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Back to March Ed Reporter

Excerpts from

The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality

Guidelines for Education within the Family

by the Pontifical Council for the Family

2. . . . Our Council wishes to put forward pastoral guidelines, drawing on the wisdom which comes from the Word of the Lord and the values which illuminate the teaching of the Church. . . .

5. . . . The Church has always affirmed that parents have the duty and the right to be the first and the principal educators of their children. . . .

11. Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being "very good", when He created the human person in His image and likeness, and "male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). . . .

21. . . . Parents should also consider any attack on the virtue and chastity of their children as an offense against the life of faith itself that threatens and impoverishes their own communion of life and grace (cf. Ephesians 6:12). . . .

23. Other educators can assist in this task, but they can only take the place of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity. On this point the Magisterium of the Church has expressed itself clearly, in relation to the whole educative process of children: "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute. . . . The family is therefore the principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society.". . . "Parents are the first and most important educators of their children, and they also possess a fundamental competency in this area: they are educators because they are parents. . . . All other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.". . .

41. . . . It is extremely important for parents to be aware of their rights and duties, particularly in the face of a State or a school that tends to take up the initiative in the area of sex education.

The Holy Father John Paul II reaffirms this in Familiaris Consortio: "The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others", except in the case, as mentioned at the beginning, of physical or psychological impossibility.

42. This doctrine is based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and is also proclaimed by the Charter of the Rights of the Family: "Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they . . . have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions". . . .

43. The Pope insists upon the fact that this holds especially with regard to sexuality: "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres 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 into the same spirit that animates the parents".

The Holy Father adds, "In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality". No one is capable of giving moral education in this delicate area better than duly prepared parents. . . .

47. . . . Through this document, the Church holds that it is her duty to give parents back confidence in their own capabilities and help them to carry out their task. . . .

64. . . . This primary task of the family includes the parents' right that their children should not be obliged to attend courses in school on this subject which are not in harmony with their religious and moral convictions. . . .

In this regard, we recall what the Holy Father teaches in Familiaris Consortio: "The Church is firmly opposed to an often widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles. That would merely be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity -- while still in the years of innocence -- by opening the way to vice". . . .

65. Four Principles Regarding Information about Sexuality

1. Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their children's physical and spiritual growth. No one can take this capacity for discernment away from conscientious parents.

66. Each child's process of maturation as a person is different. Therefore, the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotional, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue. . . .

67. Experience shows that this dialogue works out better when the parent who communicates the biological, emotional, moral and spiritual information is of the same sex as the child or young person. Being aware of the role, emotions and problems of their own sex, mothers have a special bond with their daughters, and fathers with their sons. This natural bond should be respected. . . .

68. 2. The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Parents should stress that Christians are called to live the gift of sexuality according to the plan of God who is Love, i.e., in the context of marriage or of consecrated virginity and also celibacy. They must insist on the positive value of chastity and its capacity to generate true love for other persons. This is the most radical and important moral aspect of chastity. Only a person who knows how to be chaste will know how to love in marriage or in virginity. . . .

72. . . .3. . . . When deviant tendencies and attitudes are present, which require great prudence and caution so as to recognize and evaluate situations properly, parents should also have recourse to specialists with solid scientific and moral formation in order to identify the causes over and above the symptoms, and help the subjects to overcome difficulties in a serious and clear way. . . .

73. The objective of the parents' educational task is to pass on to their children the conviction that chastity in one's state in life is possible and that chastity brings joy. . . .

75. . . .4. . . .Parents are well aware that their children must be treated in a personalized way, according to the personal conditions of their physiological and psychological development, and taking into due consideration the cultural environment of life and the adolescentūs daily experience. Giving too many details to children is counterproductive. . . .

77. It is important for parents to take their children's needs into consideration during the different stages of development. Keeping in mind that each child should receive individualized formation, parents can adapt the stages of education in love to the particular requirements of each child. . . .

78. It can be said that a child is in the stage described in John Paul II's words as "the years of innocence" from about five years of age until puberty -- the beginning of which can be set at the first signs of changes in the boy or girlūs body (the visible effect of an increased production of sexual hormones). This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for the child's interests to turn to other aspects of life. The rudimentary instinctive sexuality of very small children has disappeared. Boys and girls of this age are not particularly intersted in sexual problems, and they prefer to associate with children of their own sex. So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth, parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary. . . .

