Catholic archbishop ‘did the right thing’ in LGBT author dispute, says education consultant

Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark. | Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

An English archbishop “did the right thing” in a dispute over an LGBT author’s visit to a Catholic school, an education consultant has said.

Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark reportedly supported a decision to cancel a book-signing event with the author Simon James Green at John Fisher School in Purley, south London, on March 7.

Edmund Adamus, an education consultant for Fertile Heart, a “faith-inspired” relationship, sex, and health education program for schools, told CNA: “Archbishop Wilson clearly weighed up the consequences of not acting and did the right thing.”

Adamus, a former schools commissioner for the Diocese of Portsmouth and director for marriage and family in the Archdiocese of Westminster, cited a passage from Green’s young adult novel “Noah Can’t Even” containing a sexualized parody of the Our Father.

“Having looked at some of the writing of Simon James Green, it is fair to say that, from a Catholic perspective, the decision by schools to expose impressionable young minds and ears to his particular mode of expression disregards a very simple protocol,” he said.

“Objectively, content should never offend against modesty. Subjectively, materials must not offend against privacy.”

He went on: “It’s clear Archbishop Wilson wisely discerned that the arranged visit of Simon James Green to one of his secondary schools would most certainly have caused such offense and, through the offices of his director for education, was right not only to exhort the governing body of the school to intervene but latterly to have removed the foundation governors who defied his instructions.”

“This is a salutary lesson about where the ultimate responsibility for the souls of children rests when it comes to the oversight of Catholic schools, and that is the local ordinary.”

Edmund Adamus. Courtesy photo.
Edmund Adamus. Courtesy photo.

John Fisher School, founded in 1929, serves around 1,200 high school students.

The boys’ school is voluntary aided, which means it is state-funded but the Catholic Church covers 10% of its capital costs. It has been rated “outstanding” by school inspectors.

The school’s website says: “The spiritual dimension is of fundamental importance to our school. In addition to timetabled Religious Education lessons, each day begins with an act of collective worship.”

“The school is fortunate in having a beautiful chapel which allows students to participate in a range of opportunities for collective and personal worship. Masses, Benediction, Liturgies, and a retreat program are an important aspect of life at our school.”

Simon Hughes, Southwark archdiocese’s director of education, set out the archdiocese’s position on Green’s visit in a March 3 statement.

He wrote: “From time to time, materials or events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school … In such circumstances, we have no alternative but to affirm our unequivocal and well-known theological and moral precepts and to act in accordance with them.”

“The book-signing event scheduled for March 7, 2022, at the John Fisher School, Purley, is one such event and we have recommended that the school’s leaders cancel it.”

The website inews.co.uk reported that the school’s leaders decided to go ahead with the event and its governing body supported the decision after a meeting on March 5.

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The archdiocese then removed the school’s foundation governors and announced the creation of an interim executive board.

According to the Catholic Education Service (CES), an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, foundation governors are appointed “by the local bishop specifically to preserve and develop the Catholic ethos of the school and represent the bishop’s education policy (e.g. worship and religious education) to the governing body.”

The CES issued a statement “on the incident at the John Fisher School” on March 10.

It said: “Catholic schools welcome pupils from all backgrounds. This isolated incident has given a false impression of the inclusive nature of Catholic schools.”

“Catholic schools are places where all children can flourish and as such have a zero-tolerance approach to LGBT+ discrimination. Nationally the CES has worked closely with schools, dioceses, and charities to produce Catholic inclusivity guidance and resources for schools that have won acclaim from LGBT+ organizations.”

“We would encourage Catholic schools to work closely with their diocese to ensure that all Catholic schools can be welcoming and inclusive centers of learning where everyone is respected as a human being made in the image and likeness of God.”

Edmund Adamus said it was “somewhat bewildering” that the CES statement did not “emphatically support” Archbishop Wilson.

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“Indeed, the tone and wording of the statement implies that the CES disagrees with the archbishop and distances itself from his decision for the sake of political expediency,” he commented.

Critics of the archdiocese included Elliot Colburn, the local Member of Parliament.

“I am horrified that something like this has happened in my constituency,” he wrote on his Twitter account on March 12.

He added: “The actions of the archdiocese are unacceptable. Would they ban me from visiting as an openly gay MP?”

Colburn announced that he would be raising the matter with the archdiocese and the U.K. government’s Department for Education, which said it was “looking into the circumstances surrounding the diocese’s role in this incident.”

The inews.co.uk website reported that Ofsted, the body that inspects schools in England, visited the school on March 16.

A petition to reinstate the foundation governors has gained more than 2,300 signatures.

A group of concerned Catholics has written to Archbishop Wilson expressing their support. The letter, seen by CNA, said that the event “would have been inconsistent with the character of a Catholic school.”

“The episode has been the subject of an orchestrated campaign and much negative coverage in the press and on social media characterized by anti-Catholic sentiment and misleading headlines,” it said.

In a statement published on the CES website on March 14, the Archdiocese of Southwark said: “At the heart of every Catholic school sits the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“We expect all Catholic schools to remain faithful to the Church’s teaching on the truth and dignity of the human person. This teaching should never give cause to foster a culture of bigotry or intolerance.”

“In fact, hatred and discrimination is itself contrary to Church teaching as it fundamentally disrespects the God-given dignity of each human life.”

The statement continued: “Any impression that the John Fisher School is anything other than an inclusive center of learning that allows young people to flourish is deeply regrettable. The archdiocese acted to ensure the material put in front of the children was age-appropriate.”

“We are continuing to work with the John Fisher School moving forward.”