Voices Online Edition
January 1991 --- Volume VI, No. 1
Sex Education: The Parents' Perspective
By Margaret Whitehead
Editors Note: Among the most widely reported actions taken by the bishops at their November 1990 meeting was adoption of guidelines for sex education in Catholic schools.
It is important to note that the document the bishops adopted is not mandated, but is intended only to provide guidelines for development of human sexuality programs. During the question period at the conference Archbishop Pilarcyk confirmed that the guidelines are not mandatory.
One of the main areas of concern for Women for Faith & Family is Catholic sex-education. In fulfillment of their role as the primary, essential and irreplaceable teachers of their own children, many Catholic parents have studied the issue in some depth and have analyzed current textbooks in use in Catholic schools.
They have been dismayed to find evidence of naturalistic philosophy which overemphasizes the physical and emotional aspects of sexuality and ignores or downplays the spiritual, developmental and privacy needs of children. The teaching methodology in these textbooks often affirms mere subjective "choosing" over the moral law as taught by the Church as the basis of choice.
Many Catholic parents have experienced the erosion and even the denial of their parental rights as primary teachers of their children in some Catholic schools where these programs have been implemented. There is concern that the recently adopted guidelines for sex-education may aggravate rather than resolve these problems.
The title of the guidelines, "Human sexuality, a Catholic perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning," employs a phrase ('lifelong learning') which educators recognize as "buzzwords" of the naturalistic approach to sexuality which undermines the concept of chastity. Guidelines from Catholic bishops ought to recommend clearly an education for chastity, not a "Catholic perspective" on the naturalistic agenda of our society.
In the Catholic context, teaching about human sexuality has never been isolated from the larger context of faith, morality, redemption by Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the goals of the person -- the vocational goals of this earthly life and the supernatural goals of salvation and union with God. It is the primary responsibility of parents and the family to provide this education, as the Church's recent teaching on the family repeatedly emphasizes.
The 1983 Vatican document, Educational Guidance in Human Love, provides the guiding principles of a Catholic sex education. This catechesis is to be an 'education for chastity' which consists of formation in "self-control in the capacity of guiding the sexual instinct in the service of love and integrating it in the development of the person." [EGHL #18]
Chastity education forms the child in the "light of the mystery of Christ and of the Church" with respect to the first vocation of the Christian which is to love and that "vocation to love is realized in two diverse ways: marriage, or a life of celibacy for love of the kingdom." [EGHL #56]
Chastity education teaches moral norms that are necessary guides to Christian life and that motivate students to accept them. [EGHL #19,40,89] Chastity education presents human sexuality as positive when used properly, but does not minimize the problems caused by sin and temptation. [EGHL #35,44] Chastity education directs students to the necessary remedies to these dangers "rendered possible by divine grace through the word of God received in faith, through prayers, and...the sacraments," especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. [EGHL #45]
Chastity education is modest [#90] and recognizes the student's need for private, individual instruction on personal, intimate aspects of human sexuality. [#48,71,72]
Finally, chastity education recognizes that "Sex education, which is basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them." [Familiaris Consortio, #37 and EGHL #17,48,51,54,59,69,72,74,107,108,111.]
Clearly, then, the Church means to aid parents, not supplant them, in providing to children a "delicate and sensitive sex-education" [FC, also Charter for the Rights of the Family] which is reliably orthodox and uncompromisingly faithful to the Church's constant teaching regarding the nature and meaning of human sexuality.
Even though the guidelines are not mandatory, concern remains that there was insufficient consultation prior to their adoption. They were produced only with minimal consultation with un-named Catholic parents, by a panel whose identity was unknown, and without time for thorough investigation even by the bishops. Parents who believe their voices have been ignored and their essential rights as parents transgressed will find little reassurance in the process which produced the document.
Despite the unsuccessful attempt of several bishops to amend the guidelines during the brief time allotted to discussion and debate, and despite several amendments accepted earlier by the drafting committee which improved it, the impression persists that the document -- which will surely affect every Catholic family in the United States -- did not receive the consideration so important a subject with such far-reaching consequences deserved.
Therefore, many Catholic parents will continue to fear that their children's future is at risk.
But no guidelines, however good they may be, can substitute for the instruction that parents must give their children. This is their vocation, their right and their responsibility. Catholic parents should by all means avail themselves of the opportunity to use every gift of imagination, knowledge, talent and love in developing practical implementation of this critical part of each child's upbringing, making full use of papal teachings contained in Humanae Vitae, and the letters and exhortations Pope John Paul II has provided us.
Margaret Whitehead, who represented Voices at the November 1990 NCCB conference, has helped develop objectives for abstinence-based education in use in several public-Catholic schools in the D.C. area, and has also worked with Catholic parents on chastity programs. She is married to Kenneth Whitehead, and is the mother of four sons. The Whiteheads live in Fall Church, Virginia.
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