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Another look at Catholic AIDS education.


Catholic Insight has already published two analyses of the proposed AIDS program for Catholic schools, in April and November of 1997 respectively. In this edition we bring a third look at the program, this time from a Catholic medical point of view.


In November, 1989, the bishops of the U.S.A. issued a statement on HIV/AIDS in which they held that

"people need education and motivation so that they will choose wisely and well. Providing education that is both accurate and appropriate is a logical and necessary starting point."

At that time Bishop W. Malone, Bishop of Youngstown, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), was effusive in his praise of this statement. In 1992, Bishop Thomas C.Kelly, O.P.Archbishop of Louisville, the new Chairman of NCEA, repeated the praise.

In his `preface' to "AIDS: A Catholic Education Approach to HIV" (human immuno deficiency virus), Bishop James L. Doyle, D.D., Bishop of Peterborough, Chairman of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops' Education Commission, used the words of the U.S. bishops and of Bishop Kelly verbatim, in praise of the Ontario edition of the NCEA document - slightly edited by the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) to fit the Fully Alive program and to add some Canadian source material. I will refer to this document as the NCEA/ICE, or the `program'.

Bishop Doyle, using Bishop Kelly's words as his own, goes on to state that the NCEA has been in the forefront of developing and applying Catholic teaching, and that its document is "infused with Gospel values and Church teaching about human sexuality and responsibility."

The following analysis of the NCEA/ICE program is offered as an encouragement to re-think the efforts of the Church both in the clerical and lay domains, and to meet the challenges, both spiritual and physical, posed by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including the recent arrival, HIV infection.

Does the AIDS program live up to its episcopal billing?

1. "People need education and motivation to choose wisely and well."

The first question is, why single out HIV when the incidence of other STDs is much more alarming? There are over 40,000 people with HIV alive in Canada; it is a serious problem. But, in 1995, the figures for other sexually transmitted diseases were, in the U.S.A. (Canada is usually one tenth of the U.S. figures) as follows:

* 12 - 14 million new STDs annually, mostly among heterosexuals.

* 1.5 million gonorrhea - which causes sterility.

* 110 thousand syphilis - which can result in blindness, dementia and death.

* 4 million chlamydia - the most common STD, the main cause of sterility and of ectopic pregnancy, and a cause of increased susceptibility to HIV.

* 500,00 - 1,000,000 human papilloma virus (HPV). Almost all cases of cancer of the cervix of the uterus are caused by HPV.

* 250,000 to 500,000 genital herpes - this virus can kill or blind a baby at birth.

* 3 million trichomoniasis - causes infection of the vagina or urethra, or of the baby during its birth.

* 200,000 hepatitis B - this is often transmitted by homosexual intercourse and has a 10% death rate. (1)

The above diseases (1) get only a passing mention in the `program'. Its focus of concern is HIV and homophobia. In a world where the annual incidence of STDs is now 250 million, this program gives lopsided information and uses ambiguous words.

Condoms and promiscuity

2. To refer to `safe/safer' choices in the context of preventing HIV is clearly to imply the use of the condom in sexual intercourse and, in a document like this, to imply its use is to condone its use.

To the public health authorities the medical profession at large, and to the public, the words `safe' or `safer' are most commonly thought of as associated with the use of condoms during sexual intercourse. We now have statistical evidence, however, that explicit modes of sex education increase promiscuity among the young. A false sense of safety and an increased incidence of fornication and sodomy have resulted in a much greater incidence of STDs and of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, with their murderous and pathological aftermath.

3. The fact that promiscuity is the direct cause of all these diseases receives little attention. What is said in this program is that "Students need to know that any promiscuous sexual behaviour is morally compromising because, by definition, it is lacking in commitment."

Even if we allow, for the sake of argument, that the authors of the HIV/AIDS `program' intended the phrase "morally compromising" to actually mean morally wrong, then, what is the moral principle which has been compromised by promiscuity? Their answer . . . `lack of commitment.' Commitment to what? Their answer . . . no answer. What then, does the word `commitment' mean? In this context it should mean to devote and to pledge oneself to another. A commitment to the binding for life in an intimate union of life and love, including the sexual expression of that love, belongs only in marriage.

