Catholic educators set record straight on human sexuality education

By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Catholic educators are being accused of supporting rape, abandoning science, and failing to protect their students – none of which is even remotely true, say the province’s Catholic school superintendents.

A firestorm erupted in the mainstream and social media following publication of a working document prepared by the Council of Catholic Superintendents of Alberta, which identified for government officials possible areas of concern in the human sexuality part of the health and wellness curriculum. Catholic schools teach the full provincial curriculum in all subjects, but supplement it with a Catholic perspective.

“What everybody did is they took our document, they actually cut words and they put them together. And so they created sentences,” said Karl Germann, council president and superintendent of Grande Prairie Catholic Schools.

“It caught us completely off-guard. It’s disappointing,” added Bonnie Annicchiarico, the council’s past president. “Our goal was to be active participants with the government for the good of Catholic education.”

She said the council of superintendents has been working with Alberta Education for more than a year – “in good faith,”– as the ministry updates the provincial school curriculum.

Asked to identify areas of potential concern on human sexuality education, the council replied with a working document that was sent to Alberta Education on April 11. That document was made public through a freedom of information act request this week.

The goal was to ensure the new curriculum is not so restrictive that it would prevent Catholic schools from including relevant Church teachings alongside the provincial curriculum.

For example, they would teach the curriculum content on contraceptives and abortion, and also teach why the Church opposes these measures. They would teach about different sexual orientations, and also teach the Catholic view of marriage as a sacramental bond between a man and woman.

Some critics said that would lead to marginalization of minorities.

On the issue of consent, the superintendents wrote "Although consent is always necessary for any sexual activity to be healthy, it is not the only threshold that needs to be met when considering choices regarding sexual activity and other important decisions." They want students also to consider “personal, family and faith values and legal requirements” in order to make informed decisions about sexual activity.

Some critics denounced that section as a promotion of rape. 

The superintendents’ document identifies a number of concepts that might be taught   ̶  but not promoted  ̶  in Catholic schools because they conflict with Church teaching, such as same-sex relationships or the theory that gender is not connected to biology.

“We wanted to say for the first time that this is what we see being our teachings and what could be problematic,” Germann said. “We’re trying to be pre-emptive in our work.”

In addition to the new school curriculum, the council wants to develop a resource document for Catholic teachers of human sexuality education, which would provide an expanded view of sexuality, from a Catholic lens, and within the school curriculum. 

“I think if people read and process the document, they’ll get a deeper understanding of what we’re trying to articulate,” Germann said. “We’re not in any way judging anybody else’s beliefs.”

Critics include Premier Rachel Notley and Education Minister David Eggen. Despite that, Annicchiarico said the superintendents will continue to work constructively with Alberta Education officials on the new curriculum.

For now, the council is dealing with the fallout.

“We articulated our Catholic perspectives on what would be our Catholic teaching and what might be contrary to our Catholic teaching,” Germann said. “We’re trying to respect our bishops and respect our ministers. We would have to get a blessing from both.”

Their document states that the Church has a foundational teaching that all people are created in God’s image and that “individuals must be treated with respect, compassion, sensitivity and against discrimination.”

“Same-sex inclinations in no way diminish the full human dignity or intrinsic worth of the person.”

Janay Mori, a Grade 12 student at St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton, wasn’t surprised by the superintendents’ suggestions.

“If it’s a Catholic school then I guess you can teach Catholic values, because that’s the whole point of a Catholic school, but just have limits, “ said Mori. 

She noted that her school is “bringing LGBT people in to share their experiences, how people can treat others better, and (teaching that) it’s not OK to discriminate.”

Sean Comrie, another St. FX student, said the public high school he attended in B.C. taught safe-sex options, and that’s important.

“It’s going to happen when people are dating in high school and in university, so they should be prepared for that.”

- with files from Andrew Ehrkamp and Lorraine Turchansky

For full background, read the: