New Catholic school sex education programme not in line with government expectations, says Tánaiste

Varadkar said the programme for government is clear on the need for LGBTQ+ inclusive RSE.

A male politician with a weird grin

The government expects LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education to be taught in schools, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil on Thursday. He was responding to questions from Social Democrats co-leader Roisín Shorthall on the guidelines for Catholic school sex education published recently.

The Flourish programme is for junior infants through to sixth class and was developed through the Irish Bishop’s Council. In the programme it says that “Sex is a gift from God… Puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him.” While it does acknowledge LGBTQ+ families, it does not give any guidance, support or education on LGBTQ+ people and says that “the Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted.”

The programme also says that “sexual love belongs within a committed relationship. Marriage as a sacrament of commitment” and advises senior infant children to say the “Angel of God” prayer in a lesson on safety and protection.

“Last month, incredibly, the Vatican reaffirmed that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God cannot, quote, ‘bless sin’,” Shorthall told the Dáil.

“That was the Church’s position. But it is not the State’s position, it is not the public’s position.

“Sex education needs to be fact-based and facts do not have an ethos.

“Do we really want LGBTQ+ children in schools, who may be struggling with their sexual orientation, to be taught that their relationships are in any way less worthy, meaningful, loving, or deserving of respect than their heterosexual peers?”

In response, Varadkar said all schools have to have an RSE policy but that the ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about the issues, but it may influence how the content is treated. 

There has been no reaction from the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to the new Catholic school sex education guidance since news of the programme was first reported on last week by GCN. Varadkar thinks that a statement from the Minister or the Taoiseach is needed “because the programme for government is very clear and very clear that when it comes to this matter that we have to be inclusive of LGBTI relationships.”

The programme for government promises to “Develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and SPHE curricula across primary and post-primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.”

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is currently working on updating the Relationship and Sexuality Education curriculum in Irish schools after a report on the issue was published in 2019, which among other things said that LGBTQ+ matters needed to be addressed. However, Section 15-2(b) of the Education Act 1998 obliges Boards of Management to uphold the ethos of the Patron.

This could lead to difficulties in implementing changes to the RSE programme. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 introduced by Solidarity-People before Profit seeks to guarantee the right of students to receive factual and objective relationships and sexuality education without regard to the characteristic spirit of the school, but it is stuck in the preliminary stages of the Dáil.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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