A controversial new sex education document for Catholic primary schools is a “resource and not a programme”, Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has said.
Titled ‘Flourish’, it was prepared by the Catholic Bishops for use in Relationships and Sexuality Education at Catholic primary schools and describes sex and puberty as a “gift from God”.
Intended for junior infants to sixth class, it was published last month. Critics noted that in discussing LGBT issues , it says the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”.
It 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.
Archbishop Farrell said "Flourish, which is resource and not a programme, celebrates life and love." He said it "acknowledges that love is at the heart of family life, no matter what type of family it is."
It “clearly states that any young person grappling with questions around their own gender identity or sexual orientation is be treated with the utmost care and respect,” he said.
“Flourish affirms the core of the Judeo-Christian tradition: every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is loved by God as they are,” he said.
The Archbishop was speaking at the annual meeting of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which represents boards of management at over 2,800 Catholic primary schools in the Republic.
On the CPSMA website the document has been described as both a “programme” and a “resource”.
The website says Flourish is “an RSE programme for Catholic Primary Schools on the island of Ireland”, and elsewhere states “the RSE Primary resource is called Flourish.”
Archbishop Farrell said “Flourish is a series of resources designed to assist teachers in following the NCCA curriculum while being respectful of our Catholic ethos. They were designed to fill a need which became apparent after wide consultation with parents, teachers and school leaders in our sector.”
He thanked school principals and staff for how well they have cared for school children throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. “Your decision to return to school, despite being apprehensive about the coronavirus - putting the children first - is a recognition that no technological device can replace the dynamics of the classroom,” he said.
On children with special needs, he appealed to boards of management to be welcoming where requests " to open an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) unit in their school so that children can be educated locally with their family and friends".
The Catholic school, he said, “sets the young person out on life valuing the spiritual, the religious, the moral, as well as the intellectual, creative, physical and social aspects of life.” It opens “its doors not only to young Catholics, but to those of other denominations, other religions and other worldviews, in a hospitable, respectful, inclusive manner - inviting them to participate in appropriate ways in what it offers them.”
In all of this “religious education is important” as “in the plural reality of society today we need to build up respect for others rather than diminish it,” he said.
“We need all our young people to be religiously literate and to learn at least to respect the beliefs and understandings of others. Otherwise we leave ourselves open to the possibility of a future where coming generations find themselves ignorant of their own tradition and that of others,” he said.