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Reaction to Listowel Priest Controversy

Education Equality, in their recent letter to the Irish Times, noted that the comments about same-sex relationships made by Fr Sean Sheehy during Sunday Mass in Listowel were a reminder of the State conceding control not only of relationships and sexual education (RSE), but almost the entire primary education system to the Catholic Church.

Fr Sheehy referred to the “promotion” of sex between two men and two women as a “mortal sin”. Bishop of Kerry Dr Ray Browne apologised for those comments, noting that: “The views expressed to not represent the Christian position.”

However, Education Equality pointed out that the Bishop’s comment was not quite true. They mentioned the rollout of the Catholic Church’s “Flourish” RSE programme from 2021, which caused anger due to its heteronormative approach to sexuality. While the programme, aimed at children from junior infants to sixth class, says that: “The Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”, it does not contain a single picture of a same-sex couple among many colourful photographs.

At the same time, a letter sent to parents in April by Catholic-run Lacken National School in Co Wicklow about its approach to RSE stated that: “Teachers do not cover topics such as contraception and same-sex friendships”.  This was despite an active and well-publicised campaign by local parents requesting the school to adopt an inclusive approach to the subject, “free from influence of a religious ethos”.

LGBTQ and atheist teachers expressed their fear of being themselves in Catholic schools at a recent Irish National Teacher’s Organisation conference, with surveys showing that less than one in five LGBTQ primary teachers felt safe enough to come out to colleagues, parents or pupils.

Regardless of the Bishop’s response, Fr Sheehy’s comments are “entirely consistent with the teachings of his church and with the message being coercively imparted to generations of Irish children in our schools”.

The HAI supports Education Equality in the view that these attitudes have no place in a modern democratic republic, and the religious interference from the curriculum needs to stop.

The HAI is also aware that despite Ireland’s increasingly diverse society, in terms of religious or philosophical belief, the only route available in the State for an individual seeking qualification as a primary teacher is through a course taken at a college owned by a religious denomination.

This is another clear example of the discriminatory environment that exists in the educational sector. The HAI considers that the State needs to address this gap in teacher training provision by providing a complementary alternative.

The original Irish Times article can be read here.


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