Clarification on sexual health strategy sought  

Speaking to a meeting of Catholic Youth Officers tomorrow, Cardinal Keith O'Brien will comment on his recent intervention into the debate on Scotland's sexual health strategy.  

The Cardinal will welcome assurances given recently by the First Minister and call for; "urgent clarification on a number of issues which are of intense interest to me and to those who have written to me"  

The full text of the Cardinal's address is shown below:  


Peter Kearney  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168  

On Sunday 29 August 2004, I addressed the issue of Scotland s sexual health strategy in an article published in a Sunday newspaper. Although a public consultation on the subject ran for six months earlier this year, there had not, to my knowledge, been wide public debate or detailed media interest in the topic.  

I suggested, that sexual health policy in Scotland was in crisis. I argued, that although a variety of detailed submissions containing compelling evidence had been prepared by many individuals and groups, including the Catholic Church to the formal consultation, evidence from around Scotland and across the world, left me doubting whether we really were likely to change course or deploy new thinking in this area.  

As a former teacher, now a Bishop and a Cardinal, I realised that the proposals and the eventual decisions of the Scottish Executive, were of vital importance to my own Catholic community, as also for the good or otherwise of the whole people of Scotland. Publication of my article ignited wide public interest and debate. It was indeed stated that following my article more debate had taken place in the 48 hours after the article than in the previous 48 weeks . Comments were made by other Church leaders, leaders of other faiths, our First Minister, Health Minister and MSPs, as well as by those involved in the teaching profession, in trade unions and, of course, by parents themselves. It was very heartening to see so many people at last entering into public debate on such an important subject.  

Newspaper headlines on Tuesday 31 August, stating: ˜Sexual Disease soaring in the Lothians , brought home to me again just how urgent this debate has become. The report stated: Sexually transmitted disease cases are rising ˜alarmingly in the Lothians, infection rates have doubled for some conditions over the past five years, with herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis and Chlamydia all on the increase.  

As the days have passed, I have considered how best I can clarify my concerns in the hope of moving the debate forward.  

Before clarifying my concerns, I would first like to welcome the recent assurances from the First minister. I do admire the integrity of the First Minister and his clear statement that despite the recommendation in the consultative document in paragraph 4-17, that: sex education should be defined as sex and relationships education (SRE) (and) introduced in pre-school , the Scottish Executive had no intention of seeing that there were sex education lessons to pre-school children.  

The First Minister also restated an earlier assurance, that the Scottish Executive had no plans to approve the distribution of the morning after pill in schools. Again, this statement was issued despite the implication of increased health service activity in schools given by the consultative document in paragraphs 4.20 and 4.21, where it speaks of: plans to improve links between schools and sexual health services and evidence which has been produced of school girls being given the morning after pill outwith school hours with assistance from the schools health services.  

The fact that the Minister for Health, Malcolm Chisholm MSP endorsed and repeated these  

assurances was most reassuring “ but I would ask him to consider the ways in which the sexual health services are operating within schools and indeed whether or not they are encouraging  

under-16-year-olds to break the laws of our country by indulging in under-age sex.  

The wider debate however, concerning as it does, the future health, physical and moral, of the young people of Scotland, must continue. Again, I ask the Scottish Executive to urgently consider alternative approaches to sexual health, which set sexual activity within a moral context and provide young people with negotiating skills to resist peer pressure and support to enhance their self esteem. As the Sexual Health Strategy is soon to be produced, I would also seek urgent clarification on a number of issues which are of intense interest to me and to those who have written to me:  

1. Iwould like confirmation that sex and relationships education resources andapproaches which use suggestive role-playing, graphic imagery or intimatequestioning will not be used in pre-school or primary schools and that noapproach will be used in isolation from any guidance on basic moral values.  

1. Iwould also like confirmation that The MorningAfter Pill will not be made available in confidence to schoolchildrenwithout parental consent, either within schools or facilitated by healthworkers in and around schools  

1. Willparents as the primary educators of their children, be involved indiscussions with regard to the values being imparted to their children andgiven access to the resources used in schools for teaching sex andrelationships education  

1. Willthe right of denominational schools to set protocols governing the work ofhealth professionals be respected. This will require, among other things,a commitment on the part of all those working in Catholic schools, touphold the moral teaching, faith tradition and sacramental life of theCatholic Church.  

5. Will consideration be given to the preparation of new guidelines to be issued to all health agencies setting out the criteria under which confidentiality when dealing with minors should apply.  

6. Will abstinence-based approaches as a matter of urgency now be piloted in Scotland.  

The Catholic Church has prepared various resources for use in sex and relationships education over the years, always respecting the young people themselves and the rights of their parents, their primary educators. To further bring forward this debate, I offer an assurance that all agencies of the Catholic church stand willing to share best practice with other agencies operating in the field of sexual health, particularly involving children and young people. I remain committed to encouraging dialogue between agencies operating in this field. Likewise, along with the First Minister and many others, I share a concern for the wellbeing of our children, for the rights of the parents of our children, and for the sexual health of all in our country. My conviction remains however, that these needs will be best served through abstinence-based approaches and support for and the promotion of the institution of marriage, the basic building block of our society.  

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