All That I Am - a critical appreciation

John I Fleming FAITH Magazine September-October 2007

All That I Am (2004) is the sex education programme produced by the Diocesan Department of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Birmingham (UK). Strictly speaking All That I Am is the name of the staff handbook of a whole sex education programme articulated for secondary schools, the essential components of which are the further documents All that I am (The Road Ahead), Where I am, How I am, and Who I am. The entire programme is supported by an impressive range of DVDs which are beautifully produced, very appealing to the target audience, and professionally written.

Sex education programmes have always seemed to provoke strong controversy among parents and the wider community. The same is true where Catholic education is concerned. The locus of the controversy is the contrast between those who adhere to the western Christian moral tradition and those committed to the ‘sexual revolution’ wishing to further the revolution using school children as a captive audience.

In my own research on the opinions of Australians, to be published in September 2007, I found that many parents have complained that sex education programmes have been age inappropriate, obsessively concerned with the physical to the detriment of the moral and psychological context, and subversive of the values and moral positions that parents have typically held.

Such controversies have not been foreign to Catholic schools where secular sex education programmes have been implemented or alternatively new programmes developed which have adopted both the moral philosophy and pedagogical techniques of the secular programme. Parents have also felt that they have not been consulted or sufficiently consulted about the nature and content of the programmes, and that scant respect has been shown to them as the first educators of their children.

My research includes the following findings:

a. 92\% of Australians over 18 years of age support sex education in schools.

b. 57\% believe sex education is most appropriate at the onset of puberty (11-13 years), while 31\% hold it should occur earlier.

c. 56\% of parents prefer their child to abstain from sexual activity until they meet a permanent partner, while 44\% do not object if their child has one or more relationships providing they engage in safe sex practices.

d. 84\% of parents believe that parents should play at least an equal role with schools in sex education.

e. 74\% of parents are not familiar with the content of sex-education programmes and 89\% have no idea who has developed them. It is not surprising, then, that only 28\% said that they approved of existing sex education programmes

f. 57\% said that they believed sex education programmes should reflect family values and ideals.

I would not think that the attitudes in the UK would be radically different from that of Australians. If that is the case then the decision of the Archdiocese of Birmingham to implement sex education programmes from Year 5 (10 year olds) would not be supported by the Catholic community in the UK. However, the explicit statement of aim of the programme would accord well with these research findings:

The project aims to help and support parents in their duty as first educators of their child[1]. How the cooperation of schools with parents works out in practice remains to be seen, but the compilers of the programme urge teachers “to share with the parents what the video aims to do and the work children may bring home with them”[2].

It needs also to be stated that parents who send their children to a Catholic school have a right to be included in the way the sex education programme is developed and implemented. They also have the right to expect that the moral and social context within which the programme is taught is clearly Catholic, that children come away with a clear understanding of social relationships and the moral context in which sexual intimacy should occur, and an understanding of why the Catholic Church teaches what it teaches about the human body, sexuality, and friendship. The Birmingham programme could do more in looking at how parents can be supported in actually living out their primary role.

Emphasis upon Church Teaching.

There is no doubt in my mind that this programme, unlike many other programmes I have seen being used in Catholic schools, contains clear and unambiguous teaching on most of the moral issues relevant to the subject. A notable exception is the section on homosexuality about which more will be said later in this article. The programme sets out marriage as the morally right context within which sexual intimacy may be expressed while, of course, acknowledging that this moral teaching is rejected by many and infringed by others through human weakness. So, there is clear and unambiguous teaching about the wrongfulness of sex outside of marriage, the good of marriage and procreation, and the wrongfulness of abortion, euthanasia and reproductive technology. It is also the onlyCatholic programme which I’ve seen which sets out the Church’s moral teaching from the Catechism on masturbation and homosexuality, subjects which are frequently ignored by Catholic education programmes as too hard to teach in the current climate. As I have already suggested, and will develop further, the articulating of the Church’s moral conclusions in this programme is insufficient given that it is without an adequate account of the moral reasoning that goes with it.