It is of paramount importance to understand that the word `commitment' is used by our Canadian public health authorities only in the restricted sense of undertaking to limit one's sexual activity to one's current sexual partner. The purpose of such limitation has the sole aim of lessening the spread of STDs. Nowhere is any commitment to chastity implied or intended. Sexual activity outside of marriage is not discouraged.

The medical profession uses the word `commitment' in regard to sexual activity with all the studied vagueness necessary to allow and, where possible, to exculpate all possible sexual sins. The way the `program' uses the word `commitment' is unacceptable to anyone who understands the ambiguity of this word used in this context.

4. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there has been an inundation of STDs due to the failure of people to practice chastity. Why was it only after the arrival of HIV that the bishops and the school boards became so concerned with public health? Why so much emphasis on safe/safer `choices', which will inevitably be interpreted by young people as referring to sexual intercourse? If one has a program at all, it should give a clear message that promiscuous sex is never safe, either spiritually or physically.

5. Why are our bishops and their bureaucrats so misinformed and confused? One of the reasons is the scandalous and cowardly response of the medical profession when HIV first became known to the public. The profession, which is the source of the medical advice given in the `program', has let us down before.

The Archbishop of Ottawa

Previously, the profession had defined the moment of conception as occurring, not when the sperm unites with the ovum which every scientist knows is true, but when the tiny embryo is nested in the uterine wall, eight days later. This semantic dishonesty was in response to pressure from advocates for contraception. Later, the profession, yielding to political pressure, changed its definition of homosexual activity from abnormal to normal - this, despite its obvious myriad hazards.

6. The Archbishop of Ottawa, Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, in his letter to the Ottawa Citizen on February 18, 1998 said that "During a recent review of this program (Editor: i.e., the Fully Alive program of 1987) the Ontario bishops discovered that a full 99.7% of persons support it by having their children participate."

John F. Kippley, founder of the Couple to Couple League (U.S.A.), and a well-known supporter of Catholic Church teaching on natural family planning (NFP), has quoted the 1988 national Family Growth Survey statement as follows:

"Among people identifying themselves as sexually active and doing anything at all about birth control, 97% of Catholics, 98% of Protestants, and 99% of the unchurched said they used unnatural forms of birth control. That means that the birth control practices of Catholics are scarcely distinguishable from those of the pagans. That means that the culture of death rules in American Catholicism as well as in the culture as a whole." (2)

It should come as no surprise, then, that the ICE program is also meeting with little resistance. Moveover, in 1987 as now, when resistance is offered, parents are not told the details of these criticisms.

7. Archbishop Gervais praises the ICE program in his article because it emphasises "the capability of each person to make and follow responsible value choices."

This comment is puzzling at several levels. To whom are we responsible in our choices? To God? Is the program praised because it emphasises our simple capability to choose? Surely not! We are not free to choose our moral values autonomously, regardless of their objective truth. Neither are we morally free to choose actions based on values not objectively true.

Is praise due because we are literally, though not morally, capable of choosing our own moral values and acting on them while remaining in good conscience, regardless of whether our chosen moral values are objectively true? Surely not! This would contradict the teaching of the Church. Does the Archbishop refer to our capability to know and live the truth with the help of the Holy Spirit? A study of the project itself shows that it pays almost no attention to the spiritual life in regard to the prevention of HIV/AIDS. (3)

Pope John Paul II speaks of the "period of innocence" from five years to puberty. Archbishop Gervais, in his explanation and defence of the Fully Alive school program, rejected this period of innocence as unreal. Meanwhile, premature mixed-gender classroom sex education, with its inevitable mixture of curiosity, embarrassment, and possible sexual temptation, is not approved of by the Popes. He states that all classes given should be given under the attentive guidance of the parents. This does not happen in Canadian Catholic schools.

The proposition that education can enable one to choose wisely is hazardous. The ability to make wise moral choices does require true factual information; but it requires infinitely more, the grace of the Holy Spirit. The philosophy of this program is essentially a variant of the theory of the self-perfectibility of man, a philosophy first proposed by Pelagius in the fifth century and used today by the secular eugenists who espouse a particularly arrogant and ominous program for the improvement of the human race. Throughout the centuries, the Church has had to repeatedly face the resurgence of pelagianism in one form or another.

Is the information accurate?

8. The program claims to give "accurate information". The following two statements made by the program are actually false.

First, "No cases of HIV have been reported from contact with saliva." Several cases of infection via saliva were reported in the Lancet, 1988. Dr. Lorraine Day has said that Dr. James Curran of the CDC, Director of the Centres of Disease Control, U.S.A. confirmed that saliva can transmit the virus from one person to another.

