What on Earth IS “The Catholic Ethos”?

What on Earth IS “The Catholic Ethos”?

From the Scottish Catholic Observer, 11/10/19
‘Our schools are inclusive, not divisive,’ say headteachers

Catholic Primary headteachers reject secular arguments as they gather for annual CHAPS conference.

Catholic schools are inclusive, not divisive, headteachers emphasised this week as the Archbishop of Glasgow urged them not to shy away from their Catholic ethos.

The recent debate in the secular world over closing Catholic schools was one of the subjects of discussion at the annual Catholic Headteachers Association of Primary Schools (CHAPS) conference at the Dunblane Hydro on October 3-4.

The conference included a workshop at which teachers discussed the inclusion of children of other faiths in their schools.

Debunking secular argument

Sr Isabel Smyth, secretary for interreligious dialogue for the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland, lead the workshop.

She said that the fact there are many pupils of other faiths attending Catholic Schools ‘absolutely’ debunks recent claims in the media that Catholic schools are the cause of bigotry in Scotland.

“If you look at our Catholic schools, many of them are multi-faith and a lot of the children don’t belong to any faith whatsoever.

“If we teach and promote a Catholic ethos at its best then we are doing what’s best for the country,” she said.


Present at the workshop was Clare Harker, headteacher of St Albert’s Primary School in Glasgow…

More than 90 per cent of the school’s pupils are from a Muslim background, a small percentage are Catholic and the remainder are made up of other faiths and none.

Mrs Harker said she wanted to make sure that ‘everybody is very clear that Catholic schools aren’t just the preserve of Catholics and that they’re not about proselytising or indoctrination, they’re about a way of loving—and I think that’s what Catholic schools are doing.’

Catholic ethos

She added: “I think people very much choose to come to our school because of the ethos and presence of God and God-like values.”

In his homily during Mass at the conference, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow asked the teachers to ‘deepen’ their schools’ Faith, for people of all faiths and none, stressing that the ‘religious ethos is something that attracts parents.’

Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles was a keynote speaker at the conference.

He said: “I’ve spent most of my life in and around Catholic schools. I went to one myself and for 27 years I worked in Catholic schools as a priest. Now, as a bishop, I’ve been involved in Catholic schools for the last three and a half years.

“I’ve never once, in all my time, heard anything sectarian or anything divisive within a Catholic school.”

Faith journey

CHAPS chairman James Kerr, headteacher of St Paul’s Primary School, Whiteinch, said the idea that Catholic schools cause separation among children of different faiths is ‘absolutely the total opposite of what a Catholic school is.’

“We recognise the faith journey of people of other faiths and of no faith,” Mr Kerr explained.

The curriculum for Catholic education in Scotland, ‘This is Our Faith’, governs the teaching of religious education in Catholic schools. In the curriculum there is a section dedicated to inclusion of other faiths in Catholic schools.

Mr Kerr added: “We are in the business of making saints, and saints come from all kinds of backgrounds. “ [Emphasis added].

“It’s not an easy journey for us, but Jesus didn’t have an easy journey either,” he said. “For headteachers there are challenges, but the bottom line is that you know ultimately you are doing God’s work.”


Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow called on headteachers to be ‘lead catechists’ and ‘chief evangelisers’ in schools.

Speaking on the day, Archbishop Tartaglia told the headteachers: “You’ve heard often enough that Catholic teachers are called to be evangelists in their schools, they’re called to the mission of evangelisation, and Catholic headteachers occupy the post of chief evangelisers in their school community.”

The archbishop called upon the headteachers to ‘take the next step’ in being ‘more conscious, more informed, more living in Faith and leading in Faith’ in their schools.

“I love all my headteachers, but I can see when I go to a school when it’s on the button and when it isn’t,” he added.

“And what I’m asking you to do is to kind of take that step to make it more conscious, deeper, more felt, lived so that the boys and girls that are in your care will have a great experience of being a Catholic Christian.”


Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles, attending his first CHAPS conference, said: “It was great to see so many committed headteachers from all across the country who are here and interested in their Faith and are passing that Faith onto young people in their care.”

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, agreed with the archbishop that Catholic headteachers must ‘take the next step’ in ‘building the Faith dimension’ in schools.

She said: “There are a lot of things we are doing very well, but one of the things we take for granted is the underlying Catholic dimension of our schools and I think that we’re at the point where we need to be a bit more up front about that and articulate it more.”   Source


I found the above report confusing.  It seemed to be extolling the virtues of “the Catholic ethos”/”religious dimension” throughout, as evidence of the success of Catholic schools in their inclusiveness and diversity, and then, bang, right at the end, this from Barbara Coupar: “… one of the things we take for granted is the underlying Catholic dimension of our schools and I think that we’re at the point where we need to be a bit more up front about that and articulate it more.”

Oops!  is “the underlying Catholic dimension” the same thing as “the Catholic ethos”?  And what does “we need to articulate it more” mean, in practice?  Help!

