Catholic church cannot sack gay headteacher

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Legal advice given to the Roman Catholic Church has made it clear that they cannot dismiss a primary school headteacher who has entered into a civil partnership.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Charles Coyne, headteacher of a church school in Liverpool, last year was legally partnered with a fellow teacher at a nearby school.

Some parishoners in the local area have reacted badly, and wanted action taken against him.

However, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Liverpool told the Telegraph:

“Legal advice was sought. The Church was advised that in this case nothing could be done, despite the fact that the head was acting contrary to Church teaching.”

They conceded that his personal life has not interfered with his management of the school he has run for many years.

An a statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that they had an expectation that employees “to present and represent the Catholic faith.”

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 make it unlawful to discriminate against employees or prospective employees because they are gay.

There is a very narrow exception for faith groups.

These exemptions permit what might otherwise be unlawful discriminatory conduct by religious organisations.

There have been very few cases brought under the regulations but the legal advice given to the Archdiocese of Liverpool would appear to indicate that the lawyers feel the Church would be acting illegally in sacking an headteacher for entering in to a civil partnership.

Last month the Church of England’s Bishop of Hereford lost at an employment tribunal over his treatment of a gay applicant for a job as a diocesan youth worker.

Alan Wardle, director of public and parliamentary affairs at gay equality organisation Stonewall, commented:

“Even contemplating sacking a good headteacher for something as irrelevant as his sexual orientation seems ridiculous.

“After the recent case involving the Bishop of Hereford, funded by Stonewall, lesbian and gay people of faith increasingly know they are protected at work the same as everyone else.”

Arpita Dutt, a partner specialising in discrimination law in the award-winning team of solicitors Russell Jones Walker told

“The exemptions in the law for a small number of posts outside of the clergy permit what might otherwise be unlawful discriminatory conduct by religious organisations in the following limited circumstances. For the exemptions to apply:

1. The employment must be for the purposes of an organised religion; and

2. The purpose of applying an occupational requirement related to sexual orientation must be either

a) to comply with the doctrines of the religion; or

b) because of the nature of the employment and the context in which it is carried out (so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers).

“It is important to note that the exemption is for the purposes of a ‘religion’ not a ‘religious organisation.’

“It was widely anticipated that it would therefore be unlikely to be interpreted to include any type of employment by a religious organisation, for example the employment of nursing staff by a religious hospice, or temple cleaners, since the primary purposes of employing nursing staff is to deliver health care, and cleaners to clean, rather than to espouse religious beliefs.”