THE CATHOLIC church is locked in a bitter row with the Scottish NHS over what they call “sinister” plans to open sex clinics in or near their schools.
Sex education at state-funded Catholic schools has long been the subject of bitter debate – with church officials imposing strict regulation on what can and can’t be taught in classrooms.
Health bosses have claimed that the church’s refusal to teach safe sex leaves teens at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.
Now the government has proposed a new set of drop-in sexual health centres – targeted specifically at pupils from denominational schools.
But the body representing Catholic schools has denounced the “underhand” plan as “sinister” and in “direct opposition” to the wishes of parents.
The proposals for clinics have come in the government’s new Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy – due to be published next month.
As part of the strategy they have consulted with sexual healthcare bosses across the country – some of whom have hit out at Catholic schools directly.
Bosses at NHS Lothian have said that they see a particular need for such schemes as a result of Catholic schools in their catchment.
They have told the government that sex and relationship education in Catholic schools is “too frequently not equipping young people with the information and access to services that they need.”
NHS Lanarkshire’s sexual health team have also called for council education departments to take a “much more proactive role” in referrals to sexual health clinics.
And – they say – this should include the deployment of free condom schemes, in spite of the church taking a stance against their use.
Their submission reads: “There are ‘significant discrepancies’ in the advice pupils receive in different schools.
“This continues to put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk and puts local authorities in the position of providing unequal goods or services on the basis of religion.”
It goes on to level a criticism specifically at Catholic schools.
“Objective, non-judgemental information and support is very difficult to achieve when we still have state-sponsored segregated education on the basis of religious belief.”
It also calls for an “enforcement” of equal access to sex health information regardless of where pupils are enrolled.
Colin Anderson – senior health promotion officer at NHS Lanarkshire – said that pupils are specifically “at risk” of STIs, unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence if sex and relationship education in schools was inadequate.
But Michael McGrath – director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) – has hit back at the new plans.
He said: “It is most unfortunate that this group has chosen to describe Scotland’s Catholic schools as ‘state-sponsored segregated education’, thus implying children are being forced to enrol against the wishes of their parents.
“[NHS Lanarkshire’s] biased view is compounded by the absurd claim that all mentions of sexual health are ‘vetoed’ in Catholic schools.”
The SCES’s official submission disputes that it is necessary for schools to combine sex education relationship and sex education with access to secual health services such as contraception and abortion.
It reads: “Catholic schools cannot be required to offer such services or to signpost young people towards them.
“We find it sinister that this draft strategy proposes that sexual health service drop-in centres should be situated ‘in or close to’ schools.
“This smacks of an underhand strategy, which appears determined to impose a moral standpoint in direct opposition to the moral perspectives proposed by Catholic schools and to the wishes of parents who choose Catholic education for their children.”
Gary McLelland, head of communications and public affairs for the Humanist Society Scotland, said: “Sex and relationships education is essential to promoting health and well-being.
“It is a child’s right to access high quality evidence-based sex and relationships education.
“Most parents will be surprised to learn that publicly-funded Catholic schools want to block access to information about reproductive health for children and young people.
“With over two-thirds of young people in Scotland claiming no religion, it’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service thinks it has any place blocking health services for young people in Scotland.”
In 2008 a boss of helpline Childline said Scotland’s spiraling rates of teen pregnancy were the result of a lack of sex education.
Sue Minto, of ChildLine, said that children as young as 12 were calling the charity, worried that they were pregnant.
In 2013 38 in 1,000 teens were pregnant in the country.