Catholics divided over sex education guidance

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(First Edition) A ROMAN Catholic archbishop has denounced new sex education guidelines drawn up by the church's education advisers.

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Maurice Couve de Murville, has refused to endorse the Catholic Education Service's document for use in Catholic schools in the Birmingham diocese, claiming that it is bland and non-committal on the issues of homosexuality and contraception.

The row erupted when the Birmingham Diocese Education Department objected to the inclusion of three books on the recommended reading bibliography. They contain sections recommending the use of condoms for safe sex, and were also interpreted as being tolerant of homosexual and lesbian relationships and masturbation.

Margaret Smart, director of the Catholic Education Service, said the inclusion of the books on the teaching aids bibliography had been a mistake.

They had been withdrawn as soon as they were brought to her attention.

'The choice of books was decided by a working party. The books which have been withdrawn contained some useful information on sex education, but there were sections which obviously contravened the Roman Catholic church's stance on sex education, which is that all acts of intercourse should be within marriage and open to procreation of human life. I take full responsibility.

I regret they appeared on this list.'

The continuing dispute illustrates fundamental difficulties within the Catholic church over formulating an acceptable policy.

The archbishop and his advisers want a reference document which clearly expounds the traditional theological line from Rome.

The Catholic Education Council, which is the advisory body to the church's bishops in the United Kingdom, maintains that the guidelines intended to help teachers and school governors draw up individual school policy should be practical, outlining schools' legal obligations, but with cross-reference to the relevant documents from the Vatican.

Boy are less likely than girls to receive sex education from their parents or from any professional source, according to the Brook Advisory Centres which specialise in sex advice and contraception for young people.

A conference on young men and sexual health reported that 28 per cent of boys under 16 had experienced sexual intercourse, but more than half of them used no form of contraception.

'Young men tend to talk about sex among groups increasing the pressure on them to to conceal their ignorance,' a Brook spokeswoman said yesterday.