Teens Learn Why Church Is Pro-Life

A look at Principles Choices

When he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI recalled Evangelii Nuntiandi, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Paul VI, which urged the faithful to “constantly seek the proper means and language for presenting, or re-presenting, to them God’s revelation and faith in Jesus Christ.”

This evangelical objective formed an important part of the papacy of Pope John Paul II and is a focus for Pope Francis.

In 1983, Pope John Paul II addressed Catholic bishops in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stating:

“The commemoration of the half millennium of evangelization will gain its full energy if it is a commitment, not to re-evangelize, but to a New Evangelization — new in ardor, methods and expression.” 
In 2013, Pope Francis addressed participants in the plenary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, noting:

“The New Evangelization must necessarily use the language of mercy, which is more about gestures and attitudes than words.”

This trio of papal challenges inspired Camille Pauley of the Healing the Culture organization to create a supplemental high-school curriculum for pro-life evangelization. The flagship program is called Principles & Choices, and it officially launched in October 2013.

Principles & Choices is based upon the work of Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University and co-founder of Healing the Culture.

“The program helps students master the principles of logic, ethics and justice that inspire them to live with purpose and moral integrity and to care about human life,” Pauley said. Students then relate these principles to the issues of abortion and euthanasia “and are invited to apply them to other contemporary issues, such as poverty, immigration, homelessness and the rights of disabled persons,” she added.

Twenty years of research, including five years of onsite testing at schools in Seattle, Alabama and California, went into producing Principles & Choices.

Students learn the foundational principles of great thinkers such as Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Materials for students include textbooks in print or e-Book format, DVDs, a flashcard game, an audio drama, PowerPoint presentations, Internet resources and social media. Instructor materials include lesson plans, Scripture and Catechism references, downloadable assignments and handouts.

Currently, the curriculum is being used in Catholic schools, religious-education programs, youth groups and a few colleges.

Mother Teresa Christe is a theology teacher at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., who has been using Principles & Choices with her classes.

“My students come to class full of questions and insights,” she said. “I wish I had learned what my students are learning when I was their age.” Mother Teresa believes that the lessons honor intellect and free will, “so that faith may grow more deeply in their young lives.”

The program can be taught within a two- to four-week segment. The textbooks can be paced at one per year (in grades nine through 12) or combined to make a one-semester class.

“It’s not a religion class,” said Pauley. “But it does explain the reasons why the Catholic faith teaches what she does about human dignity, human rights and our meaning and purpose. We use philosophy more than theology.”

As students learn the true meaning of “happiness,” quality of life” and “freedom,” Pauley believes they gain confidence and are better prepared to defend their beliefs among peers.

Lynn Kittridge, a theology teacher at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash., observed that it was the first time many of her students felt energized and inspired by pro-life education: “You would be amazed to see our students, months after taking the class, applying the principles to material and situations in other classes, and they do it with confidence, intelligence and conviction.”

In a recent survey, Principles & Choices “graduates” shared their newfound perspectives. One student wrote, “I’m more against abortion now than I was. I realized that all humans, even the unborn, should be given the opportunity to experience life.”

The curriculum was published with the imprimatur of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle.

Addressing current threats within the culture, he said, “One particularly dangerous threat is that, with all the ‘information’ with which young people are bombarded by a variety of media, they are given few tools with which to critique information, ideas, proposals and analysis of the world around them.”

Hopeful, he sees the program as a light for the New Evangelization. “One reason I appreciate the work of Healing the Culture so much is that it seeks, through Principles & Choices, to help young people understand basic human values, and especially Christian values, with a view toward putting them into practice — and thus with a view toward coming to know Christ himself.”

Archbishop Sartain was impressed that the program helps students “receive guidance to live a life of goodness and holiness.” He noted that “students are given tools to critique all that hits them through the media, to make good moral decisions about all the information coming at them in every direction and to understand how Christ is needed in our culture.”

As Archbishop Sartain added, “People hunger for Christ without knowing it, and if we form our young people well, they will be good, insightful, wise and holy evangelizers who bring Christ to others.”

Jennifer Sokol writes from
Shoreline, Washington.