Southwark Archdiocese defends cancelling gay author's visit to Catholic school
The Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark has defended its decision to cancel the visit of a gay author to one of its schools.
Simon James Green was invited to the John Fisher School in Purley to speak to year 8 and 9 students - aged 12 to 13 years old - as part of World Book Day.
His appearance was cancelled by the Archbishop of Southwark after concerns were raised about the content of Green's LGBT books for teens.
The decision prompted a snap inspection by schools regulator Ofsted which in its report this week, criticised the archdiocese and said that it had left staff and pupils "feeling angry, confused and frustrated".
The school was forced to close temporarily this week after staff went on strike over the cancellation of Green's visit.
In a lengthy statement, the Education Commission for the Archdiocese of Southwark has defended its actions and outlined concerns with parts of Green's books, Noah Cannot Even and Noah Could Never, that contain sexually explicit material and a distortion of the Lord's Prayer.
The Education Commission said that the sexual imagery was "not appropriate for school age pupils in a Catholic context" and that the use of the Lord's Prayer in this way was "a source of deep disquiet".
It added that the issue was not with the character's sexual orientation but the content of the material.
"For Christians, the Lord's Prayer (Our Father) is something very precious," the Education Commission said.
"We believe it was taught by Jesus Christ to his first disciples as the pattern for all prayer. We would not expect someone who is not a Christian to accept what we believe about this prayer.
"We would, however, hope that it would be respected as a treasured and intrinsic part of a major world faith, prayed daily by millions of people.
"The Lord's Prayer forms part an intrinsic part of Catholic worship and devotion. It is taught to children by their family as well as by school staff, being part of the spiritual life of a Catholic school."
The Education Commission's Statement in full:
Through concerns raised, the Archdiocese of Southwark was made aware of Mr Green's book Noah Cannot Even (2017) which was the focus for the World Book Day presentation and signing at the John Fisher School. The event was for pupils in years 8 and 9, the vast majority of whom would be aged 12 to 13 years old. The book has a sequel, Noah Could Never (2018).
For Christians, the Lord's Prayer (Our Father) is something very precious. We believe it was taught by Jesus Christ to his first disciples as the pattern for all prayer. We would not expect someone who is not a Christian to accept what we believe about this prayer. We would, however, hope that it would be respected as a treasured and intrinsic part of a major world faith, prayed daily by millions of people. The Lord's Prayer forms part an intrinsic part of Catholic worship and devotion. It is taught to children by their family as well as by school staff, being part of the spiritual life of a Catholic school.
READ MORE: The Archbishop of Southwark is to be applauded for his stand against sexually explicit LGBT books in Catholic schools
In the book Noah Can't Even, chapter 13, on pages 124-125, begins:
"Let us pray."
"Our Father, who art the gay boy? Noah be his name..." [...]
"He makes Harry come. He gives him one. On earth as it is in Heaven. ..." [...]
"And lead him straight into temptation. Right into a gay bar. For Noah is a gay boy. Who likes to suck c**k. For ever and ever. He's gay."
"OK, sit yourselves down!" said Mr. Baxter, head of year.
The year elevens all shuffled back into their seats. Noah despondently plopped back down, straight on to a banana that the hilarious occupants of the row behind had placed on his seat during the prayer.
"Awww – right up his a**e!" said one of the lads. (It wasn't.)
"He loves it!" said another. (He didn't.)
"Oh, Harry! Do it to me!" sighed a girl. (Not a phrase he would ever use. He wasn't a porn star with no class.)
Please see appendix I (below) for The Lord's Prayer, as used by the Roman Catholic Church.
Asterisks have been placed in the text above, for the sake of modesty, but are not present in the original.
Mr Green has commented that his book simply has a gay character and some 'kissing.' Looking at the text above, the narrative employs sexual imagery which we believe is not appropriate for school age pupils in a Catholic context. The use of this prayer in this way, and for this to be promoted in a Catholic school, is a source of deep disquiet.
In the book Noah Could Never, early in chapter 4, there is the following narrative.
READ MORE: When 'good intentions' go bad: LGBT+ teen fiction and the Church
Rumour had it, Connor was seeing a boy in year thirteen – two years his senior! How very edgy. That meant Connor was also probably sexually experienced now, taken under the wing of this sugar daddy in the sixth form, who would have doubtless shown him exactly what to do and when to do it. ...
The context is Noah's continuing personal journey. The concern is whether the themes raised are appropriate for school age pupils. If the narrative were about a female pupil in Year 11 and a male pupil in Year 13, who was her 'sugar daddy' and had 'doubtless shown [her] exactly what to do and when to do it,' the concern would remain the same. It is important to record again that sexual orientation is not, and never was, the reason for concern. It is the content of the material. If a passage such as that above had been written from a heterosexual perspective, it would have been equally unacceptable.
Additional concerns arose regarding inappropriate language towards women, specifically the mother figure in the book, who is described as 'A total bitch from Hell' (p.196) and 'Cantankerous Hag' (p.202), whilst a scene in which Noah and Josh give marks out of ten to girls based on sex is disrespectful towards women and promotes this attitude as acceptable (P.223-224).
We hope this information about the content of the material involved helps to explain the genuine matters of concern. Our priority throughout has been, and remains, the flourishing of pupils at the John Fisher School (see Appendix II). We are continuing to work with the entire school community and the local authority, and we are committed to the students' academic, pastoral, and spiritual care.
The Lord's Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Letter to parents and pupils of The John Fisher School, Purley, 18 March 2022
As with all Catholic schools, The John Fisher School is a welcoming and inclusive place for all pupils, and we were extremely pleased that this was recognised by Ofsted. The Archdiocese of Southwark was concerned however, that there were inaccuracies in the report surrounding the cancelled visit of Mr Green, with evidence appearing to be drawn solely from media reports. The Diocesan Education Commission has today written to Ofsted asking them to review the report again.
Respect for the God-given dignity of each human life sits at the heart of Catholic education and respect is a two-way street. Literature that insults the faith, which in the case of Mr Green's book was a highly sexualised re-writing of the Lord's Prayer, understandably causes offence to many Christians, and as such has no place in a Catholic school.
It is important that the school can now move on from this, and the Diocesan Education Commission will continue to work with the Local Authority, Governing Body, unions, and senior leaders at The John Fisher, in the best interest of parents, pupils and all members of staff.