Pope John Paul II has made it crystal clear that “there can be no avoiding the duty to offer, especially to adolescents and young adults, an authentic education in sexuality and love, an education which involves training in chastity as a virtue which fosters personal maturity and makes one capable of respecting the ‘spousal’ meaning of the body”[3]. The fact of the matter is that we live in a masturbatory culture, with a mentality which has been shaped by the ubiquitous teaching of ‘experts’ that masturbation is not only not morally wrong but good for your personal development. If we add to that the pernicious avalanche of pornography readily available in all media (including especially the internet) then the rising tide of harmful effects onadolescent boys and young adult males is easily understood. Similarly, teenage girl magazines and other literature and media exhort young women to explore their ‘erogenous zones’ and discover the pleasure of masturbation and the ‘giving’ of oral sex. Instant sexual gratification is now so much part of the informal and unauthorised sex education imposed on young people that we even have young girls referring to ‘boyfriends with privileges’ as distinct from other friends.

The Birmingham programme laudably does not avoid the duty to confront the masturbation issue and its setting out of Catholic teaching on the wrongfulness of masturbation is rightly accompanied by a warning to teachers to treat this subject with a great deal of care. A lot more guidance should be provided to teachers on how this subject should be taught and especially with reference to the pornography which now frequently is used as an accompaniment to as well as an aid to masturbation. The implications of pornography and masturbation in terms of the ‘objectification’ of members of the other sex, the invasion of pornographic images into the mind when a man is making love to his wife, and so on are issues which need explicit and clear guidance to teachers. As already alluded to, the way inwhich Church teaching on homosexuality is handled in this programme is a real problem to which I will return.

The fundamental approach of the Birmingham programme is to locate sex education in the overall context of the physical, emotional, social and moral well-being of persons. This represents a refreshing and welcome change from the physicalist and “value free” programmes which abound in Western societies.

Of course, the physical aspects have to be addressed. The information provided in the programme about the physical development of the young person in adolescence is particularly well done. The material is accurate, straight forward in telling it how it is, yet deeply respectful of the dignity of the human being. This is no easy task. That it has been so well realised is due to the fact that the compilers have got right the overall context within which we are to understand ourselves as sexual beings.

And the Birmingham programme is very pro-life, explaining why the killing of the pre-born child infringes the commandment not to kill the innocent. I think, though, that the section on abortion would be greatly strengthened if teachers (and therefore students) were further reminded of the seriousness of the crime of abortion in Catholic teaching and their obligation to resist it. This in turn would further emphasise why the Catholic Church holds marital intimacy in such high regard and why she teaches that sexual intercourse is seriously immoral outside of marriage. I have been authoritatively told that this matter is dealt with separately in the RE programme in the Birmingham Archdiocese. Nevertheless I believe it would be helpful for it to be reiterated here not only for the benefit ofstudents in the Birmingham Archdiocese, but for the students in schools outside of the Birmingham Archdiocese who may use this programme and who do not yet cover this matter in their own RE programmes.

Teenage sex education should include the teaching, carefully and convincingly explained in Evangelium Vitae, that

“Abortion and euthanasia are... crimes which no human law can claim to legitimise. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection...” (n. 73)

The Church’s teaching on artificial forms of contraception is presented, and students are made aware of natural family planning not only as a morally acceptable means of family planning but also as an important means developing sensitivity between a married couple thereby helping build the exclusive relationship we know as marital friendship.

Against these positive judgements on significant aspects of the Birmingham programme I would wish to make a number of very important criticisms and some further suggestions for improvement.

Insufficient development of the Catholic rationale for teaching on sexuality

The document seems not to provide a sufficient rationale for Catholic teaching on chastity. Church teaching is given more as moral affirmations, to some extent supported by argumentation, but without a substantial rationale for it. It is not enough to say that the Church teaches that sex is reserved for marriage. You need to give strong and persuasive reasons for this. If students are not given the strong case that the Church puts for its moral position it will be that much easier for the student to say: “Well that’s your opinion, but others are saying something else. I prefer the other. It’s just one opinion against another.” While the programme refers to The Truth and Meaning of Sexuality by the Pontifical Council for the Family (1995) it really doesn’t use to fulladvantage the argumentation provided.

