Sex-Ed Books Set Off A Parental Firestorm

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—The New Creation life series, a sex education course for kids in parish religion classes, may be causing controversy elsewhere in the country, but it was supposed to be a dead issue in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Then, late last year, three parishes made an effort to try out the series, which critics claim usurps the parents' role and is inappropriately graphic. The Archdiocese refused to back off its three-year policy banning the course, and sent a letter to all parish families explaining that the series would not be used.

In addition to the Archdiocese of Denver, several dioceses around the country do not include New Creation on their lists of approved catechetical materials. The dioceses of Lincoln, Neb.; Fargo, N.D.; and Sioux Falls, S.D have all reviewed the series in recent years and have chosen not to recommend it.

But many dioceses still allow it. Keith Bower of Cincinnati's Foundation for the Family, the publishing arm of the Couple to Couple League counts on that.

He said he has received “hundreds of phone calls from parents and teachers dissatisfied with New Creation.” Foundation for the Family publishes its own family life series called New Corinthians, which concentrates on virtue education in the classroom and includes a book for parents to help them discuss the more intimate sexual information with their children at home.

New Creation is probably the No. 1 program that we are being asked to replace,” Bower said. “It seems to use every technique and hit every concern that Cardinal [Alfonso] López Trujillo [of the Pontifical Council for the Family] was concerned about when he wrote Truth and Meaning, with a nice veneer of Catholic teaching on top of it.” Truth and Meaning sets out guidelines for sex education.

Bower said that part of the reason that explicit material is so prevalent in all kinds of schools today is that “our culture is so desensitized.”

“It's not the language itself, it's the fact that somebody feels that these kids need to know it,” Bower explained. “But what really needs to be said in the classroom is how to be virtuous, and about sacrificial love — giving to another person in total self-sacrifice like Christ did.”

The American bishops have instituted a mechanism to review all kinds of catechetical materials, including family life series, for their faithfulness to the teachings of the Church. Publishers are invited to voluntarily submit their materials to a bishops' ad hoc committee. The committee periodically publishes a list of materials found in conformity with the Catechism, and recommends changes for those materials that fail to make the list. Its publisher, Brown-Roa, has not sent New Creation to the bishops'committee for review as yet.

“We have not submitted it to the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism,” said Marge Krawczuk of Brown-Roa. “Basically, we're looking at doing a different type of program in the future.”

But to those who believe that New Creation usurps parents' rights as primary educators of their children, Brown-Roa said: “Most parents are grateful for the catechesis in human sexuality that is part of the total program of education and formation in Catholic schools and parish programs.”

But many are not grateful. “If you give a child this information this early, you could take them down the wrong path. And [the school staff] are not going to be here in 10 years when this falls back in my lap,” said Sally, a parent in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who asked that her last name and the name of the school her children attend not be included in this story.

On the ‘Approved’List

The New Creation Series is not new. It has been widely used around the country for 10 years. A dispute at Sally's daughter's school began in earnest last year when parents of third-graders were asked to review the New Creation student text before signing a permission slip to allow their children to participate in the classroom instruction. In previous years, the books had not been sent home.

She remembered her first reaction to a New Creation Series sex-education book being used with her children.

“I opened it up and — boom! — a Pandora's box. I was shaken to the core.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has announced that a committee, including parents, would review the school's family life education curriculum in the future.

Brown-Roa defended the series in a statement given to the Register: “Today, due primarily to better nutrition, children in the United States and other developed countries are experiencing puberty at an earlier age than children did even half a century ago. Children today grow up with an assortment of movies, magazines, TV programs, commercials and ads which present values contrary to Catholic Christian values; these situations must be addressed. …

“The theory of the latency period which originated with Sigmund Freud does not mean the children do not have questions about sex … many schools of psychology question whether the theory is applicable today. … New Creation addresses the questions of children in this culture at this time.”

Parents such as Sally don't seem to be buying that argument.

“There is just too much detail” in the New Creation texts, she said. “They talk about oral sex in fourth grade. They talk about Planned Parenthood in eighth grade … and I have gotten fingers pointed at me, saying I am a prude.”

In its statement, Brown-Roa said, “The position of the Church is consistently presented in the [New Creation] books, and the issues of morality are dealt with in light of Church teaching.”

The publishers cited two U.S. Catholic Conference publications as important resources for their authors concerning conformity to Church teaching on human sexuality education: Education in Human Sexuality for Christians: Guidelines for Discussion and Planning (1983), and Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning (1993).

The Guidelines

The most recently published New Creation Series was copyrighted in 1994, a year before The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality was published by the Pontifical Council for the Family. Truth and Meaning was meant to provide further guidelines for sex education in accordance with Church teachings.

Catholics United for the Faith, a Catholic information apostolate in Steubenville, Ohio, has reviewed most of the family life series in circulation for their conformity to the guidelines set forth in Truth and Meaning, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other pertinent Church documents. In the group's estimation, the New Creation Series falls far short in several areas.

It criticized New Creation for its “graphic illustrations … that offend against modesty and chastity”; for “emphasizing information over formation”; and for “violating the latency period,” meaning that it presents too much sexual information to children before they have reached the stage of being especially curious about it. Catholics United also faulted New Creation for “failing to provide safeguards to ensure that teachers don't dissent from Church teaching in the classroom.”

The review by Catholics United highlights some of the sections in the student texts and teacher manuals in grades one to eight that it believed were too explicit or simply not in good taste. For example: a suggested reproductive-parts bingo game for seventh-graders and for eighth-graders, listing activities which can arouse sexual feelings.

For those parents who don't want their children to be exposed to such material at school or in religious-education class, Mary Beth Bonacci, a nationally known expert on chastity education, has some advice.

“There are two hallmarks that I tell parents to look for: See if the series doesn't present sexually explicit information, especially to young kids and especially in a mixed setting. This is a sacred thing and a private thing, and kids do have a sense of modesty that can be violated.

“And see if the Catholic teaching is presented convincingly.”

Bonacci added, “There are so many parents around the country struggling with this, there needs to be a Web site or something to bring these people together.”

Molly Mulqueen writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.