Church's thinking is hard to believe

10th April 2009 at 01:00

When Catholic schools in Scotland were transferred in 1918 from church ownership to be managed by education authorities as public schools, certain statutory rights were guaranteed to the church. Among these was the responsibility to approve all teachers "as regards religious belief and character" (Education (Scotland) Act 1918).

It is somewhat ironic that in everyday parlance the word "catholic" indicates a taste which is all-embracing and inclusive. Catholic of the Roman variety, however, seems to be the obverse: exclusive, dogmatic and rather Machiavellian in its machinations against those who do not observe its tenets.

It is so surprising in this era of political correctness that the Catholic Church can still veto the appointments and stultify the careers of teachers it deems lacking "in regard to their religious belief and character".

Darren Burnside, who recently raised this issue with the Scottish Parliament, calls it an "outdated law". But I feel it is more insidious than that. Laws are imposed initially and then evolve to meet the needs of the society they serve; they should not be arbitrary, exclusive and unfair.

The church representative's view can be absolute, as I discovered when I took part in an interview for a subject principal teacher. Reading through the applications, it was obvious that one of the candidates should not be leeted: he had neither the experience nor the qualifications. However, just before the meeting began, we were told that the Catholic representative would not be attending but wanted to exercise his veto on this same candidate. The double damning of the candidate was totally unnecessary, but the power of the non-present, yet omnipresent, representative was "impressive". Having exercised his power of veto, he did not even turn up for the interviews.

Here is a paradox: an appointment to a Catholic school has to accord with the church's view, yet the Catholic Church does not seem to exercise the same authority over its own flock. There are many Catholics who flock to non-denominational schools in order to get jobs and promotion.

I served happily in a Catholic school for well-nigh 20 years, gaining three successive promotions. During all this time, I played a significant part in supporting and promoting its aims, values and ethos. However, it was a given that, while I could do this in an "acting" capacity, I would never be given a substantive position as depute rector.

It is this inconsistency which is the most upsetting. When I was "acting", did I have less influence on the development of the pupils? I think not.

Surely, when you send your children to school, you hope that they will be taught by the best teachers: those who are well versed in their subject and can provide exemplary moral standards. Is the Catholic Church saying that Catholics have a monopoly on these values? If not, let's simply appoint the person - irrespective of religion, gender or skin colour - who is best for the job.

The author is a secondary teacher.

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