Papal document promoting chastity central to sex education in many schools
Head of Joint Managerial Body addresses Oireachtas committee as part of RSE review
A file image of Pope John Paul II departing Ireland after his 1979 visit. An Oireachtas committee has heard that a 1981 document penned by him remains central to how sex education is taught in many of the State’s secondary schools. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea/The Irish Times.
A 1981 document by Pope John Paul II, describing education for chastity as “absolutely essential” in schools, is central to how sex education is taught in schools run by the State’s largest second-level management body, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
John Curtis, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary School (JMB), which represents more than 400 schools, said its position in relation to sex education was outlined in the document, Familiaris consortio.
The document opposes sex education outside a moral context as merely “an introduction to the experience of pleasure”. It states: “Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen by them.”
Mr Curtis was addressing the committee on education and skills as part of its review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in schools.
He referenced an address last May by Archbishop Eamon Martin to the JMB annual conference, in which the Catholic primate said RSE “should not be reduced to the imparting of so-called ‘objective’ information, dissociated from a morals and values framework or from the totality of relationships”.
Solidarity TD Paul Murphy asked Mr Curtis whether he agreed “that today RSE in Catholic schools should be taught ‘education for chastity is absolutely essential’?”
Quoting from the 1981 papal document, Mr Murphy also asked if Mr Curtis agreed that “‘imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles would be ‘an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity... by opening the way to vice’?”
Mr Curtis said that, while their schools would engage with RSE “we will also advance in our schools that there is a Catholic frame. There is a set of Catholic values and attitudes that need to be advanced and given to the children”.
Responding to Senator Lynn Ruane, Mr Curtis said he was not aware of a bishop writing to a school to say they could not teach consent classes.
“People do wrestle with some of these aspects and are trying to determine what’s best at school level,” he said, adding that it was “difficult” to comment on specific issues he was not aware of.
Ms Ruane said she was deliberately not being specific by not identifying the school. “It was more the idea of an outside body” being involved, she said.
“The school was running this for nearly two years. It was going really well, positive feedback, parents involved. The school principal sanctioned it, everything,” she said.
“So it was actually the Catholic Church outside intervening in what was already a decision within the school. The school wasn’t battling with it or wrestling with it or finding any complications. They were really happy with the programme.”
Mr Curtis said that “ultimately these are patron issues, and are issues that have to be dealt with by the patron at local level”.
Dr John Gormley, of the Education & Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), told the committee that “community colleges have ETB as patron and they have the co-trustee via the Catholic Church or some other religious denomination”.
There would be no difference in RSE programmes taught in their schools, he said.
“There may be some difference in the methods of delivery and the resources used but ultimately the content should be delivered in a balanced, holistic and factual way,” he said.
Mr Murphy quoted one such ETB school “which have Accord, a Roman Catholic agency, brought in, paid with public money to give RSE and there’s no question in my opinion that the students who receive RSE from Accord get different RSE”.