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Voices Online Edition

Sex Education:
The Catholic Scene

by Margaret M. Whitehead

Chapter 1

Chapters 2 & 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Appendix & Conclusion


CLASSROOM SEX EDUCATION, whether in Catholic or public schools, is one of the major concerns of Catholic families. In November, 1990, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) approved a pastoral document, Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning, which provided "instructional guidelines" for sex education in the Catholic schools. The Guidelines were not unanimously supported by the bishops, however; and classroom sex education in Catholic schools has become highly controversial among Catholic parents and pastors -- so controversial, in fact, that some parents have called for an all-out ban on any sex education in the classroom.

While it is generally agreed that the Catholic school should help parents and children deal with the current moral crisis in our society, there is concern that Church authorities have not yet arrived at an adequate solution to the problem in all its dimensions. Finding such a solution to this increasingly complex problem will require that all proposals for sex/morality instruction of Catholic school students be subjected to prudent and careful examination and evaluation by bishops and clergy, in consultation with parents.

In view of the critical importance of this subject today, we present the following review of the history of classroom sex education in the Catholic schools in the United States, and analysis of recent Church documents on the subject, with particular emphasis on Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning.

Following this, some specific recommendations for dealing with the current situation will be presented.

The author of this study, Margaret M. Whitehead, has taught in both Catholic and public schools at the elementary and high school level, as well as in adult education and parent education programs. Since 1972, she has worked with parent groups and diocesan committees developing curricula for programs in the Washington, D.C., Arlington, VA, and New York dioceses.

In 1986, Mrs. Whitehead and Dr. Onalee McGraw started an educational consulting organization, Educational Guidance Institute, Inc. They worked as consultants to Catholic parishes interested in teaching chastity outside of school hours to junior-high students accompanied by their parents. They also worked with public school teachers and administrators who were interested in teaching pre-marital abstinence to their students.

The Educational Guidance Institute, Inc. (EGI), received a grant from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop and teach an abstinence-based curriculum for parent-teen family life education programs in 1987. The resulting program, called the Challenge Program, aims to teach pre-marital abstinence in an age-appropriate way with family involvement. The program has been presented in communities in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and has received positive evaluations from both parents and students.

Mrs. Whitehead and Dr. McGraw co-authored a book on this work in the public sector, Foundations of Family Life Education: A Guidebook for Professionals and Parents, published in 1991, with a grant from the Domino Foundation, by EGI, Inc., 188 Berbusse Lane, Front Royal, VA, 22630-5077.

Mrs. Whitehead, who has represented Women for Faith & Family at various meetings in the Washington, D.C. area, and is a member of the Voices editorial board, has a B.A. in English from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan; took postgraduate courses in education at the University of Detroit; and received a Master's degree in Religious Studies from the New York Archdiocesan Catechetical Institute. She is married to Kenneth D. Whitehead, and is the mother of four sons. From her home in Falls Church, Virginia, she continues to speak, teach, and do research and writing in the field of education.

May, 1993

DURING THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops [NCCB] held in Washington D.C. in November 1990, a controversial document on classroom sex education was passed by a very narrow margin: Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, "a set of instructional guidelines for a 'positive and prudent sexual education' in a Catholic Context".1

Although the bishops had received the lengthy Guidelines only three weeks prior to the November meeting, and the process of writing this document had been extended, both urgency and secrecy surrounded its presentation to the bishops' conference for approval. Some bishops expressed surprise at finding printed on the cover: "No permission is given for the reproduction of this text for any purpose or for any person". The full membership of the task force responsible for producing the Guidelines was also kept secret -- even from the bishops themselves. This is not the usual method of handling draft documents at the Bishops' Conference. Bishop Austin Vaughn (Auxiliary, New York) expressed concern during the conference discussions about the secrecy.

According to Bishop William Newman (Auxiliary, Baltimore), Chairman of the Task Force2 that produced the Guidelines, the secrecy was necessary in order to get people to focus on the document itself and not on who had produced it. He said he believed the Task Force had been representative of all members of the Church and "sensitive" to all concerns.3 Bishop Austin Vaughn was not alone in criticizing the unusual secrecy that surrounded the document. However, a narrow majority of the bishops voted to approve an official document that they had had very little time to review, no permission to consult with others about, and virtually no information about who had written it or whose views it represented. Because of the importance of the Guidelines in influencing curricula for Catholic schools, consideration of the origins of Catholic sex education and a critical look at the content of this document is in order.

