We seem to be rather short of good news for Catholics at present. Here is something that is at least faintly cheering.
Dame Louise Casey is a government-appointed official with the rather worrying title of “Integration Tsar.” With distinctly Tsar-like pretensions, she recently announced that Catholic schools would have to teach what she—rather than the Catholic Church—believes about marriage. She seemed unaware that, in announcing herself to have the right to ban the Church from teaching about the sacraments, she was dragging Britain back into the grim years when Catholicism was banned and its teachings deemed dangerous to the State.
But Dame Louise’s announcement that it was “not OK for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage” brought her much more trouble than she had imagined. A barrage of criticism and challenge met her—and not just from Catholics. And she has now backed down.
Don’t get out the champagne. She should never for one moment have tried to impose her beliefs on Catholic schools and announce what is and is not “OK” for them to teach on marriage (or any other sacrament, come to that). There is no need to have a wild general celebration simply because she has acknowledged our freedom and our rights. But it’s something significant, all the same. A leading public official has backtracked from the official imposition of an unjust and unreasonable demand and has (sort of) reaffirmed the right of the Church to hold and teach what it believes on a central tenet of the Faith.
The letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government is, surprisingly, written in readable language and is relatively free of the current cant and jargon. It’s straightforward. It says, in part:
Dame Louise is a supporter of the right to gay marriage now enshrined in law, however she does respect and understand the Catholic Church’s long-held view that marriage is between a man and a woman, even if that is not her own view.
The letter continues: “She is not threatening the right of the Church or individuals of faith to hold that view, or to include it in teaching it as a fundamental tenet of faith. That is indeed an important aspect of a shared British value of freedom of religious expression.”
No apology for the insult earlier given to the Church, and no added pleasantries about the immense popularity and value of Catholic schools. But don’t let’s carp. It’s a climb-down, and it’s good to have a victory, however small, in the fight to retain space for some sanity in our public discourse on marriage.
Poor Dame Louise was evidently rather out of her depth in announcing what Catholics could and could not do. I honestly think she simply didn’t understand what she was doing or saying when she blithely stated that Catholic schools would have to teach only her version of marriage. She was simply caught up in a panicky desire to affirm the politically-correct but actually utterly bizarre idea that two people of the same sex can marry one another.
Catholic schools in Britain regularly top the league tables in exam results, are generally over-subscribed, and are hugely popular. They cater for a wide range of children from every sort of social background. They play a notable role in community life at every level—active in local sports tournaments and music festivals and charity fund-raising events and public-speaking competitions and more. Their names evoke the great truths of the Faith, and the saints and heroes of the centuries: Sacred Heart, Assumption, Corpus Christi, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Thomas More. And—with, inevitably, varying degrees of conviction and of success—they teach the Catholic faith, because that’s why they were built and that’s what they are meant to do.
There are all sorts of problems facing them: the difficulty of finding faithful and committed Catholic teachers, the problems of children from broken and disconnected families, the constant tensions with a society rife with pornographic images and wide intolerance of Christian values.
Ensuring the Catholic school’s freedom to operate is essential: making good use of that freedom to ensure the full flourishing of the Faith is a daily task for all involved, from parents and teachers to bishops and parish priests. But at least the Tsar has backtracked from stopping us. For this, Deo Gratias. And let’s keep vigilant.