Conference on Educating Children in Sexuality

A topic which has particularly exercised those who resist the Government’s same-sex marriage proposals has been the impact upon schools. On 1 March, the Catholic Union in conjunction with the Diocese of Shrewsbury co-sponsored a conference which addressed the whole subject of educating children in sexuality, its dangers and the potential for taking a completely new Catholic approach. “Educating Children in Sexuality” was held at Aquinas College, Stockport, and was enthusiastically received by a large audience of teachers, priests and parents. Chaired by Canon Anthony McBride, Dean of Salford Cathedral, the keynote speaker, Fr Jaroslaw Szymczak, came from the Institute of the Holy Family in Poland. He showed with examples drawn from his twenty-five years of pastoral practice with families that the Church’s teaching on sexuality not only makes sense in theory but in practice, too. He referred to sexuality as a beautiful but fragile gift, one that is endangered as soon as it is treated as a toy.

Louise Kirk, co-ordinator of the Alive to the World PSHE programme, followed on with a stark account of how current sex education is already failing children. She pointed out that much school sex education is not only immoral in its content, but also factually inaccurate. In treating a private subject publicly, children are also being robbed of natural modesty. Her answer is to go back to the Church’s clear guidance and explore how parents can instead be helped to teach their own children. It was to help them in this vital task that she wrote her book Sexuality Explained: a guide for parents and children, which was launched at the conference (Gracewing; £12.99). This 150 page book describes in ten incremental chapters the delicacy of our bodies’ makeup, and how men and women complement each other spiritually, emotionally and physically. The book is not religious but instead uses biology to inspire wonder and respect. The chapters are written in story form so as to be accessible to anyone. It is intended that the book should be recommended by schools to their parents, and so revitalise whole communities with a true understanding of sexuality.

The third speaker, Robert O’Brien, Head of RE at Westminster Cathedral Choir School, began his talk by describing how schools can contribute to building the rounded, strong characters on which happy schools and families depend. He described how the Alive to the World PSHE programme, which the Choir School has been using for some years, had helped to turn bring back its full Catholic ethos after a difficult period when the school had grown too fast. He said that it was not only the children who had benefitted from it, but also the teachers, and made particular mention of how the Ofsted inspectors had singled the programme out for special praise. (The full conference papers can be found on the Shrewsbury Diocese website here. For further details of Sexuality Explained and Alive to the World, please go to www.alivetotheworld.co.uk.