London’s premier Catholic state school, the London Oratory, is facing a furore from gay campaigners this week following their decision to drop a leading AIDS charity as the beneficiary for their World AIDS Day charity concert.
Gay rights activists are believed to be planning to picket the Oratory School and distribute leaflets to inform students of the school’s decision to suddenly cancel its plan to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, one of Europe’s most-respected AIDS charities.
Actor Simon Callow, probably best known for his role in the hit British film Four Weddings and a Funeral, is also threatening to quit as patron of the Oratory School Choir, Schola.
Mr Callow who was educated at the school and is also a patron of the THT, said the school’s actions made it “difficult for him to support either the choir or its concert on 1 December,” The Guardian reported.
“If what they tell me is true, you will readily appreciate that I couldn’t attend – I’m a patron of the THT.
“Indeed, I’m afraid I’d have to withdraw as a patron of the Schola: if it’s subject to that sort of pressure from the Catholic Church, then I’d find it really hard to endorse it,” the actor said in an email to headmaster David McFadden.
Mr McFadden has written to parents outlining his reasons for switching charities.
“The London Oratory School will always want to make sure its charitable fundraising work and its work…are done with organisations whose philosophy, aims and practices support Christian values.
“The nominated charity does not meet this criterion, it would be inappropriate for the school to financially support this charity from the proceeds of the concert.”
When approached by PinkNews.co.uk the elite Fulham secondary school, which was at the centre of a political storm a few years ago when former Prime Minister Tony Blair sent three of his children there, refused to comment on the row.
Debbie Holmes, director of fundraising at the THT told PinkNews.co.uk:
“We were delighted when the London Oratory approached us a couple of months ago to offer us the funds from the Schola concert.
“We were extremely disappointed and surprised when they then called us and told us they couldn’t work with us.
“Raising money for HIV/AIDS is not easy in the UK and we would have really welcomed their support.
“They haven’t explained their rationale behind the decision to us-we know as much as anyone else.”
She added that the charity had hope for at least £2,000 from the concert.
Surf, a charity which helps survivors of the Rwandan genocide, will now benefit from the funds raised.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s outrageous that a Catholic school is using religious dogma to deny support for a world-acclaimed charity that has helped save tens of thousands of lives.
“It is another nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church’s public image and credibility.”
Despite defending its decision to drop the THT on the grounds that its work conflicts with Catholic teachings, the Schola has recently recorded music for a new film, which has been by condemned by Catholics for promoting atheism.
The American Catholic League has called for all Christians to boycott The Golden Compass, which is part of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
The film, which stars Nicole Kidman, opens in the first week of December, just after the AIDS concert.
The Oratory School is linked to one of the most conservative Catholic churches in Britain, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as Brompton Oratory.
The church is controlled by a group of fathers known as Oratorians,who are viewed by many Catholics as reactionaries, opposed to any change or modernising trend.
There has been speculation in the press that the decision to drop the THT is related to a particular dark part of the Oratory School’s recent history in which the charity was innocently implicated.
It has been revealed that a former priest at the Brompton Oratory who died of AIDS was cared for by the THT in the late 1990s.
Father David Martin was appointed chaplain and governor at the Catholic state school after his ordination into the Fathers of the London Oratory.
The school said it had did not known that Father Martin was HIV-positive.
However, three years after being accepted as a novice at the Oratory, the priest informed Fr Michael Scott Napier, the then provost, that he had become HIV-positive.
In 2000 two boys from the school rang ChildLine to say they have been abused by Father Martin, who had died two years earlier from an AIDS-related illness.
The boys, who were never identified, expressed fears that they might have contracted the HIV virus.
“Any mention of that trust raises the spectre of David Martin,” a source told the Evening Standard.
“You can imagine the horror in some quarters when it was realised the Schola was doing a performance for it.”
Following the ChildLine calls the police were called in but no evidence was ever found to support the pupils’ allegations.