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March 2010

Letter to the Bishops of England
about compulsory sex education in maintained schools

Why should we resist the government’s intentions?

ERIC HESTER


I am authorising the publication of a letter that I wrote to all the Catholic bishops of England in November last. The letter was not private in any sense and nothing in it is confidential; all is in the public domain. The subject itself is a most grave one.

Previously, I had, for over a year, been warning the then Archbishop of Birmingham, His Grace the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, then Chairman of the Catholic Education Service (CES), what the government was about to propose. His Grace refused to take any action. When the government put forward its “consultation”, over last summer, I corresponded again with the Bishop of Nottingham, His Lordship, the Right Reverend Malcolm McMahon, who succeeded Archbishop Nichols as Chairman of the CES, and he agreed to see me as I mention in my letter.

I was convinced that such a great evil was being proposed that I ought to write to every English bishop before their meeting in November. The bill will not apply to Wales and so I did not write to the Welsh bishops. I sent the English bishops each a copy of the document that I mention in the letter: the publication of The Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. I did this because of its clear statement of the rights of parents and because, when I went to see Bishop McDonald, he did not possess a copy.

* * *

Feast of St Leo the Great, 10th November, 2009

My Lord/ Your Grace,

I write to you in accordance with Canon Law section 212 §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they (lay people) have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church.” I consider the matter of the government’s plan to make sex education compulsory to be a matter on which it is my duty to write to you and to all the bishops of England. It is the most evil thing to have happened in our country in my lifetime: planning deliberately the sexual corruption of innocent children.

You should know that the government has stated its intention of making sex education compulsory and prescribing content. This is what it says itself on 5th November: “PSHE education (which includes sex) will therefore be a foundation subject in the national curriculum in Key Stages 3 and 4, with the existing non-statutory programmes of study forming the basis for a core entitlement that all pupils should receive.” This must include contraception and “how to obtain emergency contraception.” Ed Balls, Education Minister admitted that he will force schools to provide a content that includes, for example, “information” about contraception: “You can teach the promotion of marriage, you can teach that you shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage, what you can’t do is deny young people information about contraception outside of marriage.” The newspaper reports of 6th November make it clear what the government intends. I recommend the accounts in The Times and The Telegraph but I will quote from The Guardian: “All schools will have to teach personal, social, health and economic education to pupils from the age of five. This will mean that faith schools will be forced to teach about homosexuality, civil partnerships, divorce and abortion. Five-year-olds will learn about different kinds of relationships, how to manage their emotions and the physical changes to their bodies in childhood.”

The present situation in our schools is, briefly, that the governors have overall control of the content, timing, morality, knowledge to be imparted, of sex education. This is the government’s own summary of what is currently demanded: “Primary schools should either have a policy statement that describes the SRE (Sex and relationships education) provided or give a statement of the decision not to provide SRE. Secondary schools are required to provide SRE which includes (as a minimum) information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS” (see DCSF website). Thus a Catholic secondary school could currently do a complete thoroughly Catholic course and simply add this: “Sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS are caught mainly through promiscuous sexual activity. Anyone who follows the teaching of the Catholic Church and who marries a person who has followed that teaching, is almost guaranteed against these diseases.” The government intends to change all this.

Why should we resist the government’s intentions?
First, no one can deny that the government’s proposals would reduce the rights of Catholic governors from those currently enjoyed. There is no advantage at all to Catholic schools in these proposals. Even if one believes the government when they say that Catholic schools will have some control over the methods, then powers of control will have been conceded. For example, I know of no Catholic primary school that introduces the subject of homosexuality and, indeed, to do so would be to go against the gravest teaching of the Church. Yet, if the government says that primary schools must “enable pupils to know that there are different kinds of families, including gay relationships” then every Catholic School will be forced to teach that. It is noteworthy that the proposal is supported by no one except those pressure groups which are anti-family: the FPA; Stonewall; Terrence Higgins Trust; Sex education Forum; Teenage Pregnancy Unit; and the Brook Bureau. The Headteachers’ Association, ASCL, has come out against the proposals stating This added compulsion is particularly unnecessary as all secondary schools already have PSHE courses …experience suggests that once an item becomes compulsory, detailed prescription of what is to be taught, how, and for how long, is not far behind.”

