All That I Am - context and response

Joseph A Quigley FAITH Magazine September- October 2007


For many years before 1997, Catholic schools had had to adapt commercially produced sex education programmes for use with their students. Then the newly elected Labour Government identified reducing teenage pregnancy as a key target for the Departments of Health and Education. The authors of All that I Am(ATIA) saw this as an opportunity to produce a coherent and systematic programme founded on the Church’s teaching and open to a wider audience. After consultation with parents, priests, teachers, governors and students the Diocesan Department of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Birmingham entered into negotiation with the Local Authority and Teenage Pregnancy Unit[1] to develop a sex and relationship resource for Catholic schools. Thus was born All That I Am (ATIA). In a culture where sex is seen as a commodity and freely available, the writers wanted to provide a programme that would inform students’ understanding of their own faith and allow them to make ‘informed choices’ based on that faith.

ATIA is a staff resource comprising biblical and theological reflections, activities, student worksheets and DVD’s. The programme begins in Year 5 (ten year olds) and follows on to Year 13 (eighteen year olds)[2].

In England and Wales ‘sex education programmes’ are known as ‘sex and relationship programmes’ after publication of a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) circular. Both the Anglican Church and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales petitioned for such a name change. As a result no subsequent programme should focus solely on the biological aspect of ‘sex education’ but should also include strategies to help students establish, build and sustain holistic and healthy friendships and relationships.

As a Church we have fought hard to protect our right to present Church Teaching to our students in our schools and explore with them its obligations for lifestyle. Sex and relationship programmes now have to take cognisance of the recently published sexual orientation regulations (SOR) and Human Rights Convention which propose equivalence between sexual lifestyles. In discourse with the Government we have constantly stated that there is no moral equivalence between ‘gender’, ‘orientation’ and ‘lifestyle’. Any sex and relationship programme must allow students to come to understand their sexuality, know what the Church teaches and learn how to ive chaste lives.

The programme aims to convey the unity and coherence of Church teaching on a wide range of issues including the dignity of life and the gift of human sexuality.

It is founded on the assertion that:

  • every human life has an intrinsic and absolute value through being created by God, in the image of God;
  • this value derives from the simple fact of existing and is not dependent on an individual’s age, abilities, social acceptability or any other characteristic;
  • self-respect and respect for each other must underline all human relationships.

The responsibility of parents for their children remains paramount and this resource aims to support them in this ministry.

ATIA should not be considered as a ‘stand alone’ programme. It is one which aims to build upon both students’ prior knowledge and existent training for teachers. This will be true whether or not it is purchased in other UK dioceses or internationally. It cannot be expected to provide all of the necessary links with such diocesan and trans-diocesan programmes. This is clearly the responsibility of respective Bishops’ Conferences and Diocesan Departments of Religious Education. ATIA was designed primarily for Birmingham Catholic schools to address the disproportionate number of teenage pregnancies in the city in the late 1990’s.

The programme was produced through close consultation with parents, teachers, students, and moral theologians, advanced skills teachers in sex and relationship education and colleagues from LIFE. At every stage of its delivery the programme is prefaced by a parents’ meeting and supplementary staff training. This training includes, as a major component, a detailed rationale for the Church’s teaching on sexuality and relationships in general and sexual intercourse in particular from biblical, theological and philosophical perspectives. This provides a clear and systematic rationale for sex and relationship education in a Catholic setting.

The course is monitored as part of the programme of diocesan advisory visits and subject to formal inspection every three years under the provisions of the Education and Inspection Act, 2005, section 48.


Dr. Fleming recognises in his critical appreciation that ATIA “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”,[3] while identifying some areas that cause him concern. What follows is a response to these in light of the above.

Personhood of the foetus

The Church’s teaching clearly reiterates the primacy of the personhood of the foetus in its argumentation against abortion. In public theology and political rhetoric in England this remains a major point of contention. This was rehearsed in part during the BBC Radio 4 interview at 8.10am on 11th June 2007 between Ann Widdecombe MP and Evan Harris M P. The discussion highlighted the need for a substantive parliamentary debate on the current abortion legislation since medical science and practice is raising serious questions over when the foetus becomes viable outside the womb, the current twenty-four week limit for ‘social’ abortion and the growing number of doctors in the UK who are refusing to perform abortions because of the aforementioned.

Natural Family Planning

Concerning the formatting of Key Stage 4 materials and how natural family planning and contraception are presented and examined in the teachers’ book, the authors were not aligning the two. Rather, the text was written as an aide memoirefor teachers to remind them that any study of artificial forms of contraception with students (which they are required to do in the science curriculum) should also include a treatment of the Church’s commitment to natural family planning. The latter should be offered to young people as an alternative that is reasonable, practicable and morally acceptable.

To reiterate, ATIA is not a ‘stand-alone’ programme and the Church’s teaching on birth control is covered in the concurrent religious education curriculum that Key Stage 4 students will be following. Humanae Vitaespeaks in terms of artificial and natural means of birth control. However, in common parlance and some dictionary definitions contraception and birth control[4] are used either interchangeably or the latter not at all. Through training for teachers the importance of the Church’s teaching on birth control is reinforced to ensure that there is no moral ambivalence. Many Catholic schools invite NFP instructors to talk with students.


