ROME— Trying to get ahead of the curve when it comes to sex education for children, the Vatican has issued an alternative to the standard treatments. The new project seeks to avoid approaches that teach either too much about human sexuality to impressionable youth or too little.
Amid the frenzy of World Youth Day, which gathered millions of young people in Krakow, Poland at the end of July, the Pontifical Council for the Family, headed by Italian Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, launched a website with materials both for students and educators called “The Meeting Point, project for affective and sexual formation.”
“Cultural, legislative and educational projects directly or indirectly challenge the Christian vision of the body, of the difference and the complementarity between man and woman, the exercise of sexuality, marriage and the family,” Paglia wrote in the project’s introduction.
These projects, he wrote, want to legitimize the different ways in which sexuality is lived in society “by proposing visions that constitute a real anthropological change, which impedes the affirmation of sexual identity, virtues, values and attitudes that integrate the body and the affections in the vocation to love that is the basis of the whole project of human life and of the good life according to the Gospel.”
As of Sept.1, Paglia’s office will be absorbed by a new, larger Vatican department, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, headed by American Bishop Kevin Farrell. Paglia was recently appointed by Pope Francis as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
Divided into six units, the project is a response to Francis’ document on the family, Amoris Laetitia. In one of its passages, the pontiff writes: “It is not easy to approach the issue of sex education in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished. It can only be seen within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving.”
Called “The Meeting Point: Project for Affective and Sexual Formation,” the new materials aim to answer that, offering “an educational path in love that helps young people discover the beauty of mutual self-giving and the pursuit of happiness through the gift of body and spirit.”
The project was created with the collaboration of Catholic University San Antonio of Murcia, Spain. The materials are available for free in English, Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese, including texts for students and teachers, activity books, and movie recommendations.
Those materials are directed to high schools, and it’s styled as a “complement or aid to the task of parents.”
In recent years, many Catholic leaders have risen their voice to say that in some places, the right of parents to educate their children on matters of sexuality is not sufficiently respected, including Pope Francis. During one of his weekly Wednesday audiences he claimed the “educational partnership” between parents and schools is broken.
On May 20, 2015, Francis criticized the “intellectual critics” that he said have “silenced” parents in order to defend younger generations from real or imagined harm. He also regretted that schools are often more influential than families in shaping the thinking and values of children, with parents having no say in what schools teach them.
“If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better. It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile — they have exiled themselves from educating their children — and slowly reassume their educative role,” Francis said.
He’s also often complained about school programs which he claims impose an “ideological colonization” by indoctrinating children on “gender theory,” and has repeatedly reflected on what he sees as the Catholic Church’s failing on preparing young people for marriage (once even suggesting during improvised remarks that most young marriages today are invalid).
The material presented by the Vatican does not intend to supplant the role of parents, saying that it’s “in the family where our most significant personal and affective relationships are developed, which are called to transmit the basic meanings of sexuality.”
According to the website, the documents provided aim to produce “a positive and prudent sexual education” taking into consideration the progress of psychology, pedagogy and teaching, yet considered “in the context of education for love, the reciprocal giving. In this way the language of sexuality is not seen as sadly impoverished, but enlightened.”
Sexual education, the program insists, must keep in mind the different stages “in the construction of one’s personality in relation to the configuration of his/her ‘sexual identity’ or mature acknowledgement of his/her own sexuality, with moments that are differentiated according to the sexes.”
Materials quote Amoris Laetitia amply, but Francis’ two recent predecessors have a place too: St. John Paul II’s theology of the body and emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s denunciations of relativism are also cited. Among the ecclesial documents the material draws from are several of John Paul II’s documents, including Familiaris Consortio , which like Amoris Laetitia, was written as the conclusion of a synod of bishops on the family.
The materials also quote Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), which upheld the Church’s ban on contraception; Educational Guidance in Human Love from the Congregation for Catholic Education; and Benedict XVI’s Deus caritas est (“God is Love.”)
The units have a common thread, a metaphor of the human person as a “tent.” Through the “journey,” they say, young people will explore the different elements of the tent — the tarp, the ropes, tent pegs, poles, the roof- as dimensions of the person: his/her body, sexuality, affections, freedom, will and moral dimension. Each element of the tent corresponds to a dimension of the person.
The blueprint for the course is presented in an overview titled “Discovering the Plan of God for Marriage and the Family,” and is based on Church teaching on marriage: a union between a man and a woman, indissoluble, and open to life.
Sexual education is defined as “none other than an education in the virtue of chastity.”
Some of the topics the six units deal with are:
- “Sex or sexuality?”
- “Do my actions have consequences?”
- “Why doesn’t the end justify the means?”
- “The two significances of the conjugal act: unitive and procreative.”
- “Pansexualism, hedonism, masturbation, puberty.”
- “Suppression of modesty.”
- “Separation between love and sexuality” and “between love and procreation.”
- “Sin as rejection of the gift of God.”
- “Saying no.”
The Vatican materials have been received with apprehension in some circles.
The US-based Catholic Media Coalition, for instance, called on the faithful to protest this “sensual, graphic sex education program.”
The American Life League, also US-based, has launched a petition “against the Vatican sex-ed program.”
Judie Brown, president of American Life League, stated in a press release: “It’s bad enough when Planned Parenthood pushes perverse forms of sex education into our schools. For the Vatican to jump on that bandwagon is a nightmare scenario. Someone must be asleep at the wheel, and it’s high time for them to wake up!”
Both groups complained of “sexually explicit pictures,” such as one portraying a group of campers in which one young guy has his hands on the buttocks of a young woman; a smiling couple standing in front of a statue depicting lovemaking; and an image of fruit depicted as breasts in an advertisement.