Vatican’s anti-gay-union dogma is part of the ethos of Irish schools

The Vatican has repeated its policy that it will not bless same sex unions. This should not be a surprise for anybody who is following the changing demographics of the Catholic Church, and the leadership of the theologically conservative Pope Francis, who started his papacy by endorsing an organisation of exorcists at the Vatican.

Two thirds of Roman Catholics now live in the global south (Subsaharan Africa, South east Asia, Central and South America) where Catholics are more conservative on sexual issues as well as more theologically superstitious.

That is the direction that the Catholic Church is going in and because of this it will continue to appear more irrelevant in the global north.  There is a consistent pattern of people becoming more secular as they move away from survival values and towards self expression values. This is a consistent pattern around the world.

If it was only the internal policies of a particular church, that would not be such a problem. But this church also runs the vast majority of our state funded schools and is legally allowed to deliver the state curriculum through its religous ethos.

This Response of the Vatican regarding same sex unions also reiterates its teaching on sex before marriage and contraception. It states that:-

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex. The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”

The Catholic Church is the Patron of the majority of schools at primary and second level. This means that their teaching on Relaionship and sexuality education can be integrated into the state curriculum on sex education.

Their is a right under the European Social Charter to objective Relationship and Sexuality education. In addition Article 42.3.2 of the Irish Constitution obliges the state to ensure that all children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social. Social education includes health education and relationship and sexuality education is part of that. For most children in Ireland it is catholic sex education or no sex education at all.  As there is no access to objective Relationship and sexuality education, children are at a disadvantage and cannot access RSE without it being delivered according to the ethos of the Catholic Church. The state has given no consideration to the right of all children to RSE in publicly funded schools.

When this issue was discussed at the Oireachtas Education Committee the Department of Education stated that schools and teachers could not change the content of the state curriculum on RSE. However because of Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 it could effect what students ‘hear’ and the resources used. It was pointed out by members of the Oireachtas Education Committee that what students ‘hear’ is what they are taught. The Oireachtas Education Committee made a Recommendation to amend Section 15 of the Education Act 1998 to ensure that the updated RSE curriculum was delivered in an objective manner by teachers.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is updating curriculum Relationship and Sexuality Education. They have not recommended any change to Section 15 of the Education Act. This means that any updated RSE curriculum can be delivered according to the ethos of the school. Schools can and do have Religious education policies which outline how their religious ethos must be integrated in curriculum subjects.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is still in place and this puts teachers in the position that they are legally obliged to uphold the ethos of the patron. The rights of students in the education system to objective relationship and sexuality education is never taken on board.

It should not be up to schools and teachers to decide on the delivery of a curriculum subject that students have a Constitutional and human right to. We need statutory guidelines on how far ethos can influence ethos particularly around the delivery of curriculum subject.

You can find the Oireachtas Education Committee’s exchange with the Department of Education in relation to ethos and sex education here

Atheist Ireland