Father Fleming Replies to Father Quigley

John I Fleming FAITH Magazine November-December 2007

I am grateful to Father Quigley for being so ready to respond to the criticisms I have made of the All That I Am (ATIA) even if I find the response disappointing in so far as it does not clearly address some of my key criticisms. (cf. Faith Sept 07)

I questioned the programme’s affirmation that “the main issue about abortion is the lack of belief in the personhood of the foetus.” I offered evidence that this is not the case whether in the population at large or with regard to women having abortions, who generally do acknowledge their unborn baby’s personhood. I argued how important it is that pupils should be cognisant of this fact and its implications for pro-life activity. Fr Quigley just tells us that two prominent politicians recently debated the issue on the Today programme.

Fr Quigley and I seem to disagree about the meaning of the word “contraception” in common parlance. He defends its application to Natural Family Planning (NFP), though three paragraphs later (for other polemical reasons, see below) he strongly denies its application to “Responsible Parenthood” as understood in the Catholic tradition. Clearly there is confusion. All the more reason that the radical difference of NFP from approaches that are both anti-life and contrary to Church teaching should be clearly delineated. All sex education programmes, particularly Catholic ones, need to employ clear language and accurate distinctions.

Where clarity of language is concerned, Fr Quigley gives insufficient weight to the power of the “informed choice” rhetoric in contemporary secular society. Indeed the opening paragraph of his “response” describes the purpose of All That I Am, resulting as it does from “negotiation with the Local Authority and (the Government’s) Teenage Pregnancy Unit” is to allow students “to make ‘informed choices’ based on (their) faith.” In dominant secular circles choice is seen as an ultimate value. Crucially, for Christianity it is not. True love is, and choice is for love. Contrary to Fr Quigley’s suggestion there is no parallel here with any possible confusion that might arise between the use of the term “responsible parenthood” and contraception. Indeed the term “responsibleparenthood” is employed almost exclusively in Catholic circles and is hardly used at all by promoters of contraception.

Homosexuality remains the least satisfactory element of the ATIA programme. It is not relevant what the authors “knowingly set out” to do. The fact is that the text as it stands significantly waters down Catholic teaching on homosexuality by, for instance, selecting out crucial parts of the text from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Moreover, such selecting out when combined with arguing for the inappropriateness of using proof texts might easily carry the implication, in the context, that the Church itself is being “fundamentalist” when it does (authoritatively) use such proof texts. The distinction between arbitrary and magisterial use of scripture is not explained. Fr Quigley again assures us that what is cut out concerning Church teaching is fully supplied in the KeyStage 4 RE syllabus. Why not leave the anti-proof text section until then also?

The fact is that that teaching has been severely and unjustifiably truncated by ATIA with little offered in the ATIA text to justify the full teaching of the Church on this important and controversial matter. In fact what is currently in the text (and what has been omitted) appears to undermine Church teaching.

Finally, Fr Quigley asserts that ATIA reflects the essence of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It is not clear that it does this. For example, the notion of the nuptial meaning of the body based upon an anthropology derived from the book of Genesis is neither presented nor explained. The Church’s opposition to fornication finds its coherent explanation through such positive theology. This is very different from the description of the meaning of sex presented in ATIA, inspired as it is, as acknowledged in the text, by Dr Jack Dominion.

The criticisms of the programme are made in the interests of assisting the continuing discussion on the best way to present sex education in Catholic schools and in the wider community. I am grateful to Fr Quigley for his ready cooperation in the process I have followed in the development of this critique.

Faith Magazine