Comments (14)

  • Fidelis

    “Present at the workshop was Clare Harker, headteacher of St Albert’s Primary School in Glasgow…

    More than 90 per cent of the school’s pupils are from a Muslim background, a small percentage are Catholic and the remainder are made up of other faiths and none.”

    That headteacher goes on to insult the reason why Catholic schools exist, to teach the faith, and talks about schools being there instead to show “a new way of loving”. What does that even mean?

    How can this school possibly be considered a Catholic school? It’s clearly nothing of the sort and no Catholic parent should use it.

    Why is the Archbishop allowing this?

    October 18, 2019 at 11:18 am
    • editor


      “A new way of loving” means whatever each individual teacher wants it to mean. Crackers.

      As for your concluding questions: of course no Catholic parent should use St Albert’s, but they will. And the Archbishop is allowing it because, obviously, he sees nothing wrong with it and has no problem having Catholic children in a position where, day in and day out, they are being influenced by Islam.

      Why else would he allow it?

      October 18, 2019 at 4:05 pm
  • John

    Slightly off topic a lovely story by a young lady at the Fatima youth conference who had dallied with Buddhism Hinduism before finding the Catholic faith.


    October 18, 2019 at 12:56 pm
  • editor

    Well, John, I’ve no time to watch the video right now, and judging by your introduction, there is a loose link to Catholic education in it, I suppose, but I do hope it does not diverge from the topic. I am always puzzled when people do not use the General Discussion thread for off topic comments and then IGNORE the topic threads to post on the GD thread. That old Yorkshire saying is so true: “there’s nowt so queer as folk.”

    Be aware, then, bloggers, that if you watch the Fatima video and wish to comment on it, it really must be tied to the topic here. This thread is not about conversion stories – it’s about Catholic education and the meaning of the Catholic ethos. Please respect that and post accordingly – not least because, having worked on it for over an hour last night only to find that it had disappeared, I had to start again.

    Thank you.

    October 18, 2019 at 1:44 pm
    • John


      I normally do post on General Discussion but when I scroll down to the last post on General Discussion on my I pad it has recently been cutting out on a fault so i looked for the nearest topic to post it on.

      October 18, 2019 at 3:45 pm
      • editor

        OK, John – you’re forgiven! I suppose (not having had time to view the video) it serves to underline the fact that Catholic schools are not out to convert anyone – including their Catholic pupils, judging by their almost wholly secular sex-education programmes.

        October 18, 2019 at 3:49 pm
  • Michaela

    I agree with Fidelis – that 90% Muslim pupils school cannot possibly be classed as a Catholic school. I have a vague memory of reading in the press that the Muslim parents who live in the St Albert’s catchment area, targeted that school to make it really into a Muslim school. Obviously, they’ve succeeded!

    As for what the Catholic ethos is – it seems to boil down to having a few holy pictures, statues and crucifixes dotted around the place. Nothing else Catholic from what I can tell. The article up top is fully on board with pupils of “all faiths and none” being catered for.

    It would be interesting to know if there are any statues/crucifixes in St Albert’s, because Muslims are not allowed to look at images of holy people.

    October 18, 2019 at 1:50 pm
    • editor


      Your memory serves you well – the issue of an influx of Muslim pupils into St Albert’s “Catholic” school was covered in the press at the time. Here’s the first report to come up when I Googled, in haste, just now

      You are also correct about Islam prohibiting the use of images – which is why there are no paintings of Muhammed and their mosques have geometric pattern designs in place of images. Indeed, I remember once – having forgotten about her – seeing a pupil of mine, Muslim girl, with her hands shading her eyes to avoid looking at the video part of the lesson because it featured images of Adam & Eve. I went over to explain I’d forgotten about her, and offered to let her join the next door class for the next fifteen minutes or so but she politely said it was OK and she would just listen, not look.

      If only Catholic pupils would display the same strength of faith and character when exposed to videos in use in sex education lessons in so-called Catholic schools.

      In a separate incident, when chatting with a Muslim pupil I asked her why the Muslims youngsters were always ready to put up their hand to show they agreed with “family values” etc whereas pupils I knew who were from practising Catholic homes would never speak out. Her reply was short and to the point: “Because we believe it.”

      October 18, 2019 at 3:56 pm
  • RCAVictor

    I think these bishops and headmasters are playing a zero sum game, trying to be all things to all people (the curse of ecumenism). That is, at the end of the day, there are zero conversions to the Faith, zero catechesis, zero devotion to Our Lord and Lady, zero soldiers for Church Militant – only the teaching of “values” and “love.” How warm and fuzzy – and fuzzy includes fuzzy thinking.

    Here is the definition of ethos: “the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period.”

    So to speak of a Catholic ethos in an “inclusive” environment is absurd, because in the weak minds of these “educators,” inclusive is precisely the opposite of a Catholic ethos, which is, as Our Lord defined it, to go and convert all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    Yet the discomfort with their self-imposed schizophrenia is also evident, since they keep speaking of evangelization and catechesis, and the need to reinforce the “underlying Catholic dimension.”

