Parents’ Role in Teaching Human Sexuality

School leaders have primary responsibility to oversee instruction in a Catholic school, while striving to serve and cooperate with parents. But schools should always defer to the family on teaching human sexuality.

Education, in the first place, is the duty of the family, which ‘is the school of richest humanity.’ It is, in fact, the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making acceptable without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrating them harmoniously in a balanced and rich personality. (Educational Guidance in Human Love, 48)

According to Church documents, human sexuality includes all the delicate and sensitive topics involved in how a person lives out their sexuality in the world, and the best place for securing this education is within the family.


Parental right

Many teachers and administrators are unaware of the Church’s teaching recognizing this preference and the parents’ right to refuse their child’s attendance in sex education classes. They assume that since parents have placed their children in the school, the parents have agreed to all the curriculum presented. But parents have the first right to teach human sexuality to their children or, if they delegate this education to the school, to know when and what is being taught.

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 centers chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church affirms 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. (Familiaris Consortio, 37)

Anything that discusses human reproductive physiology constitutes human sexuality, even when presented within Church teaching. Parents need to provide consent, and most of them do gratefully if they are unsure how to approach this topic with their children from a Catholic perspective.

Regardless of parents’ choices to opt in or out, teachers can take this opportunity to speak with parents about how the Church presents human sexuality within a Christian anthropological framework and moral grounding. Doing so is an act of charity and helps fortify the family against false teachings and errant ideologies abounding in society.

The Church sees her instruction in human love as part of the integral formation of the student and advises multiple ways for its presentation. Bishops and pastors of schools decide whether human sexuality programs are offered. Schools incorporating these programs sometimes offer parent classes in tandem with student coursework. Schools not incorporating a sexuality program might offer families curated materials to use with children at home. Schools that include classes on human sexuality maintain student modesty by separating boys and girls during discussions of reproductive physiology.

Teachers for these classes should be chosen for their affective maturity and their own peaceful integration of sexuality. These teachers must have a positive and constructive concept of life and “suitable and serious psycho-pedagogic training.” Teachers should work with parents, students, and other professionals if more severe issues needing psychological assistance is required. Parents, as primary educators of their children, are not to be left out of this communication at any time.


Four principles

In keeping with the guidance from Church documents, here are four principles to assist educators teaching courses on human sexuality:

1. Teach courses in human sexuality within a clear and convincing Christian anthropology. It’s important to situate a discussion about sexuality within God’s design for humanity and the beauty of the human race. Leverage the fact that this type of discussion often begins in the home, where children witness the birth of a sibling and their parents give thanks to God for the gift of a new life.

Teachers can instruct students in how God gives each of us talents that make us unique and how humanity has a special relationship with God, far greater than that of the animals. They can teach that we are made for communion and possess dignity simply through our humanity. St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a good resource for teachers to learn more about the richness and complexity of the human person as a body/soul unity. The Standards for Christian Anthropology, co-authored by The Cardinal Newman Society and Ruah Woods Press, can also be incorporated beginning in kindergarten to properly situate any succeeding discussion of human reproduction within an already laid Christian foundation.

2. Teach courses in human sexuality from a Catholic worldview and moral perspective. Humanity, created in original unity with God, lost its way through sin and was redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He guides us on the path to eternal life through His teaching and the Sacraments. Teachers should teach virtue and the avoidance of vice, the understanding of sacrifice, and supplication to God’s grace in tandem with any presentation of human sexuality.

3. Ensure that program and materials on human sexuality are at the child’s appropriate intellectual, moral, emotional, physical, and spiritual level. While an understanding of one’s sexuality begins when children are young, education in the mechanics of sexuality (or the misappropriation on one’s sexuality) should not be taught until after the “years of innocence” when the child reaches puberty. St. John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio, calls these early years the “period of tranquility and serenity” (78).

This presentation is drastically different from what we see happening in public education, where young children are confronted — even ‘introduced to’ — drag queens and questioned as to whether they feel like a boy or a girl. In Catholic education, teachers are ever mindful of a child’s sensibilities, introducing discussion of the beauty of the human body in a manner of “sacramentality” – as an outward sign of an inner spirit, a body/soul unity. Avoid materials that could lead students to an unhealthy curiosity about sexual behavior.

