An Open Letter to the United States Catholic Bishops:
April 13, 2004
Many dioceses have in place
or are planning “safe environment” classroom programs for children from
kindergarten through sixth grade. Parents oppose this for good reason. As you
may know, criticism of Good Touch Bad
Touch (GTBT) in the Diocese of Arlington and Talking About Touching (TAT) in the Archdiocese of Boston
addressed not only problems in program content, which are significant, but the
fact that classroom curricula
on sensitive sexual issues violate both parental rights and Church teachings.
“Touching” programs introduce graphic and upsetting ideas and images to
little ones during the latency period, what our Holy Father calls the “years
of innocence,” from about age five until puberty. Having a facilitator
(often a stranger) present sexual information in a mixed sex classroom is
seriously problematic and potentially damaging.
of sexual abuse in the Charter for
the Protection of Children and Young People, “A child is abused whether or not this
activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital
Vatican document, The Truth and
Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS) clearly warns against giving
explicit sexual information to young children:
This period of tranquility and serenity [i.e., the “latency period”] must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex….At this stage of development, children are still not capable of fully understanding the value of the affective dimension of sexuality. They cannot understand and control sexual imagery within the proper context of moral principles and, for this reason, they cannot integrate premature sexual information with moral responsibility. Such information tends to shatter their emotional and educational development and to disturb the natural serenity of this period of life. 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. (TMHS, N.78 & N. 83)
How will introducing sexual issues during the latency period in a classroom setting affect children’s attitudes toward sexuality? Will placing sexuality in a context of abuse and distrust teach children to fear? Will they see sex as dirty? Will they question every touch? Will they “act out” disturbing ideas and images by inflicting “bad touches” on younger children? These are serious questions. To say, as some bishops have, that materials selected will be “age-appropriate” begs the question. By whose standard? Surely not the secular sex-educators who developed these “touching” programs in the first place.
According to some
bishops, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by
the bishops at their 2002 meeting in Dallas mandates “safe environment”
programs for children. That is true. However, the Charter says nothing about implementation.
It does NOT require classroom
programs and is silent on who should present the material.
teaching, on the other hand, is crystal clear:
child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized
formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their
uniqueness, they are in the best
position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of
information, according to their children’s physical and spiritual growth….
[emphasis added] Therefore, the most intimate aspects, whether biological or
emotional, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue…. Experience
shows that this dialogue works out better when the parent who communicates the
biological, emotional, moral, and spiritual information is of the same sex as
the child or young person. (TMHS, N. 65 and N. 66)
Classroom Programs Not
Mandated by Charter: In view of the confusion
about what the Charter actually mandates and the apparent contradiction
between classroom programs on sexual
abuse and Church teachings, Mary Ann Kreitzer, President of the Catholic Media
Coalition, called Kathleen McChesney, Executive Director of the Office of
Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB). In a brief telephone conversation on March 23, 2004, Kreitzer
asked whether classroom programs are mandated
by the Charter. McChesney replied that the Charter requires each diocese
“to have a program for children,” but acknowledged that it does not call
for a classroom program. Kreitzer
specifically inquired whether there are backup documents mandating classroom
programs. McChesney said no. Kreitzer then asked if parents could teach the
material to their own children. McChesney saw no reason why they couldn’t,
saying there had to be a program but the form it takes is “up to the
bishop.” Since McChesney’s office has oversight responsibility and
produces the annual report on diocesan implementation of the Charter, her
opinion is particularly relevant.
of “Safe Environment Classroom Programs: Your Excellencies, many dioceses seem to be approaching the
issue of “safe environments” from the bias of secular child protection
agencies which presume that parents abuse their children. In fact, some
chancery officials have said those outside the family should teach these
programs because “parents might be abusers.”
What an offensive premise!
isn’t a single case in the John Jay report of parental abuse. On the
contrary, the report documents abuse by clergy, the overwhelming majority of
which is homosexual in nature. So the shift to blaming parents is unreasonable
and unjustified. Some parents have questioned whether keeping their children
out of these offensive programs will bring accusations of neglect by diocesan
lawyers if their children are abused by diocesan employees in the future.
Those questions remain unanswered.
safest environment for children is an intact family. Studies indicate that
“Children of divorced or never-married mothers are six to 30 times more
likely to suffer from serious child abuse than are children raised by both
biological parents in marriage.” (Patrick Fagan, The
Child Abuse Crisis: the Disintegration of Marriage, Family and the American
Community, Heritage Foundation) An intact family with a dad in the home is
a proven deterrent to all types of abuse. Most of the cases in the Church sex
scandals involved vulnerable families whose children were easy targets for
predators. There is no evidence that “safe environment” programs would
have prevented or interrupted the abuse.
Efforts to strengthen the family are the surest way to protect
closing, we respectfully ask you to abandon implementation of any classroom
program addressing the sensitive issues of sexual abuse. Instead, a home-based
program for use by parents with their own children should be developed, one
that is sensitive to the needs and temperament of the individual child.
Parents are those most concerned about the safety of their children and are
the natural teachers of this delicate subject.
Every diocese is blessed with many well-educated and qualified parents
who would welcome the opportunity to assist in developing a program for use in
the home. We look forward to the
opportunity to serve Holy Mother Church and assist you in your most
Mary Ann Kreitzer
President, Catholic Media Coalition
For critiques of "Touching" Programs click below:
|Mary Ann Kreitzer
President, Les Femmes
and Donna Marek
Alice Ann Grayson
Diocese of Rochester News/Views
Coalition in Defense of Church Teaching
Rochester, New York 14621
of Saint Monica, Inc.
of Saint Monica, Inc.
Diocese of Superior, WI
San Diego, CA
Diocese of San Diego
Diocese of New Hampshire
Bernadette Powers, RN
Vice President, National Assoc of Pro-life Nurses
Diocese of Arlington