Secondly, the government cannot be trusted. It has been said that the CES has obtained safeguards and promises that Catholic schools will not be required to teach any subject contrary to Catholic teaching but exactly the same kind of things were said before the government made it compulsory for adoption societies to have to hand over innocent children to gay couples. I have obtained from the DCSF, the whole of the correspondence between the Minister, Jim Knight, and Ms Oona Stannard, and I can tell you that the Minister gives no such undertaking. In her letter of 29th August, 2009 Ms Stannard states: “As I have said before, I would be able to support SRE being made a statutory requirement but I could not support the content being made statutory.” The minister sent no reply to that letter and I have double-checked with the DCSF that no reply was sent. I will be glad to send to anyone who wants copies, the whole of this correspondence; I do not think it should be secret but should be made open to all Catholics. I may decide to publish it all on line in any case. The government now admits that it will prescribe a detailed content.

Another argument advanced is that parents will have the right of withdrawal. The government has now admitted that it will take away that right at the age of 15, especially just the political propaganda for contraception, abortion and “gay rights” intensifies. Even where it remains, it will be most difficult for parents to exercise the right, in practice, since children do not like to be different from their classmates, and primary schools will argue, with justification, that it is not always a matter of a special “sex lesson” but that material on, say, homosexuality, would be part of an integrated approach to learning and could come up in an English lesson, where a child was asked to write a letter to the parents of a friend; and the teacher would say that the “parents” might be two men. In any case, has it come to this, that Catholic parents need to withdraw their children from lessons in their own schools? One can, I suppose, take some crumb of comfort in the fact that independent schools will not be subject to compulsory sex education and so the children of the rich will not be corrupted.

Some dioceses are producing materials of their own and I know that some of these are excellent. I mention the one in my own diocese, Salford, by Canon McBride. It is first rate. However, it obviously will work properly under the present system where governors have control. The best of schemes will be totally undermined if the government is allowed to lay down the content and the timing of materials, and determine programmes of study.

I enclose a copy of the publication of The Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality which Catholic parents regard as a kind of Magna Carta of their rights. The whole of this authoritative document is important but I especially draw your attention to the following paragraphs: 41, 78, 83, 113, 114, 127 and 136. Just about every page of the document argues against what the government is proposing. In particular, two points are made several times: that the rights of parents are inalienable; and that there should be no sex education before puberty, what Pope John Paul II rightly called, “The years of innocence.”

The document quotes this from the Church’s statement The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. “Homosexuality should not be discussed before adolescence unless a specific serious problem has arisen in a particular situation. This subject must be presented only in terms of chastity, health and the truth about human sexuality in its relationship to the family as taught by the Church.” Do you honestly think that this is what the government has in mind?

I should want to make it clear that there is nothing party political in all this. I can tell you that I have written three letters to David Cameron and to the Chairman of the Conservative party asking for any statement that they would not permit the promotion of homosexuality in schools and I have met with prevarication. I wrote to them because David Cameron “apologised” to the “Gay Community” for Section 28; all that section did was to forbid the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

As you consider this, can I ask you to look at it from this angle: “What is lost to the Catholic Church if we oppose these measures?” The answer must be “nothing”. If, mirabile dictu, the government produced material that recommended chastity and modesty, then any Catholic school that wanted to could use the material. But it would be a choice, not a matter of compulsion.

“But surely the government’s material will not be all that bad?” people say. One difficulty that I have is that I cannot send round material recommended by the government because I cannot bring myself to send obscenity to a Catholic bishop. However, if you want some material, then I will send some in a clearly labelled envelope so that your secretary does not see it. You can go onto the website of the DCSF and see which organisations it recommends for sex education by clicking this:

http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/wholeschool/healthyliving/behaviours/sexandrelationshipeducation/

The following website, Connexions, is funded by the government and has, astonishingly, been recommended to Catholic schools by the CES:

http://www.connexions-direct.com/index.cfm?pid=107&catalogueContentID=337

You will see the support that Connexions gives to the FPA.

