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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Churches split over sex education
Packets of condoms
The question of condoms in schools would be one for parents
Controversial proposals to reform sex education in Scotland have divided the Catholic Church and the Kirk.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has warned that the Scottish Executive faces a massive revolt if primary school children are offered more explicit sex education.

But the Church of Scotland said it supports the executive's approach.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm has moved to dampen the row, saying that inappropriate material would not be used in primary schools.

He also promised that sex education would not be taught to pre-school children.

Cardinal O'Brien has warned that the issue could become bigger than the Section 28 debate over the issue of teaching about homosexuality in schools.

He told one newspaper that if "graphic and intimate sexual instruction" was being offered to pre-pubescent or pre-school children it would amount to the "state sponsored sexual abuse of minors".

Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney added: "We have a conventional wisdom on sexual policy and the cardinal believes this policy is in crisis.

"For 10 to 15 years we have had a non-judgemental, value-free approach and we have to accept, by any measure, that it has utterly failed."

But Mr Chisholm said there would be a strong value underpinning the policy.

There will be a strong focus on relationship education and that is where young children can be taught values such as respect for other people
Malcolm Chisholm
Health Minister
He argued it would be based on respect, "respect for self and respect for others and strong respectful and stable relationships".

Mr Chisholm said it would encourage young people to delay having sex, but it would also be about health promotion and education.

He added: "There will not be sex education for toddlers, there is no question of that.

"But this is not just a sex strategy, it is a sex and relationships strategy, there will be a strong focus on relationship education and that is where young children can be taught values such as respect for other people.

"But this is not sex education for pre-school children as people understand it.

"The Catholic Church may be critical of what it fears might be in the strategy.

Morals 'eroded'

"We have to set the general direction of the strategy, but in terms of guidelines it will still be up to individual schools to interpret those guidelines."

The Catholic Church's stance is backed by the Muslim Association of Britain.

Osama Saeed, the association's Scottish spokesperson, said: "There is a feeling that morals have been eroded unchecked for too many years and it is welcome that a proper debate be had about what is healthy in regards to the education of our children and how our future generations will be shaped.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal Keith O'Brien said the issue was of huge importance
"We look forward to supporting Cardinal O'Brien in his efforts to defeat these proposals in the coming period."

However, the Church of Scotland did not add its voice to the protest.

Morag Mylne, convener of the Kirk's church and nation committee, said: "This isn't state-sponsored sexual abuse.

"The executive, I think, is taking the issue of sex education and sexual health more generally very seriously."

And the Scottish Trades Union Congress described Cardinal O'Brien's approach as "most concerning and confusing".

Appropriate strategy

Its assistant secretary, Mary Senior, said: "Rather than approaching this complex and sensitive subject in a sensitive and mature way, the cardinal appears to be frightening parents and raising concerns that are completely unfounded.

"With the numbers of people contracting sexually transmitted infections increasing, it is right that the executive develops an appropriate strategy to address this."

The executive held a consultation period on its draft sexual health strategy earlier this year and it aims to publish its final strategy in the autumn.

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