Background: Classroom Sex Education in Catholic Schools
SYSTEMATIC CLASSROOM SEX EDUCATION is an educational innovation of the twentieth century. At least until the late 1960s, official opinions of Church authorities about this method of moral education and formation were cautious to the point of being negative. For example:

A word also on the method sometimes employed by the psychologist to set "ego" free from its inhibitions, in the case of sexual aberrations in the sexual field. We refer to complete sexual initiation, which would not pass over anything in silence, leaving nothing obscure. Is there not a harmful exaggeration of the value of knowledge in these matters? There is, however, an affective sexual education which, quite safely, teaches calmly and objectively what the young person should know for his own personal conduct and his relationship with those with whom he is brought into contact. (Pius XII Allocution to the 5th Congress of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology. April 13, 1953.)

In this extremely delicate matter, if all things considered, some private instruction is found necessary and opportune, from those who hold from God the commission to teach and who have the grace of state, every precaution must be taken. (Pius XI, Christian Education of Youth, 1929.)

The popes were calling, quite clearly, for "prudent and positive" chastity education and formation done by the parents in the heart of the family and on an individual basis.4 The Second Vatican Council expressed this view distinctly and succinctly when it said:

Especially in the heart of their own families, young people should be aptly and seasonably instructed about the dignity, duty and expression of married love. Trained thus in the cultivation of chastity, they will be able, at a suitable age, to enter a marriage of their own after an honorable courtship.5

In 1968, the bishops of the United States began to consider another approach, a "systematic provision of such education [sex education] in the diocesan school curriculum or educational programs under other diocesan auspices, including the CCD".6 This was evidently intended as assistance to the family, not as a usurpation of the family's primary role in instructing their children. It is not evident, however, that the bishops first consulted with Catholic parents to determine whether they actually wanted this assistance from the Catholic schools, or to find out what kind of assistance might be most helpful to them and most appropriate for Catholic children.

In 1970, the first Catholic series for classroom sex education was published by the Benziger Publishing Company.7 Called the Becoming a Person program, this series was found to be very inadequate and "naturalistic" by many, and in the ensuing controversies it disappeared from sight only to be replaced by a new Benziger Family Life Program, Grades 1-8, not much improved.8 Other publishing companies entered the field, notably the William C. Brown Co. with the New Creation series, Reverence for Life and Family and Valuing Values: Sexuality Education in the Catholic Tradition. All of these programs caused controversy and some of them were subject to several revisions in order to reduce the amount of explicit sexual information and graphics and to increase the number of references to Catholic teaching.9 The complaints about these programs (and others not listed here) came mainly from parents, the people who were theoretically the ones being "assisted", but also from pastors, theologians and bishops.10

While these controversies were going on at the grass roots level, both the American bishops and the Vatican continued to issue a series of documents that included guidance on these issues. In 1972, the American bishops issued a pastoral letter, To Teach as Jesus Did, which recognized "the value and necessity of wisely planned education of children in human sexuality", the aim of which was "not to supplant parents but to help them fulfill their obligations".11 This document recognized the primary role and responsibility of parents; but it also approved family life education programs in Catholic schools if they met with parental approval.12 Parental approval, however, is defined in a rather limited way. Parents are merely "to be informed about the content of such programs and to be assured that the diocesan-approved textbooks and other instructional materials meet the requirements of propriety"13 (emphasis added). Parents who might not be satisfied by these concessions were admonished to control their "anxiety" and avoid disrupting "responsible efforts to provide formal education for the young" since they might "violate the rights of other, no less conscientious, parents who ask for such instruction for their own children".14 In other words, parents who found the programs objectionable were enjoined to allow their rights to be violated and usurped. It is hardly surprising that they felt anxious.

