Current government plans for compulsory sex education in Britain’s schools have thrown the Catholic community into the limelight. The Catholic Education Service has been supportive of the plans, and has insisted that Catholic schools will not have to teach anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine or morals. But many Catholic teachers and parents are cynical – and they are right to be so — and the conflict between the CES and the wider Church is beginning to attract interest. How will the Bishops of England and Wales react?
An amendment to the law, passed in the House of Lords, appears to ensure that “faith schools” – i.e., Catholic, Anglican, Moslem and Jewish schools – will be allowed to tell pupils the moral stance of their respective faiths on issues concerning sexual ethics. But will this really be the case? It seems that, in reality, all that will be permitted is that such schools will be able to give the moral stance as just one opinion among others – and they will still be obliged to assist pupils with information on how to obtain abortions and contraception. Schools are routinely linked now to clinics which provide abortion and equip children with contraceptive drugs and devices.
It gets worse. The Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools, Ed Balls, replying to criticism from the National Secular Society – which said that he had caved in to Church pressure and given faith schools too much freedom – quoted a specific example of a Catholic school which has already offered “non-judgemental” abortion information. He didn’t seem to be aware that, as he praised the school, he was, in fact, revealing something deeply shocking – that a Catholic school is acting in a disgraceful way and one which is wholly contrary to Catholic teaching. No Catholic institution can assist in any way with giving information and, effectively, assistance, that will enable a baby to be killed by abortion.
The issue is getting hotter. It is beginning to be clear that the Catholic Education Service has been working comfortably with government officials and paying far less attention to its relationship to the Church, and to the teachings of the Church.
The debate about sex education continues – but whatever happens under the new law, a central question that has emerged is the future of the Catholic Education Service. On their recent visit to Rome, the Bishops of England and Wales got what amounted to a rather stiff lecture from the Holy Father about the need to stand firmly behind Catholic teachings. His words got headlines in Britain and made a great stir within the Church too. What happens now?