Church calls for clarity over 'conversion practice' consultation

The Church in Scotland has said that a proposed ban on 'conversion practices' could criminalise giving advice to individuals struggling with their identity.

The Scottish Government has today (Tuesday 9 January) launched a consultation on the issue.

A spokesperson for the Catholic church said: “The worrying lack of clarity about what is meant by the term ‘conversion practices’ could create a chilling effect and may criminalise advice or opinion given in good faith.

"We urge the Scottish Government not to criminalise mainstream religious pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical intervention relating to sexual orientation.

"While the Church supports legislation which protects people from physical and verbal abuse, a fundamental pillar of any free society is that the state recognises and respects the right of religious bodies and organisations to be free to teach the fulness of their beliefs and to support, through prayer, counsel and other pastoral means, their members who wish to live in accordance with those beliefs.

“We would urge the Scottish Government not to criminalise mainstream religious pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical or other professional intervention relating to sexual orientation, which is not approved by the State as acceptable."

He added: “The church will now take time to consider the consultation document with a view to submitting a response in due course.”

Catholics urged to respond to sex education consulation

The Scottish Government has removed all reference to Catholic schools in a draft document that will be used in sex and reationships education in classrooms. 

Now Catholics are being urged to respond to a consultation to ensure their voice is heard. Respond to the consulation here (or see guidance at bottom of this article).

The guidance has created concern among denominational schools that it will undermine their ethos and autonomy despite the guidance itself stating that Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education has a central role in promoting the ethos of the school, writes The Catholic Herald.

The new guidance, which is issued under section 56 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, is designed to replace earlier guidance issued in 2014. A public consultation on the draft is due to end on 23 November 2023. See end of this article on how to respond.

Of particular concern is the removal of paragraphs 38-41 under the sub-heading “Denominational Education” which explicitly protects the rights of Catholic schools to provide sex education in line with the Catholic ethos.

Bishops' response

This omission resulted in a strong rebuke from the Scottish Bishops:

“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland is both disappointed and confused at the decision by the Scottish Government to delete all reference to Catholic schools in its ‘Guidance on the Delivery of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education in Scottish Schools’ document. 

“We strongly request the re-insertion of the paragraphs relating to Denominational Education from the previous iteration of the guidance, which would reflect both the legal protection for schools with a Religious Character, and the previously supportive position of Scottish Government for Catholic schools.”

The paragraphs that are no longer reflected in the updated draft guidance are as follows:

38. In Scotland, provision is made for some publicly funded schools that are denominational in character. The majority of these schools are Roman Catholic and they are an integral part of the public education system. Denominational schools play an important part in Scottish education. The Scottish Government values this provision and is committed to maintaining it. 

39. The Scottish Government supports the right of the Roman Catholic Church to give witness to its faith, and to uphold the traditions of Catholic education. We value the contribution made by Catholic schools, and have no intention of changing the current position where faith aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools are determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service acting on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. These faith aspects relate to religious education and religious observance. 

40. In February 2011, the Scottish Government issued advice to local authorities and head teachers reiterating that the experiences and outcome for Religious Education in Roman Catholic schools should be delivered in conjunction with guidance provided by the Scottish Catholic Education Service. We have no plans to change this advice. 

41. National guidance on the curriculum is always developed on the basis of wide consultation. It is recognised that religious authorities with a role in denominational education provide guidance on RSHP education for their denominational schools and that right will continue as at present. This national guidance should be seen to be complementary to the guidance provided by the religious authority while at the same time serving as a useful basis for everyone.

The removal of these “protections” in the draft guidance creates an understandable worry among Catholics that their schools will be required to provide and promote a secularised approach to relationship and sexuality education.  

The draft new guidelines omit any reference to the existence of denominational schools, instead replacing these protections with a section on “faith and beliefs” which, rather than protecting the schools ethos, essentially places the different diverse faiths and beliefs of learners ahead of the denominational ethos of the schools:

3.8. Educational practitioners should ensure learning and teaching is planned and delivered sensitively, being respectful of the various belief and faith backgrounds present in their learning community. Knowledge and understanding about the traditions, beliefs and practices of different religions, faiths and belief groups supports children and young people to develop respect and understanding. To facilitate this, themes can be devised so individuals can interact and learn alongside those who may have different beliefs and values to them, leading potentially to increased understanding. 

3.9. Schools have a key role to play in providing an educational experience that is inclusive for all, regardless of the beliefs and values they hold. With inclusive RSHP education, children and young people, where religion and/or belief plays a role in their identities, should be able to feel included and accepted within their school and community. When children and young people can see themselves represented in what they learn, it helps them feel like they belong and that their identity is valued. This helps them to better engage with education. It also supports all children and young people to understand equalities and rights, and to recognise the impact of prejudice and stereotypes. 

This places denominational schools, where parents may have chosen on the basis of the particular ethos, in a position where they are required to abandon this ethos and become, de facto, state schools.

Additional concerns have been raised regarding the introduction of the “whole of school” approach to RSHP, which requires the ideas around LGBT inclusion be incorporated across the school curriculum, utilising academic learning to inculcate a particular ethos that is at odds with the ethos of the schools’ governing bodies.

