Please click here to read Sir Edward Leigh’s letter to PM on the subject of the admissions cap on faith schools.
The Summer Gathering this year took place at Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire. Here, Robert RIgby, Chairman of the CU and an Old Amplefordian, shares his reflections on the weekend:
This year’s Catholic Union summer gathering took place at Ampleforth from Friday 25 – Sunday 27 July 2014. It was attended by some 25 Catholic Union members with a good mix of members from both the north and south of the country. This was the first time in many years that this hasevent moved beyond the Home Counties and judging by the reaction, it will not be long before it once again is taken into the regions.
Ampleforth provided a perfect backdrop – allowing both the formal side of the occasion to proceed which included discussions on the strategy of the CU and issues of the day, as well as a spiritual element ensuring members could tap into the monastic offices of the day including Matins at 6am….
The main business was carried out on Saturday 26 July with the conference getting off to a spiritual and thought provoking start with Fr Terence Richardson OSB, the Prior, providing a talk , The Prophetic Voice The Prior highlighted the prophet as one who sees the truth and tells the truth and referred to the criticism of the current church as a sign of health. The presence of the prophetic in the secular world is a sign of a healthy society.
Lord Brennan, attending his final conference as President, (he steps down in November after 12 years at the helm) provided his usual enlightening take on the issues of the day, as well as those affecting the CU. These are momentous times he said, life is changing fast and the challenges we face are complicated but not insurmountable. He talked about three key issues – Parliament & Public Life, Society Today and the Future and offered some wise council on how the CU should position itself going forward as well as ideas on increasing our membership base in an ever secular and demanding world.
In the afternoon members engaged in an open discussion on the role of the CU in today’s society. Robert Rigby, Chairman set the scene by providing members with feedback on a meeting he had held with Cardinal Nichols in April. Dr Tony Cole, Chairman of the Parliamentary Affairs Committee, summarised some of the key issues facing Catholics today and issues either currently debated or about to be on the agenda in Parliament. Both these talks set off a chain of lively discussions which also included Faith Schools and the ever increasing attack being waged against them.
The day ended with a jovial dinner attended by Fr Christopher Gorst, Sub Prior.
On Sunday members attended High Mass, before enjoying a final get together over coffee in the main hall with parishioners and members of the wider local community around Ampleforth.
28th July 2014
The Chairman had prepared a short summary of points from the last meeting for Archbishop Peter Smith, copied to his own Archbishop Bernard Longley, and also to the Cardinal via his sectary. There had been no acknowledgement, but he hoped to meet with Archbishop Longley and with the Cardinal’s secretary and find out if this was of any interest.
Catholic Medical Alliance Submission on Mitochondrial Donation
Both the PPAC and the CMA had made a submission to the consultation. This was basically about how it should be done, not whether it should be done. There were two possible methods of ‘mitochondrial engineering’:
- Pronuclear transfer: a fertilised embryo is taken from an egg with faulty mitochondria and inserted into an egg with healthy mitochondria from which the fertilised embryo has been removed and discarded.
- Maternal spindle transfer: The nucleus is removed from an egg with faulty mitochondria and inserted into an egg with healthy mitochondria from which the nucleus has been removed. This egg is then fertilised.
- The first method kills an embryo while the second does not. However both involve alteration of the germ line and we did not know if it was safe. The Government’s committee said there was no evidence it was unsafe. The principal non-ethical objection was safety. The legislation is likely to be whipped and will open a Pandora’s Box on the subject.
There had been a much recent debate on this and a number of Catholic MPs had spoken. There was a drive for legal action against 67 doctors using pre-signed forms. The DPP had pushed this across to the GMC which had told them it was illegal and they must not do it again. The GMC thought the practice was so common they couldn’t do anything except in the case of gendercide. This was in hand with the all-party life group led by Jim Dobbin MP, which is working with the Metropolitan Police and the DPP. Fiona Bruce MP was asking the attorney general what action he had taken. The Chairman had received letters from Baroness Knight who wishes to call a meeting in the Lords about the false nature of the form all pre-signed for category “C”, risk to themental health of the mother. There is probably no risk, but it is unclear whether this has been looked into.
