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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Parents campaign against videos shown at Catholic school, get police sent after them


Bonus Pastor Catholic College at Downham in South East London is at the centre of a controversy concerning materials that have been shown as part of the RE programme. A website has been set up by parents of young people at the school to protest about the materials: Bonus Pastor Exposed. It starts with a warning page because it does display extracts from the videos that have been shown to the pupils. I don’t recommend that you watch them. In order to write this post, I did, and rather wish that I hadn’t. So I’ll give some salient points to save you the trouble.

One is called “Keeping Mum” and shows a young couple being disturbed having sex, and the mother of the girl (a vicar’s wife) getting sexually involved with a golf instructor after being chided by her daughter who says that she “isn’t getting any.” The golf instructor then takes voyeuristic photographs of the mother. The clip includes liberal use of the F word, and partial nudity.

The second is an extract from “A short stay in Switzerland.” It shows a woman who takes spoonfuls of crushed tablets from a cereal bowl, washed down with vodka and orange, then lies down and puts a plastic bag over her head. The next scene shows that she survived. She expresses a desire to travel and get “the medical assistance I need to die.” At a nice clean clinic in Switzerland (the mythical version of Dignitas) she takes a potion under supervision and dies quite quickly, surrounded by her family. They are upset at the time, but soon are walking around happily in the sunshine.

The Bonus Pastor Exposed website was not set up in haste - the correspondence section starts with a letter sent to the Chair of Governors in March. The school’s response to parents essentially justifies the showing of the material as a means of stimulating discussion in accordance with the exam board’s recommendation of the material for the course Roman Catholic Christianity. (This incidentally confirms that the videos were actually shown to pupils.) Ironically, Google have contacted the parents' account at YouTube to tell them that because of the content, the videos have been given an adult rating.

(For a further critique of the Edexcel course and Roman Catholic Christianity, see the article by Fr Hugh MacKenzie in the current edition of Faith Magazine: GCSE Lessons on Catholic Marriage: A Syllabus of Errors.)

At the school’s website, a letter from the Headteacher and Chair of Governors mentions the distribution of leaflets which took place on the streets near the school and says
Please be assured that the matter has been dealt with by the police.
Leafleting in the street is not an offence, of course. An allegation of assault was made, and a number of police officers turned up at the home of a Greg Clovis, rather panicking his wife. I understand that he was out at the time and voluntarily attended the Police Station the next day. You can see the result of the police enquiry posted on YouTube, saying that:
Your case has been “No Further Actioned” and that’s the end of the matter. Sorry to bother you.
It seems that the Police did not think the allegation worth very much attention. I understand that Greg Clovis is taking legal advice on a possible claim for damages.

The letter at the school website also says:
You may have also heard that a website has been set up about the College and in particular, resources used in RE lessons.

For security reasons we advise you not to access the website as we believe that it could compromise your email account.
I have no qualms in giving you the link to the website since it does not contain any malicious code – why would it, after all? You don’t set up a campaigning website with malware on it that would deter people from looking at what you want to tell the world.

It is perhaps unfortunate for Bonus Pastor College that it has been singled out. As a priest I have heard many similar stories from other Catholic schools and colleges though usually those who complain do not wish to be in the public eye, and do not gather materials and correspondence in the way that this family has. If they complain to the Governors or the Diocesan school authorities, they are fobbed off with excuses and nothing is done.

Catholic parents who complain about such materials are often demonised and the controversy is presented in terms of them being the problem. This is a grave injustice. Parents who send their children to a Catholic school should be able to presume that they will not be exposed in class to videos such as this, and that they will not be left to form their own views about moral questions without a clear presentation of the moral teaching of the Catholic Church as truth and not just one view among many.

The Values Clarification approach (with the self-serving “let me play devil’s advocate” ploy) has done immense damage both in the Church and in society. Catholic schools should be in the vanguard of giving clear moral education since we are blessed with the magisterium to guide us in the teaching of Christ. If a syllabus recommends showing material like the videos above, it should be changed, or the Church should reject such a syllabus firmly and decisively. Let me give the last word to a commenter:
I am a Catholic and teacher in a secular school within a 5 mile radius of Bonus Pastor. We would not countenance showing this material in school - no school with Muslim pupils would allow it, without at least warning the parents and allowing them to opt out. Ironic, isn't it?
James Preece has also posted on this story here and here. The comments on both articles are also worth reading.
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