Catholic Parents Object to Sex Ed Program Being Forced on Children of Archdiocese of Boston

By Geraldine Hawkins
June 5, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has outraged many parents by requiring children, including kindergartners, to be subjected to a program called Talking About Touching (TAT), which is ostensibly designed to prevent sexual abuse but may have the effect of making a child curious about perversion.

"This has come about as a result of the scandal in the Church," says Bill Germino, whose children are enrolled in St. Catherine of Siena School in Norwood. "If someone is well-formed, faithful, and honors Catholic teaching, they will object to this," he says.

"The U.S. bishops felt they needed to implement some kind of child abuse prevention program, and so Cardinal Law appointed a blue-ribbon commission, none of whom had a Catholic background. They all had different secular business ties. Insurance companies had cut back on insuring dioceses.

Deacon Anthony Rizzuto, Director of Child Advocacy Implementation and Oversight for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, has mandated that TAT be required in all Catholic schools within his jurisdiction.

"Deacon Rizzuto is the former director of cemeteries!" Germino tells MassNews. "His [current] appointment was one of those after-dinner things where Cardinal Law said, 'You have a psychology degree, don't you?'

"Deacon Rizzuto has not read Catholic teaching on this subject. We asked him if he had read it, and he said, 'No.'

"Deacon Rizutto reports to Bishop Lennon, who is getting a sugarcoated version.

"The Diocese is doing this for insurance purposes and for P.R. We applaud the intent - to guard children against sexual abuse - but we very much oppose the way this is being done," Germino tells MassNews.

"We even have someone who is willing to fund a brand new Catholic program, but we have received no response from the Diocese."

Talking About Touching

In the TAT curriculum, children are told about possible situations in which they may find themselves, and then told how to respond to such situations. The scenarios with which the children are presented include the following:

First Grade: "This is Alex. He was visiting his aunt and uncle. Alex and his uncle were watching television and eating popcorn. His uncle told Alex that he had a special game they could play. He called it the 'touching game.' He said, 'Let's take off our clothes and touch each other's private body parts.' Alex knew that this wasn't safe. So, in a strong voice he said, 'No, I don't want to do that.' Alex got off the couch and left the room. When he got home, he told his mom and dad what had happened. Alex's parents were glad that he had said 'no' to his uncle. They were also glad that Alex told them what his uncle asked him to do."

THIRD GRADE: "This is Kerry. She is worried about something that happened to her last week when she spent the night with one of her friends. Her friend's older brother came into the bedroom, put his hand under the covers of the bed Kerry was sleeping in, and touched her vagina (private parts). She said, 'Stop that!' in an assertive voice. He stopped, but then he told her to keep it a secret. Kerry is wondering what she should do.
Question: How do you think Kerry felt when her friend's brother touched her vagina?"

"If you are desensitized to such things, you might not think it is objectionable," says Germino. He believes that part of the intent of TAT is to encourage children to tell the proper authorities if they have been approached sexually.

"They encourage children to use anatomically correct names so that the children will have a stronger case if it goes to litigation," Germino tells MassNews.

"Playground discussions will impose this even on children who opt out," Germino says. "A lot of it seems to expose them to information they don't need to hear. The examples use aunts, uncles, and every place in the house.

"What they tell us is that this program has been used in many places. This program is pitched at children aged 5 through 8.

"Even CCD [religious education for Catholic children who attend public schools] programs will have to incorporate TAT. Beginning next year children will be required to attend; there will no longer be the 'opt out' clause."

Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality

A group of parents from Immaculate Conception School in Lowell sent a letter to Rev. Emilio Allue, Auxiliary Bishop of the Merrimack Region, which quotes extensively from "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality," a document issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family in Vatican City, December 8, 1995.

"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 girl's body. . This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex.

"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.

"Since each child or young person must be able to live his or her own sexuality in conformity with Christian principles, and hence be able to exercise the virtue of chastity, no educator - not even parents - can interfere with this right to chastity." (cf. Matthew 18: 4-7)

"We have made the decision to homeschool. There are a lot of questions in the minds of parents who don't have that option," says Germino.

"The Diocese won't give us a straight answer. All they say is, 'All of our programs are under review.'"

"The 'priest scandal' is "unfortunate and saddening, but it will serve to clean up the Church. Our Church was decaying from within," Germino says.

"It was primarily about priests with teenage boys. The Church has not acknowledged this.

"This scandal has served to raise the awareness of children about sex, but that needs to be done at an appropriate age and in an appropriate way," he says.

No Way Out

"Next year they are taking away the right to opt out. They have begun the program in all schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. It is a 15-week program.

