Cardinal addresses Catholic headteachers

Speaking on Friday 17 September at the national conference of Catholic Head Teachers (CHAPS) at the Hilton Dunblane Hydro Cardinal O Brien defended the provision of Catholic education in Scotland.  

Addressing some 160 delegates the Cardinal highlighted the issue of shared  

He said: The views of local communities are vitally important. Any local  
council, in considering a proposal to develop shared campus arrangements for  
a specific school, is obliged to consult with the local bishop to seek his  
view on the proposal. Many examples of good practice now exist in our  
country where the views of the Catholic community have indeed been consulted  
and listened to in the construction of shared campus schools.  

But I stress that the views of the local community are vitally important “  
as the Catholic community was listened to 100 years ago so again we expect  
the local authorities to listen to the views of the Catholic community and  
we also expect the wishes of the Catholic community to be respected and our  
legal safeguards protected and supported by the Scottish Executive.  

As our forefathers in the faith in the early 1900s looked forward in  
confidence through the safeguards of the 1918 Education Act to a succession  
of Catholic schools in our country “ so too do we now look forward at the  
beginning of the 2000s at the beginning of a new millennium with confidence  
realizing that the safeguards which once existed still exist for  
safeguarding discreet Catholic schools where possible and shared campus  
arrangements ensuring a Catholic school and a non-denominational school on  
one campus where the Catholic partner is indeed a discreet Catholic school  
although sharing certain facilities.  

The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's homily is shown below.  


Peter Kearney  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168  




It is indeed a privilege being with you all this morning to address your  
conference on the final day.  

I am sure that you have found your time together beneficial “ appreciating  
the input but also having had the opportunity of sharing together with  
colleagues old and new.  

The general theme of the conference as indicated on the programme is:  
Catholic Schools Forward in Faith .  

In my address to you this morning when I had been asked to look to the  
future “ I would like the address of this particular talk to be quite  
simply: Look to the future with confidence!  

I give three headings for my address “ perhaps based on my years as a  
teacher and wanting to break everything down into easy teaching blocks!  

Where are we now?  

I would ask you to consider first of all just where we are now in Scotland  
at the beginning of this third millennium. We began our meeting yesterday  
(Thursday) on the feast of St. Ninian, which takes us back 1600 years ” to  
the roots of Christianity in Scotland. It is appropriate that this should be  
the starting point for a brief reflection on the journey of faith our nation  
has taken since Ninian brought the Christian message to these shores those  
1600 years ago. As the centuries passed, the tide of Christianity he led  
would flow until it covered the entirety of Scotland in a ˜sea of faith . In  
more recent decades that tide has ebbed dramatically and the ˜sea of  
Christianity in which we were once immerged has receded. It has often been  
replaced by a new tide of rampant secular materialism which has left us on a  
sea of self-centred consumerism where we often struggle to chart a course.  
It is now more than ever before that we need the moral and spiritual compass  
that our faith can provide.  

Clearly, things have changed - and changed rapidly since I was a young boy  
growing up in Ireland and then in Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh. You too,  
will be aware of many changes in our society.  

We also realise that we are not living in a Catholic society “ but rather  
one in which there are a considerable number of members of other Churches.  
Many of them share some of our beliefs and are happy for their children to  
attend their schools. Just a few months ago I was asked to address the  
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I was warmly received as always  
and was able to speak to the Moderator and the delegates assembled there of  
our universal Christian heritage; of our desire to serve together; and also  
of the common prayer, which we shared.  

There are also those of other faiths. I regularly attend meetings with  
leaders of other faiths, such meetings being organized by our Scottish Inter  
Faith Council. Men and women from different faiths gather together for some  
time of quiet; for sharing our ideas; and for ensuring that our young people  
are brought up in a society in which their faiths can be appreciated and  
valued and a society in which they can appreciate and share in the faiths of  
others. They too often greatly appreciate the fact that high moral standards  
are maintained at our schools.  

But there are those of no faith at all “ who see your schools as a sign of  
contradiction to their own lack of faith and lack of any beliefs.  

At one time those who did not practice any particular religion would in some  
way or another have been rather ashamed of it. The opposite is true today!  
Faithlessness and atheism being a badge of honour for many! It is rather  
frightening to hear those who are leaders in society say forcibly: Of  
course we are living in a secular society now!  

In our schools, primary and secondary, we must be fully aware of the  
background from which our people come and aware also of the powerful social  
and cultural influences to which they are subject. Catholic Bishops know  
what they want - I ask you to be exactly the same and to know what you want  
and appreciate everything that is good about our Catholic schools.  

The recently produced ˜Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland has  
received a great deal of positive attention from all associated with our  
schooling. There it is clearly stated that: The mission of the Catholic  
school is to develop as a community of faith and learning, providing the  
highest quality of education, and offering formation through the promotion  
of Gospel values, through celebration and worship, and through service to  
the common good . And the Charter also states: All staff appointed to a  
Catholic school are expected to support and promote the aims, mission,  
values and ethos of the school, as illustrated in the Charter .  

