At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo has reported on a new manual produced for the English bishops on combating homophobia in Catholic schools. In his headline to the post, DeBernardo describes this manual as a “gift to the church” (and so it is).
A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.
The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image: Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University.
As one who has (twice) participated in Stonewall training to combat HBT (homophobic/biphobic/transphobic) bullying in English schools, I can confirm that much of this material is not just “similar” to the Stonewall material – it’s identical to some of what was used in Stonewall’s own training. Some other material consists of direct quotes from Stonewall publications in the public domain.
The desire to combat bullying is in fact clearly required by Catholic teaching, which insists on the obligation to oppose “violence or malice, whether in speech or in action”. It is for this reason that Quest (the British association for LGBT Catholics) has partnered with Stonewall to deliver their well-established training to Catholic schools, funded by the UK government Department of Education. What is helpful in this document from the Bishops, is that it provides useful faith-based material which will be helpful in adapting the standard Stonewall material, to make it more directly relevant to Catholic schools.
What I find particularly striking about this initiative, is that deliberately or not, the English bishops have in effect entered an informal partnership with Stonewall. Not long ago, there were widespread perceptions (on both sides of the divide) that Stonewall and the churches were necessarily in opposition to each other. From Stonewall’s side, under the leadership of the current CE Ruth Hunt, Stonewall is actively promoting alliances with faith-based LGBT groups. Now it seems that Catholic bishops too, are seeing value in Stonewall’s work to combat homophobia and bullying.
However, The Catholic Herald reports,that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:
The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.
What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
It is extraordinary that some, who would certainly see themselves as “faithful” Catholics, should be so critical of an initiative by their bishops, that is so clearly in accordance with established Catholic teaching in opposition to “violence or malice, in speech or action”. The only possible explanation must be that the critics are so obsessed with their opposition to “homosexuality”, that they are unable to see or accept those elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact inclusive and welcoming.
We, on the other hand, must welcome this initiative of the Catholic bishops – with a single reservation. While this document is strong on the importance of combating homophobic bullying, it is completely silent on the increasingly pressing issue of transphobic bullying.