"They pitch the whole thing as part of a personal safety curriculum, which includes gun safety and bike safety. The trouble is that all the other 'safety' modules are covered in one week, but the part about 'touching safety' takes from 6 to 8 weeks in length," Germino says.

"They give all the scenarios of sexual abuse and ask the children to respond to them. They are trying to elicit disclosures from the children.

"They use puppets and have the puppets saying different things, like 'Let me help you zip up your pants.' Their highest motivation is to protect," Germino says.

Susan O'Hare-Black lives in Lowell and sends two of her children to St. Stanislaus Catholic School. She tells MassNews that she does not like being told that she does not have the right to keep her children from being exposed to TAT.

"My parental rights are being violated in this case. And the program is being taught during religion class, which I'm paying to have my children take by sending them to Catholic school!

"Some principals are honest, will look at you and say, 'I hate the program, but my hands are tied.' In my particular school, if I want to pull my children out of the program, they are made to sit in a chair in the hall! I am trying to get [the school] to improve the quality of opt-out time.

"I offered to come in and supervise all opt-out kids. This request was denied by the teachers, who refused to accommodate their schedules, even though I offered to teach an academic lesson free of charge. I'm still working hard with my principal to get teachers to change their minds.

"Next year, they are rescinding the opt-out clause.

"Our long-term solution is to get TAT out of the Catholic schools. Taking up time for it during the academic day is incredible," says O'Hare-Black.

"My children go to St. Stanislaus, a small Polish Roman Catholic school. Up until this point, I have had no trouble with the school, I love the school, I love the parish. It is the place my children and I call home."

Infiltrating CCD

The Diocese is now requiring that TAT be required not only in Catholic schools but in catechism, or CCD, programs.

"Many CCD programs are taught by older people in the community who love to teach a young child the Catholic faith, the catechism, the Bible, good things like that, and now they are being told they need to expose children to sexually explicit material whether they like it or not," says O'Hare-Black.

One lady who recently resigned as a CCD teacher over TAT is Mrs. Lu Vail, also of Lowell.

"I have taught CCD on and off for the last 30 years," Mrs. Vail tells MassNews. "Parents weren't given the option. We were told we had to attend [information meetings on TAT]. I knew it was only a matter of time before this became required in CCD, and sure enough, it was mandated by the Archdiocese.

"The people who have been put in charge of this are the ones who should be held accountable! It's not the Church, it's the people in the Church who have brought about these scandals," Vail says.

"I object to TAT because of all the scenarios they give. A third grade girl introduced to the word 'vagina'?

"There's a way to explain these things to a child, but none of these examples should be as stark as they are. For a child who really is innocent, it's abuse.

"And these classes are mixed! I know that at 14 or 15, I wouldn't have wanted boys in the class."

Like Germino and Black, Vail feels TAT is counterproductive.

"When you take a red cloth and hold it in front of a bull . The way it is being presented, I wonder if the effect isn't to entice the children to do some experimenting!"

Although ostensibly the point of TAT is to empower a child to say "no," Vail wonders if the children are not "also being empowered to get hurt."

"We need to go according to what the Holy Father has said about not ruining the innocence of these little ones," Vail says. "Little kids are going to act out a lot of what they're learning in school. It can lead to things that can involve a lot of other kids.

"The way to protect your children from these situations is to make sure they don't get into these situations!

"Every day when my children come home from school, I ask them, 'What happened at school today? What did you learn?' I go over spelling and math and everything else with them. Being the oldest of 8 children raised by a mother who was a practicing Catholic, I give them what I was taught.

"I've been married 30 years, because my husband and I live according to what the Catholic Church teaches. Our marriage is a sacrament."

Vail fears that if children are prematurely exposed to the possible abuse of sexual behavior, as they get older, "they're not going to find much of anything that's really sacred."

Vail feels that bureaucrats in the Church are forcing TAT on parents because "some people really take their empowerment seriously. They are forcing it on us because they think they can.

"When we were little, before we made our first communion, we knew what a sin was. Nowadays, people are led to believe, 'Well, I'm not going to worry about it because I know you love me, God.'

"Look, if I have an affair, tell God I'm sorry, and then do it 23 more times, is God supposed to believe I'm sorry? That's insulting to our Lord. That's shoving it in Jesus' face.

"This is a pilgrimage down here. Little children learn very quickly when you explain that something's right and something's wrong. Their lives can be a lot different than they were meant to be, if they are not guided."