Whatever the intentions of the bishops, this formulation clearly did not resolve any of the actual conflicts that were going on at that time -- and that continue to the present. Being informed and assured that a sex-education program is acceptable is not the same thing as being permitted to carry out the primary and inalienable parental responsibilities in the area of sex education. Allowing for the fulfillment of the wishes of parents desiring classroom sex education for their children while denying the rights of parents who do not is hardly an equitable solution, leaving aside the major problem of how the decision is made that a particular kind of sex education meets the "requirements of propriety".

In 1978, the American bishops issued a major catechetical document, Sharing the Light of Faith, National Catechetical Directory for Catholics of the United States. In this document, the bishops drew attention to the primacy of the parental role in education in human sexuality and to the importance of "the role of self-control, self-discipline, prayer, the reception of the sacraments, and devotion to the Blessed Mother, model of chastity, as elements in developing a Christian approach to sexuality".15 This document emphasized the role of the Church in helping parents to catechize their own children. It also recognized the parental role in "planning, presenting and evaluating programs" in the schools.

But then the qualifications start: "especially those [parents] with some special familiarity with education in sexuality" are to be involved in the programs.16 Parents are allowed to object to programs only if they have "well-founded convictions and accurate information", as judged, apparently, by those who are implementing the programs; and only then may they remove their child from the program, if that is possible.

As in To Teach as Jesus Did, parents are not to be allowed to object to classroom sex education in general nor to interfere with the apparently superior rights of those parents who wish classroom sex education for their children.17

This pattern of verbally affirming parental rights as primary and essential, and then qualifying those rights out of existence has continued down to the present. Such a de facto reversal of the authentic relationship that should exist between parents and schools has caused conflict and controversy for twenty-five years. Ironically, it is the parents who object to the schools' programs, rather than those who arbitrarily impose these programs, who are accused of divisiveness.

In 1981, the USCC issued guidelines for Catholic sex education, Education in Human Sexuality for Christians. These guidelines also elicited a negative response from many parents, pastors and theologians and were never approved by the bishops; but since they were issued by an official committee of the bishops' conference, they were widely used in educational circles.18

The complaints made against this document were essentially the same as those made against the textbooks and methods used in classroom sex education since they first began to appear. A list of the most frequent problems include the following:

1. The philosophical basis is Freudian, naturalistic and secular;
2. Catholic teaching is absent or weak;
3. Commentary on Original Sin, personal sin and temptation is either absent or tepidly presented;
4. Objective morality, right and wrong, and the Commandments are undermined by the way they are presented when they are not absent altogether;
5. Conscience formation and moral decision-making are insufficiently grounded in truth and objective morality;
6. The two-fold meaning and purpose of marriage and the marriage act as being, inseparably, life-giving and love-giving is absent or minimized;
7. The saints, sacraments, personal prayer and the practice of virtue and self-discipline have almost disappeared;
8. The developmental stages of children are ignored or abused;
9. Modesty and privacy are ignored;
10. Contemporary feminist ideas about the roles of men and women are promoted and traditional roles devalued or discarded;
11. The role of the family and parents is usurped, and the rights of parents to supervise and control their own children's sex education is, in practice, denied.


Familiaris Consortio Appears
Also in 1981, following the 1980 Synod on the Family, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Exhortation, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio). This extremely important document contains a thorough anthropological and theological explanation of the true significance and importance of the Christian family. The Pope comments on the issue of sex education briefly and significantly. He describes sex education as "education in love as self-giving" which cannot be linked "solely with the body and with selfish pleasure", but which must be "education for chastityfor it is a virtue which develops a person's authentic maturity and makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the 'nuptial meaning' of the body."

Christian parents are also asked to discern "the signs of God's call" and to "devote special attention and care to education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality." (Emphasis added).19 When human sexuality "manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love", it then becomes an enrichment of the person.

Pope John Paul II also reaffirms the parental role in giving "their children a clear and delicate sex education", and he opposes the "widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral principle. That would merely be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity -- while still in the years of innocence -- by opening the way to vice".20

In this document, the pope accepts the possibility of some form of classroom education but only if it is truly under the control of the parents:

Sex education, which is a 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. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering the same spirit that animates the parents.21 (Emphasis added)

In this papal document, it is the role of the school that is qualified, limited and determined by parental decisions. However, in the United States, both in theory and in practice it has been the parental role that has been qualified, limited and overshadowed by the role of the national educational bureaucracy.


