"Parents must insist on continence outside marriage and fidelity in marriage as the only true and secure education for the prevention of AIDS. Parents, schools, and colleges must also reject the promotion of so-called "safe sex" or "safer sex", a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS".
This astounding passage in Fit for Mission*, with its unscientific nonsense that condoms don't provide adequate protection against HIV transmission, tops off a long series of hard line instructions to the state-funded catholic schools in the Roman catholic diocese of Lancaster.
The ignorance that lies behind these official guidelines is clear, because it talks about "protection against AIDS". Anyone writing sex and relationship education policies for use in schools should know at least the basics.
AIDS is not the same as HIV. AIDS is simply a medical list of conditions that sometimes arise following long-term HIV infection. AIDS can't be caught or passed on, only HIV. Condoms work very well in preventing HIV transmission. Young people who are not taught how to use condoms properly at school are much more likely to risk HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STI) and unwanted pregnancy
Out of Step
Church teaching is often out of step with the day to day lives and choices of ordinary catholics - for example opinion polls and birth rates show that many catholics across the world use contraception as the more pro-life choice, because it reduces unwanted pregnancies, with condoms reducing risks of HIV and other STIs, too.
Other catholic experts have very different views, such as Bishop Kevin Dowling, in South Africa, who believes condoms should be used to prevent HIV. A priest in Widnes, Revd. Dr. Kevin Kelly, co-founded the International Catholic Theological Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention, is one of the UK's leading catholic moral theologians, teaching at Liverpool Hope University. He's written sensibly about sexual ethics, moral theology and the HIV challenge.
However, Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster wields enormous power and influence over the sex and moral education of students at 85 catholic schools and colleges, where many pupils are not even catholics. The Lancaster diocese covers North Lancashire and Cumbria. Cities and towns such as Blackpool, Preston, Lancaster, Carlisle and Kendal are in this diocese.
Pupils Will Pay
Some of the pupils will come to pay a high personal price - with those at greatest risk being pupils who are or later realise they are gay. Ignorance about HIV and STI transmission, ways to reduce risks, leads to unnecessary HIV infections. Not everyone marries, and even for those that choose to marry, a wedding ring is not infection protection for anyone. People, bishops and priests included, stray from its teachings.
MPs to quiz bishops
A powerful committee of MPs, for Children, Families and Schools is summoning Catholic bishops to account because, there was "intense turmoil" behind the scenes in Catholic education, according to its chair Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield's MP). "A group of Catholic bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line" and MPs needed "to find out what is going on." "As soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude, questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all."
Teachers have expressed concern that the bishop's instructions could damage the health of teenagers who chose to become sexually active despite the church's teaching. "Irrespective of the strongly held views of those in the Catholic faith, it is absolutely vital for the future of children's wellbeing, health and safety that they receive proper sex education," said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
Bishops, Bashing and Prosecuting
The Vatican has backed the Lancaster bishop who tells Catholic schools to reject all safer sex education because it is "dangerous and immoral". But the harder religious leaders reject safer sex, contraception, comprehensive sex education and any sex outside the strict bounds of marriage, the higher they drive the rates of HIV, STIs, abortion and unwanted pregnancies across the world, as a recent British Medical Journal review starkly illustrates.
However the government has just announced a review of Sex and Relationship Education in primary and secondary schools. HIV and other charities will be on the review panel. "This review is a direct response to concerns raised by young people" says Schools Minister Jim Knight. A report by both the Independent Advisory Groups on Teenage Pregnancy, and for Sexual Health and HIV, said sex and relationship lessons should be made compulsory in all schools, because of patchy provision.