4. Teach in collaboration with parents. Remember that parents are the first educators in this area. Assisting and working with them will have a positive and lasting influence on the sexual integrity and maturation of youth.

Key Church documents on this topic include The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (Pontifical Council for the Family, 1995), Educational Guidance in Human Love (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1983), and Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2008).

For Catholic school standards derived from Church teachings, see The Cardinal Newman Society’s Policy Standards on Sexuality Programs in Catholic Education and Policy Standards on Human Sexuality in Catholic Education at our website.

Gender Confusion in Australia’s Catholic Schools

In September, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released “Created and Loved: A Guide for Catholic Schools on Identity and Gender.” While the document has thoughtful and salient points regarding gender identity, it also recommends that Catholic schools use the preferred names and pronouns of children suffering from gender dysphoria, providing “flexibility with uniform expectations.”

As a lifelong Catholic educator, I have deep concerns about this approach, which is fundamentally at odds with the mission of Catholic education. The challenge for Catholic schools today is not that we work with gender-dysphoric children, but how. Children suffering from gender dysphoria can be admitted under certain conditions: The gender dysphoria is acknowledged as a disorder; the child’s family obtains proper counseling and treatment; and the child is able to function in an environment where gender expression is expected to match biological reality. However, Catholic schools do great harm by allowing children suffering from gender dysphoria to externally represent and even celebrate that disorder and requiring that others in the school support and participate in it.

The document’s injudicious recommendation stems from three misconceptions.

The first misconception is that it is unacceptable to ask children suffering with gender dysphoria to follow gender norms while in a Catholic school. It is, in fact, necessary for the good of the child as well as the integrity of the school. Eighty-four percent of children experiencing gender dysphoria will not continue to experience it through adolescence and adulthood, according to an oft-cited 2011 study from Sweden. We must therefore love such students through the challenge on our terms, not theirs. This is not unlike how we deal with children with anorexia who have a dangerous distortion of their sense of weight. We admit them to school but require that they receive care, and we refrain from supporting their bodily disorientation through false affirmation.

The second misconception concerns the implications of Christian anthropology and respect for the human person. The Australian bishops’ document correctly notes that Christian anthropology “demands that we respect the worth of each person at every moment of their existence—from conception to death—regardless of who they are or how they present themselves in the world. It also asks us to see each person holistically rather than seeking to define them by just one aspect of their identity.” It continues: “Any relevant educational programme and the care of individuals in a Catholic school must be faithful to this Christian Anthropology.”

However, the document goes on to mistakenly conclude that being “faithful to this Christian Anthropology” and promoting “a fundamental attitude of charity and respect, of care and compassion,” requires Catholic schools to conform their activities and policies to reinforce gender dysmorphia. This is neither caring nor compassionate. We must interface with children “holistically” as integrated beings, a unity of mind, body, and spirit, and not reduce them to “just one aspect of their identity.”

The third misconception is the assumption that, since Christian anthropology provides a basis for human worth and dignity—we are loved by God and created in his image—and since we are made for communion and flourishing in community, any exclusionary activity is an affront to Christian anthropology. With this argument, the Australian bishops compel Catholic schools to accept and placate children who have “transitioned” to a new name, pronouns, or way of dress.

The natural order has supplied children the family as the primary social unit and source of belonging and wellbeing. Formal institutions can assist in creating other environments of belonging, but a child not being admitted to a certain school, for whatever reason, is not deprived of human dignity or worth, nor of family, church, friends, or love.

We must not conflate attendance at a Catholic school with membership in the Church. Most Catholic children worldwide do not attend Catholic schools but are full members of the Church. The modern Catholic school itself has only been widely available for less than 10 percent of the Church’s history, with catechesis and Christian socializing taking place in the home and parish for most Catholics.

Catholic schools are in the business of integrally forming children in mind, body, and spirit. It is what we do, it is all we do, and we do it one way: in conformity with the will of God and with respect for children as mind-body-spirit unities. Those who seek a different type of formation are free to do so—but they cannot demand that we adapt to their differing goals and conceptions of reality and of the human person.