Educational Guidance in Human Love
In 1983, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education released a new document, Educational Guidance in Human Love (EGHL), which was designed "to examine the pedagogic aspect of sex education, indicating appropriate guidelines for the integral formation of a Christian, according to the vocation of each". This education is to "aim at the formation of the human person with respect to his ultimate goal".22

EGHL includes guidelines for the school and allows for discussion in groups "with precautions ... above all if they are mixed" (EGHL #72). This aspect of classroom education is to be carried out in a "strict collaboration between the school and family" and under the guidance of the bishop. It is clear that according to EGHL, small group discussions are not understood to be ordinary, routine occurrences in formal classroom sex education.

The pedagogic guidelines given for the classroom in EGHL are not doctrinal matters, they are practical recommendations -- and parents, teachers and professionals might well find some of them debatable. However, EGHL does make many good recommendations and does, in fact, place many restrictions on sex education in the classroom. In the first place, EGHL is clear and consistent in maintaining that the role of the school is first and foremost one of "cooperation" with parents.23 "It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents".24

EGHL also encourages the "openness and collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation" (EGHL #51). Parents, obviously, will have no trouble collaborating with educators who understand that the parental role is primary and that teachers are assisting the parents and entering into the "same spirit that animates the parents".25 The term "co-responsible", sometimes used in this document and much more frequently used in the latest guidelines issued by the American bishops, cannot be interpreted to mean co-equal since the school's responsibility is delegated by the parents, and EGHL emphasizes the primary, dominant role of the parents throughout the document.26

Following is a brief summary of some essential points about education in chastity that are made in EGHL:

1. Chastity education (sex education) must see the student as a child of God being formed "with respect for his ultimate goal", (EGHL #1), and is to be carried out "with a complete Christian formation in view" (EGHL #111).

2. Chastity education must "illustrate the positive values of sexuality, integrating them with those of virginity and marriage, in the light of the mystery of Christ and the Church" (EGHL #56). Human sexuality is positive when used properly and connected with the profound values of authentic love (#56) and "the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ" (EGHL #35).

3. Chastity Education emphasizes the foundational vocations to self-giving love either in marriage or celibacy (EGHL #18, 26, 30, 31, 32, 33, 36, 56) and to the supernatural vocation of the "divine life".

"It is only in the Mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear", and human existence acquires its full meaning in the vocation to the divine life. Only by following Christ does man respond to this vocation and so become fully man, growing finally to reach the perfect man in the measure approaching the full maturity of Christ". (EGHL #29, ref. Ephesians 4:13)

4. In teaching about the vocations to marriage and celibacy, chastity education emphasizes the primacy of consecrated virginity because "virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven better expresses the gift of Christ to the Father on behalf of us and prefigures with greater precision the reality of eternal life, all substantiated in charity" (EGHL #31).

5. Chastity education also teaches that sacramental marriage is a vocation "oriented to unity and fecundity, the married man and woman participate in the creative love of God, living in communion with Him through the other" (EGHL #26, 30).

6. Chastity education must also teach moral norms which are necessary and which "one must not violate" (EGHL #19) and it should motivate students to accept these norms (EGHL #19, 40, 89, 95).

7. Chastity education does not minimize the problems caused by sin and the very real dangers of temptation, (EGHL #27, 28, 35, 44, 66), as well as the necessary remedies "rendered possible by divine grace through the Word of God received in faith, through prayers andthe sacraments. In the first place is the Eucharist [and] The Sacrament of Reconciliation [which] not only reinforces the capacity for resistance to evil but also gives the courage to pick oneself up after a fall" (EGHL #45, 46, 100).

8. Chastity education should motivate students to live a chaste life in union with Christ, through prayer and through the examples of the Blessed Mother and the Saints (EGHL #46, 47, 91).

9. Chastity education recognizes the student's need for private, individual instruction on personal, intimate aspects of human sexuality, preferably within the family (EGHL #48, 58, 71, 72, 90, 109).