The document “Living and Dying Well” said the law deters but is flexible. Prosecutions are almost nil. Concern is not just for the terminally ill but for the suffering. The Nicklinson case would not be covered by the bill which is therefore not honest. The Court of Appeal has passed it to the Supreme Court but it won’t change the law; that is for Parliament to do. The DPP’s guidance falls into two classes. Class 1: where the assistor is a family member and the deceased is mentally capable. Class 2: Doctors and ‘strangers’, where the guidance is not sufficiently clear. This is now in the Supreme Court. The Royal Society of GPs stated this bill would spoil the relationship with patients and palliative care would lose funding; a neutral stance would be seen as acceptance. Sir Edward Leigh MP said that altough he always voted against, pressure was relentlessly growing and the state was increasingly concerned with the cost of rising numbers of elderly dementia patients.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s brief document “Sense and nonsense on assisted dying” (circulated) was a valuable contribution and would be distributed to the entire CU membership.
Same sex marriage Northern Ireland
This was defeated again 53 to 48. The subject of the consultation draft on “Applying Equality Law in practice for Catholics” was raised. Reactions and comments were to be submitted by the end of May.
“Safe at School” campaign
The latest bulletin for (not just Catholic) parents describes what is being taught in schools. The materials used in Catholic schools are usually less damaging than those in state schools,
but can still cause problems. Sex education must remain non-compulsory. There is a move to update the 2000 Guidelines; the consultation was for teachers and students but parents had been omitted and there was nothing about love and marriage. The Government is resisting this move. A good Catholic resource, “This is my Body” is available.
A Christian Country?
The prime minister claimed over the Easter that this country remains essentially Christian, but the Cardinal had countered by saying that with SSM, the country had lost the last vestige of the Judeo-Christian ethos. The chief Rabbi however had said “of course we are a Christian country”. The prevailing ethos seemed to be “I have the right to have what I want and to ignore your opinion”. Most people now think religion is not in the public interest.
Any Other Business
There was a debate on Catholic “Free” schools: would the Government give way on capping Catholic admissions at 50% as demanded by the Liberal Democrats? There were a large number of Catholic Academies – now more in thrall than ever to the DofE. Parents, school and parish working together gives stability.
Members and others may be interested in the following extract from Hansard, which covers a recent debate in the House of Commons on the admissions policy for Catholic (and other faith) Schools.
The information and exchanges within the debate will provide useful material for anyone involved or interested in the provision of Catholic education in this country. School Governors in particular are being asked to take on an increasingly visible role within the admissions and administrative processes of schools which they govern and will find the debate useful as additional source material.
The Chairman proposed Patricia Stoad as a member of the Committee which was unanimously accepted.
The chairman had received a letter from his MP about a possible replacement for the LCP. The Government will reconvene the Neuberger review to report next year. There should be international research into end of life issues, not just cancer. Dr Massimo Constantini, Regional Palliative Care Network, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitara Genoa and colleagues are willing to enter into partnership to undertake this research.
Catholic Education Service – Presentation to the Committee, Paul Barber Director
The CES is the education agency of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. It has two functions. The first is to be an agent of the bishops collectively and to speak on their behalf to government and to assist and advise the bishops on education policy. The second is to be a service to the dioceses giving specialist advice and support for schools. The CES doesn’t run schools and can’t tell schools or dioceses what to do. The CES will have an officer in Cardiff.
Having given an historical overview, Mr Barber went on to say that the Church is now the biggest provider of secondary education (RC 10%, C of E 7%) ,but for primary the C of E provides 20% and the RC 10%. The CES is different from the other agencies in that it does no campaigning but supports an enormous infrastructure and workforce. It works quietly at maintaining relationships with the Government in a complex educational landscape now with academies involving contract and company law. This is a sensitive political area; some would like to abolish RC schools and yet they always outperform normal state schools, whatever the measure. A requirement to teach community cohesion was introduced thinking this would target faith schools – RC schools turned out to be twice as good as average on community cohesion.
Free Schools: These are legally just academies with a particular route to establishment. There are now 250 RC secondary academies. The Government has a policy of imposing a cap of 50% on religious admissions, if oversubscribed, on all new free schools. This policy reneges on the policies established in 1944 and earlier. The Bishops will not accept this and are trying to persuade the government to drop the requirement. This policy is part of the coalition agreement aimed by the Liberal Democrats at Muslim schools. In theory one can start a new voluntary-aided school – in practice there is no grant funding available.