80. . . .The real differences between the two sexes should not be ignored or minimized, and in a healthy family environment children will learn that it is natural for a certain difference to exist between the usual family and domestic roles of men and women. . . .

83. . . .In some societies today, there are planned and determined attempts to impose premature sex information on children. But, at this stage of development, children are still not capable of fully understanding the value of the affective dimension of sexuality. They cannot understand and control sexual imagery within the proper context of moral principles and, for this reason, they cannot integrate premature sexual information with moral responsibility. Such information tends to shatter their emotional and educational development and to disturb the natural serenity of this period of life. 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. . . .

104. . . .Young people need to be helped to distinguish between the concepts of what is normal and abnormal, between subjective guilt and objective disorder, avoiding what would arouse hostility. . . . A distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of homosexuality that "are intrinsically disordered" and contrary to Natural Law.

105. . . . The disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the personūs capacity to love by making pleasure, instead of sincere self-giving, the end of sexuality and by reducing other persons to objects of one's own gratification. . . .

113. It is recommended that parents be aware of their own educational role and defend and carry out this primary right and duty. It follows that any educative activity, related to education for love and carried out by persons outside the family, must be subject to the parents' acceptance of it and must be seen not as a substitute but as a support for their work. In fact, "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them." Frequently parents are not lacking in awareness and effort, but they are quite alone, defenseless and often made to feel they are wrong. They need understanding, but also support and help by groups, associations and institutions.

114. It is recommended that parents associate with other parents, not only in order to protect, maintain or fill out their own role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the area of education for love, but also to fight against damaging forms of sex education and to ensure that their children will be educated according to Christian principles and in a way that is consonant with their personal development. . . .

116. We are aware of the difficulty and often the impossibility for parents to participate fully in all supplementary instruction provided outside the home. Nevertheless, they have the right to be informed about the structure and content of the program. In all cases, their right to be present during classes cannot be denied.

117. It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles. However, such a decision of the parents must not become grounds for discrimination against their children. . . .

120. It is recommended that respect be given to the right of the child or young person to withdraw from any form of sexual instruction imparted outside the home. Neither the children nor other members of their family should ever be penalized or discriminated against for this decision. . . .

121. In the light of these recommendations, education for love can take concrete form in four working principles.

122. 1. Human sexuality is a sacred mystery and must be presented according to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church, always bearing in mind the effects of original sin. . . .

124. 2. Only information proportionate to each phase of their individual development should be presented to children and young people. . . .

125. In the light of this principle, the relevance of timing in relation to specific problems can also be indicated.

(a) In later adolescence, young people can first be introduced to the knowledge of the signs of fertility and then to the natural regulation of fertility, but only in the context of education for love, fidelity in marriage, God's plan for procreation and respect for human life.

(b) Homosexuality should not be discussed before adolescence unless a specific serious problem has arisen in a particular situation. This subject must be presented only in terms of chastity, health and "the truth about human sexuality in its relationship to the family as taught by the Church."

(c) Sexual perversions that are relatively rare should not be dealt with except through individual counselling, as the parents' response to genuine problems.

126. 3. No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children or young people of any age, individually or in a group.

This principle of decency must safeguard the virtue of Christian chastity. Therefore in passing on sexual information in the context of education for love, the instruction must always be "positive and prudent" and "clear and delicate". These four words used by the Catholic Church exclude every form of unacceptable content in sexual education.

Moreover, even if they are not erotic, graphic and realistic representations of childbirth, for example in a film, should be made known gradually, so as not to create fear and negative attitudes towards procreation in girls and young women.

127. 4. No one should ever be invited, let alone obliged, to act in any way that could objectively offend against modesty or which could subjectively offend against his or her own delicacy or sense of privacy.

This principle of respect for the child excludes all improper forms of involving children and young people. In this regard, among other things, this can include the following methods that abuse sex education:

(a) every "dramatized" representation, mime or "role playing" which depict genital or erotic matters,

(b) making drawings, charts or models etc. of this nature,

(c) seeking personal information about sexual questions or asking that family information be divulged,

(d) oral or written exams about genital or erotic questions. . .