Need for Natural law

In the programme natural law is referred to in a number of places. As will become apparent, in my opinion the document would be greatly strengthened if it were more elaborated. In a social context where the default position of most people is a crude mixture of utilitarianism and relativism, we need to reiterate the intrinsic wrongfulness of certain actions (e.g. killing the innocent), and the intrinsic goodness of other actions (consensual sexual intimacy in marriage). We want to enable young people to see that Catholic moral teaching is reasonable and in tune with the biological, psychological, spiritual and social reality of what a human being is. And we should enable students to see that there are objective moral goods which, if we participate in them in a rational way,will make for human flourishing[4].

Need for Theology of the Body

The programme would also be greatly strengthened if the compilers would put into simpler and age appropriate form the admittedly very technical language employed by Pope John Paul II in his explication of sexuality and marriage in what the Pope himself described as “theology of the body”. Here Pope John Paul II understands the human body as a means by which the mystery and plan of God for man are revealed, a mystery which signifies the ultimate mystery of Trinitarian life and love. On this understanding the human body is seen not merely as a biological organism so much as a “sign” of the divine mystery. Sexual union is thus more than a biological process since human love is not a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also and principally an act of free will throughwhich each gives themselves to the other in an integral manner such that husband and wife can become truly one in heart and soul. As such it is orientated towards procreation and mutual formation as possible parents. This notion of mutual, purposeful self-giving is not well accented or explicated in the current texts of the Birmingham programme, although it is there.

When my teenage daughter went to a series of seminars on the theology of the body her response was, “Ah now I see. Now I understand. I get it.” The point I am making here is that I don’t see that theology well articulated and explained in this document. It seems, rather, to rely too heavily on an argument from authority. The quotes are there from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And some of the argumentation is presented but not in the clear and systematic way which the subject matter requires.

Moreover, I do not believe it is realistic to think that we can rely on teachers’ understanding of the theology of the body. While the teaching contained in Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is teaching from the authentic magisterium of the Catholic Church, it seems not yet to have been read, absorbed, and responded to adequately. The evidence is all the other way, viz. that most teachers have never been exposed to that theology. Indeed, some are themselves not convinced by Catholic moral teaching. I would have hoped that the handbooks would have included material that would have assisted teachers in their own formation as to the philosophical and theological rationale for Church teaching on sexuality. The existing biblical and theological reflections are diffuse and notsystematically assembled in a way that would in any way assist in the realisation of that goal.

Need for Catholic Vision of Sexuality

And there needs to be a clearer integration of the Catholic understanding about the nature of the human being, about our sexual nature, about what a human being is for. Sexuality is not principally about genital sex but, rather, about the differentiation of human beings into male and female. All our relationships between the sexes are, in that sense, an exercise in sexuality but not usually genital sex. They are about chaste friendship, but only one such relationship is the intimate friendship that we call marriage.

By and large a man often talks to a woman quite differently from the way he talks to another man. Women also often speak differently to each other from the way they speak to men. We need to help young people to see that that’s good. But these friendships are, or ought to be, non-genital. The special friendship in which couples share sexual intimacy is marriage about which the programme has a lot of very good things to say. The programme is especially strong in its promotion of chastity and self-discipline as essential for the development of true and lasting friendships, clearly delineating lust from love[5]. But, as I say, much more needs to be included about the nature of the human body and the reasons why the marital context is the morallycorrect context within which sexual intimacy is expressed.

One of the reasons why I am so insistent on this point is that the Church is up against very powerful social influences which promote the “values” of the “sexual revolution”, undermining the capacity for young Catholics, and young people generally, to hear and receive the teaching of the Church. Given the opportunity which we have in our Catholic schools, we need to present the Church’s moral teaching in its strongest possible form and in a dialectical relationship with the views which abound in contemporary society. In that way, students will be given the best opportunity not only to appreciate the strength of the Catholic moral case, but also the weakness of other positions which very often seem to be accepted uncritically by students and teachers alike.