The bishops are responsible for faith teaching in school. Catechesis is between two people who share the faith. Up to the ‘80s, a certain amount of this was done in schools. The bishops now want this to take place in the parish. RE is a rigorous academic subject; it needs to be an exam subject to be taken seriously. There used to be RC papers and we are now seeking a Catholic option in the subject at GCSE and A level. Sex education is compulsory at secondary level but not at primary – yet. Parents may withdraw their children.
Replies to Further Questions on Abortion
The sexual health team at the Department of Health want to relax the licencing requirements for abortion clinics so that abortions can be performed by nurses only. A ComRes poll had found that 92% of the public felt it was wrong for a woman to have an abortion without seeing doctor.
Euthanasia of children in Belgium and Holland
There had been a debate on assisted dying in the House of Lords on 5th March. Baroness Jay wanted Kier Starmer’s guidelines to be made into statute law. The motive for assisting in suicide must be compassion, not gain. 98 cases had been reported to the DPP; half were dropped straight away. Baroness Jay had said that we have amateur assisted dying, when we should have professional assisted dying. In the Netherlands the Groningen protocol was accepted for child euthanasia. However 40 Belgian paediatricians had written that in their experience no child had ever requested death.
The following press release was issued by the Catholic Union today, Wednesday 18th December 2013
A report on religious education by the Religious Education Council was criticised as “unrepresentative” and “inadequate” at a meeting of religious organisations and parliamentarians at the Palace of Westminster today.
The meeting consisted of those representing the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Free Church faiths.
“Very few mainstream faith groups were properly consulted for this report and yet it claims to be representative and to influence the RE curriculum”, said James Bogle, Vice-Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain.
“Clearly the minister, Michael Gove, was misled into thinking otherwise, since he claims that it has been endorsed widely. As our meeting today shows, that is not so and there is considerable dissent from the report’s view.”
“The 1944 Education Act and the Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education have provided an excellent framework for providing an education that families and communities can support and that promotes harmony and tolerance,” said Mr Bogle, “yet, without properly consulting the statutory bodies, this report claims to speak for mainstream faith communities whilst largely excluding them.”
The new working group will be producing an alternative report to submit to the All Party Parliamentary Group which will receive it in the New Year.
The new report is expected to say that Religious Education must be informed by the actual faith and practice of faith communities and should not be confused with a museum or “gold-fish bowl” approach that looks at religion as one might look at animals in a zoo rather looking at religion as a living faith.
“Religion is fundamental to the development of a young person’s culture and identity, their character and their ability to relate to others and wider society” said Mr Bogle.
He added “those who think that secular humanism is simply a neutral approach to religion overlook the fact that secularism is, itself, a belief system. To impose this belief-system upon faith communities is neither tolerant, nor respectful, nor just. Moreover, religious education is not merely religious studies.”
The new working group expects to produce an interim report in the New Year and then, later, a final report. The group will also be writing to the Secretary of State to express its dissatisfaction with the Religious Education Council’s report.
An outline report was given of a meeting held in late June between the Catholic Union, represented by Robert Rigby and John Barrie and the Bishops’ Conference, represented by Mgr Marcus Stock and Charles Wookey. During the course of the meeting, it was suggested that the Catholic Union should consult other Catholic bodies to ascertain possible areas of alignment and synergy. Introductions to a number of prominent Catholics in public life were offered, as the Catholic Union could play a role in bringing Catholics together. Subsequent to the meeting a memorandum was received suggesting that the Catholic Union is out of step in today’s world. A measured response has been sent to the Bishops’ Conference.
The Chairman considered that the PPAC membership is a good example of linking with other organisations, given the scope of memberships and affiliations currently enjoyed by the PPAC members.
The Married Couples’ Tax Allowance has been accepted by the Government and will appear in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
Same Sex Marriage
A letter had been received from Oliver Letwin MP regarding same sex marriage and safeguards for teachers who teach traditional marriage. The letter made clear that Mr Letwin regards same sex marriage as nothing more than a ceremony and so has no idea of the wider ramifications and time-honoured role of true marriage in society. The Prime Minister is understood to regard same sex marriage as merely a “relabeling” of the wedding ceremony. With regard to the safeguards for teachers, this appeared to be seen as straightforward and of little issue.