129. The normal and fundamental method, already proposed in this guide, is personal dialogue between parents and their children, that is, individual formation within the family circle. . . .

135. Today parents should be attentive to ways in which an immoral education can be passed on to their children through various methods promoted by groups with positions and interests contrary to Christian morality. It would be impossible to indicate all unacceptable methods. . . .

136. In the first place, parents must reject secularized and anti-natalist sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of a child as a threat. This sex education is spread by large organizations and international associations that promote abortion, sterilization and contraception. These organizations want to impose a false lifestyle against the truth of human sexuality. Working at national or state levels, these organizations try to arouse the ear of the "threat of over-population" among children and young people to promote the contraceptive mentality, that is, the "anti-life" mentality. They spread false ideas about the "reproductive health" and "sexual and reproductive rights" of young people. Furthermore, some antinatalist organizations maintain those clinics which, violating the rights of parents, provide abortion and contraception for young people, thus promoting promiscuity and consequently an increase in teenage pregnancies. . . .

137. Before adolescence, the immoral nature of abortion, surgical or chemical, can be gradually explained in terms of Catholic morality and reverence for human life. . . .

138. In some societies professional associations of sex-educators, sex-counsellors and sex-therapists are operating. Because their work is often based on unsound theories, lacking scientific value and closed to an authentic anthropology, theories that do not recognize the true value of chastity, parents should regard such associations with great caution, no matter what official recognition they may have received. When their outlook is out of harmony with the teachings of the Church, this is evident not only in their work, but also in their publications which are widely diffused in various countries.

139. Another abuse occurs whenever sex education is given to children by teaching them all the intimate details of genital relationships, even in a graphic way. Today this is often motivated by wanting to provide education for "safe sex", above all in relation to the spread of AIDS. In this situation, parents must also reject the promotion of so-called "safe sex" or "safer sex", a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against AIDS. Parents must insist on continence outside marriage and fidelity in marriage as the only true and secure education for the prevention of this contagious disease.

140. One widely-used, but possibly harmful, approach goes by the name of "values clarification". Young people are encouraged to reflect upon, to clarify and to decide upon moral issues with the greatest degree of "autonomy", ignoring the objective reality of the moral law in general and disregarding the formation of consciences on the specific Christian moral precepts, as affirmed by the Magisterium of the Church. Young people are given the idea that a moral code is something which they create themselves, as if man were the source and norm of morality.

However, the values clarification method impedes the true freedom and autonomy of young people at an insecure stage of their development. In practice, not only is the opinion of the majority favored, but complex moral situations are put before young people, far removed from the normal moral choices they face each day, in which good or evil are easily recognizable. This unacceptable method tends to be closely linked with moral relativism, and thus encourages indifference to moral law and permissiveness.

141. Parents should also be attentive to ways in which sexual instruction can be inserted in the context of other subjects which are otherwise useful (for example, health and hygiene, personal development, family life, children's literature, social and cultural studies etc.). . . .

145. There are various way of helping and supporting parents in fulfilling their fundamental right and duty to educate their children for love. Such assistance never means taking from parents or diminishing their formative right and duty, because they remain "original and primary", "irreplaceable and inalienable". Therefore, the role which others can carry out in helping parents is always (a) subsidiary, because the formative role of the family is always preferable, and (b) subordinate, that is, subject to the parents' attentive guidance and control. . . .

146. Those who are called to help parents in educating their children for love must be disposed and prepared to teach in conformity with the authentic moral doctrine of the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be mature persons, of a good moral reputation, faithful to their own Christian state of life, married or single, laity, reigious or priests. . . . But if parents believe themselves to be capable of providing an adequate education for love, they are not bound to accept assistance. . . .

148. . . . The rights of parents must be recognized, protected and maintained, not only to ensure solid formation of children and young people, but also to guarantee the right order of cooperation and collaboration between parents and those who can help them in their task. Likewise, in parishes or apostolates, clergy and religious should support and encourage parents in striving to form their own children. . . .

150. The Pontifical Council for the Family therefore urges parents to have confidence in their rights and duties regarding the education of their children, so as to go forward with wisdom and knowledge, knowing that they are sustained by God's gift. . . .

Vatican City, November 21, 1995

This document is available in print format from Daughters of St. Paul, 1-800-876-4463.


 
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