatican and many diocesan bishops is changing: even Archbishop Chaput, a prominent opponent of gay inclusion and equality in church, has said that the language of disordered has is no longer “useful”. (When was it ever so?)
    It follows that the apology you describe was fully in accordance with the fullness of formal Catholic teaching – respectful, sensitive and compassionate. In addition, such a response to homophobic material is also required under British law, and by the standards set by Ofsted (the governmental education regulator). This is why Quest, the British organisation for LGBT Catholics, is partnering with Stonewall to deliver training to Catholic schools, on the obligation to combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in school.

    • Barry Blackburn
      Barry Blackburn says:

      Well done Terence Weldon–perfectly said! As a Religious Ed. teacher and Dept. Head in Scarborough Ontario (now retired) I seldom witnessed overt homophobia in my school. Once a gay student was harassed but I only learned of it years later when he visited the school and “came out” to me. Once I saw the “fag” slur written on a hallway locker. When I immediately pointed it out to the head caretaker he also immediately had it removed. One of my junior students was caught going to downtown Toronto to harass LGBTQ folk in the “gay village”. The administration also acted to counsel him immediately. Throwing verbal slurs around in the hall was a daily occurrence…Vigilance is also a daily occurrence but I see a lot of progress. The actions of QUEST and British Catholics and DIGNITY here in North America are practical examples in the attempt to dialogue with society and the Church. There is a lot of change in society more so than in the Church it often seems, but I am encouraged. Thanks Terence!

  2. Tony Barr
    Tony Barr says:

    The CTS has always been the national mouthpiece of Catholicism in the UK. They have done good work over the decades, always the first to make papal encyclicals available to the plebs. But this recent publication is reprehensible and directly apposed to the papal message. Instead of recycling moral theology from an age or irrelevance, whoever distributed it ought to be named and exposed to the brunt of public opinion, There is absolutely no place in the koinonia for this king a garbage. Did the school principal go far enough in denouncing this? Is he hosting counselling sessions for those disturbed by it? Is he making any attempt to reach out to the perpetrators? Too many unanswered questions. But at least there wasn’t a wall of silence, which in itself is to be commended.


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