Just what should we tell the children?

I want to raise the topic of sex education on the Blog rather than in the CH, because I know much more about the questions than I do about the answers.

First, I should confess that I only have the most anecdotal knowledge of what material is currently being used by Catholic schools – and how it is taught. As a grandparent it has not been my duty to interrogate any schools, but any of you who have your own children at school should know what is being done in their case. And if you don’t know, I am inclined to ask you why you have not felt it your duty to find out. As we have discovered through the Blog some very strange approaches have been used in the past. This was the link

Equally I have seen highly orthodox material written in a way which shows no understanding of the Teflon coating of the adolescent mind, when it is being taught material which does not relate to their experience.

In broad terms I imagine that we want our children to have a good understanding of sexuality; to have taken aboard that its full expression is reserved to the sacrament of marriage; to have understood the relationship between sexual expression as a consummation of committed love, and formed around its purpose of procreation.

We will want them to know that sexuality is a gift from God, and so essentially good. Yet they must realise that there are many ways in which it is possible to misuse it. But this should not lead to an association of sexual expression with guilt or shame.

At a more practical level they must realise that a misuse of sexuality can lead to great emotional harm and also to the outcome of disease or pregnancy. Both or either of these can have long term consequences on their own life or on the lives of other people.

But we have to be realistic about this. The facts appear to be that many Catholic children pick up quite different ideas, or, if they accept them in principle, they fall away very quickly in practice. And this is not surprising. As my granddaughter, when aged 15, said to me: “Most women don’t get married until they’re twice my age. It’s a bit much to ask me to be celibate for 15 years.” I could see her point. And since I can’t be theoretical about my own granddaughter I find myself very concerned that she avoids the worst outcomes of “unsafe” sex, because there is a high probability that she, like most of us, will not live her Catholic life to perfection. How should this be handled without conveying the impression that I think it probable that she will transgress, and that I will understand, and so condone? (Of course it’s not my direct problem – she has perfectly good parents of her own; I use this as an illustration.)

This is by no means the first time I have considered the problem. Back in 1972 I wrote (with my wife) a 50 page pamphlet called Choices in Sex. Since young people, even at that time, appeared to ignore lectures in orthodoxy, we presented it in a way which was designed to get them thinking about the issues – partly through having correct information and partly through raising questions for them to consider and internalise.

The pamphlet received an Imprimatur, but this was withdrawn at the imprecation of a group of conservative clergy. And, perhaps not surprisingly, there was trouble with the Holy Office. Ironically one paragraph which they chose to castigate had in effect been dictated to us by an archbishop in good standing. We were styled as “corrupters of youth” in the Irish press which – given that this was the heyday in Ireland of clerical paedophilia, and institutionalised cruelty by Catholic nuns – seems to us in retrospect to be something of a sick joke.

So it would seem that straight, orthodox teaching makes no imprint on the youthful mind, or contaminates it with a sense of guilt. Accepting youth as it is, and not as perhaps it should be, and teaching them how to navigate the sexual jungle only encourages them towards sin. Giving the young the hard facts – psychological, biological, social and spiritual – and helping them to think about how they should best behave, while respecting their decisions, is corrupting.

So what are your children, or the children of your Catholic friends, getting from the Catholic school and their parents? How do you think sexual education should be done?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Just what should we tell the children?

  1. AMDG says:

    I would start by saying that the first principle must be that Catholic parents, as the primary educators of their children, possess an inalienable right to introduce and manage this process with their children which no one, least of all the Church hierarchy, has a right to interfere with.

    From that first principle it must surely be the role of the institutional Church (as compared with the domestic church) to assist, advise, facilitate and support the parents in this task. Thus the provision of materials such as text books and other educational aids must be designed with this in mind and aimed primarily at parents.

    Where the school becomes involved (or as is going to become more likely the parish as Catholic schools become more and more indistinguishable from secular ones), it should be with the child as an individual as the focus and not sex education as indoctrination en masse. Its aim should be to assist those parents who feel they lack the confidence or knowledge or ability to deal with these issues, not to reserve to itself the primary right to deliver the information.

    At present the whole process seems to me to have the “one size fits all” centralist approach which fundamentally undermines these principles.This results in teaching people the mechanics of sex which if they haven’t learned by age 10 from watching Hollyoaks they have clearly been living on another planet. We should not kid ourselves that in such a sexualised culture as ours that a lesson on the mechanics comes as a surprise to any child. This explains why the call for this to start younger and younger increases and 5 year old school children get shown images which would result in prosecution in any other context.

    Nobody is ever going to force a child to accept the Catholic notion of sexuality and nor should anyone least of all a school try to. Children need to be introduced to sexual matters in their proper context of love and thus through the loving example of their parents’ own lives and thus come to see the Catholic teachings as a positive life choice not a cruel sentence imposed by a repressive organisation. There is no getting away from it, Catholic parents need to step up and live according to the Church’s teachings themselves. Children have a praeternatural gift for spotting “Do as I say not as I do” from a mile away and it simply goes to confirm their sceptical view that the Catholic Church is another name for organised hypocrisy if the Church tells them one thing and their parents’ lives do not bear witness to that.

