This article appeared in the November 1998 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly
EDUCATION FOR LOVE
Catholic Education Service
Agency of the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales
39 Eccleston Square, London
There has been considerable disquiet amongst doctors within the Guild, many of whom are also parents, as to the nature and direction of sex education, since it became a legal requirement in Secondary Schools. A working party was set up by the Guild to examine the issue and was invited by the Catholic Education Service to comment on the initial, though not the final, draft of "Education for Love": a matter for regret. The text is somewhat thin on Fertility Awareness; and Natural Family Planning is not given the theological and pastoral consideration that it deserves. This document tends to overlook the important strides that have taken place in this area over the last thirty years.
"Education for Love" is also confused on the question of sexual activity outside of marriage. On p.29 we read "Sex outside of marriage, between a couple who have made a genuine commitment to each other, might express a truly loving relationship but, in the Catholic view, it still lacks the completeness of permanent love which marriage represents." Surely, this is emphatically not Catholic teaching? Can "sex outside of marriage" ever express "a truly loving relationship"? At worst, this could cause offence to children of 'broken families' where mother, or father, may he living under the same roof as their new partner. Why was this statement not deleted?
Notwithstanding such ambiguities in what is otherwise a good exegesis of Catholic Teaching, my main criticism of this publication is that it simply fails to address the main concerns of parents (and doctors). It fails to address the question of how Sex Education should be taught, by whom and in what context. These issues are dealt with in the document "Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" issued by the Pontifical Council of the Family in 1995.
Sex education is somewhat difficult to define, and sex instruction can creep into many subject areas e.g. biology, personal and social education (PSE) or general studies. However, sex education in a secular context is taken to mean instruction in the intimate or specifics of human sexuality including such sensitive issues as sex outside of marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease including HIV and AIDs and abortion. Of course, there is a place for the scientific study of reproduction in biology. Nevertheless, the Pontifical Council is clear on how, why, where and by whom sex education should be given.
Parents retain the primary responsibility for the education of their children - a role which is "irreplaceable and inalienable and, therefore, incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others" (Gravissimum Educationis). Any specific sex education must only be delegated to others with the express direction of the parents (an opt in rather than opt out) and must be given to each child on an individual basis within a family context (N32, 46,65,75,77,124,129,13 3). No material of an erotic nature must be presented ..... either individually or in a group .... instruction must not offend against modesty or subjectively against his or her own delicacy or sense of privacy, or include personal information about sexual matters or asking that family information be divulged. Sex instruction should never invade the "latency period" (usually from around 5 years to puberty) which could "shatter their emotional and educational development and disturb the natural serenity of this period of life" (N136). Schools and parents should avoid secularised and anti-natalist sex education (N 136) and remove such items from the curriculum, together with materials that openly propose artificial contraception or "false lifestyles" e.g. homosexuality (N136). Certain popular teaching methodologies are also prohibited such as values clarification methodology (N140) e.g. "sharing sessions" and "role playing" especially when this concerns genital or erotic matters.
Many teachers find difficulty in being involved in sex education. Their instincts are largely correct. After reading "Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" one is led to the conclusion that the place for intimate and specific sex education in Catholic Schools is vanishingly small.
The references N32 etc., in brackets relate to paragraphs in "Truth and Meaning in Human Sexuality"