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Wednesday 30 April 2008

Cardinal praises "dedication and commitment" of Catholic teachers

Speaking at the Conference of Catholic secondary Head teachers at Crief Hydro on Thursday 1 June 2008 Cardinal Keith O'Brien in a keynote address will pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of Scotland's Catholic Head teachers and their staff while acknowledging the continued success of Catholic schools.

Cardinal O'Brien will also highlight his disappointment that so few media outlets seem to provide positive coverage of Catholic education, preferring instead to give "disproportionate space for the expression of the old rhetoric of suspicion and hostility when there is so much ˜good news which could be aired and written." Citing a very low level of media coverage of this year's Cardinal Winning education Lecture delivered by First Minister Alex Salmond, the Cardinal will describe this as an example of the "determined and blatant bias is a sad phenomenon to which we have become all too accustomed in Scotland."

Cardinal O'Brien will also call on the leaders of Scotland's political parties to follow Alex Salmond's lead by celebrating rather than tolerating Catholic education. In a strongly worded call he will say; " I challenge them - quite simply - to tell the truth about Catholic schools in Scotland: to acknowledge their considerable contribution to Scotland s welfare, to recognise their distinctive provision, to praise their achievements and to pledge their support.   In the First Minister s own words, It s time to celebrate Catholic education in Scotland ; the time for grudging acceptance and outright hostility is in the past."

Cardinal O'Brien will also commend the work of the Scottish Catholic Education service under its Director Mr Michael McGrath, paying particular tribute to the recently developed ˜Called to Love   programme a teaching resource for use in Catholic schools when delivering sex and relationships education. He will describe the resource as " a distinctive vision to which young people can aspire - a vision of lives created and growing in love, living for love, being faithful and committed to God s call to love and being responsible in love." adding "This is another example of how Catholic schools are distinctive in the vision which we offer.   We are promoting responsible behaviour and we are providing factual information to young people but we are doing so in an unambiguous moral context. "

The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's address is shown below:

ENDS

Peter Kearney  
Director  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
Glasgow  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168
07968 122291  
pk@scmo.org  
www.scmo.org



CATHOLIC HEAD TEACHERS ASSOCIATION OF SCOTLAND CONFERENCE
 
ADDRESS BY CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O BRIEN
 
CRIEFF HYDRO HOTEL
 
THURSDAY 1 MAY 2008
 
 
Introduction:  
The title for your conference - Promoting Values and Equality - is, I would suggest, not only appropriate to Scottish Catholic Education.   It could be argued that it refers to the great need of our time - vital in many areas of the life of our nation, and in nations across the world.
Today I want to speak about our understanding of ˜Equality in our world and about the kinds of ˜Values which all schools should be promoting.   I want to affirm you in your vital role in education and in the Church. And I want to encourage you as you continue to make your way on that seemingly never-ending journey to excellence.
Firstly, however, I want to thank you and your staff for your dedication and your commitment.   I see this first hand when I visit your schools and I meet young people who are clearly benefiting from the education which you are providing for them.   I know how much they gain from the opportunities you provide for them to live, learn and grow in an environment which does more than care for them.   It is clear to me that you and your colleagues clearly love these young people, and that you help them to love others.   ˜Love is a theme to which I shall return.
Today is an opportunity for me, on behalf of all the Bishops of Scotland, to add the Church s voice to those other expressions of recognition which you have heard this year.   Each of my brother Bishops appreciates the great work being done in Catholic schools across Scotland.   At meetings of the Bishops Conference we regularly discuss the significant achievements of Catholic schools. We hear regularly from Michael McGrath and Neil Roarty, who report on the work of SCES and of the Catholic Education Commission. In the various Dioceses, at meetings of Head Teachers, at Masses in Catholic Education Week and on other occasions, the Bishops pay tribute to all staff working in Catholic schools for their great efforts.   We recognise that you are under great pressure, that you have many priorities (not always of your own choosing) and that you are expected to deliver results of various kinds.
 
