Les Femmes Open Letter to Bishop Loverde: Kathleen McChesney Says Charter Does Not Mandate Classroom Programs

I am writing with regard to your plans to implement a “safe environment” classroom program throughout the diocese for children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Many parents oppose this for good reason. As you know, criticism of Good Touch Bad Touch (GTBT) addressed not only problems in the program content, 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 five years of age until puberty. Having a facilitator (often a stranger) presenting sexual information in a mixed sex classroom setting is seriously problematic and potentially damaging.

Under the Charter’s definition of sexual abuse, “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 come to see sex as something 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 you have on numerous occasions, 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.

Your Excellency, in your February 12 column in the Arlington Catholic Herald you state that 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)

In view of the confusion about what the Charter actually mandates and the apparent contradiction between classroom programs on sexual abuse and Church teachings, I called Kathleen McChesney, Executive Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In our brief telephone conversation on March 23 I asked her whether the programs. She said the Charter requires each diocese “to have a program for children” but acknowledged that the Charter does not call for a classroom program. I specifically inquired whether there are backup documents mandating classroom programs. She said no. I then asked if parents could teach the material to their own children. She saw no reason why they couldn’t, saying there had to be 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.

Your Excellency, the diocese seems to have approached the issue of “safe environments” from the bias of the secular child protection agencies which presume that parents abuse their children. In fact at several meetings during the past few months members of your staff actually said that 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 the clergy, the overwhelming majority of which is homosexual in nature. So the shift to blaming parents is unreasonable and unjustified.

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, Your Excellency, 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, sensitive to the needs and temperaments of the individual child, should be developed. Parents are those most concerned about the safety of their children and are the natural teachers of this delicate subject. The diocese is blessed with many well-educated and qualified parents who would welcome the opportunity to assist you in developing a program for use in the home. We would gladly assist you in identifying these experts. We look forward to the opportunity to serve Holy Mother Church and assist you in your most difficult task of shepherding our diocese.

Mary Ann Kreitzer
President, Les Femmes

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