Sex education in Catholic schools covers facts and values, bishops say

Faith-based education to be discussed at meeting between churches and Government in July

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have defended the manner in which sex education is taught in schools under their patronage.

In a statement following their summer meeting at Maynooth which concluded on Wednesday, the bishops said: "Catholic schools encourage excellence in relationship and sexuality education, and in all learning, while promoting human flourishing in line with authentic Gospel values."

They said: "Contrary to some recent negative commentary, in Catholic schools young people do [their emphasis] learn facts as part of their relationships and sexuality education."

But they also “learn about values, about respect, about consent, about self-esteem” and other important issues on relationships and sexual health “in age appropriate ways, and in cooperation with parents”.


Support for parents who wished for a faith based education for their children would be one of the issues raised by representatives of the Catholic Church at the next plenary meeting of representatives of churches, faith communities and non-confessional organisations with the Government, the bishops also said.

A plenary meeting of the structured dialogue series, which began in February 2007 under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, is to take place at Dublin Castle on July 4th next and will be chaired by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and Siobhán Hanley, head of Trócaire Northern Ireland, will represent the Catholic Church at the meeting.*

Archbishop Martin has criticised what he described as a lack of progress on developing a new covenant between church and State, as spoken of by Mr Varadkar in his address to Pope Francis at Dublin Castle last August.

The bishops said the other topics which have been tabled for discussion at the Government meeting were care of the marginalised and issues of conscience facing Catholics today.

In their statement, the bishops also called on parents, teachers, young people, youth leaders, priests and religious, journalists, politicians, employers and sports coaches “to actively reject racism, intolerance and sectarianism”.

They also allied themselves with “the widespread criticism of others of the undignified living conditions and treatment of those living in direct provision centres. As Christians, we are called to follow the example of Jesus as set out in His parable of The Good Samaritan”.

In that context the bishops wished "to express our concern about the rising number of incidents of racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance in Ireland - carried out sometimes by those who consider themselves faithful Christians - and which can occur anonymously or otherwise on social media, in quiet conversations, by open verbal onslaughts or through physical violence."

On schools the bishops said they “strongly support parents as the primary educators of their children, particularly in the area of relationships and sexuality education (RSE).” In a statement they stressed “the central role of parents as they nurture their children to grow in these challenging times.

“Parents must therefore be consulted in the development of RSE programmes. Teachers also face challenges in RSE, and they need support. Appropriate resources, including the provision of in-service training and continuing professional development, are required to address current deficits,” they said.

The bishops welcomed the document Male and Female He created Them, published last Monday by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, which reiterated church teaching in the areas of gender and sexuality.

In particular, they underscored its proposition on “the need to educate children and young people to respect every person in their particularity and difference so that no one should suffer bullying, violence, insults or unjust discrimination based on their specific characteristics (such as special needs, race, religion, sexual tendencies).”

Speaking last March of the need to restart the church-State dialogue, Archbishop Martin said that while Brexit was taking up a lot of politicians’ time “this does not mean that this dialogue is not important not just for the interests of churches and Government, but rather for the good of Irish society.”

Similar views were repeated by Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson who warned, however, that the proposed church-State dialogue promised by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may be “ insufficient, partial and inadequate in contemporary Ireland”.

*This article was amended on May 5th, 2021

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times