School Inspections:
Under such pressure, it is remarkable that - again and again - so many Catholic schools are praised by Her Majesty s Inspectors for outstanding achievements and for excellence in so many aspects of provision.   In this school session alone, Catholic schools have been praised not only for outstanding leadership, but for the promotion of a strong sense of tolerance and inclusion and for distinction in promoting equality, diversity and anti-sectarianism.   Our schools are frequently praised for their commitment to promote global awareness and to support the needs of developing countries.   One of my joys as Cardinal on visiting a great variety of countries abroad, is to hear teachers and pupils speak of our schools as wonderful, helpful neighbours in our global villages. In reporting on many of our schools, HMI Inspectors comment very positively on the strong sense of Gospel Values and on the promotion of faith communities, where schools work in partnership with local parishes, being supported by local clergy and religious, and providing good opportunities for daily prayers, liturgies and Masses.
Media Coverage:
It is little wonder, then, that occasional articles appear in some newspapers highlighting this significant pattern - the excellence of performance in so many Catholic schools.   What is remarkable is that - in the face of a mountain of evidence provided by HMI who are independent assessors - we are still more likely to read newspaper articles and letters which condemn Catholic schools as being the major contributory factor (if not the root cause) of sectarianism in Scotland.   It is disappointing that our media outlets seem to provide disproportionate space for the expression of the old rhetoric of suspicion and hostility when there is so much ˜good news which could be aired and written.
We were given some spectacular examples of this imbalance in the media coverage of Catholic schools when First Minister Alex Salmond gave the Cardinal Winning Lecture at the end of Catholic Education Week in February this year.   The week began inauspiciously when Michael McGrath was invited onto a Radio Scotland programme to take part in a discussion about schools.   He was assured that the issue of Catholic Education Week would be covered in the item, but, in fact, it was all about a proposal to create a shared campus school in East Ayrshire.   As soon as it became clear in the course of the broadcast that there was no great dispute between the Church and the Council, the BBC could not finish the item quickly enough.
Later that week BBC Newsnight Scotland ran a garbled item which showed no understanding of Catholic schools and their contribution to Scottish society.   It would make a fascinating case study in a Media Studies course - of how not to do it.
By the weekend, when the First Minister of Scotland was due to deliver a lecture entitled ˜Celebrating Catholic Education , you might have expected the media to be interested, if not enthusiastic.   With their production centres just a few miles from the University campus, neither BBC nor STV managed to send a camera crew to cover the lecture.   (Meantime BBC had sent two camera crews at inordinate expense to the island of St Kilda where a trawler had run aground and there were fears that rats from the sinking ship would destroy nesting seabirds.   It later turned out that there were no rats!)
Even if our TV companies didn t manage to travel to Glasgow University, most of the Scottish Sunday broadsheets covered the lecture. However, the Sunday Times could only find space for 47 words devoted to the event.   This is the same Sunday Times who - just over a year previously - had tried over a number of weeks to stir up a ˜national debate over the future of Scotland s Catholic schools;   the same Sunday Times who were prepared to feature extensively the words of a few ex-politicians who had suddenly discovered their principled objections to Catholic schools;   the same Sunday Times who failed to publish any views which might offer some counter-balance to the bias of the other contributors.
Such determined and blatant bias is a sad phenomenon to which we have become all too accustomed in Scotland.   What we are less used to is the phenomenon of a politician actually speaking out in favour of Catholic schools.   Well, this year, in the lecture given by Scotland s First Minister we could not have asked for a clearer advocacy of Catholic schools. Those of you who were present were probably as astonished as I was to hear such words of praise and admiration. Not that anything he said was untrue or exaggerated.   It was just astonishing that he was prepared to turn out at a public event, during Catholic Education Week to celebrate Catholic Education in Scotland. Scottish politicians don t do that sort of thing!
Neither do they express admiration for the contribution of Scotland s Catholic schools, for their work in endowing children with a strong moral foundation, with a positive and distinctive identity, with a keen sense of personal responsibility and the common good, with a strong commitment to charity, and with a belief in the principle that each of us can and should make a positive contribution to our world.
But Alex Salmond did all of that.   And I expect him to do it again.   And I call on the leaders of Scotland s other political parties to do likewise.   I challenge them - quite simply - to tell the truth about Catholic schools in Scotland: to acknowledge their considerable contribution to Scotland s welfare, to recognise their distinctive provision, to praise their achievements and to pledge their support. In the First Minister s own words, It s time to celebrate Catholic education in Scotland ; the time for grudging acceptance and outright hostility is in the past.
 
Equality:
 
Returning to the theme of your conference - Equality and Values - I want to take this chance to make something very clear.   We in the Catholic Church are absolutely committed to Equality.   We recognise the equal dignity and worth of all humans, because we believe that we are all made in God s image and likeness. This belief provides the moral foundation of any decent society which values and respects human life. Sometimes we are misrepresented as being dismissive of people whose views we do not share.   Or we are accused of treating them unfairly because we don t accept their point of view.   This is a basic and serious error of logic.   Equality is not synonymous with uniformity.   We are all entitled to our own views, our values and our beliefs; and we are equally entitled to express these, even when they are at odds with the views we hear expressed by others.  
In this country - and in Europe more widely - there is a very strong Equality and Diversity agenda which now underpins social policy.   Now it is absolutely right that the dignity of human life is recognised and that people s rights are protected. However, sometimes Equality and Diversity is used as a badge of convenience to gain recognition for particular interests.   The desire for Equality has been used by some as an instrument of intolerance, to hinder the expression of beliefs which are at odds with their own views. On the other hand Diversity seems only to be valued by some when it protects particular interests.
The contradictions are well exemplified in the debate over Catholic schools in Scotland.   Some argue that the provision of Catholic schools is unfair because it endows Catholics with a privilege not shared by others.   Of course, they show their ignorance of the Law when they fail to understand that any religious body in Scotland can establish schools in the interest of any denomination.   Indeed, the Episcopalian Church still has a small number of such denominational schools.   Some members of the Muslim community wish to make a case for state-funded Muslim schools on the same equitable basis.
In the case of Catholic schools, significant numbers of parents in this country freely choose to send their children to Catholic schools. This is a right enshrined in Scots Law but also recognised in European Law - the right to have their children educated in accordance with their religious, philosophical and moral convictions .   This is a perfectly legitimate expression of diversity.   Yet it is a freedom which some people want to remove - supposedly in the interests of Equality .
 
 
Values:
 
Such muddled thinking is also prevalent today when people talk about values, the other aspect of your conference theme.   It appears that some people want to lay claim to any particular personal preference or the latest trend and label it as a value which deserves respect and legitimacy.   The late Pope John Paul II used to speak of the crisis of values which has overtaken Western civilisation, where people have abandoned any notion of absolute truth.   Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the modern phenomenon of the dictatorship of relativism where people demand the right to justify any moral choice based on their individual human rights.   In this way, any action can be justified if it might potentially - in some distant future - lead to the possibility of improving some aspect of human life.  
As Christians, we are fortunate to have a moral framework - expressed in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition - which guides our words and actions.   The Ten Commandments provide clear guidance on right and wrong.   The Beatitudes express, through paradox and oxymoron, the values which Christ espouses for us.   These Gospel values are unconventional; they run counter to the trends of society.   Jesus uses them to challenge our priorities, to help us to learn that, in order to be happy - to be Blessed - we must be peace-loving, merciful, pure of heart and meek.  
 
We are supported in our efforts to live by these values in the teachings of the Church about Virtues - those personal habits which each of us needs to develop if we are to live moral lives, doing good for ourselves and for others.   The teaching of the Catechism on virtues such as faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance is rich in its wisdom and demands our careful consideration.
 
For this reason the Bishops were delighted to welcome the CEC s publication of the ˜Values for Life resource, a package designed specifically to help teachers to understand values and virtues.   We recommend that you engage teachers fully in making good and considered use of ˜Values for Life over the next few years in particular.   I hope that it will feature in your programmes of staff development and in your school improvement plans.   It will be of vital support to you as you plan for new curricular structures in the light of ˜Curriculum for Excellence .   It spells out for you how and where you can deliver the values which are supposed to be at the heart of young people s learning - the values of Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity.
 
How wonderful it would be if every Scottish school articulated its curriculum and developed its planning with particular reference to these values.   This is precisely what the Bishops expect of every Catholic school in Scotland and we look forward to seeing explicit reference to values in school handbooks, in development plans and in report on standards and quality.  
 
Called to Love:
 
Another CEC resource which has been provided recently also supports you in articulating a distinctively Christian understanding of life.   ˜Called to Love provides you with a coherent package of advice and teaching materials, built on a Catholic Christian vision of human love and relationships.   In Pope Benedict XVI s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he wrote:  
Today the word love is so tarnished, so spoiled and abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one s lips. . . We cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendour.
˜Called to Love is our humble attempt to re-claim the central place of Love in human lives.  
 
Of course, I well understand that teaching young people about Relationships is not without difficulty today.   We live in an age where young people seem to have been abandoned to find their own way through the moral maze.   We allow them to be assailed by sexually explicit imagery and stark messages which promote casual sex as a recreational pastime.   We condone immoral and sometimes illegal sexual activity, preferring to encourage harm-reduction policies and deluding ourselves about safe-sex.   And the statistics tell the tragic story of lives blighted by increasing sexual infections, unwanted teenage pregnancies and abortions.  
 
Recent research carried out for the Scottish Government s Health Promotions Agency, NHS Health Scotland cast serious doubts on the quality and effectiveness of sex and relationships education in the non-denominational sector. There is no question that underlying this failure is the absence of a moral framework through which the subject can be addressed. This is in stark contrast to the approach taken by ˜Called to Love .
 
The Bishops of Scotland commend ˜Called to Love for its efforts in this difficult field of sexual education.   The programme offers a distinctive vision to which young people can aspire - a vision of lives created and growing in love, living for love, being faithful and committed to God s call to love and being responsible in love.   This is another example of how Catholic schools are distinctive in the vision which we offer.   We are promoting responsible behaviour and we are providing factual information to young people but we are doing so in an unambiguous moral context.       All young people have a right to learn about love and to learn how to love.  
 
