Catholic secondary schools, like all high schools in New Zealand, are privileged to work with young people during one of the most challenging phases of their human development. However, in terms of education in sexuality, Catholic schools are particularly blessed to be able to draw on the rich tradition of our Church, which calls for a deep understanding of what it means to be a ‘whole’ person rather than attempt to justify sexual relationships which have no depth of commitment and lack any profound respect for the other person.
It is a complex task to communicate Church teaching with young people who are constantly challenged by peer pressure including alcohol, social media and the expectation of instant gratification – all in a growing secular culture in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, in the area of sexuality the deep resonance between what the Church teaches and the actual lives of students can be effectively shared by capable and informed teachers with the young people in our Catholic schools: Everyone deserves to be loved; love should affirm and nourish. My body is more than an object to be used or pleasured; I have a responsibility to care for others, etc. It is a message that has traction, even if not immediately grasped by all young people.
At the core of Catholic teaching on sexuality is the word ‘Love’, not just consent or safety which, even when taught well, are simply not enough. Of course a person must be fully aware and accepting of what happens to their body, but more than that, they would be conscious that they are made wonderful and precious, worthy of respect – made in the image of God.