Dubious Origins of T.A.T. Raises More Concerns

What especially concerns many parents is the origin of TAT. "Talking About Touching" was developed by a group calling itself Committee for Children. The Committee for Children is an offshoot of COYOTE, which stands for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics . a group concerned with the rights of prostitutes. The COYOTE website describes the group as follows:

"COYOTE ("Call Off Your Tired Ethics") was founded by Margo St. James in 1973. COYOTE works for the rights of all sex workers: strippers, phone operators, prostitutes, porn actresses etc. of all genders and persuasions. COYOTE supports programs to assist sex workers in their choice to change their occupation, works to prevent the scapegoating of sex workers for AIDS and other STDs, and to educate sex workers, their clients and the general public about safe sex. COYOTE is a member of The North American Task Force on Prostitution, and The International Committee for Prostitutes' Rights."
The Committee for Children bills itself as a group that promotes the "safety, well-being and social development of children." It was started in the 1970's by Jennifer James as an outgrowth of work she did with University of Washington social scientists. The research project was on youth entrance into prostitution. James established Judicial Advocates for Women in 1976 as a nonprofit, and identified its mission: to educate the public about the realities of prostitution.
In 1981 the group generated the first version of the "Talking About Touching" program - "a skills-based personal safety curriculum for kindergarten through Grade 6." In 1983 the group changed its name to the Seattle Institute for Child Advocacy and its mission to preventing child and adolescent victimization. They adopted their current name in 1986.
On their home page the group maintains, "Teachers understand the essential role social and emotional learning plays in every classroom. Students who feel good about themselves and have positive relationships with others are more emotionally engaged and tend to be more successful in school and in later life."
Their fundamental belief is that "Social and emotional skills are fundamental building blocks that lead to a child's academic success and a positive school climate."
Social Engineering in the Catholic Church?
Catholic parents have many concerns about letting secular social engineers determine the curriculum for their children.
"What IS their ultimate motivation? They may try to gloss it, but they have ulterior motives. [COYOTE] are definitely trying to promote such things," Germino says.

Susan O'Hare-Black of Lowell tells MassNews, "I send two of my children to a small Catholic school called St. Stanislaus. Out of the blue, I received a letter telling me that Talking About Touching is mandated in the schools and inviting all of the parents to a general information meeting.

"TAT is presented as a sexual abuse prevention program in order to elicit responses from young children. My husband and I were uncomfortable with some of the sexual scenarios.

"I brought this up, and immediately had to get on the defensive. They weren't prepared for parents to object to this," O'Hare-Black says.
With regards to parental involvement in the child sexual abuse prevention programs they offer, the Committee for Children maintains, "A parent's first step in supporting a school-based CSA-prevention program is simply to allow his or her child's participation. Unfortunately, parents who have concerns about these programs or believe that they are harmful may not allow their children to take part. Reassuringly, the research shows that children can learn personal safety skills without becoming anxious, acting out, or becoming confused about appropriate touch. Some parents believe that their children are at low risk for sexual exploitation or believe that children are too young to understand the topic. These parents are less likely to support personal safety education."
"I found out from the website [] that all around Massachusetts there were parents who were raising the same issues. I want to protect my parental rights.

"It can be very intimidating to stick up for yourself and raise questions. The website helps parents to know, 'Wow, I'm not the only one objecting.'

"We're kind of conservative," says O'Hare-Black. "My children will be negatively affected by the content of TAT. Someone else may look at it and say, 'Hey, this is no big deal.'

No Parents Allowed

"Parents are barred from the classroom during TAT lessons. The third grade teacher explained that if parents are in the room, it may effect the child's reaction. This is really sexual stuff about uncles being touched by nephews, girls being touched by male babysitters.

"I prefer to teach my children based on their own personalities and sensitivities. [The scenarios presented by TAT] could frighten them and make them self-conscious about their own body parts and present them with information they do not need.

"Have you looked at the history of Committee for Children?" O'Hare-Black asked MassNews.

"TAT is not a Catholic program. The Pope has said that it is very important for parents to teach their children. There is nothing about TAT that complies with Catholic doctrine.

"COYOTE is a 'sex workers' rights' organization led by a Wiccan priestess of some sort. It's really weird," says O'Hare-Black.

Deacon Anthony Rizzuto, who did not return calls from MassNews, told Bill Germino that he has not looked into the Vatican documents and claims to be unaware of the COYOTE links.

"Committee for Children works hand in hand with DSS [Department of Social Services]. Their goal is to get reactions from children, and then teachers have to make a judgment call," says O'Hare-Black.

"I used to be a DSS investigator before I became a certified teacher. DSS is an agency with many, many problems. I've seen how an agency like DSS can destroy families.

"The small group of corrupt priests are the ones who need programs! Instead, you have one messed up agency [DSS] teaming up with another messed up agency [The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston].

"Those priests were not obeying the Magisterium [the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.] TAT should be for priests, not children.

"I'm sure it's come about because lawyers for the Archdiocese said, 'You've got to get some sort of policy to cover yourself.' Some of that came out of some sort of an insurance plan the Archdiocese purchased."


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