Using students’ preferred names and pronouns goes against the nature and goals of Catholic education. It casts Catholic schools as active participants in the child’s catastrophic quest for emancipation from the body. It has us (knowingly or unknowingly) participating in relativism, gnostic dualism, materialism, and the toxic fluidity of the modern world. It implicates us in destroying the differences between male and female and the dignity of sexual distinctiveness. It involves us in eroding the roots of the family, severing God from his creation, and distorting the nature of reality itself. And worse yet, by our personal example in forming those under our direct care, we invite our students and families to do the same.

Dan Guernsey is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and a 30-year veteran of Catholic education.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the online edition of First Things on February 3, 2023.

Athletics Should Uphold Truth of Body and Gender

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Seeking “a fair and safe playing field for all children and young adults,” the U.S. bishops in October backed federal legislation to prevent schools and colleges from allowing male athletes—including those who identify as transgender—to participate in female sports.

The bishops’ position should not be surprising. It reflects the Church’s clear teaching that gender is not divisible from biological sex, and that men and women should not be treated as identical despite sharing equal dignity and humanity. The Church has a long history of single-sex education and athletics programs, recognizing both physical and social differences between the sexes while protecting students’ safety, development and chastity.

But in athletics programs at many Catholic schools and colleges today, the Church’s teaching is less clear. Some participate in athletics conferences that allow students to declare their gender and compete against students of the opposite sex, while others have similar internal policies.

In Connecticut, three female high school athletes have filed a federal lawsuit claiming violation of the federal Title IX law, because biological males have been allowed to compete and win female titles in state track championships. The U.S. Department of Education has agreed that girls have the right to compete in all-female events. But since 2017, when the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed students to choose teams according to a “preferred gender identity,” Catholic schools have continued to participate in the league.

Likewise many Catholic colleges belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which allows a biological male to compete on a women’s team after one year of testosterone suppression treatment. The NCAA hosted a summit on gender identity last October and is expected to expand its transgender policies and outreach.

Responding to the apparent need for clarity in Catholic education, the Newman Society is developing recommended standards for policies addressing all aspects of athletics programs—not only gender issues, but also the role of sports in virtue development and many practical concerns. These will be circulated for comment by athletics directors as well as diocesan leaders, school leaders and theologians.

But to specifically address the issue of gender, we have circulated and published a helpful advisory by veteran educator Dr. Dan Guernsey, titled “Protecting the Human Person: Gender Issues in Catholic School and College Sports.”

Body and Soul

When athletics are done well, it’s a great blessing for Catholic students, Guernsey writes.

Athletics serves the mission of Catholic education, which “entails the pursuit of truth, the integral formation of the human person, the sanctification of students, and service to the community,” he notes. Sports in Catholic schools and colleges “can be particularly effective in developing virtue, building community, and providing a powerful experience of the unity of body and soul.”

The Vatican teaches:

…in the context of the modern world, sport is perhaps the most striking example of the unity of body and soul. …neglecting the unity of body and soul results in an attitude that either entirely disregards the body or fosters a worldly materialism. Hence, all the dimensions have to be taken into account in order to understand what actually constitutes the human being.

Gender ideology is thus a danger to students and incompatible with a Catholic understanding of sport.

“Because athletics is such a powerful influence on both individuals and cultures, it can also pose a threat when it does not serve truth or does not serve to praise God,” writes Guernsey, recalling Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching that “self-denial and respect for the body as God’s gift are fundamental to a healthy athletic program.”

“Gender theory is a distortion of the full development of a person and attacks the integrity of the body,” writes Guernsey. “It works against a Catholic understanding of athletics and the good of the person and so has no claim on Catholic programing.”

The way forward

Guernsey recommends practical steps that Catholic schools and colleges should take to maintain a strong Catholic identity:

  • “Catholic educational institutions should publicly and explicitly affirm and seek to implement their faith-based mission and develop and consistently abide by policies in all programs that support this mission. They should assert religious freedom to uphold Catholic teaching and claim exemption from laws, regulations, athletic association rules, etc. that demand conformity to gender ideology.”
  • “Athletic programs should include in their goals the use of athletics as a means of inculcating virtue, especially justice and fair play, promoting the unity of body and soul, and protecting the human body not only from physical injury, but also from any attack on its integrity, exploitation, and idolatry.”
  • “Athletic policies should require that students participate on sport teams consistent with their biological sex.”
  • “Athletic personnel should be formed in a spirituality of athletics as part of their ongoing professional development. Such formation may include presentations by theologians on Christian anthropology, the role of sport and play in human well-being, and sports as a tool of evangelization and virtue development.”