The heritage which is our buildings:  

Having spoken of the increasing secular society in which we live I would  
like you also to think of our Catholic Christian heritage.  

As the increasingly growing Catholic community sought to bring up their  
children in the Catholic Faith, they endeavoured to build Catholic schools.  
In the early 1900s there were nearly 200 Catholic schools, which had been  
built and maintained by Catholic parents for their children. However as a  
result of the 1918 Education Act these Catholic schools had been absorbed  
into the new State System, taken over by the State in return for certain  
safeguards in Law.  

Difficulties arose in 1920 when the first of a series of petitions went to  
Stirling asking the County to provide a Catholic school for the 200 Catholic  
children in the Bonnybridge area. The reply was to become monotonous “ there  
is ample accommodation in the State schools in that area. However the  
Catholics wished a Catholic school for their children “ and the Scottish  
Education Department was asked to compel Stirling to build the school and a  
dispute continued which was talked about throughout the length and breadth  
of Scotland, in the outer and inner houses of the Court of Session in  
Edinburgh and the House of Lords at Westminster. After some years of dispute  
a final decision was made that Stirling County Council would have to accept  
the transfer of St Joseph s Primary School, Bonnybridge and all the  
financial responsibilities involved. That school was built by parents who  
intended their children to be educated within the atmosphere of a truly  
Catholic school “ built on the rock of faith, faith in God and faith in the  
basic fair-mindedness of their fellow men. The result of the famous  
Bonnybridge Case was to ensure that the Catholic School system following  
on the 1918 Education Act would continue to help in the building of Catholic  
schools wherever there was a reasonable cause for asking for them.  

We have no reason to fear any possible change in the Laws of our Land.  
Perhaps there is more to fear for the Church of today in that there are some  
members of our Church and many outside our Church who in public statements  
seem to be prepared to water down, even to cast overboard, the legal  
provisions and safeguards for which our parents fought. We must remember  
that the driving force behind the Bonnybridge Case was the reasonable will  
of the parents to have their children educated in the Catholic school. The  
source of whatever authority priests and teachers have in the field of  
education comes from the trust placed in them by the parents of the children  
they serve.  

One particular situation arising today particularly where there is a small  
Catholic population along with smaller local authorities is the question of  
shared campus schools. In a briefing document on shared campus schools of  
February 2004 the Scottish Catholic Education Service clearly states: Every  
Catholic school community is expected to show its distinctiveness in its  
teaching programmes, in its forming of relationships, in its culture and  
ethos, in its values, beliefs and assumptions, and in the opportunities it  
provides for prayer and worship .  

The briefing rightly goes on to state that: It is undoubtedly more  
difficult to provide this distinctive form of education in a shared campus  
context where two distinctive school communities will live together as  
neighbours but not a s one family .  

Of course it is for this reason that it is the Church s Policy to support,  
in almost all cases, the provision of discreet Catholic schools to meet the  
needs of each and every community. The Policy is not intended to suggest a  
detachment from social communion and harmony. Rather it is vital if the  
Church is to be able to develop the distinctive provision, which has been  
highly valued and highly successful.  

The views of local communities are vitally important. Any local council, in  
considering a proposal to develop shared campus arrangements for a specific  
school, is obliged to consult with the local bishop to seek his view on the  
proposal. Many examples of good practice now exist in our country where  
the views of the Catholic community have indeed been consulted and listened  
to in the construction of shared campus schools.  

But I stress that the views of the local community are vitally important “  
as the Catholic community was listened to 100 years ago so again we expect  
the local authorities to listen to the views of the Catholic community and  
we also expect the wishes of the Catholic community to be respected and our  
legal safeguards protected and supported by the Scottish Executive.  

As our forefathers in the faith in the early 1900s looked forward in  
confidence through the safeguards of the 1918 Education Act to a succession  
of Catholic schools in our country “ so too do we now look forward at the  
beginning of the 2000s at the beginning of a new millennium with confidence  
realizing that the safeguards which once existed still exist for  
safeguarding discreet Catholic schools where possible and shared campus  
arrangements ensuring a Catholic school and a non-denominational school on  
one campus where the Catholic partner is indeed a discreet Catholic school  
although sharing certain facilities.  

The heritage which is our children:  

Obviously, in speaking to primary school teachers I know and am fully aware  
of your important vocation. However, I appreciate that with me you realise  
that parents are the first and primary educators of their children informed  
by the teaching of the Church.  

If the heritage of our buildings is important perhaps we can rightly say  
that our heritage of our children is even more important.  