Contextualising Contraception

The Birmingham programme clearly states that contraception is a moral wrong and gives reasons why this is so. In my view the prophetic section of Humanae Vitae (n. 17) should also be included so that the connections between contraception, marital infidelity, sexual promiscuity, and the lack of respect for the woman, are clearly identified.

“Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care andaffection.”

Young people also need to understand the links between sexual immorality, divorce, contraception and abortion. When the contraceptive pill wasn’t around, neither was legal abortion. Within a couple of years of the widespread availability of the contraceptive pill Britain revised its abortion laws in a permissive direction. The rise in divorce significantly accelerated, as has happened in country after country. Moreover, the radical separation of the procreative and unitive aspects of intercourse, and its widespread acceptance in the community has provided, in turn, the moral justification for masturbation and for homosexual acts, including sodomy.

The companies that make contraceptive pills clearly set out how the pill works and how it is intended to work in the leaflet which accompanies them. The link with abortion is clear. It seems that most birth control pills have three phases. 1) They sterilise the woman so she can’t ovulate. This is the sterilising effect of the pill. 2) If that fails, they change the mucus at the neck of the cervix. This is the contraceptive phase of the pill. It prevents the sperm from getting into the uterus. 3) If that fails, the third action is to change the uterine wall to make the uterus inhospitable to the fertilised egg. This is the abortifacient character of the pill. It is not known how frequently the pill works as an abortifacient. Reference is made to this in the programme (cf for example How Iam, Key Stage 4, pages 47 and 51). But the connection with abortion is not, in my view, effectively made. Moreover it needs to be carefully explained that the promotion and use of artificial contraceptives encourages an exploitative attitude to sexual intimacy in which the generation of new life is seen as a “failure”, a “disaster”, something to be avoided at all costs. This in turn provides the context in which easy access to abortion is demanded as a backup to failed contraception.

Further, people who get into the habit of having sexual relations with a variety of persons (which contraception enables) may take that habit into their marriage. Sexual betrayal is a major indicator for divorce. Because of this, young people need to understand more about what we’re actually like as human beings, including the phenomenon of disordered desire or ‘concupiscence’, and the implications of that for our partner in life (the one to whom we are married) and for society as a whole. Natural Family Planning (NFP)

The Birmingham document has a list entitled “Contraception”, and the first item that appears is “Natural Family Planning”. The word “contraception”, in common usage, means having sex but deliberately preventing its logical and primary outcome, i.e. a child. Natural family planning is not that. It is a serious mistake to put natural family planning under the heading of “contraceptives” because it may well imply that it is just another possible choice among a raft of family planning measures.

According to Catholic teaching the practice of NFP is without intrinsic disorder. Practised with good, unselfish reason it is without moral fault and is a good, healthy and wholesome way to live your married life. We need to teach young people the wonderful advantages of NFP. For example that the man better appreciates and loves his wife because he better understands how she changes over the course of the month. He learns how to be responsive to her, how to intuit when affection outside of the realm of erotic intimacy is more appropriate. He learns better to appreciate subtle differences in her well-being, and he comes to a deeper respect for her. NFP is about the building up of a relationship. It’s not primarily about avoiding or achieving conception, although it can involve these. It isfamily planning, but it is much more. It’s a whole way of living which builds the sensitivity of the relationship between husband and wife and fosters mutual respect and love.

Catholic schools have a wonderful opportunity to invite trained NFP instructors to teach this part of the programme which will enable girls to gain a fuller understanding of their bodies and their fertility, while at the same time assisting young men better to understand and appreciate the miracle of fertility, the special role played by the woman, and the implications for her physically, psychologically and spiritually as the natural cycle plays out in her daily life. Homosexuality

In many ways the least satisfactory part of the Birmingham programme is the way it deals with the homosexual temptation. In the resource for teachers for Key Stage 4 the programme refers to the “unequivocal” Church teaching on homosexuality. That teaching is supported by a few flimsy sentences on why the Church rejects homosexual genital acts before the programme equivocates on the seriousness of the issue. The emphasis is not on a detailed understanding of why the Church condemns homosexual acts. In fact there is a one-sided attempt to undermine the Biblical basis of the Church’s moral tradition by asserting, without supporting argumentation, that “it is not particularly helpful to quote certain texts from the Old and New Testaments which are often used, in a somewhatfundamentalist way, to condemn homosexuality”[6]. Leaving aside the imprecise and misleading use of the term “fundamentalist” and its pejorative overtones, this is, to say the very least, very strange. Let me explain.

