Religion and sex education

 

A chara, – Two letter writers (April 28th) express concern about the new Flourish programme from the Catholic Church in Ireland for use under the social, personal and health education (SPHE) provisions.

We do indeed have an ongoing problem in that the Government still has failed to make provision for those who do not wish their families to attend a Catholic school. For nearly 200 years now religious organisations have subsidised the provision of education in Ireland, as well as health and social welfare. Churches are not responsible for this failure.

Both writers recommend action on the stalled Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018. That Bill would amend the 1998 Education Act which requires that schools “promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students . . . having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school”. The Bill would amend the Act in three places with the insertion of the phrase, “with the exception of relationships and sexuality education”. It would also require that relationships and sexuality education (RSE) be delivered in “a factual and objective manner in all schools regardless of the characteristic spirit of the school”.

While the writers object to the ethos expressed in the Flourish document, this Bill in itself would impose another ethos or spirit on all schools in this matter. It also implies that the “characteristic spirit of the school” would be incompatible with “a factual and objective” presentation. It is clearly important that any programme present material in a factual and objective manner. In the matter of relationships and sexuality there is far more involved.

It is a highly emotive matter. The birth of a child, for example, can be described in a factual and objective manner, but this does not in itself convey what a mother may experience in giving birth or what parents may experience in holding their child for the first time. In relationships, sexuality and procreation, beyond the factual and objective, we are in another realm: what does it mean to the people concerned?

Religious faith is very much involved in this realm of meaning. This does not contradict the factual and objective. Consider the experience of relationships, puberty, love, procreation, commitment, growth, change and aging, and death.

For Christians, these are presented in the context of God who is love and who is with us in every aspect of life, including education and relationships. For those with a different perspective, this must never be imposed. Neither must it be excluded from any area of life for Christians.

Some wording in the Flourish programme could be rephrased. “Puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him” in the “Strands” for senior classes is an example. Puberty can be a time of much difficulty for some – perhaps, like the saying “schooldays are the best days of your life”, it can be seen better retrospectively as a gift. Better than seeing adolescence as a pathology! “Perfectly designed” is not how one in six couples who have difficulty conceiving would describe their experience.

In a world where love and sexuality and procreation have been disjointed from one another and sexual activity seen as little more than a casual enjoyable activity without deeper meaning or significance, my hope is that all SPHE programmes, including Flourish, would stimulate a sense of wonder as we experience when we see a sky full of stars, or the wonder of this earth and all beings in it. To fail would mean we may well simply exploit and damage people and relationships like we have exploited and damaged this planet. – Is mise,

PÁDRAIG McCARTHY,

Sandyford,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – Catholic-managed primary schools, which make up over 90 per cent of State-funded primary schools, have long claimed to be inclusive. In practice, this inclusivity is selective. Children of other religions seem to find a better welcome than those of parents who want nothing to do with religion at all.

Now the Catholic Church has decided to embrace sex education, after its fashion (“Sex education and Catholic schools”, Letters, April 28th, and “Religion and sex education”, Letters, April 29th). However, its recent pronouncement on same-sex blessings, denounced for its “vicious language” by our former president Mary McAleese, must make it impossible for the church to offer inclusivity any longer. This is because gender diversity is a fact. It is obvious that those children who are beginning to realise that they do not conform to the Judeo-Christian, heterosexual model of gender alignment will be comprehensively rejected in schools that are operated by the Catholic Church.

The Government has a fundamental responsibility here. It must ensure that all State-funded schools are run along lines that do not discriminate, full stop. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McKENNA,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Although my children are opting out of religion classes, it would be extremely disappointing if they also had to miss out on relationships and sexuality education education should their school choose to use the Flourish curriculum, bringing a religious angle into all teaching about relationships in their social, personal and health education.

The Flourish curriculum is not representative of an inclusive Ireland and would be a retrograde step, in my opinion. – Yours, etc,

NIAMH MANNION,

Carrigtwohill,

Cork.