Review of sex education ‘essential’, says Catholic primate

Eamon Martin says no place for bullying or homophobia in Catholic schools

Archbishop Eamon Martin: “In light of much public discussion about LGBT and gender issues, it is important that we, in Catholic schools, also evaluate the support offered to students who are facing new and deep questions relating to their sexual identity as they mature.”  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Archbishop Eamon Martin: “In light of much public discussion about LGBT and gender issues, it is important that we, in Catholic schools, also evaluate the support offered to students who are facing new and deep questions relating to their sexual identity as they mature.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has called for a a review of sex education in schools, including debate on contraception and consent.

A relationships and sexuality programme in Catholic schools should be developed in consultation with parents, he said.

This should include “age appropriate information, debate and discussion about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, same-sex attraction and unions and the full meaning of consent,” Archbishop Martin told the Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools (JMB/AMCSS) annual conference in Galway on Thursday.

“Recent coverage of the Belfast trial and the international #MeToo movement also focuses minds on the issues of sexual violence and harassment,” he said.

“A review of relationships and sexuality education in all schools, including our Catholic schools, is essential if we are to help young people cope with the risks to their health and wellbeing presented in both the virtual and real worlds they inhabit,” he said. “In light of much public discussion about LGBT and gender issues, it is important that we, in Catholic schools, also evaluate the support offered to students who are facing new and deep questions relating to their sexual identity as they mature.

“All young people must be treated with compassion and be helped to understand that they are loved by God and their inherent human dignity is valued and respected,” he said.

Human dignity

“The prevalence of sexual bullying and ostracisation can so easily leave them susceptible to feelings of rejection, distress, self-harm and risk-taking behaviours. This cannot be tolerated in any school, never mind a Catholic school which holds, as a core value, the dignity of every human person.”

A litmus test of a Catholic school ethos would be “how its most vulnerable members are getting on. Pupils with disabilities or other special educational needs will be given particular attention and support, and the school will work to overcome all kinds of exclusion which would deny any young person the opportunity to receive quality education.

“There is therefore no place for bullying, harassment, racism, homophobia, or any form of victimisation in a Catholic school. A good Catholic school will inspire empathy for those less fortunate, like the homeless, migrants and refugees,” he said.

The archbishop recalled how during a recent Dáil debate “the approach of Catholic schools to Relationships and Sexuality Education was variously described by some as ‘backward’, ‘grossly distorted’, not ‘objective’, non-‘factual’, and even biologically incorrect. It was argued that relationships and sexuality education has to be ‘non-ethos based’.”

These “negative perceptions” of the approach to relationships and sexuality education “in our schools will sound unfair, harsh, uninformed and agenda-driven to many parents and to those who have been sensitively working in this area within our Catholic schools,” he said.

Teachings of Christ

It was true, he said, “that relationships and sexuality education in Catholic schools is situated within a morals and values framework that is derived ultimately from the life and teaching of Christ and transmitted through the teaching of the Catholic Church”.

It ought therefore “to be an integral part of the curriculum in a Catholic school. It should present the positive, yet challenging Catholic vision for relationships, chastity, marriage and the family.”

Given that many Catholic schools “have already been sensitively offering support to pupils who are beginning to express same-sex attractions or raising personal questions about gender identity, it is timely to identify, develop and disseminate best practice in this area across all our Catholic schools”, he said.

Recognising the challenges at the interface between the church’s moral teaching and pastoral practice, he felt “it would be helpful for us to share learning about inclusive school structures and relationships, sensitive pastoral outreach and support for students”.