The same book later quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357 in these terms[7]:

“Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex... Tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.”

But the full text of article 2357 is this:

“Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The parts in bold type are the parts omitted in the programme’s version of the article. Yet the original says that the Church’s moral tradition in this matter is based upon “Sacred Scripture which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity”. Moreover, the footnote 140 refers to the very passages which the programme says should not be referred to because it would be “unhelpful” even “fundamentalist” to do so. The programme then further asserts that these passages “do not necessarily refer to what we recognise today as a homosexual orientation” and wants us to have a detailed understanding of “the prevailing social and cultural climate” in which those texts occur. So it is that the “unequivocal” teaching of the Church is to be relativised by reference to a social and culturalclimate which is not described. No reasons are advanced as to why the scriptural teaching is to be or could be relativised in the light of the insights of sociology and psychology. So we are left with “unequivocal” Church teaching, explicitly based on texts which ought not to be cited since they are “unhelpful” and suggestive of ‘fundamentalism’ (whatever that means), and with no real elaboration of why the Church teaches what it does on this important matter. We are simply left in confusion.

The real concern of the programme appears to be the protection of homosexuals from unjust discrimination and persecution. That is very laudable and fully in accord with the teaching of the Church in the Catechism in article 2358, cited on page 72 of the book. But this virtue cannot vitiate the confused, unconvincing and even distorted account of Church teaching on homosexuality which occurs in this programme.

Personhood of the Foetus

The programme asserts that the main issue about abortion is lack of belief in the personhood of the foetus. However, in my Australian study, the argument on personhood was perceived to be the least persuasive pro-abortion argument. While Australians are, by and large, pro-choice, they know that the foetus is a human being.

People actually believe that an unwanted pregnancy will seriously harm their life in some sense. It could be in terms of social harm or psychological harm. People see the abortion as being principally about the rights of a woman not to have that pregnancy imposed upon her if she does not want it. The Australian evidence reveals a society deeply conflicted on the abortion issue. On the one hand abortion is morally disapproved. On the other, the desire for choice, unwillingness to take choice away from women, and a perceived lack of social support conspire to defeat that moral disapproval. I would think that Britain, too, is a deeply conflicted society on abortion.

So, while the issue of the ‘personhood’ of the embryo/foetus is clearly a central question rightly addressed in the programme, the fact is that women choose abortion even when they are convinced that their baby is a person. More needs to be said in the programme about alternatives to abortion, where help can be accessed, and the Catholic Church’s non-judgemental assistance to women distressed by an unanticipated pregnancy. Community groups such as SPUC, LIFE and the Good Counsel Network are some of the agencies who provide alternatives to abortion including social, material, psychological and spiritual support for the woman during pregnancy and afterwards. Students need to hear, in a positive way, of the good works done by the Church and community groups, among whom Catholics areconspicuously present. And the role of selfishness needs also to be clearly addressed as well as the notion that choosing the morally right thing to do may not only be challenging but also may require heroism on the part of the woman.

Youngsters need to know that sacrifice for what is right is the deepest form of love, and that, through Christ’s self-offering, it will bear fruit.

The Link between Abortion and Infanticide

A great strength of the programme is its setting out of the developmental stages of the foetus from the time when the sperm penetrates the egg[8].

One part of the document says: “We can safely assume that many who seek to justify abortion would never agree with infanticide or any other taking of innocent human life.” However, nearly all surveys indicate that most people in the UK support euthanasia. In academic literature the links are explicit. Scholars such as Michael Tooley, Helga Kuhse, Peter Singer and John Harris, have advocated infanticide at least in some circumstances and particularly where the child has a significant disability. Apart from the fact of disability these scholars question whether or not a newborn baby is a person. Michael Tooley has advocated abortion and infanticide for normal as well as abnormal foetuses and newborns.

