I thank and congratulate all associated with the production of this Report and Teachers’ Resource Book. These materials have been produced under the aegis of ACCORD. ACCORD, as you probably know, is the Catholic Marriage Care agency. It is tasked with helping couples who are preparing for marriage. But, ACCORD also helps people who are seeking to enrich their marriage, or who are experiencing difficulties in their marriage relationship. I thank especially, Fr John Hannan and Ms Deirdre O’Rawe, respectively National and Regional Directors of ACCORD.

ACCORD is a voluntary, predominantly lay organisation. I gladly avail of this opportunity to thank most sincerely the hundreds of ACCORD counsellors. They are attached to the fifty-seven (57) ACCORD centres throughout Ireland. Up and down the length and breadth of this country these marvellous people provide a voluntary, yet most professional, service in the promotion of a better understanding of marriage. They do so at considerable inconvenience to themselves. Their work involves a huge investment of time as they generously help people to initiate, sustain and enrich their marriage and family relationships. People in difficulty seek their help. The ACCORD counsellors patiently and confidentially offer counselling and support in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The marriage relationships and the family life of a huge number of people, would be so much the poorer without the wonderful help of ACCORD.

ACCORD also offers help to schools. In June 2001 ACCORD Northern Ireland secured funding from the Community Fund of the National Lottery. I thank the Community Fund in the person of Professor Kearney for this funding. The purpose of this funding was to appoint an Education Officer. His name is Michael McGowan. Michael’s brief is to formulate a Catholic approach to teaching relationships and sexuality education at post-primary level.

(That same summer, the summer of 2001, all schools in Northern Ireland received a circular from the Department of Education calling for the provision of relationships and sexuality education. So, the task of the Education Officer is to ensure that such a programme will be developed for the Catholic Post-Primary sector).

ACCORD therefore aims to produce a programme that will help to meet many of the needs in this area. ACCORD works in partnership with parents, teachers, pupils, Diocesan Advisers, education bodies and other professionals.

The first step in the provision of this programme is the publications which are being launched today.
A major piece of research has been carried out by Dr Catherine Loughrey, who has examined the attitudes, the beliefs and experiences of the Catholic community in the area of relationships and sexual education. Another part of that first step is the publication of a Teachers’ Resources Book, written by Michael McGowan himself. It is first and foremost a summary and an analysis of the research, which has been undertaken. It explains the reasons why RSE should be taught in schools as well as in the home. It sets down the parameters of the programme. It suggests an approach to sensitive issues while addressing the practicalities of implementing the programme.

I thank and congratulate Dr Loughery and Michael McGowan and all who assisted them.
Step two is the provision of video pack with materials for teachers and pupils.

Step three is a training programme for parents and for teachers delivered by ACCORD personnel. This training programme for parents is most important. Parents are the first teachers of their children. This training programme will show how the school can assist and support parents and guardians as they discharge this important responsibility.

The title of the resource book is, Love Rejoices in the Truth. The challenge that faces every parent, every educator, every teacher, is to speak the truth. It is to speak the truth about human relationships and to speak the truth about human sexuality. The truth is that sexuality is a very important part of every human person. It is a gift given to us by our Creator, something good therefore. The Christian vision is that human sexuality has been seriously wounded by sin, but sin no longer has the last word because Christ has redeemed us and has redeemed our sexuality.

The happiness and the quality of our lives here on earth depends to a large extent, on the quality of the relationships which we manage to build with other people. That takes time and effort and understanding and patience. Above all, it takes respect, respect for the other person. I suggest that to understand human sexuality and its place in our lives and in our relationships with other people, we need to refer to the Maker’s manual, the book of instructions. Fortunately, we have got that in the revelation which God, the Creator of each one of us, has given to us. We find it in the Church, which has been given the task, by Jesus Christ who is the fullness of God’s revelation, to go teach all nations.

The truth is that human sexuality concerns the innermost being of the human person. Sexual activity is one of the most intimate forms of bodily behaviour. That behaviour is, or should be, the expression of a profoundly intimate personal relationship, and should take place within marriage, which is the most profoundly intimate human relationship. In marriage, two people commit themselves to being close to each other in all circumstances until death. Obviously such a union should be built on an intimate form of friendship and love. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Three years ago Columba Press in Dublin published a book called When Strangers Marry. It is a study of marriage breakdown in Ireland. It is based on the experience of eighty marriages that ended in separation. Now you might think that strangers marrying is a thing of the past. However, the facts suggest otherwise. We may not have progressed, as much as we would like to believe, from the days of the matchmaker. In those days couples sometimes met for the first time at the foot of the altar. And of course it doesn’t rest easily with our concept of modern living, that a man and a woman would marry without knowing each other.

When Strangers Marry, shows two lovely young people, dressed in their wedding gear, stepping up to the altar, blindfolded. It is suggesting that couples can still stand side by side in the presence of God, family and friends and commit themselves to a life long relationship with someone they do not know – a stranger. This study of eighty marriages, which ended in separation, looks at the couples’ childhood, their courtship, their married life, their unhappiness leading to separation. By finding common elements in the experience of these couples it aims at a fuller understanding of why marriages fail. The author, Albert McDonnell, found that most of the couples married without actually giving much serious thought to what they were doing.

And so the marriage, which depends on an inter-personal relationship, was always at risk due to the failure to create a close inter-personal union in courtship. “The most striking factor in every case” he says was “the pain and the suffering that separation had brought to the couples themselves and to so many others”.

I hope that those of you who are teachers will find this material very useful as you go about your noble work of helping young people grow into maturity. You don’t need me to remind you that education is about developing all the talents of the pupils entrusted to your care. Yes, it is about developing the physical gifts, hence the importance of PE and games, and of course it is also about preparing for and passing examinations in order to develop intellectual gifts. It is also about developing their moral talents.

That involves giving people a sense of responsibility and teaching them how to use their freedom wisely and well. In other words, it is about the formation of conscience and the formation of character. We form character by directing our freedom to loyalties outside of ourselves. Christian character, for example, is formed by directing our freedom to the life and words of Jesus Christ. But education is also about the formation of conscience. Conscience is formed in dialogue with several sources of human wisdom. As human beings we consult our own human experience as well as the experience of others. Hence the value of surveys. As Christians we turn to the Scriptures and to the lives of people who led outstanding moral lives. As Catholics we pay attention to our rich heritage of stories and practices as well as to the official teaching of the Church. Pope John Paul repeats the teaching of the Vatican Council – “In forming their conscience the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church”.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus taught with authority. He also taught with courage and love. One day someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life”? Jesus said to him, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”. As we walk the path of life there is always an echo of that question. What good must I do to have eternal life? Each one of us must address that question to the good teacher. To make the encounter with Christ, the good teacher possible, God willed His Church.

The Church exists so that each one of us may be able to find Christ and know Christ in order that He may be able to walk with each one of us the path of life and answer our questions. He is the only one who can answer them with the fullness of truth. When Christians ask Him that question, which rises from their conscience, the Lord now replies in the words and wisdom, which he has entrusted to his Church. May we all strive to teach with authority and win for ourselves not only the title ‘good teacher’, but also the prize of eternal life.

I warmly congratulate all concerned on these fine publications. They will, I know, prove to be invaluable resources for post-primary school teachers. I am convinced that they will contribute to many young people becoming more responsible, confident and mature in their approach to relationships and sexuality. A wonderful service has been done.