Masturbation is out. Contraception is out. Why don’t we ignore the latest Vatican exhortation?

‘The Joy of Love’ shows the Vatican is still obsessed with sexual activity between consenting adults

Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, left, and Christoph Schoenborn show a copy of ‘The Joy of Love’. Photograph: Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, left, and Christoph Schoenborn show a copy of ‘The Joy of Love’. Photograph: Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

 

Are these guys for real? The latest exhortation from the Vatican, Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, shows that the Catholic Church is still obsessed with sexual activity between consenting adults. The document has been criticised as being too traditional by many groups and individuals including former president Mary McAleese. It pontificates about almost everything that affects relationships, including: the family, marriage, contraception, pregnancy, feminism, men’s roles, gender, single mothers, and the elderly, to name just a few themes.

Marriage is apparently “swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome” and people fear “entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals”.

We treat relationships “the way we treat material objects: everything is disposable, everyone uses and throws away, exploits and squeezes to the last drop, then goodbye”.

The authors misunderstand violence in the family which they blame on poor communication and defensive attitudes, instead of misogyny.

Views on children born “out of wedlock” are in the same paragraph as sexual abuse of children. The document advises that sex education for young people must foster “a healthy sense of modesty”.

Teaching young people to practise safe sex “promotes narcissism” and it is “always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies”. So masturbation is out. Contraception is out. Marriage between LGBT couples is unacceptable and meaningless.

None of these exhortations are surprising as the document was developed by cardinals at all-male synods, none of whom have ever been married, had children (presumably), or enjoyed sexual relationships (presumably).

So why don’t we just ignore The Joy of Love? It has no relevance to anyone other than devout practising Catholics. Unfortunately, in Ireland, it cannot be so easily ignored.

SPHE programme

These programmes contain modules on most of the themes contained in The Joy of Love such as the family, sexual and reproductive health and sexual orientation. Whether we like it or not, Catholic teachers and school principals may now feel a level of cognitive dissonance when they are teaching SPHE.

“Myself and My Family” is a core unit of the SPHE primary school curriculum. Last year the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) developed a resource to help teachers discuss different family formations including those of LGBT couples.

“Different Families, Same Love” consists of lesson ideas for all children from junior infants to sixth class and a teaching aid poster depicting many different types of families including: single male and female parents, two women with children, two men with children, multi- ethnic family groups, older and younger couples with no children and so on.

The INTO developed the resource because of widespread homophobic bullying in Irish schools.

‘Ending their own life’

And that “it is vitally important for all children to see their families represented during (SPHE) lessons”.

The Joy of Love portrays the ideal family as being a married different sex couple with children, preferably as many as possible – “large families are a joy for the church”. SPHE at second level includes lessons on contraception, and protection against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

To what extent will teachers now be able to use resources like “Different Families, Same Love” effectively? Will they be able to teach about contraception without bias?

The only solution is to remove religion from schools altogether. Human beings do not need religion to calibrate their moral compass. It is possible to be a decent citizen by adopting a human rights approach to life and relationships with others.

Schools can also adopt a human rights ethos. Human rights can be taught instead of religion to ensure children develop respect for themselves and others; understand the concepts of fairness and equity; and have a non-violent approach to living healthy lives. No religion has achieved this in 3,000 years. In fact, the only sensible advice in The Joy of Love is to use the words please, thank you and sorry in interactions with family members as often as necessary. But that’s just good manners and we do not need religion for that either.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has several booklets on rights such as Human Rights Explained, available from ihrec.ie

drjackyjones@gmail.com

Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of the Healthy Ireland Council.

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