Melbourne, Australia, Archbishop Denis Hart gives green light to gay couples at Catholic school formals
[Coming soon to AmChurch “Catholic” school functions?]
January 22, 2016
Archbishop Denis Hart has urged schools to be sensitive and respectful to students who wished to bring a same-sex date to the formal.
Students at Victoria’s Catholic high schools who might be thinking of bringing a same-sex partner to their school formal have won support from an unlikely source.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has urged schools to be sensitive and respectful to students who wanted to invite a same-sex date to the biggest night of the year.
Archbishop Hart says that, when it comes to formals, schools should have ‘ respect for the dignity of the human being involved’.
“These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved,” he said.
Archbishop Hart made the comments when Fairfax asked for his response to a previously unreported case at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy.
A student at the girls school started an online petition on Change.org last year after being told by the Year 12 co-ordinator that she couldn’t bring a female partner to the formal.
“I see no logical, just reason for this ban,” the student, who has since sought anonymity, said.
“The Academy’s mission statement places great emphasis on social justice, equality and respect for all people.”
The petition received 1250 signatures and hundreds of comments in support.
The school responded by changing its stance to allow the student to bring a female date,
Archbishop Hart said he appreciated the school’s turnabout and believed it had “shown great sensitivity in what is an unusual scenario”.
“Students in a secondary school are growing up and in developmental stages where relationships are more like strong friendships and are not usually permanent, they are not in a situation where they are committing,” Archbishop Hart said in a statement to Fairfax Media.
“The Catholic Church respects any relationship but always sticks quite firmly with its teaching that a relationship in the eyes of the church is heterosexual, between a male and female, and that is something we would always stand by.”
Archbishop Hart was criticised last year for allegedly burying Jesuit Social Services’s Not So Straight report, which had found widespread bullying and homophobic abuse of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in Catholic schools, leading to high-levels of self harm, and even suicide.
His comments come as many schools prepare to hold their formals next month, well before the stress of Year 12 exams begins.
Academy principal Sister Mary Moloney said it was a progressive and modern Catholic school that dealt with any issue or concern with an open mind.
“The philosophy of allowing students to choose whomever they wish to accompany them to our school formal will continue into the future,” Sister Moloney said.
It has been eight years since Victoria’s Education Department instructed state schools to allow gay couples to attend events together, because discrimination is unlawful under equal opportunity legislation.
In Tasmania, Archbishop Julian Porteous currently faces a test case brought by the state’s Anti-discrimination Commissioner for distributing a pro-traditional marriage booklet called Don’t called Mess With Marriage to the families of students in Catholic schools.
Australia’s largest youth-led organisation for LGBTI people, Minus18, welcomed Archbishop Hart’s comments but said more needed to be done to make formals inclusive, for example, allowing trans- and gender diverse students to dress in the clothes they prefer.
Minus18’s Tim Christodoulou said a school formal was an important event in a student’s life but caused anxiety and fear for those who those who felt excluded.
“It’s hurtful if you can’t bring the partner you want to celebrate this milestone,” he said.
“The result is that sometimes young people disengage from their education. Seeing this progress coming from the Catholic Archbishop is really promising but there’s much further to go.”
Last year, Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School told a boy to “keep with school tradition” and bring a female to his Year 12 formal. It had previously banned same-sex partners.
Students at St Mary’s Anglican Girls School in Perth also rallied against their school on the same issue that year.
In 2010, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar forbade a 16-year-old from taking her girlfriend to its year 11 formal.
Executive director of Catholic Education, Stephen Elder, said such decisions were best dealt with by individual schools (rather than at a systemic level) where all local concerns and sensitivities could be taken into account.
“The autonomy provided to Catholic schools to act in the best interests of their students and families is one of the many elements that make Catholic education great.”