Hunter Catholic school principal discourages teachers from publicly supporting same sex marriage

Edict: St Pius X principal Robert Emery wrote to teachers he did not mean to alarm anyone by suggesting they not make comments contrary to church teachings. “My only intention is to to keep us all safe.” Picture: Marina NeilTEACHERS at one of the Hunter’s largest Catholic high schools have been issued an edict not to “say or suggest or imply” they support same sex marriage.

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St Pius X High School Adamstown principal Robert Emery has written two emails to staff warning that while they should vote in the upcoming marriage law postal survey according to their conscience, they shouldn’t “put yourself out there in a way that could be detrimental to your employment or promotional prospects in a Catholic school”.

Mr Emery said while staff didn’t need to delete comments previously made on social media, they should “be careful from this point onwards not to say or write anything online or in class that could be seen as contradicting Catholic Church teaching”.

“That is not a sensible thing to do when you are an employee of the Catholic diocese,” he wrote.

“It is completely permissible to answer student questions about the issue provided you present both sides of the debate in a fair and non-judgemental way.

“You are of course also OK to say that you agree with the church’s view on the issue, if that is what you believe.

“It is NOT OK [sic] to say or suggest or imply that you believe the other side of the debate is the correct one – even if you do!”

A Catholic Schools Office (CSO) spokeswoman said Mr Emery wrote the emails based on hisresponsibility to ensure staff were acting in compliance with the CSO’s code of conduct.

A concerned parent who saw the emails said they were “blown away” by the reference to future opportunities for career advancement.

“The overwhelming feeling I got was that they seemed threatening,” the parent said.

But the CSO refuted this, saying “all decisions on employment, promotion and reward will be made on the basis of merit and will not discriminate on the basis of particular attributes”.

The Catholic Schools Officedeclined to comment on ramifications for teachersfound to publicly support the ‘yes’ vote, except to say they had been “remindednot to bring personal opinion into the debate, but rather address both sides of the same sex marriage debate with their students”.

Principal RobertEmery said teachers hadn’t been discouraged from discussingthe issue.

“The students are really interested in the same sex marriage debate, very much from a social justice perspective and teachers have spoken about both sides of the debate with their students,” he said.

“The discussions have detailed what is currently occurring –that there are people fighting for the right for marriage equalityand conversations also touch on the church’s teachings.”

But a concerned parent said hearing personal opinions only from teachers whodid not support same sex marriage could skew students’ understanding of the issue.

“I can’t believe the email basically said feel free to speak out against it [same sex marriage], but don’t you dare say anything for it,” the parent said.

“What messages are being sent to kids of a vulnerable age?

“Is this the start of the negativity everyone predicted?

“It’s really concerning and upsetting because Bishop Bill Wright hasnot put any formal statement out, the principal has just taken it upon themselves to put this out.”

Bishop Wright said in a statement to theHerald“the diocese respects each individual’sright to their personal opinion on what the law should be on same sex marriage”.

Catholic schools St Ignatius’ College in Sydney and Xavier College in Melbourne have cautiously endorsed same-sex marriage in messages to parents, staff and students.

They referred to Pope Francis’ teachings on love, mercy and non-judgement and encouragedtheir school communitiesto dwell on their own consciences.

The Independent Education Union said it was“extremely concerned that our schools could become fertile ground for damaging speech” during the debate.

It said it wouldexpect schools to be “safe havens” and that“neither staff nor students are put into situations where inappropriate or hostile commentary, or action, is directed at them”.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) published a tip sheet this week about talkingwith children and young people about marriage equality and related issues.

It includes:

Let your children know it is ok to talk about marriage equality.

Listen carefully to children to understand what they really want to know.

Explain the meaning of LGBTI+ words.

Let children know there is diversity in relationships.

Talk to children about what marriage equality means.

Offer alternate views of relationships – not everyone wants to get married.

Clarify any confusion and misconceptions about the marriage equality vote.

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