By taking a leading role in local and national conversations about gender in sports and asserting the importance of single-sex competition, Catholic athletic directors and education leaders can find common ground with others. Some other Christian schools and colleges will share our moral perspective, while others will share our concerns for player safety, fair play, and justice. Advocates for women should be concerned about protecting single-sex athletics to ensure opportunities for girls.

“Catholic education is devoted to the sanctification of its students and integral formation by witnessing to Christ and all that is true and good,” Guernsey writes. “To lead the children in their care to God requires that they encounter the fullness of His truth and that they not foster situations in which students might be led astray in matters of basic human nature and morality.”

Mission Fit: Working with Nontraditional Families

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last year, when the child of a same-sex couple was denied admission to St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Village, Kan., the incident sparked public debate over Catholic school admissions policies.

It also revealed disagreement in dioceses across the country about standards for Catholic school enrollment, particularly when students’ family relationships are taken into account. Disagreement in the Church regarding nontraditional families—the growing variety of home situations beyond a faithfully Catholic family with a married mother and father—may leave schools more vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits and to vilification by the media, politicians and social activists.

Following the incident at St. Ann’s, the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., issued a statement, which read in part:

The Church teaches that individuals with same-sex attraction should be treated with dignity. However, the challenge regarding same-sex couples and our Catholic schools is that same-sex parents cannot model behaviors and attitudes regarding marriage and sexual morality consistent with essential components of the Church’s teachings. This creates a conflict for their children between what they are taught in school and what is experienced at home. It also becomes a source of confusion for the other school children.

Critics pounced, accusing the Archdiocese of discriminating against homosexuals while admitting children whose parents are divorced and remarried. Other dioceses disregard parents’ sexuality when making admissions decisions. Some argue that Catholic schools should welcome students from any family situation, so that at least the children can be taught the Catholic faith.

What policies best serve the mission of Catholic education? While it may take some time to reach consensus, The Cardinal Newman Society, through its Catholic Identity Standards Project, is working with educators to develop guidance on this critical but complex issue.

Not Every Family

As a key means of evangelization, Catholic schools serve the Church’s mission to teach the nations about Christ and all truth. In principle, they should be eager to teach every young person who seeks admission, although that is not possible or wise in every situation.

In practice, it is rare for a Catholic school not to limit enrollment for practical reasons as well as concerns about a student’s behavior and impact on other students’ education.

Enrollment decisions should also look at a student’s family situation, not because it is a school’s primary mission to address the moral life of parents—although the school can do much to witness to moral truth and help parents get the pastoral care they need—but because family circumstances may make it impossible to fulfill the mission of Catholic education without conflict, confusion and scandal to the students who are enrolled in the school.

Denying admission because of family situations, often no fault of the child, is difficult. But it is critical to the mission of Catholic education to prevent situations that could unintentionally lead other impressionable students away from virtue and holiness, which directly contradicts a Catholic school’s purpose.

A Catholic school is more than a service; it is a community committed to the mission of Catholic education, and participating families need to be a part of that commitment. Enrolling Catholic families should be a school’s first priority, because of the right of baptized Catholics to formation in the faith and the Church’s obligation to serve this need.

Family Circumstances

In today’s culture, schools increasingly are faced with students whose parents or guardians are not Catholic, unwed and cohabiting, remarried outside the Church, in a same-sex union, or identify as transgender.

In many of these instances, families may be safely invited into a Catholic school if they agree to support the mission of educating and forming students in the truths of the Catholic faith and do not interfere with that mission. Every such family seeking a Catholic education should be addressed with compassion and a desire to help parents reconcile with Catholic teaching, usually by referring them to a priest or other parish ministries for pastoral care.

Still, with its purpose of teaching truth, a Catholic school must be prepared to delay admission or turn away or dismiss a student whose family situation causes moral confusion and scandal among other students in the school’s care. This requires courage. A Catholic school must have the conviction that upholding its mission, protecting its students from confusion and scandal, and guiding families to moral truth even by denying enrollment is true compassion.