Headteachers are recommended to take particular care when assigning staff to deliver the programme to ensure that teachers (whether they are Catholic or not) have the relevant professional knowledge, skills and personal commitment to the Church’s teaching on sex and relationship education. The faith profile of staff teaching in Catholic schools in England and Wales means that non-Catholic staff are sometimes asked to teach ATIA. If so, they would be fully supported by senior Catholic staff. The authors of ATIA were seeking to secure the programme’s authentic, orthodox implementation and were not taking refuge in “typically secular bureaucratese”.

Legal Fact Sheet

By following ATIA and the current religious education specifications for Key Stage 4, students will be left in no doubt that what is legal is not ipso facto also ethical.


The critique here is potentially very misleading. The term ‘informed choice’ within a Catholic text is no more to be interpreted as implying the secular rhetoric of choice, than a term used in Catholic teaching like ‘responsible parenthood’ is meant to imply to a secular rhetorician, ‘contraception’. The Church highlights the need to inform our consciences to enable us to make informed choices, namely, those based on Church teaching, in other words, ‘reason informed by faith’. (See Who I Am, 22; 24).


The authors did not knowingly set out either to ‘water down’ the Church’s teaching or to undermine it. The reference to the misuse of scripture in ATIA is to remind both teachers and students not to engage in ill-judged proof-texting in line with ‘The Interpretation of the Bible and the Church’ (The Pontifical Biblical Commission). In part three of the section dealing with ‘Relationship with Other Theological Disciplines’, entitled ‘Exegesis and Moral Theology’ the text of the Pontifical Biblical Commission states:

  • Similar observations can be made regarding the relationshipbetween exegesis and moral theology. The Bible closely linksmany instructions about proper conduct - commandments,prohibitions, legal prescriptions, prophetic exhortations andaccusations, counsels of wisdom, and so forth - to the storiesconcerning the history of salvation. One of the tasks of exegesisconsists in preparing the way for the work of moralistsby assessing the significance of this wealth of material.
  • This task is not simple, for often the biblical texts are not concerned to distinguish universal moral principles from particular prescriptions of ritual purity and legal ordinances. All is mixed together. On the other hand, the Bible reflects a considerable moral development, which finds its completion in the New Testament. It is not sufficient therefore that the Old Testament should indicate a certain moral position (e.g. the practice of slavery or of divorce, or that of extermination in the case of war) for this position to continue to have validity. One has to undertake a process of discernment. This will review the issue in the light of the progress in moral understanding and sensitivity that has occurred over the years.
  • The writings of the Old Testament contain certain “imperfect and provisional” elements (Dei Verbum, 15), which the divine pedagogy could not eliminate right away. The New Testament itself is not easy to interpret in the area of morality, for it often makes use of imagery, frequently in a way that is paradoxical or even provocative; moreover, in the New Testament area the relationship between Christians and the Jewish Law is the subject of sharp controversy.

Moral theologians therefore have a right to put to exegetes many questions which will stimulate exegetical research. In many cases the response may be that no biblical text explicitly addresses the problem proposed. But even when such is the case, the witness of the Bible, taken within the framework of the forceful dynamic that governs it as a whole, will certainly indicate a fruitful direction to follow. On the most important points the moral principles of the Decalogue remain basic. The Old Testament already contains the principles and the values which require conduct in full conformity with the dignity of the human person, created “in the image of God” (Gen 1 27). Through the revelation of God’s love that comes in Christ, the New Testament sheds the fullest light upon these principles and values.

The context of this quotation is found in the preceding section entitled ‘Exegesis and Systematic Theology’

A great deal of care went into the writing of this section of the programme. The authors aimed, in an age-appropriate manner, to outline succinctly the Church’s teaching and reasons for it. The authors felt it was important that students were exposed to what their bishops had written on this aspect of Church teaching. Hence the decision to quote from ‘Cherishing Life’ and its use in the Teacher Reference Points to the Church’s Teaching and Pupil Resource Sheet 12b on page 72ff of How I Am.

Dr. Fleming’s description “that [Church] 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” is unmerited. The omission of certain lines from §2357 of the Catechism concerning homosexuality was not a deliberate attempt to distort Church teaching. It was done recognising that this aspect of Church teaching will be covered in more detail by religious education specialists within the religious education programme being followed by Key Stage 4 students. As elsewhere in ATIA, what the authors attempted to do was build on and to reinforce this teaching.

Theology of the Body

The foundational anthropology of ATIA, as a whole, expresses the essence of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body as a theology of the person, hence the programme’s title All That I Am.


Colleagues have appreciated the opportunity to read and respond to Dr. Fleming’s critical appreciation. Those outside the Catholic community in England and Wales who work in this area have begun to take cognisance of the Church’s contribution to the current debate on sex and relationship education. This contribution will only be strengthened by such dialogue within the Church.

[1]An agency of the Government’s Department of Health.
[2]Learning in maintained schools is organised into three sections:

  • Foundation Stage (3-5/6 years)
  • Key Stages 1,2 and 3 (5/6-13/14 years)
  • •Ages 14-19.

This translates into:

  • Nurseries (3-4/5 years)
  • Primary (5/6-10/11 years)
  • Secondary (11/12-15/16 years)
  • Post-16 in either Secondary or College (15/16-17/19 years).

[3]Fleming John I, All That I Am- a critical appreciation, Faith Sept. 07, page 19, Emphasis upon Church Teaching.

[4] Cf The New Collins Dictionary 2007

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