The House Lords did not feel that they should frustrate the will of the elected chamber (from where many of their number have come). 10 Amendments were moved – these were moderate and well-phrased – all were defeated. The legislation has been rushed through and is badly drafted. The law will be tested in the Courts. There were a total of 55 Lords Amendments. The campaign against same sex marriage will have to be carried on from a Catholic perspective. The position for teachers and others will be extremely difficult, since they will be tied by both SSM legislation and the Equality Act. It was pointed out that although the Bill has been passed, pressure against the law should be maintained by members of the Union and by the public, so that David Cameron is not allowed to forget the opposition this measure has generated. This pressure should be maintained until the 2015 General Election at least.
Neuberger Review – The Liverpool Care Pathway
The final report is extremely welcome. The Liverpool Care Pathway is to be terminated with immediate effect and replaced with individual care plans in consultation with patients and relatives. The CMA has put together a list of 6 key questions that families and patients can ask, which include, how near to death is the patient, what is the effect of the drugs likely to be and will they suffer thirst. The Falconer Bill on Assisted Dying is due in the autumn. There has been a softening of language and a gradual change in attitude.
Embryology – Question by Lord Alton in the Lords
The Government is set to introduce regulation by 2014 so that Medical Research Council guidelines become standard practice. It was noted that germ line medical procedure is extremely risky. The Committee was advised that Josephine Quintavalle is taking the lead on countering this with a meeting in October to gather one million signatures in order to procure a debate on the matter in the European Parliament.
School Governors and Local Councillors
The position of local councillors and school governors as Catholics working at a local level “on the front line”, trying to ensure compatibility between their beliefs and what is asked of them. The case of the Plymouth Brethren, a narrow, yet extremely law abiding Protestant sect, who do not wish to engage with the secular agenda and thereby risk losing their charitable status, was given as a case in point. The secular agenda is increasingly incompatible with Christian belief and mores
The general feeling is that this is a very low priority for the FCO. President Assad protects the Christians as part of the pluralist society in Syria. Arming the rebels would be unhelpful in this regard. The exemplary work of Baroness Cox in working against Christian persecution globally was cited.
A topic which has particularly exercised those who resist the Government’s same-sex marriage proposals has been the impact upon schools. On 1 March, the Catholic Union in conjunction with the Diocese of Shrewsbury co-sponsored a conference which addressed the whole subject of educating children in sexuality, its dangers and the potential for taking a completely new Catholic approach. “Educating Children in Sexuality” was held at Aquinas College, Stockport, and was enthusiastically received by a large audience of teachers, priests and parents. Chaired by Canon Anthony McBride, Dean of Salford Cathedral, the keynote speaker, Fr Jaroslaw Szymczak, came from the Institute of the Holy Family in Poland. He showed with examples drawn from his twenty-five years of pastoral practice with families that the Church’s teaching on sexuality not only makes sense in theory but in practice, too. He referred to sexuality as a beautiful but fragile gift, one that is endangered as soon as it is treated as a toy.
Louise Kirk, co-ordinator of the Alive to the World PSHE programme, followed on with a stark account of how current sex education is already failing children. She pointed out that much school sex education is not only immoral in its content, but also factually inaccurate. In treating a private subject publicly, children are also being robbed of natural modesty. Her answer is to go back to the Church’s clear guidance and explore how parents can instead be helped to teach their own children. It was to help them in this vital task that she wrote her book Sexuality Explained: a guide for parents and children, which was launched at the conference (Gracewing; £12.99). This 150 page book describes in ten incremental chapters the delicacy of our bodies’ makeup, and how men and women complement each other spiritually, emotionally and physically. The book is not religious but instead uses biology to inspire wonder and respect. The chapters are written in story form so as to be accessible to anyone. It is intended that the book should be recommended by schools to their parents, and so revitalise whole communities with a true understanding of sexuality.
The third speaker, Robert O’Brien, Head of RE at Westminster Cathedral Choir School, began his talk by describing how schools can contribute to building the rounded, strong characters on which happy schools and families depend. He described how the Alive to the World PSHE programme, which the Choir School has been using for some years, had helped to turn bring back its full Catholic ethos after a difficult period when the school had grown too fast. He said that it was not only the children who had benefitted from it, but also the teachers, and made particular mention of how the Ofsted inspectors had singled the programme out for special praise. (The full conference papers can be found on the Shrewsbury Diocese website here. For further details of Sexuality Explained and Alive to the World, please go to www.alivetotheworld.co.uk.