In some cases, a school could attempt to help a family regularize a home situation, as long as the problems are not so publicly visible and confusing to other students that they conflict with the mission of Catholic education. A school must avoid appearing to condone parents’ immoral choices and compromising the school’s reputation for teaching truth.

It must also consider the potential damage when parents openly and strongly oppose the moral lessons at a Catholic school. Children naturally rely on their parents’ emotional and physical care, and in cases in which the parents are so strongly opposed to what a Catholic school teaches, a school could cause the child to become alienated from the parents or, more likely, alienated from the Church. In such cases, it may be imprudent to enroll the child in Catholic education until they have the maturity to sort through such painful and complex realities.

For Catholic educators today, the most difficult situation to handle may be when it is discovered that a current or prospective student’s parents or guardians are in a homosexual relationship. This is not identical to other irregular and immoral circumstances, because the Church teaches that same-sex unions are fundamentally in opposition to marriage and allow no possibility of regularization, as is possible in most male-female relationships. It is always the case that a public same-sex union brings moral confusion and scandal into the school community.

For deeper discussion of these issues, the Newman Society recommends two papers: “Not All Families Are a Good Fit for Catholic Schools” and “Working With Nontraditional Families in Catholic Schools,” both by Dr. Dan Guernsey. These were circulated among Catholic educators, diocesan leaders, and theologians for comment before publication.

Moral Witness at the Heart of Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the “ministerial exception” applies to certain Catholic school teachers, a ruling hailed as protecting Catholic schools and colleges that uphold moral standards for employees.

While the ruling addresses serious questions of religious freedom, it also raises issues that many dioceses, schools and colleges have been wrestling with for several years: What moral standards should be expected of employees in Catholic education? The Church has repeatedly called on teachers to witness to the faith in both word and deed. But what about non-teaching employees?

Underlying these concerns is the necessity of ensuring that all employees faithfully serve the mission of Catholic education. Clear and consistent contracts and policies are the best means of upholding Catholic identity while avoiding employee disputes and lawsuits.

Ministerial exception

As explained in the Newman Society’s summary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Court explicitly forbade federal courts from interfering in Catholic school employment decisions concerning teachers of religion, because that would constitute a violate of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The Court also signaled that the ministerial exception covers other employees with substantial religious duties, but more litigation will be needed to determine how the exception applies to teachers of subjects other than religion, clerical and maintenance staff, and higher education employees.

Already lower courts are testing and even challenging the ministerial exception. A panel of judges for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the exception only prevents lawsuits concerning hiring and firing decisions, so it allowed a former employee of a Chicago parish—fired because he entered into a same-sex union—to proceed with a lawsuit claiming a “hostile work environment.”

The Newman Society responded with the help of attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, filing an amicus brief urging the full 7th Circuit Court to overrule the panel decision and to apply the ministerial exception to all employment-related matters. In December the full court took the rare step of vacating the panel ruling and will soon reconsider whether to let the case move forward.

Morality expectations

In 2015, controversy erupted in the Archdiocese of San Francisco over morality clauses in teacher contracts, although the Church’s standards were in the end preserved. Many other dioceses have implemented similar employment guidelines both to protect Catholic schools and to provide clarity to employees.

Catholic school and college leaders should be clear about moral expectations when interviewing prospective employees, and there are a variety of ways of inserting faith and morals clauses into employment documents. These include morality, witness, and belief statements and language in pre-contract agreements, contracts, and employee handbooks.

Catholic schools and colleges can avoid disputes by clearly explaining to employees the fundamental religious nature of all their efforts and the Catholic principles that undergird employment policies. All employees should be made aware of their responsibility to advance the religious mission of Catholic education. There should be no confusion about which faith and moral transgressions can result in disciplinary action or firing.

The Newman Society provides Catholic educators with a review of moral standards for Catholic school employment documents and a compilation of sample policies from dioceses around the country.

All Employees Matter

Moral standards at most schools and colleges focus especially on teachers and professors, which is understandable. Many Church documents highlight the duty of teachers to be witnesses to the faith. They have a primary role in Catholic education and direct influence over their students.

