My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty withdrew the hastily crafted new sex education curriculum, it didn't take long for some liberals to draw their swords. Susan Pinker opined in the Globe and Mail that "sex education is too important to be left to parents."
What Pinker fails to acknowledge and understand is that parents have the original, primary, and inalienable right to educate their offspring in conformity with the family's moral and religious convictions. They are educators because they are parents. At the same time, the vast majority of parents share their educational responsibilities with other individuals and institutions, primarily the school.
Elementary education is an extension of parental education; it is extended and cooperative home schooling. In a true sense schools are extensions of the home. Parents, and not schools either of the state or the Church, have the primary moral responsibility of educating their children to adulthood.
In keeping with a basic tenet of Catholic social doctrine, the principle of subsidiarity must always govern relations among families, the Church, and the state. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1994 Letter to Families: "Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of parents, with their consent, and, to a certain degree, with their authorization."
It is interesting to note that Dr. Brock Chisholm, a Canadian soldier and psychiatrist who became the first director of the World Health Organization in 1946, thought that the greatest obstacle to children's self-realization was the concept of "right and wrong". From his perspective, sex education was necessary to overcome "the ways of elders - by force if necessary."
Such thinking reduces sexuality to bodily pleasure and ignores the fact that since the introduction of state-based sex education the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, pornography addicted teens, and sex-linked depression has increased. There is no evidence that young people are more responsible and happy if they received school- rather than family-based sex education.
Even Pinter admits that: "Ontario's program wasn't perfect. If I had my druthers, teachers wouldn't be instructed to talk about "partners" instead of "parents," or to educate 8th graders to distinguish between 'male, female, two-spirited, transgendered, transexual, intersex, gay, lesbian and bisexual.' I can see how this might be seen as politically correct overkill."
Sexuality has to be discussed and taught within the context of God's revelation.
For Catholics, the Christian vocation is lived within the sacrament of marriage or the sacrament of holy orders or consecrated life or the single life. The virtue of chastity is at the root of sexual morality. This virtue calls all persons, married and unmarried, to respect God's intention for human sexuality and so to honour God in our quest for human fulfillment and happiness.
Chastity is a positive orientation to life. It is to be taught as a discipline of the heart, the eye, of language and all the senses, which frees us to embrace important human goods. Teaching chastity begins from a spiritual intuition that helps us to grasp the obligation inherent in the fact that our body belongs to God. On this point it is St. Paul who reminds us that: "The body is meant...for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor. 6:13).
In Christian marriage, a man and a woman live out what Pope John Paul II has called "the nuptial meaning of the body". As the Holy Father puts it, "The communion of persons means existing in a mutual 'for', in a relationship of mutual gift." Man and woman, in their complementarity, are a manifestation of the creation of humanity "in the image and likeness of God." Marriage is, in the solid tradition of the Church, the only proper context for sexual relationships and is the way of chastity for married people. It is here alone that the two-fold meaning of sexual intercourse, the unitive and procreative, finds its proper order.
Sexual activity is truly meaningful only when it embodies and expresses marital love, love that is both fully committed and open to life, and it cannot do that outside of marriage for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual. This means that sexual activity which is outside marriage cannot be condoned, and is taught by the Church to be immoral. This includes masturbation, fornication and adultery, and sexual activity with a person of the same sex.
Students in our Catholic schools are still growing up, and marriage is not an imminent prospect. They are called to develop true friendships, marked by genuine love and affection, with members of both sexes. This involves learning to communicate about important things, developing their own gifts and learning to cherish the gifts of others, and engaging in a wide variety of wholesome activities together. This time should also be devoted to discerning the future unfolding of personal vocation.
Sexual activity between unmarried people can undermine such friendships and block vocational discernment. One reason is that sexual activity inevitably tends to become the focus of the relationship, and other activities, despite their great worth, tend to be valued less.
Sexual desire is not in itself sinful. It can, depending on the choices a person makes, be an occasion of growth in virtue or an occasion of sin.
Students need to be taught that their present choices determine their character. If they co-operate with God in making choices, they will be capable of receiving the fulfillment that God wants for them, not only here but hereafter.
☩ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary