Guernsey scraps proposal for discrimination law that could have led to Catholic schools’ closure

Christine Rousselle   By Christine Rousselle for CNA

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth. / null

Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, Nov 5, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic schools in Guernsey will be permitted to appoint only Catholics as head teachers following a vote on Nov. 3 rejecting a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance.

Leaders in Guernsey instead voted in favor of an amendment that would maintain the status quo on the island, meaning that a Catholic school can require its head teacher to be Catholics.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, whose territory includes Guernsey, said in a statement reported Friday that he was “very grateful” that local officials were cooperative in hearing the concerns of the diocese.

“This decision enables parents to confidently continue to choose Catholic schools for their children and to benefit from the legacy of partnership with the States of Guernsey which has been in place for 150 years,” said Egan.

Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, is a British Crown Dependency. Approximately 63,000 people live on the island, which has three Catholic churches.

In October, it was announced that the States of Guernsey, the island’s parliament, would be considering a new policy titled “Discrimination Ordinance: Grounds of (i) Religion or Belief and (ii) Sexual Orientation” that would prohibit discrimination in hiring on the basis of religion, belief, or sexual orientation.

Had the policy been passed by States of Guernsey, it would have gone into effect for “senior leadership positions in religious/faith schools” in 2026.

In a show of ecumenism, leaders from the Methodist and Anglican ecclesial communities voiced their support for Catholic schools and their right to appoint Catholic leaders.

Tim Barker, Anglican Dean of Guernsey, along with Superintendent Minister of the Methodist Church Howard Stringer, sent an open letter to the deputies defending the “long-standing importance the Roman Catholic Church places on its schools and its commitment to high quality education for all.”

“Central to that commitment is a profound belief that Catholic schools should be led by Catholics,” they said.

While the two Protestant leaders were supportive of the concept of eliminating discrimination, they called for “appropriate and proportionate” exceptions to the proposals for groups such as churches and religious schools.

“We simply urge you, and your fellow deputies, to recognise that, for the Roman Catholic Church, it is essential that the exception is extended ‘to allow religion or belief to be taken into account in the recruitment to senior leadership positions in religious schools’,” said Barker and Stringer.

The Catholic Church has previously clashed with lawmakers in Guernsey over moves to introduce assisted suicide and liberalize abortion laws.

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