BALTIMORE, Maryland, October 14, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - At St. Thomas More Academy in Buckeystown, Maryland, students read classical literature and recite the rosary daily as part of an integrated, Catholic curriculum. The school is one that parents typically choose for its outstanding fidelity to Church teaching.
But when the young Academy recently petitioned the Archdiocese of Baltimore for official status as a diocesan Catholic school, they were told this was impossible unless Thomas More implemented the Archdiocese's "Human Sexuality" course. The course is a curriculum for elementary-age children that teaches sexuality "in a spiritual and developmental context as well as a biological context." In the introduction to the "Catechesis for Human Sexuality," the Archbishop writes that "because of the pervasive influence of many of the negative aspects of our society, parents need and should welcome assistance in carrying out their role."
Founder and president of Thomas More, Dr. James Merckel, however, did not wish to use the curriculum. He, as well as a number of Thomas More parents, felt the curriculum would be inappropriate for the public setting of a mixed classroom. When Merckel therefore requested dialogue to find a compromise on the issue, he was told that the curriculum was "non-negotiable." Merckel told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that, were he to accept the sexuality series, alarmed parents would withdraw at least one-fifth of the school's students. "That, financially, would destroy us," he said.
While Thomas More has succeeded in establishing itself as an excellent faith-based school, if not an officially Catholic one, Merckel said there are significant burdens involved in lacking recognition from the Archdiocese. Thomas More recently lost its accreditation status with the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools (NAPCIS) when, desperate to fill a position, they hired a non-Catholic teacher. Though this was the sole exception to the school's norm, which requires teachers to swear an oath of allegiance to the Magisterium, the hire was a breach of NAPCIS requirements.
This, in addition to being unable to celebrate Mass or prepare students for the reception of the Sacraments, has put Thomas More in a squeeze. "It's very awkward," said Merckel, adding, "Ecclesiastically we're correct, politically we're not."
While so far the Archbishop has refused to budge on the issue, documents issued by the Vatican appear to back up the school's position on how human sexuality should be taught. In its guidelines for appropriate sex education, the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education emphasized that all sex education, when conducted outside the home, must be in harmony with the wishes of parents. The Congregation quotes John Paul II, who speaks of the role of the school as "responsible for this education in service of and in harmony with parents."
In elaborating upon the family as being uniquely suited to teaching delicate matters, the guidelines state, "The fact remains ever valid that with regard to the more intimate aspects, whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family. "It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the rôle of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents." The Catechism also firmly emphasizes that "the right of parents to educate their children is primordial and inalienable."
While the Archdiocese officially acknowledges parents' "essential role as the primary educators of their children," it has also rejected Merckel's attempt to compromise through a home-based course in chastity similar to ones used in other U.S. dioceses.
To contact the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Division of Catholic Schools:
Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, Executive Director
320 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
The 2 main textbook options required by the diocese to teach sex education are Family Life, and Growing in Love. A little digging on the internet gave me these reviews:
Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) does not recommend Benziger Family Life because it violates several principles of Catholic chastity education. These principles were stated in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, which the Pontifical Council for the Family published in 1995.
(1) Benziger Family Life is designed for use in a coeducational setting. Trying to teach chastity in such a setting violates the child’s privacy and modesty, and simply is counterproductive.
(2) Benziger Family Life does not ensure a respect for the different phases of childhood development. In particular, the program runs the risk of violating the child’s “years of innocence,” i.e., “latency” or prepuberty stage, presenting explicit, biological information prematurely and providing other materials that offend modesty. The Church unambiguously teaches that such explicit, immodest presentations can never be tolerated. Even during puberty and adolescence, moral education “must not include the more intimate aspects of sexual information, whether biological or affective, which belong to individual formation within the family”.
(3) Benziger Family Life possesses a flawed view that the primary cause of impurity is ignorance, not sin. This is seen by a continual focus on information, rather than formation. The program tends to inform sinners rather than form saints. BFL is also deficient in its presentation of Catholic doctrine, such as an inadequate treatment of original sin; failing to even mention, let alone distinguish between, mortal and venial sin; and making an inaccurate presentation on the human soul.
(4) Benziger Family Life ambiguously presents official Church teaching on marriage and family, specifically regarding contraception. In addition, the program recommends the works of others who dissent from Catholic teaching on marriage and family. Because of such referrals, and because of the program’s inadequate presentation on sin, the program does not have in place safeguards to help ensure that teachers faithfully communicate Church teaching on sensitive marriage and family issues.
Growing in Love mentions the Ten Commandments, though only briefly in grades 4-6. It discusses "conscience"; presents a positive picture of "parenting" (though not motherhood or fatherhood). It also discusses the sacraments, the Magisterium of the Church, includes stories about the saints, and even has a "Salvation History" strand. There are also quotations from Scripture and Church documents throughout the series. And Jesus is mentioned on almost every page -- although almost always as a model or an example; usually as our brother, but rarely as our Savior -- and never as our Judge. He is sometimes described as the Son of God and as fully human, but very much in the manner in which all people are described as children of God.
If a bishop, pastor, educator, or parent were to go through the GIL series with a checklist of all the things that are supposed to be included in any truly Catholic treatment of the subject of sex, most -- if not all -- items on the list would be found to be at least mentioned somewhere. One might plausibly conclude, therefore, that the program is really all right, that authentic Catholic teaching about marriage and sex and morality is "in there".This would be very wrong, however. Many of the "Catholic" things in the series appear, in fact, to have been included in order to be found in accordance with any possible Church "checklist" that might be employed. Often, however, the Catholic things found in these books bear little organic relation to the overall framework and content of the program.
..what is really intended to be imparted to children through this GIL series, what is effectively being taught through frequent emphasis and repetition is an almost wholly modern secular approach to the subject of sex. Why is such a seemingly sound and attractive Catholic sex education package unable to deliver the true Catholic goods to young people? After having carefully read through all of the materials, I believe the series would be, in fact, very harmful to Catholic children. This will be apparent in examining a number of "myths" that pervade the entire series, and that effectively supersede and cancel out the superficial Catholic elements it contains.
Now, if the Archbishop of Baltimore really believed what is contained in their strategy for Catholic schools, "the Strategic Plan for Catholic education recognizes the varied choices that parents exercise in determining the best educational environment for their children," then they would allow the parents of a Catholic school to decide what is appropriate without trying to shove a possibly harmful, secular, flawed, and dissenting sex education program onto their precious children without threats of eliminating access to the Sacraments.