Moral standards should apply to educators in every subject area, not just religion teachers or theology professors. This is true especially in elementary and secondary education, when impressionable children rely on good role models and moral guides for their formation.

“A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils,” declares the Congregation for Catholic Education in The Catholic School (1977). “Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.”

As even secular courts acknowledge by the ministerial exception, teachers in Catholic education are expected to display more than knowledge of a particular subject area—they are to be witnesses to the faith in word and action.

“Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher,” exhorted Pope Saint Paul VI in Gravissimum Educationis, the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education.

Many non-teaching employees, too, have formational duties that are essential to Catholic education. These include coaches, counselors and others who are involved with student activities. They work closely with students and should be held to the same high moral standards.

What, then, of the receptionist and the librarian? Or the nurse? Or maintenance staff?

Such positions are often viewed as having primary secular functions and therefore not accountable to Catholic moral standards beyond the ethics of their particular tasks. Lawsuits against schools have increasingly concerned employees who were fired for civil same-sex unions—and many would question the need for a groundskeeper to witness to Catholic teachings on marriage.

Nevertheless, all employees should be held to high standards at a Catholic school, because every employee is a member of the school’s Catholic community that is committed to students’ formation. Although the extent of their interaction with students may differ, any employee of a school can have an impact on students’ outlook and behavior.

The Newman Society is developing standards to help Catholic educators develop policies and employment documents upholding moral expectations for employees. See also our recently published argument for applying such expectations broadly, in “All Employees Matter in the Mission of Catholic Education” by Dr. Dan Guernsey. He notes that even limited student contact by an employee has potential for good or ill, and every employee should serve the mission of Catholic education.

Consider a secular business: every employee serves the company’s objectives, and any action that undermines the company’s success is reason for discipline or dismissal. The purpose of Catholic education is to teach and form young people in the faith and lead them to God, and no employee should ever obstruct that mission.

Getting it Right: Witness and Teaching on Sexuality in Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

In 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released Male and Female He Created Them, a response to the contemporary “gender ideology” that has sown confusion in American society and even within Catholic education.

The document is important for its forthright acknowledgment of topics—including homosexuality and gender identification—of growing concern to Catholic families, schools and colleges. But despite the Congregation’s expressed hope that the document will be a “practical” resource to Catholic educators, it offers minimal guidance to help navigate the complexities of real situations with students and employees who struggle with sexuality and chastity, especially if they openly dissent from Catholic teaching or act in ways that are scandalous to students.

Increasingly, Catholic dioceses, schools and colleges are embroiled in controversy and conflict over sexual matters. To prevent such problems, these situations require pastoral sensitivity and the guidance of clear institutional policies that both uphold and explain the obligations of faithful Catholic education.

This is one important contribution of The Cardinal Newman Society: helping Catholic educators identify the principles of Catholic teaching and standards of policy and practice to strengthen faithful Catholic identity. Moreover, our work helps protect Catholic education by giving schools and colleges compelling claims to religious freedom, based on clear and consistently implemented policies that are tied directly to their Catholic mission.

Catholic educators cannot get human sexuality wrong. Not only would that be a tragic failure of Catholic education, which strives to form young people in faith, morality and truth, but it also invites lawsuits and increased threats to religious freedom if Catholic educators are perceived to be motivated by bigotry or arbitrary decisions instead of clear and compassionate Catholic teachings.

Consider for example the conflict in Kansas City a couple years ago, when the Archdiocese turned away a kindergarten student parented by a same-sex couple. What principles should guide admission to Catholic education? Does a Catholic school or college accept a child struggling with gender confusion?

How should a Catholic school or college respond when a teacher or professor announces a same-sex marriage or declares a new gender identity? In athletics, should students be able to use locker rooms or compete on teams of the opposite sex?

At the Newman Society, we have heard from well-intentioned educators who refuse to articulate their policies, instead leaving each situation to their own discretion. That approach, while understandable, can often lead to disaster for the school or college. Clear standards of policy and practice, consistent with traditional Catholic moral and theological norms, are key to ensuring fidelity, compassion and justice.

Principles of human sexuality in Catholic education

Our Catholic Identity Standards Project recently published “Policy Standards on Human Sexuality in Catholic Education,” updated from a 2016 paper that was one of our most popular resources for educators.

