Cardinal O'Brien warns against "state-sponsored sexual abuse of children".
In a strongly worded critique of the Scotland's sexual health strategy published in the Sunday Times today, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, President of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland calls for an end to the failed 'value-free' approach to sexual health, which he claims has caused teenage conception and STI statistics in Scotland to be among the worst in Europe.
Cardinal O'Brien claims;
"we currently face one of the biggest challenges to the morality of our nation in a generation, as a growing army of sexual health service providers push a value-free agenda, focusing on a biological/mechanical approach to sex education"
In an urgent call he asks the Scottish Executive;
"to urgently consider alternative approaches to sexual health, which set sexual activity within a moral context and provides young people with negotiating skills to resist peer pressure and support to enhance their self-esteem. Further, I ask that they reject any approach, which targets primary and pre-school children. Otherwise I fear that the passions ignited by the section 28 debate could be a mere flicker compared to the protests of parents determined to preserve their children s innocence and protect their childhood."
The Cardinal's comments come as the Catholic Church prepares a 'protocol' which will govern the work of health professionals in Catholic schools.
This will require, among other things, a commitment on the part of all those working in Catholic schools, to uphold the moral teaching, faith tradition and sacramental life of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal O'Brien concludes with a call for openness and honesty in this debate, saying;
"there must be a willingness on the part of some agencies to 'accept defeat' and admit, that despite their well-intentioned efforts, they have failed and that the abstinence-based approach suggested by many must now as a matter of urgency be piloted in Scotland."
The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's article is shown below
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Opinion - Cardinal Keith O'Brien
"As summer draws to a close and Scotland's school pupils return to their classrooms, parents, teachers and politicians turn their minds again to how best we educate our young people and prepare another generation of young Scots to take their place in society. Against this backdrop I believe we currently face one of the biggest challenges to the morality of our nation in a generation.
Later this year the Scottish Executive is expected to unveil a new ˜Sexual Health Strategy . The problems we face are well known; some of the highest teenage conception rates in Europe, increasing abortion rates and what can only be described as an explosion in sexually transmitted infections. Less well known are the growing army of sexual health service providers who push a value-free agenda, focus on a biological/mechanical approach to sex education, treat children as adults, offer confidential access to powerful drugs and procure abortions for children without their parent s knowledge. All at the expense of the Scottish taxpayer, with funding from the Scottish Executive for this failed agenda seemingly limitless.
Sexual health policy in Scotland is in crisis. Earlier this year the Catholic Church participated fully in a consultation on sexual health. The draft strategy on which the consultation was based, called for sex education for pre-school children as young as three and four, dismissed abstinence and suggested a widening of access to contraception and abortions for pupils without parents or head teachers knowing that illegal activity was being implicitly and officially supported. Despite this a variety of detailed submission containing compelling evidence were prepared by the Catholic Church in the hope that a ˜fresh start was a real possibility.
Yet, as I look at growing evidence from around Scotland and across the world that challenges the conventional wisdom on sexual health I am left doubting whether we really are likely to change course or deploy new thinking.
Earlier this week shocking new statistics revealed that Chlamydia infections rose 16% in just three months at the start of 2004. Most of those infected are under 25 with the largest numbers in Greater Glasgow and the Lothians. Incredibly, a spokeswoman for Caledonia Youth a sexual health agency called for sex education to begin at a younger age and for more explicit information to be made available. This Executive funded group, offers children free morning after pills, flavoured condoms and access to abortions without their parents consent or involvement fracturing families and potentially tying youngsters into a spiral of irresponsible and dangerous behaviour.
The problems we face may be worrying and damaging, but the solutions we are offered so far, are even more damaging and potentially devastating to the physical and emotional health of generations of Scots.
For this reason, I appeal to parents, teachers and all those concerned with the future health of our nation, to unite and call for an end to these failing strategies.
I ask the Scottish Executive to urgently consider alternative approaches to sexual health, which set sexual activity within a moral context and provides young people with negotiating skills to resist peer pressure and support to enhance their self-esteem. Further, I ask that they reject any approach, which targets primary and pre-school children. Otherwise I fear that the passions ignited by the section 28 debate could be a mere flicker compared to the protests of parents determined to preserve their children s innocence and protect their childhood.
In March 2002, Dr David Paton of Nottingham University undertook a seminal research project into the efficacy of youth contraception. His study found no evidence that providing these services reduces either underage conception or abortion rates among under-sixteens in the UK. In fact, the study, found some evidence that greater access to such services is associated with an increase in underage pregnancy. The research analysed data from sixteen UK regions over fourteen years and explored the impact of the 1984 Gillick Ruling, which severely reduced attendance by teenagers at family planning clinics in the UK for a time. The ruling, which forced health professionals to inform parents before providing contraceptives to under sixteen s, did not lead to an increase in underage pregnancies.
In Dr Paton s words Over the past few years, we have had a massive expansion in family planning services for young people in the UK, yet there is no evidence that this has reduced either underage pregnancy or abortion rates, if anything, the overall effect has been to increase pregnancies and abortions.