Only those with the strongest stomachs should click on to the Terrence Higgins website and see what this agency, so highly regarded by the government, regards as educational:

http://www.tht.org.uk/informationresources/publications/gaymengerneralinformation/bottomlinethe124.pdf

I should warn that this website is foul, vile and filthy and I put it only to demonstrate how far the government will go in the corruption of children. Please do not let anyone else view it and go there yourself only if you are prepared for appalling material. But I remind you that this website is specifically recommended by the government and Terrence Higgins is largely government subsidised.

It is occasionally suggested that many parents are incapable of giving sex education. This is not, I think, true and is actually insulting to parents. It has not been my experience. I should, in any case, prefer the most ignorant parent to be trusted with sex education rather than the government which has a record of anti-family measures.

And what about the situation of children in non-Catholic schools? You may well say that you have no responsibility for them. However, that is not the case; they, too, have souls to be saved and innocence to be preserved. A very senior figure in the Labour party gave the opinion to me that if the Catholic bishops support their proposals, the government will use that to disarm criticism by parents: and this is proving the case; the CES was specifically mentioned by the Education Minister in his written statement on November 5th. However, the view given was that if the Bishops opposed their measures, then the government might well withdraw them completely since it will not want fierce argument about the sex education of five-year olds during a general election campaign.

I have mentioned the corruption of children and I have to write this solemnly to you: “In my professional judgement, if the government’s proposals are put into operation, the corruption of innocent children will take place in schools. I regard it as institutionalised sex abuse.” At the time when the cases of sex abuse by priests and others were in the media, a number of bishops said, “We did not understand.” This time, no bishop will be able to say that; I am warning you what will happen. One fear I have is that if there is national strife on this, then the whole matter of sex abuse by priests will open up again.

My own experience is that I was a headmaster of Catholic schools, comprehensive and grammar, for 24 years. In retirement, I have had considerable inspection experience and I am an editorial consultant, advising and writing material for an organisation that advises heads and governors about legal and other matters. Though I am vice-president of Family & Youth Concern (the organisation founded by Valerie and the late Dennis Riches) and member of such organisations as SPUC and NACF, I write in a personal capacity. My wife and I have four children, and eight grandchildren, all baptised and all, except two who are too young, attending Catholic schools. I have given talks and courses to school staffs, governors, and also to PGCE students at a university. I am a governor of independent schools and of a Catholic primary school in our diocese, though I have told Bishop Brain that I will resign if the government’s proposals come into effect because I will have no part in authorising the corruption of children.

You should know that I have been to see Bishop McMahon and spoken to him directly along the lines of this letter. As I told the NACF, “the bishop very readily agreed to meet me, and treated me most courteously. In fact, it all went beyond courtesy: the bishop listened most carefully and sympathetically and allowed me to make all the points that I wanted and to produce the relevant evidence. He discussed things with me, raised some questions and was most willing to answer all my questions to him. And the result? Well, I had hoped to persuade the bishop there and then to renounce any support for the government. This he did not do. However, he agreed to consider carefully all that I had said to reconsider his position especially when the government announces the results of its ‘consultation’ and to talk the matter over with others.” But please do not blame Bishop McMahon for this letter to you: in no way did he suggest it; it was my own idea.

I have to say that I also put this on my email to the NACF: “Finally, I made it clear to the bishop that if the CES continued its support for the government, it, and the bishops, could expect the greatest opposition ever seen by lay Catholics in England since the rights of parents on sex education are ‘inalienable’ and may not be usurped by anyone, not even a bishop, let alone the members of the present government.” If the Catholic Bishops of England continue to support the government’s proposals to make sex education compulsory then I will regard it as my duty to make opposition. The many people who have communicated with me have suggested Pilgrimages to Rome, legal challenges to schools for going against their trust deeds, the invoking of the Nolan Committee against teachers who damage children’s innocence and, above all, publicity including the use of the media actually to show material produced by the government and its recommended organisations. The innocence of children must be protected.