It looks broadly at Catholic teachings on sex, gender, chastity and marriage, drawing on magisterial teaching to identify key principles for Catholic education and then recommending standards to guide policymaking at Catholic schools and colleges. It also briefly considers the large variety of policies that should be developed to uphold Catholic teaching on sexuality, provides sample policies from several U.S. dioceses, and includes citations from Vatican documents.

Among the principles guiding Catholic education policies is the mission to provide integral formation of students so that the intellect and conscience work together to ensure true bodily health and integrity. Catholic education is so much bigger and so much more important than just teaching students academic subjects. It respects each student as a “complex and multifaceted being, striving for full human flourishing in their physical, moral, spiritual, psychological, social, and intellectual faculties.”

In society today, a disjointed view of the human person can sometimes influence Catholic educators. But as Catholics, we know that our uniquely human biological, social and spiritual elements are connected and should be developed in relation to each other.

In addition, Catholic education is “founded upon a sound Christian anthropology, which describes the human person as ‘a being at once corporeal and spiritual,’ made in the image of God, with complementarity and equality of the sexes as male and female.” Biological sex and gender cannot be separated, but should be “seen in harmony, according to God’s plan.”

Finally, Catholic education should help every student grow in virtue and “faithfully fulfill his role in building the Kingdom of God.” Catholic schools and colleges should be encouraging all community members to strive for chastity, according to their vocation as single, married or religious.

Implementing human sexuality policies

From these principles, the Newman Society recommends several important standards to guide policymaking related to human sexuality. Catholic education should, for instance:

  • expect all members of the Catholic educational community to strive for a life of chastity in keeping with their particular state of life, emphasizing the importance of chastity to a life of virtue and growth in one’s relationship with God;
  • provide clear institutional supports for living chastely, such as single-sex dorms and rules regarding clothing and behavior to establish standards and minimize temptation;
  • ensure that all human sexuality materials and instruction are carefully vetted for complete fidelity to Church teachings, taught by qualified and committed Catholics, modest and pure, targeted to the appropriate age and developmental stage of the student with respect for a child’s latency period (lasting up until puberty), and available in advance to parents who may choose to opt a minor student out of the program;
  • ensure that all speakers, vendors, third-party services, and materials are in harmony with the Catholic moral formation of students;
  • relate to all members of the school or college community according to their biological sex at birth and maintain appropriate distinctions between males and females, especially in issues of facilities use, athletic teams, uniforms, and nomenclature; and
  • prohibit advocacy of moral behavior at odds with Catholic teaching and activities that tend to encourage immoral behavior, especially on issues related to chastity.

These standards can be applied to nearly every aspect of a Catholic school or college. For example, dance policies, consistent with the goal to form virtuous and Christ-centered persons, should require students to refrain from any immodest, impure or sexually suggestive behavior both on and off the dance floor. College residence policies should ensure that students are assigned housing based on their biological sex, are prohibited from engaging in immoral sexual activity, and preserve the privacy of bedrooms from opposite-sex visitors.

It is crucial for a Catholic school to consider every activity of Catholic education and ensure that it upholds Catholic teaching. Students should know God’s beautiful purpose for sexuality and their calling to chastity. Truth is the foundation of Catholic education, and as our updated paper warns, “Educational programs or policies that promote a false understanding of the human person put the whole educational project at risk.”

Let’s Follow Bishop Paprocki’s Lead

Last week, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, released a clear, truthful guide on gender identity that does a great service for Catholic schools in his diocese. Catholic educators everywhere should follow his lead in implementing similar policies in their schools.

The timing of the guide could not be better, as society embraces a sorely confused understanding of gender identity. For example, biological males are winning female events in Connecticut high school sports, and high school districts like one in Illinois are allowing biological males to use female locker rooms, and vice versa.

But the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender identity and human sexuality is clear. Catholic school policies should be consistent, as well.

For handling situations of a student facing “gender dysphoria,” Bishop Paprocki’s guide stresses the importance of “gentle and compassionate pastoral skill and concern” and condemns any sort of “discrimination or harsh treatment.”

