Stick-up tree

[Image: Immense towering many-pronged phallus. Seen on Crickley Hill, where all the Catholic bishops walk their dogs.]

The UK Catholic church wants to get a firmer grip on Catholic schools, and to control the curriculum and materials to which children have access by preventing them from seeing or hearing about anything that does not accord with Catholic beliefs.

Take the Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donohoe. He has recently issued a long document to all Catholic schools in his diocese. Remember, while reading the following list of his requirements and instructions, that these schools are primarily state-funded: almost all the funding that these schools receive comes from taxpayer’s money.

So, here are the headlines from Patrick’s list of requirements (for which he has since had the full backing of the Vatican):

  • Stop safe-sex education, which is “dangerous and immoral”.
  • Only mention sex within the “sacrament of marriage”.
  • Insist that contraception is wrong and emphasise natural family planning.
  • Place crucifixes in all classrooms.
  • Cease all support for charities or other organisations that promote or fund pro-choice policies, however peripheral this may be to their central aims (e.g. Red Nose Day or Amnesty International).
  • Use science to teach about “the truths of the faith”. (WTF?)
  • Remove any anti-Catholic polemics from school libraries i.e. remove any books that criticise or critique the Catholic faith.
  • And, finally, silence any other possible dissenting opinion: ‘Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals.’

Which translates as: keep children ignorant about sex and certainly do not teach them how to protect themselves from harm; teach children that the rights of the unborn trump political prisoners or children who are starving in the developing world; use pseudo-science to support unscientific religious claims (and don’t let the children develop any skills of critical thinking, whatever you do!); censor all opposing voices (the final nail in the coffin for critical thinking).

Imagine an Islamic school that prohibited all criticism or debate about Islam, that insisted on lying to its pupils using pseudo-science, that insisted on promoting its own strict view of acceptable gender roles and allowed no “dangerous and immoral” contrary viewpoints to be expressed… Do you think that such a school would be permitted and celebrated? No, thought not.

And these men are so churlish and petty. When Barry Sheerman, chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, tried to meet up with Arthur Roche, the Bishop of Leeds, to talk about setting up a proposed inter-faith school he was stalled and stalled. Eventually, a meeting was agreed but before it could even take place, Arthur had a letter read out in every church in Kirklees and Calderdale accusing politicians of undermining Catholic education. Churlish? Petty? Surely not.

Meanwhile, back in 2005, when Scotland unveiled its new, anaemic sex education policy, in which abstinence was to be the first principle, and sex education was to be optional in its entirety anyway, Scottish Catholics leapt for joy – especially Cardinal O’Brien, a rabid anti-education campaigner who fought the idea of a more comprehensive policy tooth and nail.

So where next?

The good news is that the government is apparently stepping away from the strategy of those twin Catholics, Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, which was to heavily promote the idea of more faith schools being brought within the state sector.

The bad news is that there are seven thousand faith schools already being funded by the state in England alone (all of which will continue to exist with state funding) – the vast majority of these are Christian schools and over two thousand are Catholic schools.

Oh, and PS – To the Telegraph – please don’t conveniently forget to mention when reporting about the Government’s decision not to promote faith schools that the fundamentalist Christians, especially the Catholics it seems, are just as bad as if not worse than the fundamentalist Muslims who you like to blame for everything.

And where is it all going to take us?

With a bit of luck, we might be able to engineer a bit of a backlash and advance the cause of, say, compulsory sex education, at least in state-funded schools. I’m not generally a great believer in compulsory anything education. But we just can’t allow these zealots to ruin the lives of young women for whom they have accepted educational responsibility: they want to keep young people in the dark about sex and then they will wash their hands of it all when young women get pregnant as a result. It’s not on.

Something has to give and, unless someone has a better idea, I’m for compulsory sex ed.


Guardian, 14 Nov 2001
Guardian, 30 August 2004
BBC Scotland, 30 August 2004
Guardian, 20 Mar 2005
Guardian, 30 Dec 2007
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 4 Jan 2008
Telegraph, 7 Jan 2008
Telegraph, 11 Jan 2008
Independent, 17 Jan 2008