The problem of sexuality education in Catholic schools

It is a new school year, and parents are once again entrusting their children and young people into the care of teachers for large portions of each day.  Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, schools are required to teach “sexuality” education, weaving the topic into every subject and into every aspect of school life.

In September 2020, the Ministry of Education released their updated Relationships and Sexuality Guidelines for teachers, leaders, and Boards of Trustees at all State and State-Integrated primary and secondary schools.  These Guidelines advance, with militancy, the gender diversity and inclusivity narrative.

Family Life International published an analysis of the Guidelines, pointing out the most troubling aspects of the document.  The analysis is important reading for all parents, grandparents, teachers, clergy, and any person who wishes to ensure our young people are provided with an authentic understanding of human sexuality.

It is essential to note that it is the desire of those who produced the Guidelines that every student has the opportunity to be exposed to the sexuality objectives.  A school-wide approach is encouraged, providing “opportunities in health education, in other curriculum programmes, and in many other school contexts.”  This approach ensures that even children or teenagers still get the message despite their parents or caregivers having exercised their right to remove them from sexuality classes in Health.

Education in sexuality is a delicate matter and the primary responsibility of parents

The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of exhorting parents to live up to their calling to be the first educators of their children.  This call has become ever more urgent in the past one hundred years as the moral compass in society has all but disappeared.  Sadly, the Christian message is watered down by the errors of the world.

Pope Pius XI was particularly concerned with the education of youth, and in 1929 promulgated his encyclical letter Divini Illius Magistri.  Here, the Pontiff pointed out that it is the family who “holds directly from the Creator the mission and the right to educate the offspring.”  This right, he stated, is “inalienable because [it is] inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.” (#32)

In the mid-twentieth century, both Pope Pius XII, and Pope Paul VI reiterated the dangers of sex education and re-affirmed the role of parents as first educators of their children.

Again, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed this fundamental parental right in the document Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World), stating that “the right of parents to beget and educate their children in the bosom of the family must be safeguarded.” (#52)

Continuing the constant teaching of the Church, Saint John Paul II called for parents “to give their children a clear and delicate sex education.”  He too stressed that sex education is the “basic right and duty of parents,” which “must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in education centres chosen and controlled by them.” (Familiaris Corsortio, #37)

Notice the saintly pontiff, in recognising that parents may at times choose to entrust some of the education of their children in these matters to others, declared that parents must remain attentive, and be in control of that which ought to be taught “delicately.”

Given the current state, it is impossible to expect to defend Christian morality in a secular school, although one may be able to garner some tolerance for their differing viewpoint.  However, parents should, and have the right to, demand that what is taught in schools that carry the Catholic name conforms to authentic Catholic teaching and morality.

Young people in Catholic Schools are safe.  Aren’t they?

Given the clear directives regarding Catholic education in the matters of sexuality and the role of the family, it would be reasonable to conclude that children and young people in Catholic schools are taught sound doctrine, not muddied by the errors of the world. 

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Certainly, there are schools working hard to provide authentic Catholic teaching in sexuality.  There are indeed many solid Catholic teachers who strive constantly to pass on all that is true, good, and beautiful.  They are to be commended, and supported in their efforts.

However, State Integrated Catholic Schools are required to teach the NZ Health Curriculum, and they are expected to take note of the Relationships and Sexuality Guidelines released in 2020.  This leaves them in a difficult position and requires of parents and caregivers extra vigilance.

National Centre for Religious Studies suggests the use of compromised resources

This section comes with a warning as the materials are not resources that we at Family Life International would recommend!

In Catholic state-integrated schools, the teaching of sexuality comes under the umbrella of not only the Health/PE department but that of Religious Education.  To that end, the National Centre for Religious Studies provides numerous resources for teachers in the teaching of the subject.

One such resource is the “Sexuality Resource Grid.”  One grid is provided per curriculum level, and each grid aligns specific learning outcomes to the Ministry of Health Guidelines, the Framing Document for Catholic Schools, Religious Education, and across other curriculum areas. 

For each Curriculum level, there are numerous suggested resources.  The grids come with the caveat that “all resources MUST be aligned with Catholic Church teaching the area of Human Sexuality.”

However, directly below this caveat are listed the following organisations:

  • Ministry of Education, which provides sometimes very graphic materials for the classroom.
  • Family Planning, an organisation whose whole mission is contrary to the teachings of the Church regarding human sexuality.
  • NZ Police, whose “Keeping Ourselves Safe” programme has problematic material.

Parents should be particularly concerned by the suggestion of using Family Planning materials.  This organisation, heavily funded by the government, is concerned with breaking down societal norms regarding sexuality, pushing the gender agenda, as well as providing and facilitating access to contraception and abortion for young women.

One resource suggested as appropriate for Years 1 and 2 (5- to 7-year-olds) is the book Everyone’s Got a Bottom, by Tess Rowley.  The story is designed to teach consent, a concept that spans a wide berth, and has a different meaning depending on your values.  Each page explicitly names various private parts and concludes with the words “from our head to our toes, we can say what goes.” 

Children must learn how to protect themselves from predators, and it is true that some children need to learn this from trusted people outside of their family (in a delicate and private fashion). However, the concept of consent goes beyond protecting children from abuse.  “Consent” as it is presented to young people serves only to teach them that they are in control of their bodies and what ever they want to do with them is acceptable.  Anything goes: masturbation, same-sex liaisons, pre-marital sex… Worse still, it is grooming them for the unimaginable, but certainly, on the horizon, a situation where paedophilia is seen as just another expression of “love.”  In a world where consent is king, as long as the child agrees, anything goes.

Of further concern is the promotion of the problematic sex education programme The Meeting Point released by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 2016.  On its release, psychiatrist, Dr Rick Fitzgibbons, called the programme “the most dangerous threat to Catholic youth that I have seen over the past 40 years.”

Although the material in The Meeting Point has been adapted since its original release, it is very difficult to fix a curriculum that was broken in the first place.  Family Life International produced a critique of The Meeting Point and presented it in person to members of the Pontifical Council for the Family.  It is a thorough analysis of the content of the programme when it was first published.

The above is just a few of the resources suggested to teachers in Catholic schools by the National Centre for Religious Studies.  A number of concerning YouTube videos, articles, books, and lesson plans are proposed, while resources such as Theology of the Body are only given a cursory mention.

What can be done?

The Congregation for Catholic Education makes the duty of parents very clear in its document Educational Guidance in Human Love:  Outlines for Sex Education, which states:

“It is up to parents therefore, to be alert not only to repair the harm caused by inappropriate and injurious interventions, but above all to opportunely inform their own children, offering them a positive and convincing education.” (#106)

Parents and grandparents have a very serious duty to ensure their children and grandchildren are taught the truth about human sexuality.  Likewise, teachers must ensure that they are very careful about what they teach in, and out, of the classroom.

It is important for the true flourishment of our youth that the focus changes to forming parents in order that they may impart the truths of this most delicate and important matter to their children.

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