10. Chastity education uses only age-appropriate content and classroom methods which do not invade the privacy or offend the "decency" of the student. "Modesty has great pedagogic weight and must therefore be respected" (EGHL #90). Although EGHL allows for group discussion, there are many restrictions placed on this method and on the textbooks and audio-visual materials to be used in order to prevent "traumatic impressions or raise an unhealthy curiousity which leads to evil" (EGHL #76).27 The type of open-ended group discussion which is so common in many sex education classes and which focuses on private, intimate feelings and subjective opinions concerning objective moral and physical realities is one example of a teaching methodology that would seem to be unacceptable under these guides.

11. Chastity teachers are required to have "affective maturity", "scientific knowledge" (EGHL #79), and "psychopedagogic training" (EGHL #81). They are to have "An exact and complete vision of the meaning and value of sexuality" (EGHL #79), some kind of "general formation" (EGHL #80) that prepares them to adapt the teaching to the individual (EGHL #84) and they are to "be attentive to the stages of physical and psychological growth" (EGHL #87), and must "remember the influence of parents: their preoccupation with this dimension of education, the particular character of family education, their concept of life, and their degree of openness to other educational spheres" (EGHL #87, emphasis added). Teachers are "not to separate knowledge from corresponding values" and they are to give the "raison d'etre and value" of moral norms (EGHL #89, emphasis added).

The recommended teacher training (see 11, above) does not seem entirely consistent with the other requirements of chastity education, since it greatly emphasizes secular goals with only a vague reference to Christian "raison d'etre and values". The suggestions for training of teachers also fails to give any concrete guidelines for accepting and supporting the parental role -- it only "remembers" their influence.

In the Conclusion of EGHL (#106-111), the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, William, Cardinal Baum, states that the "actual sociocultural situation" requires "positive and gradual affective sex education.... Silence is not a valid norm of conduct in this matter, above all when one thinks of the 'hidden persuaders' which use insinuating language". He emphasizes the important role of the parents in almost every paragraph of the Conclusion. He allows for a role for the school in one paragraph and then only if education is "carried out in agreement with the family" (EGHL #108). In the last paragraph (#111), Cardinal Baum calls upon the Episcopal Conferences to promote a unified approach to this "important sector for the future of young people and the good of society."

"Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education"
In 1988, a task force under the direction of Bishop William C. Newman, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, was set up to revise the USCC's 1981 Education in Human Sexuality for Christians guidelines in light of the above directives given by Rome in EGHL and the 1983 revision of The Code of Canon Law.28 This task force was established by the USCC Committee on Education and included five bishops: Bishop Newman, Thomas Welsh of Allentown, James McHugh of Camden, Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, and France DiLorenzo, auxiliary bishop of Scranton. The twenty-four member task force was said to consist of "professional persons, representing the episcopacy, parents, and the field of catechetics, religious education, human sciences, mental health, family life, moral theology and bioethics".29 The complete membership of the task force was not revealed.

In presenting the document produced by the task force, Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning (Guidelines), Bishop Newman said that it was intended to provide only "guidelines",30 did not carry the authority of a pastoral letter, and that the guidelines were not mandatory.31 The Introduction to the Guidelines states somewhat tentatively:

This document is offered as our contribution to the ongoing discussion about what it means to be mature sexual persons -- physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually whole.32

Similar tentativeness is expressed in the Epilogue of these guidelines: "This pastoral document is not the last word on the subject of human sexuality, but we believe it is an important word" (p.83).

The following comments are meant to be part of that discussion and a contribution to the "next word" that the bishops may make on the topic of human sexuality and formal classroom sex education. For purposes of clarity, comments will follow the structure of the document, beginning with the Introduction.


"Human Sexuality" Guidelines -- Introduction
The introduction to Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning [Guidelines] states that "This document is a foundational one focusing on the human values, scriptural roots, Christian moral principles, and Catholic theology that underlie curricular policy making ... we have chosen to develop this document primarily according to scriptural values and church teachings" (p. 2). It is directed primarily to "diocesan leaders in their service to parents, parishes, and other church-related institutions as they design and implement programs of formal instruction in human sexuality from a Catholic perspective" (p. 2; emphasis added).

