The publication of a new Flourish programme designed by the Catholic church to teach primary school children from junior infants to sixth class about relationships and sexuality has caused some concern in recent weeks, particularly among LGBTI+ groups.
The relationship and sexuality education (RSE) developed by the Irish Bishops Conference states that the Church’s teaching that marriage is between man and woman cannot be omitted from lessons.
Local LGBT activist Síona Cahill has said that religion has no place in the sexual education of young people and alienates children from certain backgrounds.
“If you thought the days of Catholic-based curriculum having a significant impact on what young people are learning in school were over, you were wrong,” she told the Longford Leader.
“If you thought the Catholic Bishops Conference weren’t a primary influencer in what young people hear about sex and healthy relationships, you were also, unfortunately, wrong.
“I grew up in a wonderful Catholic tradition. I diligently served mass in Abbeyshrule, had wonderful priests in my local parish who were kind and thoughtful, and religion was genuinely important to me growing up.
“But it didn’t need to be part of my education to be important, and it certainly shouldn’t have been dictating what I heard about sex and love. It’s not the place for it.”
Anti-LGBTI+ bullying is rife throughout second-level schools in Ireland, according to Ms Cahill, who said that this “alarming reality” results in a hostile school environment for many LGBTI+ students and “poses a significant threat” to their wellbeing, mental health and welfare.
“It’s not enough to say we ‘exist’ as LGBT people... to give us a nod, indeed, or a line in a paragraph of a curriculum and think that by doing so that does the job, which is what the proposed curriculum does,” she said.
“Our relationships need to be shown and portrayed with respect, recognising the love and care that exists in such relationships.
“That remains next to impossible if the Catholic ethos that is teaching our young people is the same one that refers to same-sex couples as ‘intrinsically disordered’, I’m afraid.
“Young people and our young adults are suffering from this silencing of who they are. Parents are left at a loss when a young person comes out as LGBTI+, because they themselves were never taught about it.”
It’s not just LGBTI+ people, but all young people, of all diverse and blended families, who should be able to see and recognise themselves in the curriculum at school, Ms Cahill continued.
“A curriculum not rooted in religious ideology or ethics, but one based on fact and one based on meeting young people’s changing needs and the reality of their lives, and preparing them for how hard it all is - better than we have been,” she said.
“This is all so that they can make good decisions. So that they can have and understand healthy relationships, built on empathy. So they can better understand their bodies and their feelings and how it all works, basically.
“We’ve equipped generation after generation with so little before shoving them out into the world and expecting them to react.
“A non-religious based curriculum which teaches acceptance, love and respect within relationships, sex and sexuality is a curriculum that benefits every child... not just the gay children.
“When a religion, any religion, is the main frame from which you teach young people about relationships, it will be impacted by that religion’s opinion on what relationships are seen as more important, more natural, more real than others.
“In the case of Catholicism, it has been made very clear to our teachers that the curriculum must identify that marriage is between a man and a woman regardless of what was voted for in 2015.
“There’s a hierarchy of relationships. The brass tax of this is that any relationship that falls outside of being between a man and a woman, from single parents to a same-sex couple, are less than, and not equal to.”
Ms Cahill accepted that parents or guardians are entitled to a choice on their children’s religious education but stresses that there is no choice in Ireland with 90% of schools at primary level based on the Catholic ethos.
“If you are a parent who doesn’t wish for this ethos to be the primary driver behind your child’s education, you are expected to literally move from the parish or put up with it,” she said.
“Relationships and sexuality education is so, so important. We see the impact of the lack of it on society today and even in our own lives if we’re honest.
“Of course any curriculum should be fact-based, age appropriate and supported by parental guidance outside the classroom. But right now, we’re expecting primary school teachers to take their lead from the Bishops, and to me, it’s just not good enough.”
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