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New Vatican document vindicates concerns about classroom sex education
The Pontifical Council for the Family has recently issued a document titled 'The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family'. It is dated 21 November 1995 and signed by Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo. The Guidelines could easily have been written with the situation in the Adelaide Archdiocese in mind (see February 'AD2000') for it identifies as unacceptable a number of items to be found in the Adelaide 'Family Life Education' program about which many concerned parents have been strongly critical.
The Pontifical Council for the Family's latest document, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family, makes it clear that the normal environment for sex education (better described as education in chastity) is the home. Exceptional circumstances may justify the use of outside experts or some form of carefully handled group instruction. But the Council's criteria for acceptability would disqualify most forms of present-day classroom sex education in Catholic schools. These criteria include:
The document reaffirms the "duty and right" of parents "to be the first and the principal educators of their children", especially in the matter of chastity (4). Parents, it says, are particularly well equipped in this sensitive area: "In a unique way they know their own children; they know them in their unrepeatable identity and by experience they possess the secrets and the resources of true love" (7). Central to an education in chastity is the example of good Christian family living which shapes young people for responsible fatherhood and motherhood so that they in turn can "build stable and united families" (32-33).
The Guidelines accept that other educators may be needed to assist parents "but they can only take the place of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity" (23). The Pope's recent Letter to Families (Gratissimam Sane, 39) is cited: "... all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorisation."
But those who are to help parents in this area (146): "must be mature persons, of a good moral reputation, faithful to their own Christian state of life, married or single, laity, religious or priests. They must be not only prepared in the details of moral and sexual information but they must also be sensitive to the rights and role of parents and the family, as well as the needs and problems of children and young people." But parents are not bound to accept any assistance if they believe themselves "capable of providing an adequate education".
Suggestions are offered to parents about the kinds of information which might be shared with children at different stages, e.g., with small children at the time of a pregnancy and birth of a new baby. In what it calls "The Years of Innocence" the document affirms that the period "of tranquillity and serenity" from about 5 to puberty "must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex" (78). At this time "prudent formation in chaste life ... should be indirect. And where there are "planned and determined attempts" made "to impose premature sex information on children" parents should "politely but firmly exclude any attempts to violate children's innocence because such attempts compromise the spiritual, moral and emotional development of growing persons who have a right to their innocence" (83).
The Guidelines suggest that "positive information about sexuality should always be part of a formation plan so as to create the Christian context in which all information about life, sexual activity, anatomy and hygiene is given. Therefore the spiritual and moral dimensions must always be predominant so as to have two special purposes: presenting God's commandments as a way of life and the formation of a right conscience" (94).
In short, the Pontifical Council's Guidelines make it clear that any form of classroom sex education is very difficult to justify, under whatever guise or title. The criteria it advances for acceptable approaches would disqualify most of what passes for sex education in Catholic schools today. It suggests, instead, such alternatives as father-son or mother-daughter evenings utilising suitable experts such as doctors, priests and educators (130-132).
The Church's diocesan authorities would do well to study this wise and timely document closely and where necessary, align their policies and practices with it before further harm is done to the spiritual and moral lives of young Catholics.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 9 No 2 (March 1996), p. 9
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