The introduction affirms the "Catholic educational tradition", which holds that parents have "the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children".33 But it immediately affirms, also, the rights of just about everyone else to educate children: "Among these wider influences are schools, religious education, the media, society at large, and the Church (at the parish, diocesan, national, and universal levels".

The document indicates that the Church is going to perform various services for parents: adult education, marriage preparation, preparing catechetical materials to be used in the home (but only for "very young children") and, of course, formal school programs in human sexuality prepared "in cooperation with parents" (p. 3). One of these services is directed to the public schools: "Finally, Catholic church leaders and professional educators also can assist parents and public schools in designing programs for sexuality education that are values-based" (pp. 3, 4; emphasis added).


Family models: Are they all equally good?
The very next paragraph in the Introduction seems to indicate that one of the values to be promoted in Catholic and public schools is the unquestioning acceptance of the equal value of all family models currently found in our nation.

This is one of the few references to family models in a document proposing guidelines for family life education, and it offers no clear definition of what a family is or should be. No judgment is offered about two-parent families, single-parent families, blended families, divorce or separation.34 The effect on individuals, the Church and society of the various "models" is not considered either from the Catholic or the social perspective. The only recommendation made is:

to encourage family life specialists and sexuality educators from the various special communities within this country to translate the universal values, principles and norms we propose here into sexuality education programs and materials that will meet the specific needs of individuals, families, and communities (p. 4).

At this point in the Introduction, there is no reference either in the text or the footnotes to the documents that the Church has already prepared for the Catholic and the secular world on family values and the value of the intact family: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio), 1981 and the Charter of the Rights of the Family, 1983. Both documents were issued by the Holy See and both give clear guidance to Catholics and to the world on the role and significance of the family.

Although there are many references throughout the Guidelines to the importance of the social sciences, the support Catholic teaching receives from current research on the importance of the stable, two-parent family for children and for society is never utilized in the document.

Compassion and pastoral concern for parents and children in difficult family situations is essential, of course, but this concern should not override the need to teach about and promote the intact, two-parent family for all children. Current social science research is emphatic on this point.35 For example, a 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute states:

As we shall see, a large body of evidence supports the conclusion that in the aggregate, the intact two-parent family is best-suited to the task [of providing for the economic and moral well-being of children].... Our point is that at the level of statistical aggregates and society-wide phenomena, significant differences do emerge between one-parent and two-parent families, differences that can and should shape our understanding of social policy.36

Students of today will form the families of tomorrow, and they need to know and aim at the best. Many families which find themselves in less than ideal conditions do a heroic job in raising their children and they need to be encouraged and supported. However, it is a reality that individuals and society do better when the intact family is the dominant social cell.... "The family is the only social institution that is present in every single village, tribe, or nation we know throughout history. It has a genetic base and is the rearing device for our species." ["Ethologist", Phon Hudkins]37

And yet, neither the extensive social science support for promoting the stable, intact, two-parent family, nor the fullness of Catholic teaching about the family formed by an indissoluble sacramental marriage, is clearly taught anywhere in this document issued by the bishops of the United States.

The actual framework to be used in writing and teaching classroom sex education (page 88 of the Appendix to the Guidelines) repeats the emphasis found in the Introduction on "Family Diversity", using nearly the same words:

Families take many forms and configurations today: nuclear, extended, single or multiple generations, two-parent, single-parent, single-earner, dual-earner, dual-career, childless, blended, divorced and separated families. It is important for diocesan leaders to address various family models in services rendered.

"Services rendered" are not the same thing as teaching given to Catholic or public school children. The guidance given here needs to address itself to the issue of teaching -- these are supposed to be education guidelines after all -- and should utilize the documents and facts that support authentic teaching in this area of family life.


Parental Involvement
There is a pro forma recommendation that parents be fully involved "at every step in the process -- planning, implementation, and evaluation" in sexuality education "in the home or in a more formal setting or in some combination of the two". This principle of full involvement of parents was not observed in the preparation and writing of the Guidelines, however. In fact, as noted above, the full membership of the task-force was never disclosed. No serious attempt was made to enlist the contribution of the many Catholic parents who will be deeply affected by any classroom sex education. Participation of parents in the development of these critically important programs is seldom if ever observed at the grass roots (parish, diocesan) level either.