My own research indicates that eugenic abortion is one of the two grounds for abortion with which most people agree. In fact 86\% of Australians have indicated their support for abortion on eugenic grounds, a result which means that some otherwise pro-life people are actually pro-abortion in the case of children with serious disabilities.

The principal argument for abortion for a disabled child is that the child’s life will not be worth living, that it would be a burden to the child himself or herself, to those who have to care for him or her, and to society as a whole. These are the arguments which are also used for euthanasia. There is, in my view, a clear linkage between eugenic abortion and the eugenics of euthanasia.

A programme such as “All That I Am” needs to explain why killing human persons is always wrong. (cf. Faith editorial “Pro-Life Strategy and Arguments for the Soul”, March/April 2007)

Presenting the Law

In Key Stage 4, the programme provides information on the legal framework within which Britain permits sexual intercourse to take place. The Legal Fact Sheet makes it clear that the age of consent for sexual intimacy is 16 for heterosexuals and homosexuals, and that no one can legally have sex if he or she, or the other person, is below 16. Moreover, persons in positions of trust cannot legally have sex with a person under the age of 18 years. The Fact Sheet is preceded by a warning that this information is only about the law and not whether there are moral or other issues involved.

In my opinion, this is not enough. An often repeated mistake is to confuse what is moral with what is legal. This section could well do with a development of this point which would benefit both teachers and students. It would also provide an important opportunity for teachers to reinforce the dangers of peer pressure, especially when that pressure comes from Government agencies.

A particular case in point is the reference to the legal right of a minor to counselling on “sexual health and relationships”. “Sexual health” is code for abortion and contraception among other things. The programme would be greatly strengthened at this point if this was to be made clear, together with the fact that there is no moral right to such counselling, let alone counselling of children without parental knowledge and consent. In the Catholic tradition, parents are the first educators of their children, not the State. It is subversive of the rights of parents for the State to interpose itself between parents and their children. In the Australian research it is clear that Australians do not approve of the State taking such liberties. In fact 61\% of Australians believe abortion shouldonly be made available to a girl less than 16 years of age with parental consent. I would be surprised if British parents were any less protective of the well-being of their daughters.


The teaching aim on page 41 is: “to understand fertility awareness, pregnancy, natural family planning, artificial contraception and the teachings of the Church on these”. These are excellent aims. However, the words that follow are: “to be able to make informed choices”. This seems to be an invocation of the secular rhetoric of choice which carries moral relativism with it. While this is almost certainly not what the compilers intend, it is almost certain to be read that way by large numbers of teachers. I am able equally to choose to contracept as not to contracept; to abort as not to abort; to have sex before marriage as to be chaste. What matters is that I’m informed; I’ve got the information. Perhaps the point could be better described thus: “to be able to choose whatis morally good and to avoid evil”.

In this way the programme would more obviously be seen to dovetail into what I believe the compilers really want to convey, that, for example, freedom ‘cannot be emancipated from the truth’ (Evangelium vitae). I am not free to tell lies. I am not free to work against truth. Choice for abortion and contraception is a choice for intrinsically evil acts. The intention in abortion and contraception is always either to kill or to prevent a child from coming into being by frustrating the natural sexual act. There is, Pope John Paul II says, no choice which can ever legitimate the killing of the innocent. The programme clearly teaches this. It would be a pity of if the rhetoric of “choice” were to be so misunderstood by teachers and students that it served to undermine one of the greatachievements of this programme, its splendid articulation of the humanity of the unborn child and the necessity to protect human life from its beginning until natural death.


The identification of the right kinds of person to be teachers of sex education is crucial to the success of the programme. Since, the programme correctly observes that parents are the first educators of their children and that “the Church has always emphasised that this education [sex education] is primarily the responsibility of parents”[9], the parents have a right to say who will be assisting them in this area of education[10] and in what manner. Where Catholic schools are concerned it is not good enough to have teachers of sex education whose personal beliefs and practices are not Catholic.

