Archbishop brands removal of church education committee voting rights as 'a serious threat' to future of faith schools

A leading Catholic clergyman has called on parishioners to oppose a move by councillors to block education committee voting rights for religious representatives.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 11:14 am
Archbishop Leo Cushley opens a new gym hall at St Margaret's RC Primary school in South Queensferry (Photo: Alistair Linford)

It follows a move by Green councillors, backed by a Liberal Democrat amendment, to remove the legal right of the Catholic community to sit on and vote on education committee decisions in the Capital.

In a scathing letter, read out by all parish priests at mass on Sunday, Archbishop Leo Cushley branded the move the first stage of removing faith education altogether in Scotland.

The Archbishop for St Andrews and Edinburgh added the motion “casts into serious doubt” councillors’ commitment to retaining Catholic schools.

Archbishop Leo Cushley.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i politics newsletter cut through the noise

He wrote: “This motion presents a serious threat to the identity and Catholicity of our Schools in Edinburgh and is also, in all probability, just the first step in a process to remove faith education from schools in Scotland altogether.

“To deprive the Church’s representatives of voting rights on the education committee, where they sit on behalf of us and our children, casts into serious doubt the commitment of some of our elected representatives to the future of Catholic schools.”

The letter also called for parishioners to write to their councillors to oppose the move “as a matter of urgency” and urged Catholics to fight against the proposal.

Archbishop Cushley said: “The decision has not, however, been taken and there is still time for you to influence your elected representatives who are very sensitive to local opinion.

“If you care about our Catholic schools and if you want them to continue to flourish in the future, please write to your local councillor as a matter of urgency to ask him or her to vote against this motion.”

Earlier this year, Perth and Kinross Council became the first local authority in the council to remove voting rights from church representatives, with Edinburgh potentially following suit on 22 August.

In May, Green councillor Mary Campbell said church leaders were “out of touch” with councillors, and said the move aimed to put parents and church representatives the same amount of power.

She said: “It’s 2019. It’s no longer appropriate for religious representatives to have special status on education committee, although they will still be able to take part in debate, just as parents can currently do.

“In 21st century Scotland it’s time to give parents and pupils at least the same status as churches.”

Eileen Rafferty, religious education adviser to schools for the Archdiocese, said it was the voice of Catholic parents and educationalists who would be silenced if such a move was approved

She said: “It is only reasonable that Catholic reps vote when it comes to decisions affecting Catholic education and Catholic schools.

“The vast majority of our reps across the Lothians and Fife are not clergy but parents and/or educationalists with rich experience in Catholic education. It is their voice that is determinedly silenced by this proposal.

“We trust that the majority of councillors will stand up for the Catholic community by rejecting this motion.”

The vote was delayed until August due to an ongoing legal challenge against the Perth and Kinross decision.