'Children need lessons in relationship and sexuality - but without Catholic Church influence'

A group of concerned parents and teachers in Cork have started a conversation about the place of religion in the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education in our schools, following the publication of the recent Flourish report. Member Maire de Barra tells us more.
'Children need lessons in relationship and sexuality - but without Catholic Church influence'

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Parents and teachers have launched a petition calling her to remove the religious ethos from RSE.

WHAT is RSE? It is the most important class our students take. In this class they learn about themselves, their peers, the society we live in and who and what we accept in that society. Teachers guide them in some of the trickier issues that arise as they develop from small five-year-olds wondering about the differences between girls and boys to mature eighteen-year-olds navigating the challenges of sexual relationships.

Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is a class in which the student is given space, via interactive learning techniques, to talk about topics they are encountering socially. It encourages them to become more empathetic and to be each other’s support networks as they grow and mature. This is a vital lesson, giving them the social skills and the self-esteem to safely find their way through the difficulties of their teenage years.

What happens when this class is influenced by the Catholic Church? The space is no longer a place of openness and transparency but rather a place of ‘inculturation’ for the Catholic Church.

The publication of the Flourish Programme of Relationship and Sexuality Education clearly outlines that the key principle behind the creation of this Programme is to further the teachings of the Church.

This Programme is set to be rolled out in September to the 90% of schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church. It is intertwining Catholic doctrine into a subject that deals with the social, moral and emotional well-being of our young people. It ignores the progressive and accepting society we have become, especially in recent years with the Marriage and the Repeal Referendum.

In the publication of Flourish, the Catholic Bishops have taken the proposed curriculum set out by the NCCA and incorporated the teachings of the Catholic Church into every aspect of it. They have created a set of resources that lays out each class, and in each class the topic is brought back to God and/or Jesus and each class concludes with a prayer to God. This Programme has many lessons at its heart that are in complete conflict with modern Irish society. Our children will learn that puberty is ‘a gift from God’ and once we reach puberty ‘we are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him.’

They will learn about a hierarchy of marriage and that the most desirable and acceptable is between a man and a woman. 

It acknowledges that the LGBTQI community exists and must not be shamed, but there is no attempt to move away from a heteronormative presentation of family life that has led to a society where 75% of the LGBTQI community reported verbal abuse in 2019 as a result of their sexual orientation. Children will learn that sex belongs within a committed relationship, but also that the only committed relationship is the sacrament of marriage; a sacrament that the Church will not give to same-sex couples. The message here is that homosexuality is ‘immoral and contrary to natural law’. These lessons are for children who have not yet begun to consider their sexuality but when they do, and if they find they have homosexual feelings, will they then see themselves as immoral and unnatural? Are these the kinds of lessons we want our children learning? 

Will these lessons promote an open and accepting society?

As parents in Ireland we have a very limited choice in where to send our children to school. We do not have the opportunity, in most cases, to choose multi/non-denominational schools since The Catholic Church is the trustee for over 90% of the Primary schools in Ireland. The Government has promised to increase the level of divestment in the country to reflect the changing religious make-up of the country but it would take over 250 years to achieve this at the current rate of divestment.

Parents who have no choice but to send their children to a Catholic school will often withdraw them from religion class but since ‘inculturation’ is a whole-school, all-lesson policy the Church can, and clearly intends to, incorporate Catholic doctrine into all classes.

This is not an easy issue to tackle. 

The power of the Catholic Church in our past has left a deep connection between Church and State and the legacy is an education system paid for by the State and taxpayer but controlled by the Church. The Government needs to address this situation an have outlined steps to do so in their 2020 Programme for Government. We need a Citizen’s Assembly on Education; increased divestment happening at a greater speed; and the removal of the Catholic Ethos from RSE. But before any of these things happen, Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, needs to stand up and tell Catholic Bishops that the Flourish Programme has no place in our primary schools.

A petition has been launched at https://www.change.org/ Search for:Guarantee factual and objective Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish schools

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