Specifically, the guidance states:

“To enable LGBT Inclusive Education across the curriculum, there should be an emphasis on the importance of inter-disciplinary learning including but not exclusively through Expressive Arts, Languages, Literacy, Health and Well Being, Numeracy, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences and Social Studies.”

The Guidelines admit explicitly that the recommendations from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group’s report to the Scottish Ministers have been included in the draft guidance, focusing on contested areas such as terminologies (including gender identity), histories of the social rights movement, as well as the “quality of people, families and relationships”. Catholic teaching related to the primacy of the family unit, of marriage being between a man and woman, as well as the social reality that children fare better, on average, in these stable units, will struggle to find its space in such an ideologically confined space.

Further concerns exist in relation to the expectations of RSHP education, where the guidelines insert the objectives – and pressure – on teachers and learners, to contribute to reducing gender-based violence and domestic abuse while also encouraging children to reflect on the gender stereotypes that they hold as well as their unconscious biases. The former creates an unrealistic expectation on the role of schools and educators while that latter incorporates faddish ideas that are neither bounded by evidence and increasingly questioned in terms of effectiveness in addressing any practical or structural issues.

The preponderant focus on issues such as gender, gender identity, LGBT, variations in sex characteristics across the guidance, occupying half the content of the guidance, with the absence of anything that reflects a Catholic approach to relationships, sexuality and nothing about parenthood, validates the concerns that are being raised by Catholic schools and parents.

While the Scottish government claims that it has consulted with over 30 groups, including the Scottish Catholic Education Service and representatives of other major faith groups, the Herald Scotland reports that the Church described Government claims that the Scottish Catholic Education Service had been consulted as “disingenuous”. It reports a Church source stating: “A proper consultation is where the views of a participant or stakeholder are taken on board. Ours were wilfully ignored. It is striking that the term Catholic School is not used within this document and the phrase ‘denominational schools’ only once.”

The above article is from the The Catholic Herald.

How to respond

You can read the revised document here.

To respond online

To respond by post

Posted responses must reach Scottish Government by 23 November (so post by Monday 20 November).

Bishops call on Scot Gov to withdraw 'explicit' school survey

Scotland’s Catholic Bishops have called on the Scottish Government to withdraw the Health and Wellbeing survey sent to schools.

They want for adaptations to be made to remove sexually explicit questions aimed at teenagers which has caused concern among parents.

This would allow concerns raised by the Scottish Catholic Education Service regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent to be addressed.

It's reported that one question says: “People have varying degrees of sexual experience. How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”


A spokesperson for the Bishops' Conference of Scotland said: "Scotland’s Catholic Bishops share the concerns of many parents about the explicit nature of some questions which young people are being asked in this survey.

Responses from the Scottish Government to the Scottish Catholic Education Service have failed to address legitimate concerns regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent.

"We ask that this survey be withdrawn to allow for adaptations to be made.

"Failure to respond to these concerns will demonstrate not only a disregard for the rights of parents but may risk re-traumatising some young people who might have suffered from harmful sexual encounters."


TONIGHT: Home Abortion - Making Your Voice Heard

Early in the COVID pandemic, Scottish Government started allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions without a face to face doctor appointment.

Similar changes were made in England and two women have since died there and there are now police investigations linked to late ‘at-home’ abortions.

Despite the obvious danger, the Scottish Government has launched a consultation to make ‘DIY’ abortion permanent. It’s vital that many pro-life voices are part of the response. 

The good news is that the consultation has just seven questions. But where to start and what to say? If you don’t answer the questions properly your response won’t count.

Tonight (Tuesday, 08 December at 7.30pm) the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office is running a Zoom session to cover all the questions and the best points to make.  You can fill in your response as we go so you’ll be ready to submit by the end of the consultation.

This event takes place at 7:30pm tonight (08 December, Feast of the Immaculate Conception). Register here.

The most important pro-life activity for 2020

“The most important pro-life activity you can do in 2020 is to respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on DIY home abortion,” says The Society for the Protection of the Unborn (SPUC).

DIY home abortion was implemented in response to the nationwide lockdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

It means women can get abortion drugs following a phone or video call, without a face to face consultation with a medical professional. The abortion pills are then sent through the post and women perform their own abortion at home with no medical supervision or support.

SPUC is urging those who value human life and the health and wellbeing of women to respond to the Government’s consultation.

Michael Robinson, SPUC Director of Communications, said: “Please don’t feel daunted by this task. We have produced a booklet which gives a step by step guide to completing the questionnaire: SPUC guide to responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Future Arrangements for Early Medical Abortion at Home.

“You can find this booklet and other resources to help you complete the consultation here.”

'Every voice counts. You can make a difference.'

SPUC’s Mr Robinson continued: “DIY home abortion provision is a travesty that should never have been introduced. Allowing women to take powerful drugs alone at home shows a complete lack of care and respect for women, as well as further devaluing human life in the womb.

“As we feared from the beginning, DIY abortion has proved impossible to regulate. Abortion pills already carry risks, including risks to the mother’s life, even if the first pill is taken in the clinic. In the case of DIY abortion, pills have been taken at home long after the recommended point in pregnancy. A mystery shopper exercise found that abortion providers have been sending out pills to women without even basic checks.

“Every pro-life voice counts in this consultation. You can really make a difference.”

This article first appeared on the SPUC website on 16 October, 2020.