Sunday 23 October 2016

State on collision course with faith schools over marriage

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

During the marriage referendum we were assured that faith schools could continue to teach what they believe about marriage and the family. The Different Families, Same Love programme throws that promise out the window.
During the marriage referendum we were assured that faith schools could continue to teach what they believe about marriage and the family. The Different Families, Same Love programme throws that promise out the window.

Pope Francis, currently in America, is flavour of the month. But if he was a teacher in a Catholic primary school in this country that might not last too long.

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That's because Pope Francis is given to saying this sort of thing: "We must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity."

Or this: "The differences between men and women are not of the order of opposition or subordination, but rather communion and generation, always as the image and semblance of God."

What he is saying is simply that men and women are different and complementary. From this complementarity comes children, and children benefit from the complementarity of their mothers and fathers as they grow up.

Pope Francis's statements directly contradict the ideology behind a new programme that the INTO and the Department of Education want all primary schools in the country to use. It is called 'Different Families, Same Love'.

It explains: "Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some families have a mother, some have a father, some have a mother and father, some have two mothers, some have two fathers, some children live with other family members like grandparents or aunts and uncles while some families have no kids (just grown-ups)."

That statement is absolutely true, and on its own doesn't seem to contradict anything Pope Francis has said about the family.

Pope Francis would be the first to acknowledge that the family comes in all shapes and sizes. He is doing his best to reach out to people living in non-traditional families. In part, this is what next month's Synod on the Family in Rome is all about.

The possibility of a clash between what Pope Francis and the Catholic Church believe, and what the INTO wants schools to teach, only arises if the INTO insists that it has a problem with Catholic and other denominational schools teaching that they believe the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman is the ideal.

Not 'ideal' in the sense of being perfect and without problems, but 'ideal' in the sense that, all things being equal, it is best if children are raised by their own mother and father (assuming they are fit parents) and that something is lost when one or other parent is not there.

We were assured during the marriage referendum that, if passed, denominational schools would still be allowed to teach what they believe about marriage and the family. It would now appear that this was false as Different Families, Same Love has the full support of Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan.

The INTO is right to be concerned that all children from all types of families should be treated with respect and dignity. But doesn't it believe this is exactly what Pope Francis would want to see happen in Catholic schools?

Catholic and other denominational schools also teach children from all kinds of different faith backgrounds. Those children are treated with respect.

Muslim parents here and overseas will often choose a Christian school ahead of a State-run school for their children.

If Muslim parents believed for one second that their children would be disrespected as result of going to a Christian school there is no way they would opt for such a school, especially in a country like Britain where there are plenty of alternatives.

But their children won't feel demeaned unless a teacher was to go out of her way to attack Islam or to arrogantly assert the superiority of Christianity. This does not happen in practice.

It is exactly the same when it comes to the family. In practice how many children (from single parent families, say) feel diminished because they go to a Catholic school, or some other denominational school?

In other words, the INTO has offered a solution (Different Families, Same Love) to a problem that does not exist.

However, the strong possibility does exist that the INTO wants to insert into schools a very different model of the family for ideological reasons. That is, it wants children to be taught that there is nothing special about marriage, gay or straight.

It wants children to be taught that it is a matter of indifference what combination of adults raises a child, and whether the child is raised by one parent or two.

Obviously this would seriously clash with the beliefs of most denominational schools.

Apart from that, what the INTO wants schools to teach about the family simply isn't true. That is, it is not true to say that it makes no real difference to children what type of family they are raised in so long as they are loved.

Abundant evidence testifies to what the Pope says, namely that children tend to fare best (there are plenty of exceptions) when they are raised by their married, biological parents.

No teacher in their right mind would teach this to a classroom full of young children as bluntly as that. They might not teach any version of it. But to teach the opposite would be to teach something that is untrue.

Different Families, Same Love also wants small children as young as four and five to be taught about transgenderism and transsexuality.

It recommends that teachers explain what a transgendered person is to junior and senior infants in the following way: "A girl who feels like they are a boy/A woman who feels like they are a man. A boy who feels like they are a girl/A man who feels like they are a woman."

Four and five-year-olds should be learning their ABCs, not this. The INTO will insist that transgenderism exists and that is why such young children should be taught about it. But so does divorce and the INTO doesn't seem to be recommending that small children be taught all about that. There is a time and a place for everything.

Part of the justification for Different Families, Same Love is that it will help counter bullying, but this can be done in other ways. Children can simply be taught not to bully each other for any reason whatsoever. Why isn't that enough?

Finally, when are the Catholic bishops going to react to this programme and suggest an alternative one that is true to Catholic teaching about the family in a way that Pope Francis would want? That is, in a way that is both true and pastorally sensitive. 

Irish Independent

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