Parents Worry Sex-Abuse-Prevention Program Would Rob Kids of Innocence
MANASSAS, Va. — The child-abuse-prevention program being considered by the Diocese of Arlington, Va., to comply with the U.S. bishops’ child-protection requirement is called “Good Touch, Bad Touch.”
But for many parents, it might as well be called “Goodbye, Bad Idea.”
And many of the more than 250 parents attending a meeting at All Saints Church in Manassas, Va., Jan. 12 let diocesan officials know what they think about the program.
Parents heard the officials speak about the problem of sexual abuse of minors and the U.S. bishops’ mandate for dioceses to provide education and training for children, youths and adults in order to create and maintain safe environments.
The Diocese of Arlington was supposed to have such a program under way by last July — a failure that was noted during the recently published audit of U.S. dioceses’ compliance with the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Once Bishop Paul Loverde, who was not at the meeting, selects a program, it will fit the following criteria, said Soren Johnson, the diocese's communications director: It will be effective, age — appropriate, faithful to Catholic teaching, involve parents and not place the burden of protection on children.
Designed for children who attend preschool up until the sixth grade, the Good Touch, Bad Touch curriculum teaches kids the skills to prevent or interrupt child/sexual abuse.
Although its author, Pam Church, is Catholic, the program is considered to be secular in nature, which is why Father Paul deLadurantaye, diocesan director of catechetics, drafted a sample lesson plan for second-graders that contained Catholic teaching. He gave a presentation of it during the meeting.
According to several people who attended the meeting, many parents were not impressed with parts of the four-hour session at All Saints, reacting at points with boos and catcalls.
Opponents of the program said parents should be the ones teaching and talking to their children about sexual matters, not teachers, who would go through a training process if the program were selected.
Patrick DiVietri, who attended the meeting and is the founder and executive director of the Family Life Institute in Manassas, said that before age 10 or 11 children don't have the capacity for critical thinking or abstract thought, which is why intimate information should not be presented in a public forum such as a classroom by people who aren't their parents.
Sex as Dirty
“It violates the principles of modesty and confuses the child, who thinks, ‘If this is so private, then why are we talking about it in public?’” DiVietri said. “They're going to be forced to imagine sexuality in the context of its greatest perversion and most evil crime: the sexual abuse of innocent children.”
“The whole notion of sex as dirty is going to be brought to new depths,” he continued. “Before they know what sexuality is, they're going to be experiencing their own sexuality in a context of fear rather than in a spirit of trust. The whole problem is that the psyche of the child will be damaged.”
When confronted with a situation like this one, DiVietri said the Pontifical Council for the Family, in its education guidelines for the family, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,” recommends the following:
“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.”
But the Good Touch, Bad Touch materials are age — appropriate, insisted Catherine Nolan, the diocesan director of Child Protection and Safety. There are no photographs, and the illustrations are caricatures, like cartoon drawings, she said.
She added that it's premature to refer to the visuals since some might be changed if the program is selected by the bishop.
In addition, the diocese's intention is not to ruin children's innocence, she said, but to protect them and give them some tools they can use so that if they are ever in an intimidating situation with an adult or fellow child, they can say No and get away to tell an adult they trust.
Whatever program is selected, it should be in place no later than this fall in Catholic schools and religious-education classes throughout the diocese, Nolan said.
Before a child is taught, materials will be sent home to parents, who will also be invited to an educational session. Then parents can decide whether or not to sign their child up to participate, she said.
It's still unclear which program the diocese will use for children older than sixth grade, Nolan said. She added that information about programs for older children — such as one by the Boy Scouts and some by schools that offer health and science programs — have been presented to Bishop Loverde.
Meanwhile, a grass-roots effort has been started by some parents who object to the Good Touch, Bad Touch program.
“We parents want to initiate the kind of program that the bishop should be doing but can't, I guess, or won't,” said Christopher Manion, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal who has a 6-year-old daughter and thinks the program being considered puts the burden of protection on children.
“We want to have materials, resources, expert advice and institutions that are plentiful right here in the diocese,” he said, “so we can teach our children well and strengthen the parents’ understanding of a lot of the moral teaching of the Church, which hasn't been preached from the pulpits much in the last 30 years, from [The 1968 Encyclical on Human Life] Humanae Vitae forward.”
Manion started Parents United to Respect Innocence in Teaching the Young and has posted various articles and documents at www.chaste-environment.org so parents can learn more about the faith in order to teach their children.
“We pray for the bishop,” Manion said. “We pray for the priests. We love the priests and the bishop. We are not the Voice of the Faithful. We don't want to throw these people out. We, as laymen in the spirit of not only Vatican II but also of 2,000 years of Church teaching, want to strengthen the bishop as he, and we, are under withering attack by the secular, pagan world. We are asking him, ‘Do not capitulate. Do not cave in to this program. … Fundamentally, it is flawed.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.
- February 1-7, 2004