When I last spoke to this conference, some three years ago - in May 2005 - I promised you the support of the Church in the provision of resources in this area.   I hope that you will agree that ˜Called to Love will most effectively support teachers and parents in helping young people to understand their vocation to love.   I thank you for your efforts to enrol staff in the various training days which have been offered so far.   I thank you for your commitment to purchase materials for staff, pupils and parents.   I also thank all those who have contributed to the development of such a fine resource.
 
Through the offices of the Apostolic Nunciature, His Excellency Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Institutions, Seminaries and Institutes of Study, was informed of the recent publication of ˜Called to Love , produced by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.   Archbishop Bruguès asked the Nuncio to convey to our Bishops Conference the commendation of his dicastery of SCES for their commitment in formulating these texts in light of Gospel values and for taking into account the ages and levels of maturity of the children concerned.   He also expressed gratitude to the Bishops Conference of Scotland for our endeavours in promoting Catholic teaching on this delicate issue.   The Congregation thinks that these publications will serve as reliable resources for instilling and upholding the dignity and gift of life in Scottish Catholic youth.   And while conveying the sentiments of the Archbishop, our own Apostolic Nuncio also offers all who collaborated in that recent project, his own congratulations.
 
   
 
Religious Education:
 
I understand that, later this month, details will be published of proposed learning outcomes and experiences which should be provided through religious education in Catholic schools. The publication of these proposals will provide an excellent opportunity for you to reflect upon the centrality of religious education in the life of your school.   The proposals will also challenge you and your colleagues to reflect upon your own personal understanding of the Gospel message and of how it can be communicated to children and young people.   I encourage you to engage fully in this work and to involve your colleagues in it as fully as possible.  
 
The development of particular proposals for religious education in Catholic schools has not been uncomplicated.   There were significant pressures to agree a common framework for religious education in all schools.   There were also pressures to teach non-faith stances as comprehensively as we would wish to teach Catholic Christianity. There are strong voices claiming that, out of respect for people of other faiths and none, it is time for schools to be prohibited from favouring any particular faith, or, indeed from teaching religious education at all.
 
So, it is vital that all Catholic schools consider these R.E. proposals in detail; that staff engage in opportunities to develop their own understanding of faith and of how it can be transmitted to young people today; that school leaders are faithful to their mission to catechize and evangelise.   The proposals published by Curriculum for Excellence will be accompanied by supplementary guidance published by SCES.   This guidance will provide additional information about the nature of religious education in our schools.   There will also be opportunities for teachers to meet and discuss these proposals and to consider the resources which can deliver the vision of faith which is being promoted.
 
Earlier this session, the Vatican s Congregation for Catholic Education published a document called ˜Educating Together in Catholic Schools .   This document highlighted the need for Catholic schools to provide young people with the experience of being members of a community of faith, in the midst of a world which is increasingly diverse. It called for education in communion , in which young people have a strong experience of sharing, are encouraged to search for truth and meaning, to come to know themselves and to recognise the signs through which God leads them to the fullness of existence.
 
Of course, we understand that living in communion is not in any way an exclusive activity.   It is welcoming to all people, encouraging them to know that God loves them.   It encourages all to see, in the light of the Gospel, what is positive in the world, as well as what needs to be transformed.   It helps to form people in such a way as to respect the identity, culture, history, religion and especially the sufferings and needs of others, conscious that we are all really responsible for all , as the Vatican document says.
 
This is the vision - of life, of faith and of education - which I hope to see at the heart of the Curriculum for Excellence proposals.  
 
Final remarks:
 
Since May 2005, when I last spoke to you, there have been some significant changes to the leadership profile of our secondary schools.   Quite a number of well-kent faces have been replaced by fresher faces - some only very recently. And by the next time I speak to you, I suspect, even more changes will have taken place.   I want to put on record my appreciation of all those teachers who have retired after giving years of dedicated service to Catholic education.   May God bless them and reward them for their goodness.  
 
To those of you who are here today - and particularly to those of you who are relatively new to these positions of great responsibility - I offer you my continuing support in your work.   I promise you the full support of the Church, particularly through the work of our own Education Service and through that of the Diocesan R.E. Advisors.     I do not underestimate the impact which your personal commitment and example can have, not only on young people but on your colleagues and on parents. As witnesses to faith, you are living signs of hope in a world which, at times, seems to have abandoned hope. In living your vocation, in leading a community of faith inspired by the Gospel, you will provide others with opportunities for living in communion with God and with each other.  
 
May God bless each of you in your work. May we continue, in the words of the First Minister at that recent Catholic Education Week Conference, to which I have already referred:   Celebrate Catholic Education in Scotland .

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