English Archbishop Takes Heat for Blocking LGBT Event at Catholic School

Parents and teachers expressed indignation at Southwark Archbishop John Wilson’s decision, some even claiming that children will be damaged by the event not taking place.

Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark, England, prepares to celebrate the Solemn Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday in St. George’s Cathedral on April 10, 2020, in London.
Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark, England, prepares to celebrate the Solemn Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday in St. George’s Cathedral on April 10, 2020, in London. (photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

“Beware of those prophets who speak unto you and deceive you! They prophecy nothing but the imaginations and forgings of their own minds and not the truth of Holy Scripture!” —St. John Fisher

Why should a Catholic school be forced to promote a book that celebrates a message and a lifestyle contrary to the well-known theological and moral teaching of the Church?

English Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark and diocesan education authorities intervened to protect the school’s integrity and insist that the event be dropped. In today’s Britain, however, their action has been denounced and there are now dark hints from the Department of Education that the school be penalized.

The John Fisher School, named after the great English bishop who was martyred with St. Thomas More in 1535 for defending the Church’s teaching on marriage, announced the celebration of a book by author Simon James Green, who writes “LGBTQ+” fiction for young adults, as part of National Book Week. When concerns were raised by, among others, the school’s chaplain, the diocesan education team investigated, and the result was a statement which, in courteous and measured language, set out the Church’s position. Signed by the Diocesan Schools Commissioner, the statement says:

In keeping with our Catholic faith, schools in the trusteeship or purview of the Archdiocese of Southwark are required to welcome, safeguard and care for all pupils. As the Diocese with the most diverse pupil population in England and Wales we are proud of our schools’ efforts to include pupils whatever their particular or individual characteristics, circumstances or needs. Our schools are encouraged to tackle bullying of any sort robustly, including any form of conduct or behaviour based on disrespectful or prejudiced approaches to protected characteristics under U.K. civil law. Moreover, our schools are required to deliver a programme of relationships and sex education that is compliant with the Equalities Act 2010 and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. While we do not endorse any particular programme of study or textbook, we encourage schools to use materials to support pupils’ learning in this crucial aspect of human development that have been tried and tested against these two important frameworks.
From time to time materials or events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school, because they do not comply with all aspects of the tests cited above — for example the protected characteristic ‘religion’ (Part 2 of the Equalities Act 2010) and all that that encompasses in our context. In such circumstances, we have no alternative but to affirm our unequivocal and well-known theological and moral precepts and to act in accordance with them. The book-signing event scheduled for 7 March 2022 at The John Fisher School, Purley is one such event and we have recommended that the school’s leaders cancel it.

The cancellation of the event should not come as a surprise: A Catholic school should certainly not hold an event promoting a lifestyle that is contrary to the doctrine of the faith.  However, parents, teachers and some of the school’s governing body have expressed indignation and spoken passionately against the archbishop’s decision, some even claiming that children at the school will in some way be damaged by the event not taking place. 

The school, founded in the 1920s, is “voluntary-aided”, i.e., in receipt of funds provided by the Department of Education, and campaigning groups opposed to the funding of Church schools have not been slow to join in the noise and demand that the school be subjected to financial penalties. 

Archbishop Wilson and the diocesan team will come under immense pressure over the next weeks and months and courage will be needed to stand firm and uphold the human and Christian values taught by the Church. The archbishop, appointed by Pope Francis in 2019, was trained at the Venerable English College in Rome, and has worked as a seminary lecturer, prison chaplain and parish priest.

The Church’s precepts on sexual morality and on marriage and relationships are well-known and unchangeable. It seems strange that the authorities at the John Fisher School believed that these precepts somehow did not apply to the message taught by this particular school. The school has offered no explanation for its action in inviting Green.