    You can’t have it both ways, bishops and headteachers. You can’t worship God in the Catholic ethos while trying to satisfy human respect, which denies the Catholic ethos. This is just as bad as worshiping God and Mammon.

    October 18, 2019 at 2:01 pm
    • editor

      RCA Victor,

      On the button as always. “Warm and fuzzy” about sums up the level of discourse and “education” in Catholic schools these days.

      The definition of “ethos” which you cite just underlines that fact that a school with a majority of staff and pupils who are not practising – in fact, non-believers – simply cannot, by definition, be consdered Catholic.

      Which is why our lovely First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is able to give her unequivocal support to Catholic schools in Scotland today.

      And that is all is will take for a majority of modern Catholics to go all warm and fuzzy, to steal a phrase, and decide to vote SNP at the next election. Our Catholic schools are safe under the SNP!

      Honestly, you just could not make this stuff up.

      October 18, 2019 at 4:02 pm
  • catholicconvert1

    I went for a job interview at a Catholic school for a librarian vacancy about four years ago. The woman interviewing me was a Protestant, Anglican to be exact, and I can remember at the time thinking, why on earth are you here. She was, however, on first name terms with the Parish Priest.

    I am not, thankfully, a product of post-Vatican II Catholic lack of Education, but I went to a CofE infants school, which whilst I was there circa 1998 to 2001, and the local vicar regularly came in to give assemblies and we always had morning prayers. There was a cross in the main hall. That was when the school was vast majority white British, and the Asian Muslims had not really infiltrated. A few years ago, the school held a competition to design a new logo. A student designed a logo with an oak tree made to appear as a cross. They sent out newsletters featuring the logo to parents, issued stickers with the new logo to cover the old one and made a great banner with it on and placed it outside the school. They also sent out sample uniforms. They did, however, receive a complaint from a parent (no guesses who) and the new logo was cancelled and the headteacher said the new logo was never going to be the logo after all, it was just a trial.

    As for that teacher’s comments about ‘loving’, it is love to bring people to truth, grace and salvation. It is hate to confirm them in error, darkness and idolatry. Likewise, it is not indoctrination to teach faithful Catholic doctrine to children. It is protecting them from the Devil and Hell.

    As Our Lord said, if anyone should cause offence to one of these little ones, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his and he were thrown into the sea.

    October 18, 2019 at 4:44 pm
    • editor


      Just about everyone is on first name terms with their priests these days. I used to hate it but now I’m fine with it because it underlines the fact that these modernists do not resemble, in any way, the “real deal” priests – those who are professional and pious, in the best sense. Try calling your doctor by his first name and you’ll find the atmosphere turns fairly cold fairly quickly. Real professionals know how to keep a professional distance with those in their care, whether bodily or spiritual. .

      October 18, 2019 at 10:49 pm
  • Margaret Mary

    I have always thought of the Catholic ethos as being a certain kind of atmosphere in a school (or hospital if we had Catholic hospitals). That would entail having images, such as crucifixes and statues in key places, as well as a dress and behaviour code of the highest standards.

    It should go without saying that the Church’s teaching on faith and morals would be taught with conviction by practising teachers.

    I can’t believe there are many schools that would fit the bill these days.

    October 19, 2019 at 12:44 am
  • gabriel syme

    There are definitely some confused, mixed messages coming from the SCES, teachers and Bishops here.

    For a start, as the editorial comment points out, how can the faith element be praised when at the same time the head of SCES essentially admits it is lacking to the point of being window dressing.

    Also, how can – as ++Tartaglia requests – teachers act as lead catechists when the schools contain so many non-Catholics? They cannot, of course, because instead their priority is “inclusivity” and the strict avoidance of anything which a non-Catholic might object to, such as Catholic teaching for example.

    This confused set of policies leads to absurd situations, such as the nearly fully muslim “Catholic school”. What kind of catechesis will the small minority of Catholic be getting there? Any fool could drive a coach and horses through this nonsense.

    Still, there are some modest grounds for hope in that it is encouraging to see Barbara Coupar (SCES) acknowledge the need for the articulation of Catholicism to be more rigorous. This perhaps indicates the beginning of an awareness that the Schools are failing in their mission, so far as the faith goes. In previous years, the waffle about inclusivity would have been the exact same, with no acknowledgement of failings, so this is perhaps a small step in the right direction.

    It is disappointing, however, to see the representatives of the schools almost apologising for the crime of their existence, as they bleat about how non-divisive / sectarian they are.

    The the fact Catholic schools are still, in 2019, routinely identified as the cause of sectarianism in Scotland shows how grossly inadequate the response of the ‘Church of Scotland’ has been to the anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-irish racism it heavily promoted (in the first half of the 20th century).

    Rather then meekly apologising for breathing, Bishops and SCES representatives would do better by pointedly identifying the true origin of sectarianism, as well as the very lacking “efforts” to atone for it and address the harm it continues to cause.

    October 20, 2019 at 8:49 pm

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