By Pete Baklinski
"More souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason," Our Lady of Fatima warned the three young seers in 1917. But this message, unfortunately, is entirely absent from the Vatican’s newly released sex-ed programme for teens. Instead, sexual sins are not mentioned at all. The 6th and 9th commandments are ignored while sexually explicit images and immoral videos are used as springboards for discussion.
The programme titled “The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People” was released last week by the Pontifical Council for the Family to be presented this week to young people at World Youth Day in Poland.
While the programme has been in the process of development by married couples in Spain for a number of years, it appears to have received impetus to be completed by Francis’ April Exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia. In the exhortation, Francis speaks about the “need for sex education” to be addressed by “educational institutions,” a move that alarmed global life-and-family leaders since the Catholic Church has always recognized and taught — often in the face of opposition from world powers — that sex education is the “basic right and duty of parents.”
The Vatican’s sex-ed is broken down into six units that are to be taught over a period of four years (grades 9-12) to male and female students in mixed classes.
View all the lessons and teacher guides at the program's website here.
The new programme being put forward by the Pontifical Council for the Family appears to be a departure from what the Church's magisterium has long taught on sex education. For example:
- Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encyclical on Christian education, Divini Illius Magistri, speaks about sex instruction in a private setting by parents, not in classrooms, stating that if “some private instruction is found necessary and opportune, from those who hold from God the commission to teach and have the grace of state, every precaution must be taken. Such precautions are well known in traditional Christian education. ... Hence it is of the highest importance that a good father, while discussing with his son a matter so delicate, should be well on his guard not to descend to details." He adds: “Speaking generally, during the period of childhood, it suffices to employ those remedies which produce the double effect of opening the door to the virtue of purity and closing the door upon vice."
- Pope Pius XII, in his 1951 address to fathers of families, warns against propaganda, even from "Catholic sources," which "exaggerates out of all proportion the importance and significance of the sexual element. ... Their manner of explaining sexual life is such that it acquires in the mind and conscience of the average reader the idea and value of an end in itself, making him lose sight of the true primordial purpose of matrimony, which is the procreation and upbringing of children, and the grave duty of married couples as regards this purpose—something which the literature of which We are speaking leaves too much in the background."
- Pope John Paul II, in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, calls sex education a “basic right and duty of parents” which “must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them." He adds: “Christian parents, discerning the signs of God’s Will, will devote special attention and care to educate in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality."
- The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, in its 1983 Educational Guidelines in Human Love, writes that the “fact remains ever valid that in regard to the more intimate aspects [of sexual education], whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family.”
While the new Vatican programme has many positive qualities, its defects cannot be underestimated. These include:
- Handing the sexual formation of children over to educators while leaving parents out of the equation.
- Failing to name and condemn sexual behaviors, such as fornication, prostitution, adultery, contracepted-sex, homosexual activity, and masturbation, as objectively sinful actions that destroy charity in the heart and turn one away from God.
- Failing to warn youths about the possibility of eternal separation from God (damnation) for committing grave sexual sins. Hell is not mentioned once.
- Failing to distinguish between mortal and venial sin.
- Failing to speak about the 6th and 9th commandment, or any other commandment.
- Failing to teach about the sacrament of confession as a way of restoring relationship with God after committing grave sin.
- Not mentioning a healthy sense of shame when it comes to the body and sexuality.
- Teaching boys and girls together in the same class.
- Having boys and girls share together in class their understanding of phrases such as: “What does the word sex suggest to you?”
- Asking a mixed class to “point out where sexuality is located in boys and girls.”
- Speaking about the “process of arousal.”
- Using sexually explicit and suggestive images in activity workbooks (here, here, and here).
- Recommending various sexually explicit movies as springboards for discussion (see below for links).
- Failing to speak about abortion as gravely wrong, but only that it causes “strong psychological damage.”
- Confusing youths by using phrases such as “sexual relationship” to indicate not the sexual act, but a relationship focused on the whole person.
- Speaking of “heterosexuality” as something to be “discover[ed].”
- Using gay icon Elton John (while not mentioning his activism) as an example of a gifted and famous person.
- Endorsing the “dating” paradigm as a step towards marriage.
- Not stressing celibacy as the supreme form of self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality.
- Failing to mention Christ’s teaching on marriage.
- Treating sexuality as a separate subject instead of as something integrated into the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church.
View Slide Show: What’s in the Vatican’s new sex-ed program? (CAUTION: Sexually explicit images.)
Positive qualities include:
- Drawing from John Paul II’s teachings in Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility for an understanding of personhood, the language of the body, the spousal dimension of the body, and the body/soul unity of the person.
- Teaching that the human person is either male or female. No gender theory here.
- Teaching that men and women complement each other through sexual difference.
- Teaching that men and woman are equal in dignity, but are different physically and emotionally. No radical feminism here.
- Teaching about modesty and chastity as virtues, but not until later units. Chastity is defined as the “light which guides us to give an inviolate love.”
- Teaching the importance of freedom in the moral life. Freedom is defined as the “capacity to do what is good.”
- Speaking about “concupiscence” as a “darkness prevent[ing] us from seeing the fullness of the person in a proper and complete way.”
- Briefly mentioning how love can be separated from procreation, but not explaining the specific evil.
- Teaching about the importance of “self-control” and “self-mastery” in order to truly give yourself to another person.
