Parramatta is standing by its new RE syllabus
Despite controversy over its new draft religious education curriculum, the Diocese of Parramatta’s schools office will continue plans to launch the new units across its high schools in Term 1 next year.
The inquiry-based curriculum has come under fire with claims that students from Year 7-12 will be taught gender ideology, identity politics, and LGBT studies in their religious classes.
Three priests of the diocese who are familiar with the changes publicly opposed them, with one refusing to allow the new subjects to be taught at his school.
Further media attention led to a stream of complaints from Catholics on social media discussing whether inappropriate content was already being trialled in some of the diocese’s schools.
Acting executive director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Christine Howe told The Catholic Weekly that the new syllabus is “faithful to Catholic teaching, traditions and values” and that reporting on draft curriculum had been unfair.
“I’m disappointed that in some cases, this includes wilful misrepresentation and mischief-making,” she said.
“The Draft New Curriculum continues to teach children and young people about their faith in a way that makes it meaningful and relevant for them. I encourage all those who share our love of the Catholic Church to learn more about this new way to share our Catholic faith with children and young people.”
Ms Howe said the draft document was developed in dialogue with clergy, parents, teachers, educational leaders and students and remains open to ongoing review.
“The feedback from parents, parishioners, teachers, current students and clergy, will continue to be considered as part of this process,” she said.
Episcopal vicar for education and formation Father Christopher de Souza told The Catholic Weekly that the draft syllabus for secondary students “aims to teach them how to critique difficult issues in contemporary culture from a Catholic perspective, it is not an endorsement of things that go against the faith and morals of the Catholic Church”.
“My main concern is what the curriculum is putting forward is not clear on our faith and does not offer real guidance on Church teaching.”
In a letter to parents on 28 August Fr de Souza said that the diocese took its responsibility to teach students the faith in its schools “very seriously”.
“Unfortunately, some media outlets are not presenting the new curriculum accurately, particularly its teaching content,” he wrote. “I can assure everyone concerned that the New Draft Curriculum is firmly based in Catholic Scripture, Tradition and Context, focussed on sharing the faith with students as well as encouraging them to become attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible Catholic adults.
“The new approach…consists of looking to our Catholic faith for answers to challenging questions arising from different scenarios.”
The curriculum review process began in 2014 and has involved speaking to parents, clergy, teachers and students, Fr de Souza said. While the review process is not finalised, some schools are trialling the first draft and parents will be given the opportunity to share feedback before its official launch.
A facts page on the draft curriculum provided by the schools’ office says that “a very small section of our new curriculum involves 15 and 16 year-old adolescents (Year 10 only) exploring the Catholic view on issues like sexuality and gender identity”.
“This content will be age appropriate.”
Xavier College Llandilo principal Michael Pate said it had a good response to its trial of the new syllabus this year, saying it “removed the boredom of religion” for students.
Monique Falzon, a parent belonging to a primary school community in the Parramatta diocese, said she wants her children’s high school religious education to be focussed only on instilling a deep knowledge and appreciation of the Catholic faith.
“It should be quite clear on our Catholic faith and leave other questions up to the parents to answer,” she said. “My main concern is what the curriculum is putting forward is not clear on our faith and does not offer real guidance on Church teaching.
“In canon law in section 793 it says Catholic parents have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.