The Catholic Church in England has been strongly criticised for publishing guidance that suggests that school governors and senior staff who are openly gay, remarry after divorce or cohabit with partners could face demotion or the sack.
New guidance published by the Church says that key members of school staff and governors cannot perform their roles if they make "substantive life choices" that are incompatible with Catholic teaching. If heads, deputes, heads of RE and governors enter "non-chaste" relationships outside Church-approved forms of marriage, "their ability to govern or lead and model Catholic life and faith with ecclesial integrity may cease", it adds.
The booklet, Christ at the Centre, released by the Catholic Education Service, also says that it is unacceptable for Catholic staff to marry in a non-Catholic church or registry office without special dispensation.
Its publication comes at a time when the Catholic Church is at the centre of the debate over gay marriage and follows a letter by bishops claiming that legalisation would restrict "the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools".
The guidance warns against the appointment of non-Catholics in senior roles, and says governors could be removed from their posts and senior teachers could face disciplinary proceedings if they do anything "detrimental" to the character of the school.
The National Secular Society, which has labelled the guidance "prurient and tyrannical", last week wrote to Westminster education secretary Michael Gove calling for him to insist that the Catholic Education Service withdraw the booklet.
"The restrictions concerning the private lives of teachers employed in state schools go beyond the pale," wrote Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, adding: "Criteria relating to activity outside the academic environment detailed in this publication are unreasonable and unrealistic; particularly in publicly funded schools and academies."
Mr Porteous Wood also called for a change in the law that allows faith-school teachers to be disciplined or dismissed for conduct that is incompatible with the school's religion. "We are concerned that such a harsh and unfair law drives a coach and horses through equality legislation and leaves teachers, paid using public money, uniquely vulnerable to discrimination," he said.
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religious thinktank Ekklesia, said that focusing on the private lives of staff would force them to be dishonest about their sexuality and to feel it necessary to have clandestine relationships. "Those who choose to formalise their relationships publicly - through civil partnerships, for example - will be targeted for being honest," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Education Service said that Catholic schools have a legal right to appoint practising Catholics in leadership roles.
"The recently revised document Christ at the Centre offers guidance to governing bodies, staff and parents about the ethos and values of Catholic schools," she added. "It is a matter for governing bodies and dioceses to make staffing decisions based on local situations."
- In Scotland, where denominational schools are managed by education authorities, a teacher must gain "approval" of his or her suitability by providing evidence to the local diocese of religious belief and character, and by reference to the Charter of Catholic Schools in Scotland.
THE GOSPEL TRUTH
Senior Catholic staff or governors in Catholic schools can be disciplined or sacked if they:
- maintain "a partnership of intimacy" outside marriage, which would appear to be a "non-chaste" relationship;
- get married in a non-Catholic church, registry office or any other place without dispensation;
- remarry after divorce;
- support any organisation whose aims go against Gospel values and the Catholic Church's teaching;
- publish or distribute material that is contrary to Gospel values and the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Source: Christ at the Centre: why the church provides Catholic schools by Monsignor Marcus Stock.