A Catholic school in England has said a sign with anti-gay messaging has been “taken out of context,” and officials defended their decision to post the sign against students and parents’ criticism.
Educators at St. Bede’s Catholic School in Lanchester, England, set up a display with messages students would be expected to know for upcoming exams in religious studies. One sign read, according to Chronicle Live:
“‘Homosexuality is a disordered behaviour that must be condemned’ (Vatican statement 30 July 2008).”
Controversy was sparked after the sign was removed from the display by a student, and a photo of it was made public on the social media app Snapchat. Parents made aware of the sign were highly critical f its display. One parent said the sign might harm young children who do not understand why the condemnatory message was posted in the first place.
But Head Teacher Neville Harrison and the St. Bede’s administration defend the decision to post the sign as part of the intended study aid. The display included quotes from several religious traditions, including The Bible and the Qur’an. Harrison explained:
“Regrettably, the posted resource had been removed from the display and therefore removed from its overall context. . .This particular resource was displayed as a revision tool and as such was not created to cause any harm or ill-feeling.
“As a school, we are keen to refresh classroom displays with relevant resources that will support students’ learning. . .However, we take all community views seriously and so in light of this event, we will review our classroom display policy moving forward.”
Harrison’s promise to re-evaluate future displays is helpful, but his response is pedagogically deficient. St. Bede’s should not merely review its classroom display policy, but look at deeper issues this incident revealed.
First, the sign’s content is misrepresentative. The sign attributes the quote to a Vatican statement, suggesting to students that these words have some level of teaching authority. The words are in fact from an ecumenical document produced from the Anglican-Catholic dialogue, which Cardinal Walter Kasper quoted when addressing the Anglican Church’s 2008 Lambeth Conference. Though the words reflect magisterial Catholic teaching, the sign’s content actually requires a lot more context than simply putting it alongside other signs. Students need an explanation of when and how church teaching is binding, what response is due from the faithful, the technical and philosophical usage of “disordered” intended in the quote, and the fullness of church teaching on homosexuality that extends beyond sexual ethics to include the call for pastoral care, the denunciation of homophobic attitudes and actions, and the call for respect, compassion, and sensitivity towards lesbian and gay people. Failing to present any aspect of this outline deprives students of what should rightfully be taught at a Catholic school.
In the interest of forming critically-engaged citizens, educators should expose students to a variety of perspectives, including matters some consider controversial like homosexuality. But even within the context of study, such an anti-gay message is damaging. No context could mitigate the violence inherent in such beliefs. This reality is why such careful attention is necessary on the part of educators to ensure students grapple with challenging perspectives in manners that are healthy and foster growth.
But, there is a positive side to this story: it is generally positive when a Catholic school addresses homosexuality openly in its curriculum. St. Bede’s failed its students this time, particularly those who are LGBT-identified, but that does not mean this cannot be a learning moment to create a better next time. Hopefully, the school’s educators will keep helping students grapple with varying perspectives on controversial matters, but with the greater attention and care such matters are due.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 4, 2018