O'Brien insists gay teachers will not be banned from faith schools

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HOMOSEXUALS will not be banned from teaching in faith schools, says Cardinal Keith O’Brien head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. He said sexual orientation was not, in itself, of any relevance to the Church.

His comments, made yesterday to a Sunday newspaper, flatly contradict those of Bishop Joseph Devine, the president of the Catholic Education Service, who sparked a furore last week when he said being a homosexual teacher "would not at all be compatible" with Church teachings.

He said that the Charter for Catholic Schools, which specifies what the Church expects from teachers, made it clear that openly gay people could not teach in Roman Catholic schools.

Bishop Devine’s comments were greeted with widespread condemnation. Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, described them as "very sad" and Jack McConnell, the First Minister, told MSPs that teachers should be chosen on ability, not on the basis of their sexuality.

The intervention of Cardinal O’Brien is the sternest rebuke to Bishop Devine, whose remarks were regarded not just as intolerant but as a breach of equality and employment laws.

Cardinal O’Brien said: "If there happens to be a gay teacher and he does happen to be living with a partner, that’s their personal, private life. I don’t see it as a problem."

He added there would be no investigation into whether a prospective or practising teacher was gay or lesbian, saying there was no "witch hunt with regard to morality or lifestyle". Church insiders said the cardinal has stepped in to exert his authority and defuse what may be perceived as a row among the hierarchy over issues of faith and morals.

One said: "Joe [Devine] is of sufficient seniority to believe he can effectively say what he likes. His Eminence is reminding him of who is in charge."

But while the cardinal felt the need to chastise the bishop and reassert the Church’s image as a tolerant institution, he did concede that a moral dilemma could be created if, for example, a gay teacher was to criticise tenets of the Church while teaching under its auspices.

"I don’t have a problem with the personal life of a person as long as they are not flaunting their sexuality," he added.

The Rev Ewan Aitken, the education spokesman for COSLA, the umbrella organisation for local authorities, welcomed the intervention.