The Malta Union of Teachers has had to intervene to stop the termination of four gay teachers from their employment in Church schools over the past five years, president John Bencini has told MaltaToday.
Refraining from mentioning the schools involved, Bencini said the Church schools were subjected to pressures from parents of children attending these schools.
In one particular case the teacher involved was also subjected to insults written on the blackboard by his students.
No cases of discrimination against gay teachers were ever reported in state schools, Bencini said.
MaltaToday asked the Curia to comment on these cases and to state the Church’s policy regarding gay and lesbian teachers employed in its schools. A spokesperson for the Curia said the matter was being followed up and a reply would be given “as soon as circumstances permit.”
In all cases reported to the MUT, the employment of the teachers involved was ultimately safeguarded.
In such cases the MUT strictly adheres to guidelines issued by the European Trade Union Committee on Education (ETUCE) which clearly state that as long as the teachers involved perform their professional duties their sexual orientation and private life should not be a factor in their employment.
“As long as these teachers do not try to influence students by their beliefs or lifestyles, their sexuality is a private matter,” Bencini said.
Bencini also mentioned a case where a particular church school wanted to get rid of a female teacher simply because she had married a Muslim. Even in this case the MUT had to intervene to save this teacher’s job.
Bencini recognised that Church schools who want to retain their Catholic ethos could have problems with teachers who openly flaunt their sexual orientation. “Whether gay teachers in church schools should declare their orientation to their students is bound to provoke an ethical discussion. But ultimately as a union we have to ensure that the employment of these teachers is safeguarded.”
Gay teachers like any other worker are protected by a 2004 legal notice which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation – a late addition to the Employment Relations Act after the Malta Gay Rights Movement lobbied for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the law with then social policy minister Lawrence Gonzi.
Similar cases have also occurred in other European countries. In Scotland a declaration by Bishop Joseph Devine, president of the Catholic Education Commission caused a political storm in 2005 when he declared homosexuality was incompatible with Catholic education. “It would be like offering a lifestyle that is incompatible with Catholic social teaching.”
But the Catholic Church hierarchy disassociated itself from Devine’s comments. Cardinal Keith O’Brien declared that a teacher’s sexuality was a private matter and should not be considered when recruiting. “If there happens to be a gay teacher and he does happen to be living with a partner, that’s their personal, private life. I don’t see it as a problem,” the Cardinal said.