You may feel reluctant to go against the advice of the CES. I want to make it clear that I do not impugn the integrity of the CES but I think it has been wrong. In its “clarification” of 5th November the CES says: “We welcome the government’s reiteration of its support for the important principles underlining SRE, which emphasise that schools continue to have the legal right to determine the content of what is taught in PSHE.” That is not true and I challenge the CES to guarantee to a governing body that it can decide for example not to provide information about where and how to obtain contraception and abortions.

I need not remind you that it is the Holy Father who is infallible and not the CES. We live in complicated times, and there is no disgrace for any organisation to change its mind and admit a mistake. On the contrary, it is to the credit of anyone to have the courage to review evidence and to decide to change.

I implore you to do your duty and to protect children. I should be willing to come to talk to you personally about all this or to meet with others in your diocese.

Finally, I cannot write to you and to the other bishops without making a plea for England to be reconsecrated to Our Blessed Lady, as was done in the past. You will know that the consecration was made in 1893 and your predecessors ordered that the consecration be repeated in every church in the country every year. If that consecration were to include the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that would seem to improve something already almost perfect. I have to say that if that were done, I honestly believe that problems like the one about which I have written about would disappear. The visit of the Holy Father next year would be a fine occasion for us all to make such a consecration.

I have the honour to be,

Your Lordship’s (Your Grace’s) obedient child,

Eric Hester

 

* * *

Epilogue

As I said, I sent the above letter to all the English bishops, some 35 including retired bishops and auxiliaries together with the publication I mention above, which, incidentally, cost my wife and me over £100. And how many bishops even acknowledged the letter? Three, including one letter from a retired bishop. Two of these were mere acknowledgements. One bishop sent a reply quoting assurances that they had had from the CES. I was able to exchange emails with him. The English bishops, apparently, considered the matter of sex education at their meeting, but made no statement nor allowed their discussions to be made public.

I wrote to His Lordship, Bishop McMahon, a respectful letter asking certain questions; His Lordship did not answer the questions and declared that our correspondence was at an end. Since then, the CES has several times reiterated its support and the bill containing the sex education proposals is going through the House of Commons. The only good news is that as I write this ,in the first week of February, the Holy Father has spoken in Rome to the English bishops on their ad limina visit. On the Holy Father commanding the bishops to stand up to the government, one popular blog commented:

The importance of the gay adoption issue to the Vatican is one reason I don’t think the papal speech should be seen exclusively as an attack on Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill, thrown out by the Lords last week. Yes, the Pope is certainly opposed to its measures forcing churches to employ people opposed to their teaching, as are Anglican bishops. And, in a way, it would be quite convenient for the Catholic bishops to present the speech as being all about the Equality Bill, since it hasn’t come into law and they can’t be accused of rolling over in front of it. But the Vatican also takes a dim view of bishops who allow their adoption agencies to reinvent themselves along gay-friendly lines, and of a Catholic Education Service that is co-operating with aspects of Ed Balls’s attack on faith schools and his plans to force sex education on primary school children. Now, it’s true that sex education isn’t strictly speaking an “equality” issue, but the Pope wants the bishops to ‘speak with one voice’ against it, which they haven’t.

P.S. In writing for Christian Order, I cannot resist adding that I have been a reader for about sixty years. My father, the best of Catholics, took my brother and me, both young to a meeting of the Catholic Social Guild in our parish, St Mary’s, Horwich, Lancashire, to hear the great Jesuit Fr Paul Crane. He was an inspiring speaker. My father became a subscriber then and, after his death, I continued the subscription. If a criterion of a successful Catholic publication is one that brings the reader to his knees in prayer, then Christian Order is for me one of the most successful.


 

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