The Birmingham programme explicitly says that teachers in this area do not have to be Catholic. Moreover, the programme is simply concerned to ensure that teachers are, for example, “affirmative, encouraging, to be acknowledging and to be empathetic”, that they will “offer time to listen and time to challenge”[11]. Here the programme has retreated into typically secular bureaucratese, the meaning of which is far from clear. Generally positive aspirations are all well and good so far as they go, but they are no substitute for the wise choice of teachers who are expected to cooperate in the teaching of subject material which is “primarily the responsibility of parents.”

I would recommend that teachers be thoroughly trained before they take on this aspect of the curriculum. There is a good case for specialist teachers in this area, teachers who have the specialised ability to teach a curriculum which assumes a detailed knowledge and appreciation of the Catholic moral tradition and who have the gifts and personal character and lifestyle that would enable them to teach the course with credibility.

If a teacher is using artificial forms of contraception, how is that going to affect his or her capacity to teach the Church’s teaching on contraception? If the teacher is ‘co-habiting’ with another human being, male or female, same sex or other sex, without benefit of matrimony, how does that affect that person’s capacity to teach with integrity on the Church’s requirement of chastity and abstinence before marriage?

I think I’m interpreting the Australian data correctly by saying that parents do want the teachers of sex education to be people who are stable in their own lives. These teachers need to be people whom the children can trust as reliable sources of information, and who practise what they preach. Even if they don’t agree with their teacher, they will know that the moral teaching being provided is credible. We shouldn’t see sex education as something that somebody can automatically do by virtue of being an RE teacher or a chemistry teacher. The formation and testing of teachers being prepared to teach sex education cannot reasonably be achieved at a one or two day in-service programme. Teachers who are going to teach in this area should be expected to give an affirmation that they believe inand will teach the moral doctrines of the Catholic Church. Parents and schools need to know that. And speaking as a Catholic parent, I certainly do want to know and be assured that the ones who teach my children in this important area of their spiritual and moral development are those whose personal character, knowledge and teaching skills are adequate for the task.


TThere are a range of other particular criticisms and recommendations that could be made of the programme. For example, I would strongly recommend that the subjects of “wet dreams” for boys and menstruation for girls be dealt with in classes of boys and girls separately from each other, particularly in the earlier years. Given that children grow and develop physically and emotionally at different rates, we should be careful how we deal with such personal and intimate issues, recognising that for some children it may well be embarrassing to talk about these things in a mixed class.

But the really big issues include the fact that the best argumentation to justify fundamental Catholic and Christian positions in sex education has not been articulated in this programme in the way that I think it can be. We must remember that while intellectual arguments will not always convince those who do not want to be convinced, they are nevertheless very important. While this programme makes a very creditable contribution to the development of a sound Catholic moral position for young people, it has not yet used to best advantage what is available in the still largely unappreciated ‘theology of the body’ of Pope John Paul II. What I am calling for here is for the Birmingham programme to present that approach in a more systematic way which will show to best advantage the compellingnature of the Church’s moral teaching as true. The official teaching of the Church is generally faithfully transmitted, and material on sexually transmitted infections is presented very well. But the need for the more persuasive reasons for abstinence before marriage and chastity within marriage remains. Fear and law will not convince, important as they may be. There is ample room for improvement in all these areas in any future revision.

[1]All that I am, Key Stage 2, Resource for Year 5, 7.
[2]Ibid., 2.
[3]Evangelium vitae, n 97.
[4]Cf for example the work of Tommy Hughes. Hughes’ work represents a very good example of how this can be done.
[5]Cf for example Unit One of Key Stage 3.
[6]How I Am, Key Stage 4, p. 61.
[7]Ibid., 72.
[8]Cf for example Where I am Key Stage, 370-75.
[9]All that I am, Key Stage 2, Resource for Year 5, 6.
[10]As mentioned above, shortly to be published Australian research of mine found that: “84\% of parents believe that parents should play at least an equal role with schools in sex education.” [11]All that I am, Key Stage 2, handbook for year 5, 8.

Faith Magazine

September - October 2007