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St. Mary Magdalen's
Catholic Church
Willesden Green
London NW10
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Saturday, February 27, 2010
(This week’s front page headline in The Catholic Herald)

1. On 23rd February last Ed Balls, the Minister for Children Schools and Families, said that from September 2011 Catholic schools will by law need to teach pupils “how to access contraception, [and] how to use contraception. [...] they must explain how to access an abortion". Also, incredibly, Mr Balls implied that the Catholic Church was supporting such measures.

2. Actually it is impossible for Catholic schools to do this without contradicting their very nature as Catholic. This is because it would be “formal” cooperation with a very wrong act, e.g. ending the life of an unborn baby. It’s wrong to give boxing gloves to bullies or to inform an intent robber about quick lock-picking, in the (forlorn) hope that they’d do less damage. This is because you become an accomplice. It is a principle basic to the Catholic moral tradition and, therefore, enshrined in western legal traditions under "aiding, abetting and encouraging crime". It flows from Christ's revelation and right reason.

So how did it come to this? Well, at the very least there seem to be two opposed interpretations of the understanding reached between the government and the Catholic Church concerning relevant aspects of the government's Bill. In Church circles the understanding might possibly be interpreted as ruling out co-operation with abortion. Interpeted legally - which is what matters in this situation - it clearly does not.

3. What is this 'understanding'? On the same day as Balls' comments the Government passed an amendment permitting faith schools to teach Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) “in a way that reflects the school’s religious character”. The Church, through our Catholic Education Service (CES - see their website), seems to have agreed with the government that this means that “the SRE in Catholic schools will be rooted in the Catholic Church’s teaching of the profound respect for the dignity of all human persons.”

4. The government clearly believes that the emphasises of 1. and 3. above are compatible, and that their Bill assumes this. Whilst co-operating in an abortion is not compatible with Catholic moral teaching (or right reason), tragically it seems that such co-operation is compatible with a legal interpretation of the terms of 3. That is, legally speaking, enabling an abortion doesn't necessarily fail to “reflect ... the school's religious character", or to be ”rooted in" Church teaching of "profound respect for" human life. So enabling access to abortion will be legally mandated whilst at the same time teaching it's wrong will be legally permitted.

Balls, and presumably Government legal experts, seem to think that a Catholic school teaching that ‘abortion is wrong’ is enough to ensure that its SRE is "rooted in the Catholic Church's teaching", irrespective of what other enabling or encouraging is done in the opposite direction. Maybe legally, certainly not theologically.

The government may have been misinformed. Many people on both sides of this debate have recognized the illogicality of this situation. For even today most people in the traditionally Christian West accept that it’s wrong to cooperate with wrong. It is crazy and corrupting to cooperate with what you have just taught is wrong.

5. Balls well clarifies his government’s interpretation of how this law should play out with the example of St Thomas More Catholic school in Bedford, who have found the way to satisfy both 3. and 1. (but not to satisfy our faith, or right reason). That is, in the schools’ own words, also on 23rd, it is “placing [SRE] in the context of the Catholic faith [...] resting on the profound respect found in the Catholic faith for the sanctity of all human life”. And yet, at the same time, according to Balls’ unchallenged claims, "The school nurse provides students with clear accurate information about the full range of contraception and STIs and details of local services. [...] Pregnancy options, including abortion, are also discussed in a non-judgemental way.”

This is clearly what the government want and what the law will require, from all our secondary schools. From Sept 2011 local Catholic schools will be required to have classes, for 11-14 yr olds, saying, in effect: “what we are about to do is immoral according to our Church but we have to, so here goes: here’s how you/girlfriend can confidentially get an abortion in Brent ...”.

posted by Sinead Reekie at 10:44 am