Cardinal 'reassured' by support for abstinence

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
The Roman Catholic Church's leading cleric has claimed vindication for ratcheting up the public debate over sex education.

An opinion poll commissioned by the Catholic Church in Scotland, based on a "representative sample" of almost 1,000 adults, is said to show that most Scots agree with the concerns raised by Cardinal Keith O'Brien in August.

Two-thirds favour the introduction of abstinence-based approaches.

In a newspaper article, Cardinal O'Brien called for all approaches to sex education to include guidance on basic moral values. He said the poll's findings were "extremely encouraging and leave me greatly reassured that my concerns are widely held".

Cardinal O'Brien complains that his attempts to seek "urgent clarification" from the Scottish Executive on its plans for a sexual health strategy have gone unanswered, and he has asked the new Health Minister or the First Minister to respond.

In a statement on the poll, Cardinal O'Brien said he had described Scotland's sexual health policy as being in crisis. "The debate that followed created more heat than light and, although some sought to play down my concerns, many more from all walks of life endorsed them.

"Although the First Minister and Health Minister issued reassuring statements, I felt compelled to seek detailed clarification on a number of key issues.

"I asked for confirmation that sex and relationships education which use suggestive role-playing, graphic imagery or intimate questioning will not be used in pre-school or primary schools and that no approach will be used in isolation from any guidance on basic moral values.

"I also asked for confirmation that the morning after pill will not be made available in confidence to schoolchildren without parental consent, either within schools or facilitated by health workers in and around schools.

"At the same time, I asked if abstinence-based approaches would, as a matter of urgency, now be piloted in Scotland."

The poll for the Church, designed by the Opinion Research Business (Orb) and carried out by System 3, found that 90 per cent of adults oppose the use of "graphic imagery" in sex education for pre-school children and 55 per cent reject it for primary pupils.

On the question of the morning after pill, 55 per cent do not think it should be made available in confidence to girls aged under 16 without parental consent.

The call for an "abstinence-based approach" to sex education to be piloted in schools was strongly supported by 39 per cent and 26 per cent supported it "a little". Some 23 per cent were opposed and 12 per cent were undecided.

Cardinal O'Brien concluded: "Clearly, I am far from alone in expressing serious doubts about the direction of sexual health policy in this country.

When a majority of Scots disapprove of or disagree with current approaches in this field and two-thirds of the population suggest it is time to change direction on sexual health, I think it is incumbent on our politicians to listen and to respond."

The Church's statement carried an endorsement from Salah Beltagui, Scottish chair of the Muslim Association of Britain. "Before things slide any further," Dr Beltagui said, "it is time for those advocating the current policies to admit defeat and pursue sex education within a more moral framework."

The official approach, contained in guidance from Learning and Teaching Scotland, is that "sex education should be presented in a context that values stable relationships, healthy living and personal responsibility, and firmly sets sex education within the wider context of health education, religious and moral education and personal and social development".

The Executive believes there are further safeguards in the legal requirement for schools to comply with ministerial advice, the right of parents to be consulted on the content of lessons and the right of parents to withdraw their children if they are unhappy.

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