Mary Ann Kreitzer
(540) 459-9493


April 12, 2004

Open Letter to the United States Catholic Bishops:
Keep “Touching” Programs Off Our Children

Your Excellencies,

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.

Under the definition 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 or physical contact, whether or not it is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome.” Many of the elements of “touching” programs qualify as sex abuse by this definition. Since the bishops excluded themselves from the Charter’s coverage, pastors, principals, and teachers will be the ones facing any charges of abuse related to these programs.

The 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.

Church teaching, on the other hand, is crystal clear:

Each 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 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.

Bias 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! There isn’t a single case in the 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.

The 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 children.

In 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 challenging task.

Mary Ann Kreitzer
President, Catholic Media Coalition

For citiques of "Touching" Programs click below:


Mary Ann Kreitzer
President, Les Femmes
Woodstock, VA
Diocese of Arlington


James Fritz
Fred Paschall
Defenders of the Faith, Inc.
Berkley Springs, WV
Diocese of Wheeling/Charleston


Michael and Donna Marek
Ogdensburg, NY
Diocese of Ogdensburg


J. Hallett
Diocese of Oakland 


Donna Steichen
author and speaker
Ojai, CA


Susan Malley, Editor
Diocese of Springfield, MA


Michael F. Brennan
Diocese of Rochester News and Views
Coalition in Defense of Church Teaching
Rochester, New York 14621
585 467-1745

Laurie Balbach Taylor
Called to Conversion newsletter
Hope of Saint Monica, Inc.
Milford, Ohio
Archdiocese of Cincinnati



Georgene Sorenson
Romans in the Desert
Green Valley, AZ
Diocese of Tucson


Pete Palumbo
Kissimmee FL
Diocese of Orlando



Cecilia H. Martin
Editor, The Catholic Advocate
Jacksonville, FL
Diocese of St. Augustine


The Orlando Truth
PO Box 495
Tangerine, FL 32777
Diocese of Orlando


Katherine A. Parker
Women at the Cross
Birmingham, AL
Diocese of Birmingham


Mike Hargadon
Baltimore Truth
3618 Granite Rd
Woodstock, Md 21163
Archdiocese of Baltimore/Passaic Eparchy


Karl Maurer
Catholic Citizens of Illinois
Archdiocese of Chicago


Valerie Lubitz
Los Pequenos de Christo
Albuquerque, NM
Archdiocese of Albuquerque


Cate Taylor
Deo Gratias
Diocese of Superior, WI
Allyson Smith
San Diego, CA
Diocese of San Diego
Jeanine Notter
Diocese of New Hampshire
Bernadette Powers, RN
Vice President, National Assoc of Pro-life Nurses
Diocese of Arlington

Alice Ann Grayson
President, Veil of Innocence