Apparently there is a television show on Netflix called Sex Education. According to the BBC, it was reportedly watched by 40 million households in the first few weeks. I haven’t seen it and do not intend to, but the hype surrounding it is indicative of where popular culture is right now.
Anything with the word “sex” in it is going to get a disproportionate amount of attention. Nothing new there. People often accuse the Church of being obsessed with sex, as if that were all her moral teaching was about.
The Church’s vision for authentic human sexuality (not just the sexual act) is an important foundation upon which questions about life and love rest. As St John Paul taught, the male-female relationship is the “deepest substratum of human ethics and culture”. Thus, he proclaimed, “Human life is by its nature ‘co-educational’ and its dignity as well as its balance depends, at every moment of history and in every place of geographical longitude and latitude, on ‘who’ she will be for him and he for her.”
I am always struck by this “co-educational” aspect of moral formation, because it means that whatever our state in life – married (with or without children), single, ordained or consecrated religious – we are all called to human flourishing through life-enriching relationships.
From this September schools across England will have to teach what the Department for Education (DfE) now calls RSHE: Relationships, Sex and Health Education. Even though the DfE has been at pains to say there is no legal obligation upon primary schools to teach sex education, there has been a great deal of focus in the media on the impact this is going to have on young children.
Negatively speaking, there is no escaping the fact that many parents are nervous. There have already been some high-profile cases about the adverse and even emotionally damaging effect that some of the materials being aggressively promoted to schools are having. Social media is full of comments from parents who have been deeply distressed by some of the explicit images and language that their children have been exposed to, and how it has affected their child emotionally (to say nothing of the spiritual harm).
There is also the menacing influence of gender ideology creeping into schools and the power and influence that transgender activist groups have over public bodies. Pope Francis has been most emphatic about the dangers of this. In a speech to a gathering of the International Catholic Child Bureau in April 2014, he denounced such experimental education programmes, saying “children are not guinea pigs”.
One has only to consider how the new password-protected toolkit for teachers issued by the Crown Prosecution Service (under the Ministry of Justice) will “guide” teachers on how to police what goes on in the classroom for alleged hate crimes against transgender persons. Will this spell danger for pupils who openly declare their conviction, based on science as well as faith, that as far as gender is concerned, there is only the biological objective reality of the sex of male and female? Who knows?
The new statutory regulations from the DfE are supposed to allow schools with a religious character to teach and present issues around relationships and sexuality that conform with their doctrines and the moral, religious convictions of the families whom they serve. That being the case, what can be done from a positive perspective?
“A Fertile Heart: Receiving and Giving Creative Love” is a new resource for Catholic and other faith schools to assist them in the provision of RSHE. The vision is simple: to provide an inspiring and dynamic programme for the spiritual, moral, emotional and intellectual development of young people, enabling them to fully appreciate and understand what makes for life-enriching relationships.
The mission is creative: teaching young people that true freedom is so much more than just the mere freedom to choose; it is also the real and authentic freedom to choose well. The purpose is clear: to enable educators and parents to transmit the profound truths of the human person to children in a comprehensible, attractive and convincing way so that their desire to live by these truths grows daily. In this great endeavour we are all partners in a shared task.
“A Fertile Heart” is a faith-inspired programme of study that offers schools (especially those with a strong Christian identity), a new way of approaching RSHE that invites teachers and pupils to explore together the big questions of life. These include: what does it means to be human; why does sexual difference matter; and what lies at the heart of authentic personal dignity?
The content reinforces universal values of personal development, growth in character, mutual respect, love and patience.
It thus complements good Religious Education, as well as parochial catechesis of the young for the sacraments of initiation. “A Fertile Heart” aims to contribute to the challenge laid before us in Amoris Laetitia that there should be an “education in hope” within which a sound response to the need for wholesome sexuality education can take shape.
In our current climate of new demands being made on our schools, we hope that “A Fertile Heart” will be used alongside other recommended material. Soon online resources will range from training and orientation videos to lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations with carefully crafted guidance notes to help teachers, including those who are not specialists in RSHE or Religious Education, to share the vision with material that is more accessible. It has been developed over a three-year period with educators, schools and moral theologians.
Several bishops have given positive feedback and endorsements, including Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, who says: “‘A Fertile Heart’ is offered as an important aid to pupils, parents, teachers, governors and clergy to remind us all that ‘We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning God had meant us to live it (Ephesians 2:10).”
There is no denying that the whole area of RSHE is fraught with enormous challenges and tensions in the wake of relentless pressure of state imposition of progressively libertarian social policies.
Yes, times are tough and challenging for seriously minded Catholic parents and educators, but let us take courage from the words of St Thomas More, who wrote: “You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the winds.”
Edmund Adamus is education consultant for fertileheart.org.uk, a new moral formation curriculum designed by Panda Press Publishing. Visit the website to become a supporter of the project, which hopes to invest profits back into continually improving resources and widening their availability. The project also hopes to establish a charitable trust to benefit credible causes connected with authentic Christian formation and evangelisation
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