Consequently, we realise that in our Catholic schools we must have  
academically qualified and highly trained teachers interested not just in  
teaching as a subject but vitally interested in the formation of the faith  
of the young people entrusted to their care. It is indeed a heavy  
responsibility, which lies on the shoulders of teachers in our Catholic  
schools “ but I realise that many of you share the motto, which I adopted  
when I was appointed Archbishop:  

Serve the Lord with gladness . Nothing is more stimulating, nothing is more  
challenging, nothing is more fulfilling than forming young people, not only  
academically but also morally and spiritually.  

It is to assist you in your own particular vocations that I have spoken out  
recently about the forthcoming Sexual Education Strategy of the Scottish  

I am fully aware that a consultation process has already taken place and I  
know that many of you will have responded either as individuals, or as  
members of your school staff. Many school boards and parents associations  
have similarly responded.  

I have been asked why I have spoken out so strongly in recent weeks  
following on the consultation process. The answer is perfectly clear. I want  
all peoples of goodwill to have a further opportunity of entering into  
debate and I think that I have stimulated such debate in the past few weeks.  

Although over 1,000 responses were received to the consultation, it is  
difficult to describe this as ˜wide public debate bearing in mind that a  
similar consultation on ˜Smoking in Public Places has to date generated  
over 27,000 responses! As one observer put it: There has been more debate  
about this sexual education strategy in the 48 hours since Cardinal O Brien  
first spoke than in the 48 weeks previously! Consequently, I make no  
apology for bringing this debate to the attention of the public in general  
and my own Catholic community in particular and would encourage wider debate  
and discussion on the topic, before any decisions are made by the Scottish  
Executive and a policy is produced and laid before us for implementation.  

Secondly, I have become increasingly aware of worries among parents in our  
Catholic community and from many people of goodwill about proposals floated  
in the consultative document. Safeguards must exist for all our children  
from nursery to the top years of secondary school. It is for this reason  
that I have asked clarification on a number of issues which are of intense  
interest to me and to those involved in our Catholic schools as well as to  
others who have written to me. Plans to improve links between schools and  
sexual health services mentioned in Para 4.20 of the document cause many  
people concern especially in relation to the distribution in confidence of  
the Morning After Pill to children.  

Proposals in Para 4.17 of the consultation document have caused me to ask  
for confirmation that sex and relationships education resources and  
approaches which use suggestive role-playing, graphic imagery or intimate  
questioning will not be used in pre-school or primary schools and that no  
approach will be used in isolation from any guidance on basic moral values.  

Knowing that in speaking to you I am also speaking to many parents, I have  
also asked for confirmation that the morning after pill will not be made  
available in confidence to school children without parental consent, either  
within schools or facilitated by health workers in and around schools. It is  
relatively easy to state that this pill will not be given out within schools  
but in a recent article in a national paper it is stated: Health workers  
are routinely arranging for Scottish schoolgirls to receive emergency  
contraception despite a vow by the First Minister that the morning after  
pill will not be handed out in schools . The newspaper investigation has  
apparently uncovered numerous ways in which health professionals bypass  
Government Policy to provide children with the morning after pill without  
their parents ever being told.  

In our Catholic schools we must have a commitment on the part of all those  
working in our schools to uphold the moral teaching, faith, tradition and  
sacramental life of our Church. To this end, I have asked, that the right  
of denominational schools to set protocols governing the work of health  
professionals be respected  

From the beginning of Christianity emphasis has been placed on a stable  
relationship in marriage as being the best way in which children are  
educated and formed. Consequently, I have appealed for abstinence-based  
approaches to be used with regard to sex education; I have urged fidelity in  
marriage; and have asked for any sex and relationships education to be set  
at all times in a moral context.  

We must be aware that others who do not observe our standards and our moral  
values are constantly seeking to erode them and affect not only our children  
but the morality of society.  

In our Catholic schools we must set the highest standards of education and  
formation. I recommend to you the Guidance Notes for Teaching Relationships  
and Moral Education produced by the Catholic Education. These guidance  
notes should be the basis for all that we are endeavouring to teach in our  
Catholic schools in this area. Various excellent courses have been produced  
“ the Scottish Catholic Education Service will be assessing these and I  
commend their future recommendations to you all.  


I have spoken this morning of the society in which we live; of the Christian  
heritage we value, of the precious heritage, which are our Catholic schools;  
and of our children an even more important heritage.  

Your vocation as teachers and leaders, in Catholic primary schools, is a  
precious and vital one. As I have been called to my vocation, so you have  
been called to yours.  

Together we must strengthen our desire to live our faith as best we can and  
to transmit that faith to those we teach.  

In the words of one of our familiar hymns, words taken from sacred scripture  
we are taught: When God is for us who can be against! God is indeed for us  
“ no one can be against “ strong in our faith and in our commitment we do  
indeed go forward evermore confidently into the future, a future in which  
each one of us has an important role to play as a follower of Jesus Christ.  


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