One of the youngest Senators in the Seanad has spoken of how he prayed for years not to be gay because of shame, as he expressed his opposition to a new sex-education programme for Catholic primary schools.
Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield said there was "a lot to unpack in the news that the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has developed what it refers to as a voluntary resource for primary schools".
“I do not profess to have all of the answers but this is not it”, Mr Warfield said of the relationships and sexuality education programme, which has been developed for junior infants to sixth class.
The Sinn Féin spokesman on LGBT rights pointed to an Irish Times report about the programme.
About 90 per cent of all national schools are Catholic and Mr Warfield quoted the introduction to the programme, which states that when discussing LGBT issues the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”.
The programme also states that “puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him”.
A lesson on safety and protection “advises senior infant children to say the ‘Angel of God’ prayer”.
Mr Warfield said “I prayed for years that I would not be gay. I did so because of shame, much of which I can place blame for at the door of the Church.
“Prayer and religious ideology do nothing to protect children or young people. Prayer and ideology do nothing to protect kids against sexually transmitted infections or HIV.”
Mr Warfield said a debate was needed on sex education as he called for politicians in the Dáil and Seanad “to stand up and be allies on this issue”.
He said: “I know that by making this statement alone, there will be abuse and I will be called a degenerate online. We need allies to stand up with LGBT people.”
Seanad leader Regina Doherty told Mr Warfield she was "absolutely distraught listening to you… talk about the years that you prayed and the years that you felt ashamed, because it makes me feel ashamed that we had a society that allowed you feel that way".
The former Fine Gael minister said she had religious beliefs “but they play no part in the conversations that I ever had with any of my four children around sexual education. They’ve got nothing to do with it.”
Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly, also speaking on the issue, said there was a need to ensure that there is no confusion on the issue. “We must be really clear in sex education that ours is a country that has moved to a different place, where we accept everyone and do not talk about religion and God in the same sentence in which we talk about relationships and sex, because it can be very confusing.”
She pointed out that at the weekend the Citizens’ Assembly recommended the recognition of all family types and not only those based on a man and a woman.
“It is therefore important that the our education system does the same when it comes to education on relationships and sex”.
Ms O’Reilly also said that “young people need to be fully prepared for real life, and to have their own families reflected in the school system.”