The Introduction also calls for a "continual process" of sex education throughout life in order to value and safeguard human life "from the moment of conception"; to allow for the "need to relate sexual feelings with the Christian call to love and to be loved"; to serve as "an invitation for each of us to grow and develop as morally mature sexual beings, whatever our age or calling in life." (p. 5).


Catholic Guidance or "Generic" Guidelines?
Near the end of the Introduction, the Guidelines are addressed to all Christians, Jews and "all people of good will who may find solidarity with us in this search for a healthy and wholesome approach to living our human sexuality". Yet at the beginning of the Introduction, the writers state that these are guidelines developed in a "Catholic context", based primarily on "scriptural values and Church teaching". This seems incompatible with a generalized "search" for an appropriate approach to "living our human sexuality".

The bishops' target audience is unclear. They can develop a teaching document for Catholics (as Pope John Paul II did in Familiaris Consortio); they can decide to make a statement to the general public on related issues (as the Holy See did with the Charter of the Rights of the Family aimed "at presenting to all our contemporaries, be they Christian or not, a formulation ... of the fundamental rights that are inherent in that natural and universal society which is the family")38; or they can join with "all people of good will" to "search" for practical solutions to certain practical problems. But all this cannot be accomplished in the same document. It is important that the bishops decide which of these alternatives (teaching document, policy statement, or search for approaches) they intend to follow. The integrity and internal coherence of this document is seriously compromised by its lack of focus.


A Catholic Perspective?
The Remainder of the Introduction gives an overview of the five chapters and the Appendix found at the end of the document.

In reading through Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, it soon became apparent that the "Catholic Perspective" is not the only perspective presented. The style of writing and organization of topics make the Guidelines very difficult to read. (For this, if for no other reason, it is unsatisfactory.) Because of this, it may not be immediately apparent that there is more than one philosophy operative.

A busy person (e.g., a bishop), reviewing the Guidelines to ascertain whether certain basic Catholic teachings are covered, might, at first glance, be pleased to find that it alludes to such basic teachings as the existence of objective right and wrong, the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse, the immorality of sexual intercourse outside of marriage, the promotion of Natural Family Planning as the only moral way to limit families, Original Sin, the need for Jesus and divine help, and the need to practice discernment or conscience formation. What a superficial examination will not reveal is the confusing context and somewhat feeble manner of presenting Catholic teaching, accompanied by presentation of another philosophy. The fact is that while these important Catholic teachings are mentioned in the Guidelines, they are inadequately integrated into the text and do not provide a coherent Catholic vision.


1. Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning; United States Catholic Conference, Washington, D.C., 1990., page 1. This document will be referred to in the following text as "Guidelines," or "HS Guidelines".
2. Other members of the Episcopacy on the Task Force, in addition to Bishop Newman, were Bishops Thomas Welsh (Allentown), James McHugh (Camden), James Fiorenza (Galveston-Houston), and Francis X. DiLorenzo (Auxiliary, Scranton).
3. Comments made by Bishop William Newman, Baltimore, at the Bishops' Conference, November, 1990 and in a personal conversation November, 1991.
4. Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II, 1981: "Education in love as self-giving is also the indispensable premise for parents called to give their children a clear and delicate sex education" (#37); Educational Guidance in Human Love, Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1983: "Education, in the first place, is the duty of the family, which is 'the school of richest humanity'. It is, in fact, the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making acceptable without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrate them harmoniously in a balanced and rich personality". (#48)
5. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, #49.
6. NCCB/USCC, Human Life in Our Day, A Pastoral Letter, 11-15-58, Washington D.C.
7. The author of Becoming a Person was a Catholic priest, Reverend Walter Imbiorski; General editors, Rita Strubbe and Frances Marzec; Consultants, Reverend James McHugh, Family Life Department, USCC, Mary Perkins Ryan, Elizabeth McKinstry, Patricia Ford and John Gallagher. In 1975, Father Imbiorski left the active priesthood and contracted a civil marriage with his collaborator, Frances Marzec. Reverend James McHugh is now Bishop of Camden, NJ, and North American representative of the Pontifical Council on the Family. Bishop McHugh also served on the Task Force which produced the 1990 Human Sexuality Guidelines.
8. In 1979, in Washington D.C., the Archdiocesan Committee for Doctrine found the Benziger Family Life Program "not at all adequate" for use in Catholic classrooms. "The principal deficiency in this series is the failure to place the mystery of human sexuality within the mystery of Christ and His redemptive deeds".
9. The New Creation sex education program was revised in 1987 and again in 1988.
10. Cardinal Edward Gagnon, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican City, in a letter to Rose Marie Henessey, Superintendent of schools, Diocese of Oakland, October 1988, stated that he believed that the New Creation program was so filled with errors that attempts to revise the series would prove "unsatisfactory". See also The Wanderer, September 21, 1989: "In a recent letter to a Catholic couple on the East Coast, Cardinal Gagnon repeated his opposition to New Creation and encouraged parents to continue to express their concerns to the Vatican. In his letter, Cardinal Gagnon ... described New Creation as a 'travesty of sex education...'" and the Dec. 14, 1989 Wanderer, p.6, "The New Creation Debacle" by Randy Engel.
11. To Teach as Jesus Did, USCC, 1972 #57.
12. Ibid., #56, 57.
13. Ibid., #57
14. Ibid., #57
15. USCC, #191, Sharing the Light of Faith, National Catechetical Directory, 1978.
16. Ibid., #191.
17. Ibid., #191.
18. Opposition to USCC Education in Human Sexuality for Christians was expressed by the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Catholics United for the Faith, and the U.S. Coalition for Life among others. The U.S. Coalition for Life was responsible for producing the booklet, A Crititque of the USCC Sex Education Guidelines, by Randy Engel, in 1981.
19. Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, (Familiaris Consortio), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #37.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Educational Guidance in Human Love. Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Vatican City, 1983. p. 5.
23. Ibid., #15, #17, #54, #69, #74, #107, #108.
24. Ibid., #69.
25. Op. cit., Familiaris Consortio, #37. See also Charter of the Rights of the Family, 1983, Article 5, paragraph e.
26. See, for example, #15, #17, #48, #51, #54, #58, #59, #69, #74, #106, #107, #108, #111.
27. Other sections which support these points are found in EGHL #58, #71, #72, #84, #85, #87, #90, #109.
28. The Catholic Review, March 7, 1990, "Bishop Newman heading task force revising sex ed guidelines," page 6.
29. Agenda Report Documentation for General Meeting, National Conference of Catholic Bishops and United States Catholic Conference, November 12-15, 1990, Washington D.C., p. 190, and in Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, USCC, Washington, D.C., 1991, p.2.
30. Discussion on the floor of the Bishops' Conference, November 14, 1990.
31. Conversation with Bishop Newman at press conference on Novermber 14, 1990. This point was also made at the final press conference on November 15, 1990 by Archbishop Pilarczyk. He stated, in answer to a question by a reporter, that the Guidelines were meant to be helpful if a bishop chose to use them; they are not mandatory.
32. Op. cit., Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning, p.6.
33. Ibid., p.3 and also found in Charter of the Rights of the Family, article 5 and similar statements in Declaration on Christian Education, #3; Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #11; Familiaris Consortio, #36, #37.
34. Ed. Note: The "Third Consultation Draft" of a proposed pastoral letter on the family, "Follow the Way of Love," presents similar "family models." The 1980 "White House Conference on Families" bogged down when delegates could not agree on a definition of family. The attempt to include a wide variety of living arrangements within the concept of "family" continues to be debated, and confusion complicates the discussion of family policy.
35. Margaret Whitehead and Onalee McGraw, Foundations for Family Life Education, Educational Guidance Institute, 927 S. Walter Reed Drive, #104, Arlington, Va. 22204., 1991, pp. 41-46. See also: The Family in America, August, 1988, Rockford, IL.
36. Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990's, a Progressive Policy Institute Study dated October, 1990, Washington D.C.
37. Whitehead and McGraw, p. 45.
38. Charter of the Rights of the Family, Holy See, Vatican City, 1983, Introduction.

Chapter 1

Chapters 2 & 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Appendix & Conclusion

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