The political significance of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales’ support for compulsory Relationships and Sex Education
14 September 2021
By John Smeaton
In April 2019, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) launched a final, last-ditch, effort in the House of Lords to stop compulsory Relationships Education in primary schools, and Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools, pointing out to our supporters the sad reality that “despite the mounting public opposition, especially from parents”, the House of Commons had “voted to approve the regulations … which deny parents the right of withdrawal, by a large margin (538 to 21)”.
SPUC’s last-ditch effort in the House of Lords failed – and one important reason why it did so can be found in a letter received by one of the Society’s supporters from Lord Elton, a Conservative Peer: the Catholic bishops of England and Wales were supporting the Government’s anti-life, anti-family legislation.
Lord Elton said:
“Thank you for contacting me about the Relationships Education etc Statutory Instrument. I well understand your concerns.
As that measure had already been accepted by the Church of England, welcomed by the Roman Catholic Church [my emphasis] passed with approval by the House of Commons there was no possibility of rejecting it. What some of us managed to do in the discussion of it in this House was to make the Government aware of the grave concern of many members of all three Abrahamic Faiths, to press for close study of its effects in practice and for a report thereon with attention given to the experience and opinions of parents – and children – that could be considered by both Houses of Parliament etc …”
The Catholic Bishops’ (of England and Wales) policy of support for the Government’s RSE guidelines was clearly of great political importance for the (then) Government. Their support was emphasised, for example, in the following statement from Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons debate (entitled Parental Involvement in Teaching: Equality Act) on 25th June 2019. Mr Gibb said:
“The guidance was carefully crafted to build the widest possible consensus for this policy, which is why it went through this House with an overwhelming majority and the other House without a Division. Those people who are opposed to it are at the other end of that consensus. I am afraid that it is unlikely that we will bring those extreme ends of the debate into that consensus, but I am very content that we have secured the support of the Catholic Church [my emphasis], the Church of England and organisations such as Stonewall for the guidance we have created.”
And Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, speaking in the same House of Commons debate praised the Minister’s intervention thus:
“I thank the Minister for describing the people who have objections as being at the real fringes. The difficulty is that if there is a requirement on headteachers to consult, and that opens the door for these fringe elements to hijack and disrupt, how should headteachers respond? Will the Department issue guidance to prevent that from happening? Will he ensure that even when consultation happens, it is not consultation with a veto by those fringe groups, but consultation to bring people along, as this is happening and it is not a question of if, when and how; this is just so that everyone can understand how. That is what we mean by consultation in this case. …”
Dr Tom Rogers, in an article for the magazine Calx Mariae (no 10, autumn 2020), explains in detail the exact nature of the Catholic bishops’ support for the Government – support which, as Mr Russell-Moyle MP emphasised, left good parents out in the cold (“at the real fringes”). Dr Rogers shows how the bishops:
- welcomed LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education in schools in England
- wrongly stated that the Children and Social Work Act (2017) maintains the parents’ right to withdraw their children from the sex education parts of RSE
- wrongly stated that religious schools will be able to teach RSE in accordance with their faith
- said, on the subject of homosexuality, that an “exalted form of love exists just as powerfully in relationships between people of the same sex as it does in heterosexual relationships” and, in the same passage, wrongly depicted Catholic teaching as opposing “discrimination against homosexuality” (my emphasis) as distinct from “unjust discrimination” against homosexual persons, as the Catholic Catechism states
- offered lesson material which encourages children to judge and challenge their own parents’ and families’ attitudes, based on provided examples of expressions of “homophobia” including typical comments made whilst watching television programmes – thus effectively encouraging children to report to the school their parents’ moral outlook on homosexuality
- welcomed as “compatible with the Catholic model curriculum” the government’s Final draft guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education and health education (February 2019) which reaffirms in an intimidatory way the obligation of schools to teach LGBT content; and in which abortion is presented as one of the available options during pregnancy to which pupils must be signposted without any reference to parents.
Both the Government’s Guidance on Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and the House of Commons debate at the time (25 June 2019) make very clear that what’s at stake here is effectively the outlawing of the practice of Catholic teaching which upholds the sanctity of human life, the innocence of children, and the rights and duties and moral obligation of parents to be the primary educators of their children. Parents who want to uphold these values are to be left, as Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP accurately put it, “at the real fringes”.
Naturally, in achieving their objective, the support provided to the Government by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, was of considerable political significance. In my next post on this subject, I will focus on the terrifying moral seriousness of what the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have done in light of an unforgettable address given by the late Carlo Cardinal Caffarra at the Rome Life Forum 2017, organised by Voice of the Family.