(CP) A Catholic diocese is facing backlash after cancelling a children's book signing event featuring a gay author at one of its schools, and reportedly removed the school's governors for backing the decision to invite the speaker.
As the Scottish website Catholic Truth first reported, children's book author Simon James Green was scheduled to visit students in years eight and nine at The John Fisher School in Purley, London, on March 7.
As indicated in a letter obtained by Catholic Truth and written by the librarian at the all-boys' Catholic School, the book signing event was part of the school's World Book Day and LGBT History Month celebrations.
The purpose of the event was for Green to discuss his novel, Noah Can't Even, which features a gay character. Another one of Green's books, Alex in Wonderland, was "selected as one of the top 20 LGBTQ+ books of 2019 by Attitude," according to his website.
The prospect of a Catholic school promoting books advancing an ideology that runs contrary to Catholic Church teachings on marriage and sexuality did not sit well with the Catholic website, which seeks to "report on the crisis in the Church" and calls out "unfaithful clergy who are living double lives of sexual immorality."
"Catholic Schools cannot, under any circumstance, endanger the Faith of pupils in their charge by presenting as a good, something which is condemned by the divinely bequeathed teaching authority of Christ's Church," the website argued.
The article, which urged Catholics to protest Green's speech and called for its cancellation, cited Paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as justification for its position. The document states that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," "contrary to the natural law" and "Under no circumstances can they be approved."
Simon Hughes, the director of education and diocesan schools coordinator for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, issued a "formal position statement" on the book signing event on March 3, four days before Green's scheduled appearance speech.
"From time to time materials or events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school," he wrote.
"The book-signing event scheduled for 7 March 2022 at The John Fisher, Purley is one such event and we have recommended that the school's leaders cancel it," Hughes added.
While the school initially planned to continue with the event despite the archdiocese's recommendation, one school leader vigorously disagreed with that decision.
In a message shared by Green on Twitter, John Fisher School Chaplain Father James Clark warned parents that "the event involves an author who's books are not in line with Catholic Education and are contrary to the ethos of our school and to the teachings of The Church."
"The Head teacher and some Governors have decided to disobeythe clear instruction from the Diocese and this will have serious consequences in the weeks ahead," Clark lamented.
Clark encouraged parents to "email the school to stress your request that the event is canceled and that your trust can be restored."
"This is not about diversity," Clark maintained. "No one is denying the existence of those who have differing beliefs to ourselves, the event is about promoting the literature of a lifestyle choice that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and therefore has no place in a catholic school."
While the event was cancelled, the fallout continues.
I News reported last week that Hughes expressed outrage that the school's "foundation governors" decided to allow the event to move forward. In the letter published March 5, Hughes said the decision has "eroded" his and Archbishop John Wilson's "confidence in the governing body" and that they are "removing the remaining foundation governors under the powers set out in the Articles and Instrument of governance." The move renders "the governing body inquorate and dysfunctional."
Correspondence reviewed by The Tablet indicates that two of the school's governors resigned while the other foundation governors had been removed by Southwark's Education Commission.
Catholic Truth reported that Clark resigned over the weekend, citing a conversation with a source close to the situation who asserted that "Fr. Clark decided he simply couldn't work in a school that was promoting and selling unsuitable, pornographic material to children."
For his part, Green stressed a need to "make some noise" by liking, retweeting and amplifying the story about his event's cancellation.
"I want [the Archdiocese of Southwark] to see how wrong they are," he tweeted. Green emphasized that he did not want people to direct their outrage at the school itself because "they've been lovely."
The archdiocese's decision to cancel the event was criticized by the Catholic Education Service, an arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
"Catholic schools welcome pupils from all backgrounds. This isolated incident has given a false impression of the inclusive nature of Catholic schools," a CES statement reads.
"Catholic schools are places where all children can flourish and as such have a zero-tolerance approach to LGBT+ discrimination. Nationally the CES has worked closely with schools, dioceses, and charities to produce Catholic inclusivity guidance and resources for schools that have won acclaim from LGBT+ organisations."
The National Secular Society, a British group that opposes government funding of religious schools, also condemned the archdiocese's cancelation of the event.
In a statement, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans contended that "If a visit from one of the UK's leading writers of LGBTQ+ teen fiction is considered 'outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school,' the state should reconsider publicly funding such schools."
"The disturbing behaviour of this diocese highlights a broader problem of faith schools stigmatising same-sex relationships and therefore contributing to a climate where many young LGBT people are growing up feeling ashamed or frightened about who they are," he added. "Our own research has shown that a significant number of faith schools promote the idea that same-sex attraction is 'morally wrong,' 'disordered' or a 'lifestyle choice.'"
Evans described such ideas as unacceptable for a "publicly funded school."
"Regardless of their sexuality or the sexuality of their parents, children of every religion and belief background should be entitled to study in a welcoming and accepting school," Evans argued.
A Department for Education spokesperson told The Tablet that the department is "looking into the circumstances surrounding the diocese's role in this incident."
"We have made relationships education compulsory for all primary school pupils, and relationships and sex education compulsory for all secondary school pupils," the Education Department statement reads.
"Schools should teach students that everybody has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, with particular regard to their duties under the Equality Act."
James wrote on Twitter that another visit to a Catholic primary school under the archdiocese's control has also been canceled.
"That was for a talk about my picture books and MG, which contain no LGBT content whatsoever," he tweeted. "All I do with my books and school events is encourage reading for pleasure, acceptance of difference and celebrate being who we are."
"You can't be made gay by reading about gay characters in books," he added. "If you're LGBT, you're LGBT. I want LGBT kids to find comfort and understanding in my books, and non-LGBT kids to understand other lives, empathise, see we're really not so different."