- Speaking about “misplaced love” which manifests itself as “narcissism” and “masturbation,” but no mention of sin.
- Speaking about purity as the “virtue that disposes us to treat our body with ‘holiness and honour.’”
- Briefly mentioning the “sanctity of life.”
- Speaking about virginity as a way to “respond to the call to love.”
- Promoting chastity before marriage.
Of urgent concern with the programme is the number of films recommended by the programme as a springboard for discussion that cannot be construed as anything but sexually immoral. For example:
- Unit 4 recommends the 2013 R-rated film “To the Wonder” to discuss the “call to the donation of oneself.” Focus on the Family describes the sexual content in this way [WARNING–EXPLICIT]: “So while love is the primary focus of To the Wonder, sex becomes an integral part of its expression. Both Neil and Jane, and Neil and Marina, engage in explicitly rendered intercourse. Nudity stops just short of full; motions and sounds are passionate, erotic, titillating and extended—the blending of bodies to suggest complete intimacy. There's the visual suggestion that Neil and Marina have sex in the coach compartment on a train. An (almost) oral sex scene is used to express distance and dissatisfaction.”
- Unit 6 recommends the 2010 R-rated film “Love & other Drugs” to “reflect on the part of the formula with which a man and a woman express their mutual consent to contract marriage.” Focus on the Family describes the sexual content in this way [WARNING–EXPLICIT]: "For a good chunk of the film, Jamie and Maggie seem to be in a constant state of lovemaking. They smash into cabinets, writhe on the floor, pant and moan, engage in oral sex and loudly express their orgasmic responses. Audiences see both of them completely naked. (Only their pubic regions escape the frame.) It's pretty explicit stuff…Later, after Maggie and Jamie tape one of their sexual escapades, Josh finds it and watches it. It's implied that he masturbates while doing so. And he spends the rest of the film making crude comments about his brother's anatomy.”
- Unit 2 recommends the 2013 film "Stockholm" to raise the question, “Is it really worth it to give myself to the first person that approaches me?” Hollywood Reporter describes the film as a “cat-and-mouse” game where the man “expertly dresses up his desire for sex with her as real feeling” while “quizzes him about his real motives for his interest in her.” After the “commitment of sex has happened,” which appears to be graphically depicted based on previews, the couple starts to find out “who they really are and that they’re seeking entirely different things.”
The film selection reveals a startling lack of moral compass in the programme creators, something that should alarm any parent thinking of allowing their child to be formed by this programme.
One pro-family campaigner against Planned Parenthood’s explicit version of sex-ed gave this comment, under condition of anonymity, about the Vatican’s sex-ed programme: “I had a hard time deciding if the authors were trying to cleverly disguise a bad programme or if they were just thoroughly incompetent. They tried to interweave modern day movies to support the vague concepts they were trying to get across, but, how they did that was not very effective. Why the erotic pictures that bordered on porn? I thought the whole thing would be confusing to youth and frankly a large waste of time.”
In one activity, youths are asked to look at a picture of an older couple who are sitting in front of an image of a “young man and woman, joining their half-naked bodies in a hug.” They are asked: “Which of the two couples is having a sexual relationship?” The teaching guide states: “The objective is for the young person to feel ‘provoked’ in front of these two images, or even confused by the title of the topic and the image presented.” And that is the essential problem with this program: Young people will simply be confused by the conflicting messages, the explicit images and films, and the lack of moral directives.
In the end, the Vatican’s sex-ed programme might at best be described as a mixed bag and at worst as a misguided effort that falls very much short of the mark. While the casual reader can point to various texts that suggest that the programme is aimed at promoting modesty, abstinence, and saving sexual relations for marriage, there is nevertheless something quite disturbing happening between the lines.
Because of the programme's failure to honour the God-given role of parents as primary educator, its utter failure to name and condemn various sexual sins, and its use of sexual explicit materials and films, the programme not only fails to achieve its goal, but it could arguably have the opposite effect of awakening in youths disordered sexual desire and giving them the impetus to act out sexual fantasies. The programme attempts to instruct young people about the importance of modesty, chastity, and intimacy and does so by violating the very values it is trying to instil. In this way it is self-defeating. In short, the programme could lead youths not closer to God, but further away from him.
One might go as far as conjecturing that had the sainted Maria Goretti been formed by the Vatican’s sex-ed programme, it is unlikely that she would have had any heroic words of virtue to say to her sexual attacker. She would not have been formed to say: “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" She would not have learned that what her attacker wanted was an offense against God. Nor would have Saint Dominic Savio, in the same vein, been able to say: “Death rather than sin,” because he would not have learned about the horror of sin. A programme in sexual morality that fails to teach young people to live the Gospel without compromise is unworthy of being taught.
Pete Baklinski has a B.A. in Liberal Arts and a Masters in Theology with a Specialization on Marriage and the Family (STM). He is married to Erin. Together they have six children.
Editor's Note: The Pontifical Council for the Family is asking for feedback about its program. Please be respectful in communications.
The PCF may be contacted using its online platform here (scroll to bottom of page) or by using the information below:
Production Pontificium Consilium pro Familia
Piazza di San Calisto
16 00153 Roma
Phone: +39 0669887243
Piazza di San Calisto
16 00153 Roma
Phone: +39 0669887243