Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Torquay Conference: Day 3

At conference today (ie Wednesday - posting has been delayed by a temperamental wireless connection), I had an interesting conversation with a colleague who works at a Catholic School in Lancaster Diocese. My question was about how Bishop O’Donoghue’s recent initiative on Catholic schools was being received by a school in the diocese. My colleague characterised it as being “90% positives, 10% negatives”. He spoke positively about the involvement of parents, governors, and the general context of the “Fit for Mission” process.

Aspects identified as difficulties were as follows. The stance against Amnesty International is awkward for schools where the AI group is largely student run. It is quite difficult to suddenly say that they cannot do something that is an activity over which they have had a genuine ownership. Similarly, an initiative encouraging pupil reading, whereby pupils choose and draw down their books from the library, faced difficulties if the books the pupils are choosing were not approved of. Again, the question is one of pupil ownership.

During our conversation, what struck me was that these were difficulties that could be managed in a way that was fair to the students and faithful to Bishop O’Donoghue’s wishes for the schools in his diocese. The AI group, for example, could adopt a clear position that it did not support any campaigns relating to AI’s recently adopted policy with regard to abortion. AI’s rules do allow this, and it could be published to AI itself, and to the school community. Affiliation to Christian Solidarity Worldwide or Aid to the Church in Need might also be alternative approaches.



I'm not sure it would he possible to be obedient to the good Bishop, AND to Amnesty. A decision has to be made. Otherwise, A la carte ideology starts to form.( or cafeteria Catholicism, as I have heard it called.) What's wrong with explaining to the young people that they have been misled by people who had no idea what the Catholic Church acytually teaches. I'm prepared to do it. And I'm only training to be an R.E teacher. Surely those with years more experience can do it. What's the problem ? fear ? God Bless POD.

Joe said...

Thank you for your comment.

One aspect to this is understanding the nature of Amnesty International. I deliberately raised this issue with the staff at the AI stand at my union's recent conference (the union is affiliated to AI). There is a sense in which an AI policy adopted at international level does not bind individual sections or groups - they can decide that they do not want to support campaigns on issues that they do not agree with and focus on other campaigns that they do agree with. The AI staff highlighted for me in this regard their opposition to the death penalty and the response of members in the United States to that. I understand the Irish section of AI has taken this sort of stance with regard to AI's internationally adopted abortion stance.
There are two problems with this: do people outside AI perceive all AI members and sections as supporting the internationally adopted stance on abortion? And how far does the internationally adopted policy become attached to the AI brand? It is these problems that might drive a withdrawal of support from AI.