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November 07, 2009

There are other choices

This story in the SMH angers me, as such stories always do. It concerns a proposed national curriculum in Australia for sexual health education of children and teenagers. Like a reflex, the Catholic Church objects that children may be encouraged to use condoms and have abortions.

"Sydney's Catholic schools head Dan White is warning against the planned national curriculum being used as a ''how-to guide'' for children to gain access to contraception and abortion clinics."

Indeed, such a curriculum is likely to increase the use of contraception and for those for whom contraception fails, to educate them that the option of an abortion exists. That would be a successful outcome.

News flash, Dr White: Australia has a constitutional separation of Church and State so, you know, your opinion about what is important for Roman Catholics is one to which you are entitled but as an Australian tax payer, I have no more interest in funding education that supports your religious beliefs than I do that of any other religion. We're a secular, not a Catholic, society.

"The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth."

Secondly, in all of the good studies ever done on the subject, the overwhelming evidence is that educating children and teenagers about sexual health delays, and does not encourage, intercourse. That when they do have intercourse they use contraception. And that condoms, properly used, reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and reduce rates of conception. In other words, education leads to improved personal and social health outcomes. The converse is also true - uneducated, ill-informed teenagers have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted children and abortions.

Thirdly, I'm never quite sure how celibate men are qualified to advise on the subject of sex and sexuality to anyone of any age, and certainly the involvement of priests (and nuns) in the care and education of children over many years has been clearly documented to have lead to widespread, systematic and appalling abuse - physical, emotional and sexual - which was proactively covered up by the leadership of the Church, so your credibility is poor. The Irish commission to inquire into child abuse illuminates the life of some members of your order very clearly. For some members of your clergy, their aspirations were noble but their actions were despicable. So you know, your qualifications for advising Australians how to educate our children are reputationally damaged by this.

Finally, if the Church seriously objects to having Catholic children forced into a national curriculum, the best single option for the Church is to self-fund and not to ask for my secular tax dollars.

In other words, Dr White - your opinion is of interest and we thank you for it, but if you want my money, then you should be advocating a curriculum that is based on evidence and a good return on investment for our society. Anything else is really just superstition and dogma. You are entitled, and absolutely within your rights to preach as you wish from your pulpit, so pass the plate to the faithful and go for it. If you want money from my plate, then please let evidence do the talking. 


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