Secondly, "AIDS is not a homosexual disease", states the program. Dr. Andre Lafrance, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1997, has calculated that the cumulative incidence of HIV/AIDS among homosexual men in Canada is more that one thousand times higher than among heterosexual persons.

9. "The NCEA has been in the forefront of developing Church teaching." This is false. It is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that has safeguarded the teaching on homosexuality in its statements of 1976, 1986 and 1992. The responsibility for handing on the teachings of Christ and the development of doctrine belongs to the Pope and his fellow bishops, in union with the Pope.

10. "The document is infused with gospel values and the Church's teaching about sexuality and human responsibility." If this is so, then, please explain:

* Why is sexual intercourse described as anal or vaginal?

* Why is there no mention of gender in the definition of intercourse? Normal intercourse does not include homosexual practices.

* Why in a Catholic program is there no emphasis on the need for modesty in dress and behaviour?

* Why are oral and anal sex described as "sexual intercourse" but not as sin?

* Why is the homosexual tendency itself (as distinguished from homosexual practice) not called a disorder, when it is so described by the teaching of the Catholic Church?

* Why is PFLAG, a homosexual advocacy group, invited into the classrooms to talk to our children? Have we forgotten that in 1987, Michael Swift, an American homosexual, wrote this:

"We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lies. We shall seduce them in your schools, in your dormitories, in your gymnasiums, in your locker rooms, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, in your youth groups, . . . Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding. They will be recast in our image. They will come to crave and adore us."

* Why is no mention made of the Church's teaching that is it not morally wrong to refuse to choose active homosexuals as suitable for certain types of employment such as placement, adoption, or foster care of children? (4) The Church states that

"Any and all criticisms of, or reservations about, homosexual people, their activity or life style, are not necessarily forms of unjust discrimination." (5)


* Why does the program tell us that "the Church calls us to work against homophobia?" This is untrue. Nowhere in Church documents is the word "homophobia" used.

The ICE program tells thirteen-year-olds that "homophobia is created when people choose not to acquire accurate true information about homosexuality, and prefer to live out attitudes and values that are not in keeping with the gospel." Indeed, it is desirable that people have information about homosexuality, but unfortunately, this program is not the place to find it. The `attitudes and values' encouraged in this program appear to spring from a moral position that does not make the necessary distinctions between persons and their practices.

* Why does the program speak of God's unconditional love while omitting to mention the fact that His pardon is not unconditional? He demands true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment. The program here runs the risk of trivializing evil.

For Catholics the proper motivation is chastity, acquired through grace, which is not sufficiently emphasized in the program. Much use is made of the words `fear' and `safety'. These are negative motives and are not adequate by themselves. Much more emphasis on the spiritual life should have been placed in the ICE program. The maxims of our public health bureaucrats just will not do.


The ideas upon which this program has been based were originally conceived by the American medical establishment, and almost immediately co-opted by the American NCEA, with little but cosmetic Catholicization of its format and content. It was in turn adopted by the Ontario bishops and given immediate approval and praise. It is beyond amendment, improvement or repair. Sad to say, if the program is promulgated in its present form, it will not only increase the spread of STDs, but exacerbate the medical and moral errors which have led to their spread in the first place. The program should be shredded. We should start again.

Dr. John Shea is a retired diagnostic radiologist and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada. He is a past president of the Catholic Doctors' Guild of Toronto, a co-founder of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and an associate editor of Catholic Insight.

(1) . Annual report: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Division of STD/HIV Prevention, 1989, p. 3.

(2) . Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. Vol. 21, No. 1 Winter 1998, p. 3-4, "Building the culture of Life in the Church," John F. Kippley.

(3) . Veritatis splendor, No. 40. Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, 1993.

(4) . Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. #11 Some Considerations on Legislation Prohibiting Discrimination Against Homosexual Persons, 1992.

(5) . Letter, Pastoral Care of Homosexuals, 1986. (Numbers 4 & 5 are available from Life Ethics Centre, 53 Dundas St. East, Toronto, ON., M5B 1C6, Tel: (416) 368-4558; Fax (416) 368-8575).
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Author:Shea, John B.
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:May 1, 1998
Previous Article:Curriculum fight moves to the picket line.
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