Guidelines for Education in Human Sexuality in Schools

Author: Pennsylvania Catholic Conference


Pennsylvania Catholic Conference

As shepherds of the faithful, we are keenly aware of our duty to offer guidance and counsel to our people regarding Christian faith and morality. Over the years many Catholic parents and guardians have indicated a need for specific moral guidance concerning programs of education in human sexuality, proposed or offered in public and nonpublic schools throughout the state.

We remind all parents and guardians in our Commonwealth that they do have the primary right and duty to provide for the education of their children. Because children are entitled to and in need of an education, parents have a corresponding responsibility. This obligation of parents to their children is a grave one before God. We earnestly implore all Catholic parents to exercise this fundamental right and to fulfill conscientiously their grave responsibility to provide adequately for every aspect of their children's education.Bishops Urge Instruction

The National Catechetical Directory expands upon the injunction of the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council:

"As they [children and young people] advance in years, they should be given positive and prudent sexual education." Education in sexuality includes all dimensions of the topic: moral, spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical . . . Sexuality is an important element of human personality, an integral part of one's overall consciousness. It is both a central aspect of one's self-understanding (i.e., as male of female) and a crucial factor in one's relationships with others. (1)

Accordingly, we remind Catholic parents of our counsel to them in our 1989 reflections on the gift of sexuality, "To Love and To Be Loved":

"You are the primary and most important teachers your children will ever have. It is through your example that they receive values which will orient their lives. Your marital relationship can show them a living definition of what committed love and intimacy mean. Be sure of what your own Catholic-Christian values are regarding human sexuality. Talk about these values with your children." (2)

Although parents and guardians have the primary responsibility for their children's education concerning human sexuality, it is quite acceptable that they have qualified teachers or other professionals to assist them in this delicate and urgent educational undertaking. In seeking or accepting this assistance, however, parents and guardians are in no way relieved of personal responsibility. They must of necessity have a continuing and genuine concern about the kind of program being presented to their children, as well as the qualifications of those who present it. (3)Purpose of Education in Human Sexuality

The purpose of any program of education in human sexuality, whether conducted by the parents/guardians or with the assistance of the school, is to develop in young persons a proper regard for the mystery of life and to promote in them a mature acceptance of self and of their fellow men and women. A proper understanding of human sexuality will focus on the dignity of the person, marriage and the family. The mere presentation of biological and reproductive data is in no way sufficient. An acceptable program of education in human sexuality requires both the broader context and the development of morally acceptable standards of conduct.

Pope John Paul II presented the premise which adequately undergirds such and approach: "Education in love as self-giving is also the indispensable premise for parents called to give their children a clear and delicate sex education." Pointing out that contemporary culture "largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something commonplace," he notes that culture "interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure."

Consequently, he indicates, ". . . the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person — body, emotions and soul — and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the fits of self in love." (4)

Education in human sexuality, which has always been an important factor in the proper growth and development of youth, is especially important today. Secularism, materialism, and sensualism exert disastrous influence. School-based health clinics, the AIDS epidemic ad resultant mandate to include AIDS education in the curriculum in all schools of the Commonwealth necessitate provision of instruction based on Christian values. Modern society challenges Christian Moral principles and routinely downgrades the dignity and sacredness of human sexuality. Our young people need good moral guidance in the area of sexuality for their overall growth as persons even as they need food for their physical growth.Parental Involvement Essential

In some programs of education in human sexuality that have been initiated in various dioceses and public school districts across the nation, a special effort has been made to work with parents. We encourage this collaborative approach. We also urgently remind all school administrators that parents should be involved in the earliest stages of planning. We heartily endorse the guideline of the State Board of Education in Pennsylvania stating the "school officials should make every effort to inform and involve parents, clergy, physicians, and all interested community people in advance of proposed programs in sex education." (5)

We urge parents/guardians to seek involvement in the planning stages of such educational programs. This is both a parent's right and a parent's duty. Through such involvement, the preferences and concerns of parents can be expressed and hopefully heeded — indeed, perhaps with the grateful appreciation of all involved. They can give necessary support to a program that is sound in attitude, morally acceptable, and presented by a properly qualified staff.

Although we cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of parental involvement in the planning stages of programs in human sexuality, nonetheless we also state that such involvement does not necessarily imply approval of the final version of that program. The rights of both parents and children must be vigorously safeguarded. One of those rights concerns the religious convictions of both. If a program violated this right, parents are bound in conscience to express opposition. Parents may be forced at time to express this opposition by withdrawing their children from unacceptable programs.Within Catholic Philosophy

Ideally, Catholic parents should seek a program that presents human sexuality in the context of a Catholic philosophy of education. Within this framework, proper attitudes and ideals can be formed and developed by reference to those spiritual and moral principles which must guide the youth entrusted to our care. We address these principles in our recent statement to youth, "To Love and To Be Loved," and we expect programs initiated in our Catholic schools to encompass them. For those parents whose children attend other schools with programs otherwise unobjectionable, we offer a special caution. The spiritual and moral values must be supplied by the parents, not simply by their good example, but by their instruction. Parish religious education programs should be a source of reliable assistance to parents.

In summary, we recommend to Catholic parents the following guidelines relevant to programs of education in human sexuality:Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. They should be involved, along with school administrators, clergy, health care professionals, and interested community personnel, in the planning that must occur before a school can initiate a program in human sexuality.
The purpose of an educational program in human sexuality should be the development in the child of an understanding of human sexuality and family life and proper attitudes about them rather than a mere imparting of reproductive data. Whenever possible the program should be presented within the proper religious, spiritual, and moral context so that the child will be able to make proper judgments and formulate proper ideals.
The rights and religious convictions of students and parents must be carefully safeguarded in planning and developing a program in human sexuality.
Because of their primary responsibility for their children's education, parents retain the right to withdraw their children from a human sexuality program that violates their moral and religious convictions.
Education in human sexuality should not be an isolated or fragmented facet of education; rather it should be integrated into appropriate areas of the total school program where it can be taught by properly prepared and motivated faculty members.
In our Catholic schools this program is to be presented within a spiritual and moral context. In other schools, where this cannot be done, and children are provided with programs otherwise acceptable, parents have a special responsibility to see that the spiritual and moral dimension is supplied.

In conclusion, we emphasize that education in human sexuality is an extremely delicate aspect of the total education of our youth. We urge parents and school administrators to approach this responsibility with thoughtful and prudent preparation.NOTES

(1) Sharing the Light of Faith, National Catechetical Director, par. 191.

(2) To Love and To Be Loved: the Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops Speak to Youth on the Gift of Sexuality, 1989, p. 9.

(3) William Cardinal Baum, Educational Guidance in Human Love; Outlines for Sex Education, Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome, 1983, p. 7. "The Holy Father immediately goes on to speak of the school, which is responsible fro this education in service of and in harmony with parents. 'Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers, chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering in the same spirit that animates the parents.'"

(4) Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Apostolic Exhortation, Rome, 1981, p. 73

(5) Guidelines for Sex Education in Public Schools of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Education, 1969.

Revised by the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania

November 1990

Used with permission of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference