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Catherine Deveney: Demonisation of LGBT people in state-funded Catholic schools is unlawful hypocrisy

Southwark Diocese recently cancelled a school visit from an author because he is gay (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)
Southwark Diocese recently cancelled a school visit from an author because he is gay (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

It is hard to know anymore how one should react to yet more pontification from the Catholic church regarding homosexuality.

Contemptuous silence? Outrage? A snort of derisory laughter because, after all, there is something almost comical about a bunch of lace-by-day-and-leather-by-night men, clutching their Grecian 2000 and swishing their surplices indignantly, while denouncing gay people from deep inside their clerical closets. More of which later.

This time, it’s Southwark Diocese, where John Fisher boys school is located. The headteacher and board of governors arranged a visit from author Simon James Green.

Photo of columnist Catherine Deveney on purple background with quote "It's the children I feel sorry for; those who struggle with shame and guilt and depression because they are told that they are sick and shameful."

Green is gay and, as if that’s not enough to make him burn, has a book for young people with – Les Dawson whisper – an actual gay character in it and some sensitive handling of LGBT issues. The Diocese cancelled the visit, sacked some governors, promised retribution against the disobedient in the coming weeks, then claimed to be taking “a stand against tyranny”, which is a bit like Putin claiming to be on a peacekeeping mission.

The tyranny of what? The existence of gay people? The existence of equality legislation?

But the real dark humour behind all this is Southwark Diocese’s own past. Their seminarians attend St John’s, a troubled joint if ever there was one, according to students who have contacted me over the years.

The problem is hypocrisy, not homosexuality

In the 1990s, St John’s had a moral theologian who became quite renowned. He wrote philosophy books, had a liking for scarves by the luxury Italian designer Ferragamo, and was a fan of the singer Cher. (There’s a clue right there, dear reader.)

In 1998, he was a keynote speaker for the Catholic church at an event on human sexuality but, after that, you don’t find too many references to him. Maybe because he subsequently left and lived as a woman. And we wouldn’t want to talk about that, would we?

Good luck to her. The problem here is not homosexuality or transgender choices. It’s hypocrisy.

Photo of wooden pews
Richard Sipe estimated that 50% of priests were sexually active, and 30% or more were gay (Photo: Maleo/Shutterstock)

The late Richard Sipe, an American ex-priest who spent years researching priestly celibacy globally, estimated that 50% of priests were sexually active at any one time, 6% were paedophiles, and up to half were gay. “A conservative estimate of gay Catholic clergy is 30%,” he wrote in an article in 2012, “[But] many Vatican insiders speculate that the accurate figure is closer to 50%.”

God loves you, brothers and sisters. You are made in His likeness. Unless you are gay, in which case he thinks you are intrinsically disordered. Hard to know why so many clergy parrot that line, given how many of them are homosexual.

What does banning a gay author achieve?

As a journalist, priests have told me about rent boys, sex in parks, gay saunas in Paris and “insider” gay parties attended by even senior clerics with trusted friends. Love and commitment were off limits, but stranger-danger thrills could be followed by confession and some pompous public pronouncements to cover the tracks.

Having attended a convent school, it’s the teenage boys at John Fisher School that I feel sorry for; those who struggle with shame and guilt and depression because they are told – even from those hiding in clergy closets – that they are sick and shameful.

What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual?

As for Simon James Green, he didn’t even rate a mention in the church’s published comments. He was nothing, cancelled out of existence, ostracised like some biblical leper.

What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual? And what would they achieve by banning him? The eradication of homosexuality? “Expecto patronum!” As Harry Potter would say. That should do it.

Breaching equality legislation

You might expect a little more Christ-like kindness. You would certainly expect more humility from a church riddled with sex scandals. Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Countless paedophile scandals in every country where Catholicism exists.

But, no sooner are they knocked off their public soapboxes than they jump right back on again as if nothing has happened, trying to seize the old moral high ground while the trickles fall from their bloodied noses.

Photo of cardinal in church
Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned after multiple allegations of inappropriate and predatory sexual conduct (Photo: PA)

The church has nurtured a sense of being “other”, both legally and morally. The Vatican is legally an independent state, with its own leader. It has its own – corrupt – banking system, implicated in fraud yet again recently in the Swiss banking scandal. Even its own diplomatic corps.

But John Fisher is a voluntary-aided faith school: the state pays its running costs. If the church wants to ignore equality legislation, perhaps the appropriate reaction is to make clear that the state will no longer pay to allow a scandal-ridden organisation to breach its equality laws on the grounds of “faith”.


Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter

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