Monkey Business-A Better Name for Virtus
By Alice Ann Grayson
On January 28, 2007 I attended a Virtus Safe Environment Training Program, required of all catechists in the Diocese of Vermont. This program was cleverer than I could have imagined. It was manipulative, and it accomplished its goals. The essence of the program was to show two emotional films about predators. The leaders set the stage by saying this may be "too sensitive" and it may bother the viewer. If so, the viewers could step out for a while. The leaders thereby established their role as stronger, as being able to handle the films. They went on to elicit set commentary about the films, and made the parents and catechists read pre-made up "facts" which was a re-enforcement of the instruction in the films.
It is true, of course, that the leaders asked the parents and catechists for "feelings" about the films-like sad, scary, anger, helplessness- quite sophomoric. I said I did not wish to offer any feelings, but rather, I had some observations. My observations were not in the prepared script, and it bugged the deacon especially. I mentioned that if the bishops were really serious about the Church's responsibility in child abuse they would eliminate homosexuals from pastoral positions and bar them from seminaries. I quoted the John Jay Report which indicates that eighty- four percent of Church related abuses were homosexual priests and seminarians molesting teen boys. The leader said, “Well- that is not the subject; one can do anything with statistics, and we need to stick to the program.” (This program, together with its statistical analysis, is designed to focus on abuse everywhere and not on the crisis in our own church. It is meant to excuse the clergy overall, because predators are found everywhere in our society-clergy being just one group of many. Both parents and children are to learn that stranger danger is a big myth, and lurking around every corner, tricking everyone, are predators we would never suspect.)
Throughout the afternoon I was able to slip a few words in about the intimacy involved in the sexual sphere and the grace ordained role of parents with their individual children. I criticized the program for its complete secular approach to the subject of child safety and sex. At one time I managed to say that the psychiatrist in the film was in opposition to church teaching when she instructed viewers to force children to repeat formal medical names for body parts, as well as instructions on who touches them, again and again. Every interjection by me was registered with annoyance and frustration on the part of the deacon. The leaders simply insisted that they needed to keep to a time schedule. Extraneous discussion was not possible. Clearly this was to be a “training exercise”, and "thinking, "as opposed to "feeling", was not on the agenda.
To my objection to secularism, they responded that the program was not designed to be Catholic so that it could apply to everybody. So much for our “O guardian angel”, “but deliver us from evil”, “pray for us now”, and ‘The Lord is my shepherd!” So much for holy water and the scapular. These safeguards are too Catholic!
The "no objections" system worked well for the deacon and lay woman leader, because by the end of the afternoon, most of the “trainees” felt uncomfortable with my presence. It’s easier to “go along” than to speak the truth.
One time the woman leader said something like this: "When I was a child I used to be very shy. I would dress in a closet, hide my body, and be worried about dressing in public situations. Now of course, I no longer worry about privacy." As I heard her speak, I remembered the quote from the task force at the Boston Archdiocese, critiquing a critique I had written, called then, “Classroom Sex Education is an Oxymoron” That task force, which included a lesbian nun, wrote: " The bounds of modesty have fallen away." Oh, indeed. This leader, this relatively pleasant church going mother, no longer sensed modesty about her body. Another woman vigorously argued and defended the film’s instructions to make children repeat and repeat the correct names for body parts and sex related words. She insisted on this so that kids could communicate or testify as the case may be. So much for protection of the innocent.
Lastly, at this adult training session, no reference was ever made to the children's programs- like Lures, Virtus, and Formation in Christian Chastity" which programs are the companion piece to adult training. Instead, the follow up was to urge these folks to sign up for Virtus Online in order to read more about sexual exploitation and prevention- in other words-more sex talk! Virtus for Adults, playing into the hands of Virtus for Children, is a case of “bait and switch.”
“Clever" was the word I used in the first paragraph of this observation, and it is a good choice. I went home thinking that the emotional stories of child abuse, together with its sexual talk, gradually is breaking down parental modesty. The Virtus training for adults, totally secular in nature, is preparing parents to accept the child programs as some kind of reinforcement of safety because the films say that children are in danger everywhere. The Virtus program for adults disguises the real facts - that safe environment programs for children invade the years of innocence, attack the natural modesty of the child, frighten them, and distort the parental message that sexual intercourse is a personal, hidden mystery ordained by God as a gift to married couples because God and parents love children. The adult program is a perfect example of "breakdown" in small doses, so that the recipients don't even know it. It reminds me of the frog that never jumps out of water because the temperature is raised only a degree at a time.
As this program reaches more and more CCD teachers, we will have an army of desensitized adults working with children, supposedly teaching them chastity. For faithful Catholics, CCD will be, or maybe even now is, no longer an option.
In conclusion, I am saddened that modesty continues to be undermined by Church leaders, who should be doing the exact opposite. A new name for the Virtus programs should be “Monkey Business!”
I thank God for Dietrich von Hildebrand. His definition of chastity is that it is that virtue which keeps the sexual secret hidden, as a dominion the disposition of which lies in the hand of God. To that standard of truth, we must return.