Wednesday 26 June 2019

Department of Education won't fight Vatican challenge to sexual identities

Members of a gay activist group hold signs in front of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo
Members of a gay activist group hold signs in front of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Sarah MacDonald

The Vatican's controversial new document which challenges transgender and intersex identities could be taught in Irish schools.

The instruction 'Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education' was published on Monday by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education and immediately drew fire from the LGBT community.

However, Catholic schools' right to determine their own Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programmes could see it being taught here.

The chair of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), Sara Phillips, said the document "ignores the real and legitimate experiences of young trans people and their families".

Ms Phillips also warned it is grounded in what appears to be "a fundamental mis-stating of what it means to be transgender or intersex".

Despite these misgivings, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told the Irish Independent schools develop a policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) reflecting the school's values and ethos as outlined in their mission statement.

For Catholic schools, the teaching of RSE would reflect the Church's teaching on sexuality and gender theory.

"The right of schools to uphold their ethos and characteristic spirit is recognised by the Department of Education and Skills, including the delivery of RSE within the characteristic spirit of the school," the spokesperson stated.

The Vatican instruction is intended to help Catholic teachers counter ideas which "deny the natural difference between a man and a woman".

It condemns gender fluidity as a symptom of the "confused concept of freedom" and argues the idea of gender being determined by personal feeling rather than biology is an attempt to "annihilate nature" and the product of "momentary desires".

It also rejects terms such as "intersex" and "transgender" and said the purpose of the biological "complementarity" of male and female sex organs was to ensure procreation.

Well-known Irish Redemptorist Fr Gerry Moloney tweeted in response to the publication of the document: "The Vatican is wrong in its simplistic analysis of gender identity. Gender is far more complicated than this document suggests."

Feminist Ailbhe Smyth was also critical, tweeting: "I deplore #Vatican 'guidelines' saying people cannot choose their gender. An entirely ideological position & 100% wrong. People can & do choose & change gender. They deserve rights & respect."

All schools are required to provide RSE for all students.

According to the Department of Education, a school's RSE policy should be developed and reviewed in partnership with parents and, as appropriate, students. All aspects of the RSE curriculum - including those in relation to sexual orientation, contraception, sexually transmitted infections - should be covered.

Post-primary, schools must provide an RSE programme as part of SPHE for all students from first year to sixth year.

It deals with education about gender and sexual orientation, and is supported by a wide variety of resources prepared in conjunction with a range of stakeholder bodies including BeLonG To, Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), INTO LGBT Teachers Group.

Irish Independent

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