  2. claret says:

    Sadly the white flag was raised some years ago and what now goes for Catholic Sex education is no different to that for any other sort. How can it be anything else when ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’
    Added to that is the incontrevertible fact that so few practising catholic children are to be found in catholic schools. They can probably be measured at less than 10%. Indeed in our local Catholic Secondary School those students who go to church are pilloried and derided for doing so by other pupils!
    The only hope is for catholic children that pratise their faith to be instructed by specifically trained cathechists that sex is different for them than for their peers of the same ages. I would suggest that this can only be done outside of school but perhaps in a scholastic environment.

  3. st.joseph says:

    Claret you are so right.My children didn’t attend a catholic school.It was a fair distance away, from the primary school.
    My son was always a very poorly child(not now thank God) The The local primary was a stones throw away. He had to come home at lunch and his older sister, he had asthma, and always very poorly at times.
    Consequentely we had a visit from the priest who said we must send them to the catholic school it was our ‘duty’! We had a new church built near us which had 7.30 Mass Thursdays and Sunday morning-Where we took them both times So I am afraid I politely told the priest-who also was doing his duty- that perhaps he ought to go into the catholic school and tell all the parents to take their children to Mass on a Sunday-which was next to the school and at times never bothered to go inside.
    That same priest gave them first Holy Communion lessons on a Saturday-so he was happy about that(although I could have done that myself.When he went to grammer school- at 12 he lost his St Christopher medal and a few days later the headmaster called him into his office to say they had found it, my son said to him ‘I knew I would I prayed to St Anthony’- the reply was Surely you dont believe in all that rubbish-he was upset but didn’t want me to say anything.He is in his 40s now and a good defender of the faith, so it did’nt do him any harm not going to a catholic school.
    My 17 year old grandson when he was at the Catholic Secondary school he is very pro-life ,has been for a few years, and often he used to say to me that some of the boys there would laugh at him if he brought the subject up. I said never mind they probably dont know any better, not being catholics, and he said but Nan they are.He isn’t put off either.But neither of them like myself push it in peoples faces(only me on the blog!)
    It is difficult for young people ,and always has been,but they must be able to defend the faith with knowledge, especially, purity and chastity-but that is difficult for them too-I know I was young once myself. This is why education is so important- especially that which Quentin said in his post, he was so accurate.

  4. Ion Zone says:

    “my son said to him ‘I knew I would I prayed to St Anthony’- the reply was Surely you dont believe in all that rubbish-he was upset but didn’t want me to say anything.”

    Some people are just asses, to be polite.

  5. st.joseph says:

    I suppose he didn’t know any better(no excuse really).

    I wanted to say to him(only my son was not one for causing a fuss) and that was -that we as catholics believe in the Communion of Saints-and we also believed that they will intercede for us if we ask them to. The same as Our Lady will.

    I remember going to ‘a Day with St Padre Pio’ at Cardiff in the early Nineties, and Archbishop Ward gave a homily on St Anthony,(I dont know why he chose him on that day) But he mentioned the fact that we as catholics ought not to think of St Anthony ‘as the finder of lost things’,but as a great preacher!(Right in one sense)But I think it made some of us out to be a little naive in our Catholic Faith.

    St Anthony’s intercession has found various things for me over the years. My sons’ wife who is not a catholic (but her mother has lately) she depends on his intercession as she is always losing things, and puts a donation in St Anthony’ bread, a box in their Church.In thanksgiving. I know many non-catholics who ask his intercession.
    My son has a little statue of St Anthony (of my late mothers) on their lounge wondow sill. I suppose other Christians might think we are ‘odd!’! Isn’t our faith just wonderful.!!!!

  6. Ion Zone says:

    There’s some guys I debate (argue) with on a forum who *insist* that we worship Mary as a goddess (and the saints). Unsurprisingly, I think many of them them a little bit dim, which is worrying because I think one is a physicist.

    We certainly revere Mary greatly, but the difference between revere and worship escapes them (I have explained it….). They also have difficulty with ‘holy’.

  7. Ion Zone says:

    They confuse ‘holiness’ with ‘idolatry’. No, really. They think we worship the candles.

  8. st.joseph says:

    When I met my husband at a dance in London at 17, and i told him I was a catholic, he said you are not one of those are you, who Worship Mary ,pray to pictures and statues and so on. We sat for the rest of the evening talking about the Catholic faith and he began to get a little understanding of it all. It didn’t put him off, as we were married 4 years later. When we went to visit his parents in Yorkshire, they would wake us for Mass in the morning. No `

  9. st.joseph says:

    animosity there at all, as he always came with me.He loved the Church although didnt become a catholic until 3years before he died-4years ago R.I.P.
    It is really ignorance on their part and I believe our children need to understand the faith-they dont have to be theologions- just enough to defend it.

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