BY ED WEST
THE ARCHBISHOP of Birmingham has called on Catholic schools to fight the growing "sexualisation" of children. Addressing over 300 Governors of Catholic schools in the north east of England, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said that they must "strongly oppose any action or proposal that would sexualise children or be seen as in any way promoting sexual activity outside the context of married relationships". The archbishop is chairman of the Catholic Education Service (CES), the agency that negotiates with the Government on behalf of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. His comment came a week after the head of the Catholic Education Service backed sex education for primary school children. At the event, held for Foundation Governors in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, he said: "In Catholic schools. sex and relationship education must always be designed and delivered according to the teaching of the Church. It is this alone that gives critical stability to what Catholic and to the coherence schools do of the arguments they make. "This is not simply a matter of responding to or resisting public opinion or widespread behaviour. "It is a conviction of faith that here lies the correct use of the wonderful gift of human sexuality, both as an expression of a conscious and faithful self-giving to another. and as an action of such intimacy that it creates human life in partnership with the Creator of all." Last montha cross-party proposal to introduce sex education for four-yearolds was "firmly opposed" by the re bishops' conference. The MPs, led by Labour's Chris Bryant, in a letter to a national newspaper called for statutory sex education to be placed on the national curriculum "early enough to make a difference" that in order to give "youngsters the confidence and ability to make wellinformed decisions". Oona Stannard, chief executive of the CES, welcomed plans to include teaching about relationships and the emotional aspects of sex in primary schools, describing it a "positive development". She said: "Aspects of this are applicable to education from the early years as are some facts about the body and human biology so calls from some quarters to restrict SRE [sex and relationship education' to secondary age pupils are unrealistic ." Last month there was also controversy about a sex education booklet aimed at six-year-olds, published by the Family Planning Association.
Let's Grow with Nisha and Joe, which is being tried out in more than 50 primary schools with an initial print run of 50,000 copies, has been criticised for being too graphic for children that age. Eric Hester, a former headmaster at Catholic schools in Cheshire and Lancashire, claimed that Miss Stannard's view on sex education was incompatible with the Vatican's policies. "Those who order that sex education should not be given to primary school children, let alone infants, include the Holy Father, his predecessor. all the popes since St Peter, the Pontifical Council for the Family and every official Church authority who has mentioned this subject," said Mr Hester. "The Pontifical Council assumes that the threats to the innocence of children will come from outside agencies; it could not imagine that in England it would be the Catholic Education Service that would be welcoming and promoting this evil." Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe, almost six times that of Holland; and more than 4,000 children have abortions every year. There was a 21 per cent increase in the number of girls under 14 years having abortions last year. Sex education advocates argue that more sex education is the answer. Opponents argue that "value-free" sex education leads to more sex and more pregnancies. Archbishop Nichols told the governors that the Church had lobbied the Government before its review on sex and relationship classes in school. "I welcome the fact that the review intends to give greater emphasis to relationships education and to the emotional content of sexuality," he said. "The priority of parents and carers as the foremost educators of their children demands we give more assistance to them to fulfill this aspect of their responsibilities. This fits well with the aims of Government policies .Above all we must insist on the need to preserve the fundamental right of governing bodies to determine a school's sex and relationship education programme in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. "The Catholic school must be centered on the faith. Christ is the centre of a Catholic school and RE is the core of the curriculum, because it is in RE that we seek to systematically understand what it is to live life in relationship to Christ and in the light of the truth that he brings."