In Scotland, a Catholic secondary school official responded in an extremely appropriate and effective way when anti-gay leaflets were discovered on campus: he apologized to the students.
Glasgow’s Herald newspaper reported that when Stephen Phee, the Head teacher (chief administrator) at St. Mungo’s school, Falkirk, was informed of the leaflets’ existence by the student who discovered them, he immediately offered an apology. The student, Aidan Callaghan, said:
“Mr. Phee apologised straight away and said they shouldn’t have been there, and he would investigate how they got there.”
The fliers, which were published by an organization called “The Catholic Truth Society,” were immediately removed from the school. Entitled “The Church and same-sex attraction,” the tract used terms like “deep-seated tendencies” and “acts of grave depravity” to discuss, respectively, homosexual orientation and gay sex.” These terms are often used in Catholic magisterial writing. Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case? Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harrassment,
Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case? Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harassment. That is a task that every Catholic institution administrator should consider as part of the job description.
Scottish LGBT advocates noted how important it is for the school to respond strongly to this situation. The Herald reported that Cara Spence, Senior Programmes Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland, explained:
“[These] messages are deeply damaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners and could have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence and their ability to talk to others about how they feel.”
With a positive response like Phee’s, it’s not surprising that Callahan, the student who found the fliers, noted that the school’s atmosphere is an accepting one. He stated:
“Homophobia isn’t an issue at our school, so I was really surprised to see something like this.”
Last June, Pope Francis had called on church leaders to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the ill-treatment they have received from religious institutions. Few leaders have done so, which makes the school administrator’s statement all the more remarkable.
The spirit of apology seems to be infused in Scotland lately. The theological forum of the Church of Scotland (the established Presbyterian church) has announced that it will ask the General Assembly of the denomination meeting this month to offer an apology to lesbian and gay people. A report issued by the forum stated:
“We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults.”
Let us pray that this action from the Church of Scotland will inspire other Christian churches to follow suit. And let us pray that the action of this Scottish Roman Catholic school official will spark other Catholic officials to begin the process of reconciliation with the LGBT community by offering their own apologies.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2017