I share the serious doubts this evidence and subsequent validated studies cast on current Government policy. At the beginning of May, while preaching at the 'Kirking' of Edinburgh City Council at St. Giles Cathedral, I asked local politicians to acknowledge that although various projects have attempted to reduce teenage pregnancies in Edinburgh, conception and abortion rates have not improved. I asked them to face the reality that our present value-free approaches are not working and consider a return to abstinence and fidelity. The £3m Healthy Respect project, as it is presently constituted, seems to have been a complete and utter failure and should be scrapped completely. Where it has been used, teenage conceptions have actually increased, yet there are those who continue to trumpet this biological/mechanical approach to sex education in the face of compelling evidence attesting to its failure.
While evidence-based approaches have become the norm in most branches of health care, sexual health policy seems to be immune. Funding for sexual health strategies appears to be inversely proportional to their success. Many of those involved in the ˜sexual health business respond to failure with inflated demands for more time and money to impose their ˜solutions on an increasingly youthful audience. With supreme arrogance they suggest that if the medicine isn t working, the patient needs to take more of it. Yet as our health and education services drive forward plans to contracept a generation of Scots and risk addicting them to the most powerful birth control drugs the pharmaceutical industry can provide, a more sinister agenda is emerging. It amounts to little more than the sexualisation of our children and it is an agenda that should chill us all.
At a recent meeting of sexual health counsellors in Dundee a delegate from the west of Scotland speaking of the need to provide more graphic sex education in primary schools, said; when you encounter resistance from a head teacher you may have to find ways to sneak some material in . Later that month at a meeting of the Greater Glasgow Sexual Health Promotion Forum a representative of a sexual health agency claimed; it is important that we are able to get into pre-schools, where we can target 3 “ 5 year olds. Such disturbing sentiments are widespread among those charged with improving the sexual health of our nation. Yet they are completely and glaringly at variance with the views of the majority of the population, particularly parents, who rightly, are utterly appalled at the idea of pre-pubescent, far less pre-school children being provided with graphic and intimate sexual instruction. The view of the Catholic Church is clear; should such material be used in primary schools it would amount to the state sponsored sexual abuse of minors. Any approaches which use suggestive role-playing, graphic imagery or intimate questioning constitute an abuse of power by the adults involved. Abusive behaviour which if repeated outside a classroom could result in criminal proceedings against the perpetrators.
Vigilance on the part of teachers and parents in all Scotland s schools is required now more than ever. I urge them to examine sex education resources carefully and to collaborate closely remembering at all times that parents are the primary educators of their children and the primacy of their role must be recognised. Later this month I will address meetings of Catholic Primary and Secondary Head teachers and use these opportunities to highlight my concerns and seek their support.
Ultimately however, the wellbeing of all our children is at stake, so it is incumbent on us all to make our voices heard and to register our dissent. Whether we write to our MP s or MSP s, contact our local councillors or just find out for ourselves what sex education in the ˜New Scotland really means, “ inaction is not an option.
For its own part the Catholic Church remains committed to the existence of our own denominational schools. While we in the Catholic community have the protection offered by the schools and the right to approve the curriculum in this area most Scots of other faiths and of none do not enjoy such rights. In Catholic schools a new protocol will shortly govern the work of health professionals. Our recently launched Charter for Catholic schools, sets out the aims, mission and values implicit in a Catholic education, visiting health workers and others will be expected to respect the terms of the Charter. This will require, among other things, a commitment on the part of all those working in Catholic schools, to uphold the moral teaching, faith tradition and sacramental life of the Catholic Church.
Around the world, sexual health has improved where governments have not been afraid to moralise and especially where abstinence and chastity have been advocated. While abstinence and chastity have virtually disappeared from our political lexicon in Rwanda and the Congo, countries I visited earlier this year, a new approach stressed the importance of these values. Likewise in Uganda, the re-emergence of abstinence and chastity has coincided with dramatic drops in HIV rates, while in the USA similarly encouraging statistics have emerged.
Between 1990 and 2000 teenage conception rates in the UK fell by 7.6% in the USA the fall was 28.8%. Abortion rates for the same group in the UK over the same period have remained unchanged while in the USA they have fallen by over 40%. Recent research attributes most of the decline in the American data to increased rates of abstinence.
We must be willing to look around the world and seek out best practice wherever we find it. Above all, there must be openness and honesty in this debate and willingness on the part of some agencies to 'accept defeat' and admit, that despite their well-intentioned efforts, they have failed and that the abstinence-based approach suggested by many must now as a matter of urgency be piloted in Scotland.
Recent exam results highlighted the academic success of Scotland s schools showing that they do form well-educated citizens. Cleary however, education involves much more than sitting and passing exams. We expect our schools to set standards, impart values and encourage responsible behaviour.
There is no such thing as value-free education. As a secondary school teacher for five years and now as a regular visitor to almost one hundred Catholic schools in my own Archdiocese I know that in teaching children we inculcate them with some of our own beliefs and values, evident in the way we present a subject, ask a question or correct an answer. Whether our belief system is; secular humanism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism or any other, some of what we believe will be passed to those we teach. Importantly, there is no neutral or default system of belief, all systems come with their own tenets and absolutes “ in order to interpret the world around us and our place in it, we are obliged to, consciously or sub-consciously adopt one of them.
Accordingly, the moral values on which Scotland s politicians and educators base key areas of the school curriculum are crucially important to the future development of society and the attitudes and behaviour of the next generation. We cannot afford to fail them.