At the same time, the guide states that sex is determined at birth. The truly loving thing to do in a situation when a person is facing gender dysphoria is to be “clear on the reality of human biology as a gift from God that we cannot change.”

As a result, students at diocesan schools must “use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex,” and they will be “addressed and referred to with pronouns in accord with their biological sex.”

Thank you, Bishop Paprocki! More than ever, Catholic schools need to teach and witness to the Truth.

The Church’s teaching on human sexuality should be steeped deeply in our Catholic schools. A Christian anthropology should guide classroom learning, student activities and all school policies.

In fact, Catholic schools might consider adopting Human Sexuality Policies, like the ones developed by The Cardinal Newman Society, that go beyond the issue of gender identity. If a school has a firm commitment to forming young people in chastity, then it is clear that the concern is for all students of every stripe, and not targeting certain students as many activists claim.

“As a Catholic institution, we believe that human bodies are gifts from God and temples of the Holy Spirit,” the resource states. “All men and women are called to a life of chastity appropriate to their vocation as single, married, or consecrated religious.”

“Because our efforts at integral formation include the integrity of body, spirit, and moral development, our school has a proper concern for each student’s behavior and development in the complex area of human sexuality,” the resource continues.

The resource offers examples of specific policies related to human sexuality, including addressing athletics, dances, dress code, facilities use, same-sex attraction and more.

In the months ahead, Catholic schools will face even more questions related to human sexuality. Catholic educators must be prepared with responses that are clear and consistent, upholding Church teaching.

Having strong policies in place will help Catholic schools to fend off attacks and legal threats. But even more important is the witness for students — they should learn the Truth about the human person in the classroom and see it lived out.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Chapel at Franciscan University

True Love at Faithful Catholic Colleges

Are students being prepared for careers — and for life — in colleges today? Some college professors are noticing that students are “excelling academically but not necessarily in other areas of adult life,” including dating and preparing for the vocation of marriage.

Students at faithful Catholic colleges, however, may be the exception. A good Catholic college will promote a campus environment that supports healthy relationships, and that’s greatly needed today.

Popular chastity speaker Jason Evert, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, argues that there needs to be a revival of Catholic dating in our culture. He recently published The Dating Blueprint: What She Wants You to Know About Dating but Will Never Tell Youadvising men to “put down their screens, look a woman in the eye, and ask her on a date.”

Michael Kenney, director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Identity Standards Project and one of the curriculum developers for the Dating Project, agrees. “The most consequential decision a person makes is the decision concerning marriage,” he says. “A healthy dating culture is essential to building strong marriages and families. Tragically, our culture saturates the airwaves with false lyrics, images and messages concerning dating.”

If a revival of traditional courtship seems unlikely on most college campuses, students can expect something different at a faithful Catholic college. At several colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, students can still find evidence of mature, chaste relationships leading to healthy marriages.

At Thomas Aquinas College, which has campuses in Santa Paula, California, and Northfield, Massachusetts, “about 10 percent of the College’s alumni have entered the priesthood or religious life,” the college reports. “Most of the rest marry, often wedding fellow Thomas Aquinas College alumni and raising fruitful, faithful families that bear joyful witness to the Culture of Life.”

With an annual enrollment of just 500 students, Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, boasts more than 480 alumnus-alumna marriages in its 40-year history. This has something to do with the academic program, the college explains:

Students learn Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in one course, while they learn about Catholic doctrine and moral theology in other courses as well. As students complete each course, they gain a greater knowledge of the principles of the faith, especially pertaining to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage and family.

But even more than the academic study, Christendom’s campus fosters healthy relationships by providing only single-sex dorms, which are totally off limits to students of the opposite sex. That’s opposite to the typical college hookup culture, but the marriages among Christendom alumni are evidence that true love is in the air.

Such is true also of John Paul the Great Catholic University, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Wyoming Catholic College, where — like Christendom and Thomas Aquinas — student dorms are single-sex and opposite-sex visitation is not allowed.

Such dorm policies help combat the hookup culture and preserve the privacy of student bedrooms. A Newman Society report cites one study finding that “students living in co-ed housing were also more likely [than those in single-sex residences] to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months.” Further, those students were “more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had three or more sexual partners in the last year.”

Of course, reducing the hookup culture doesn’t automatically lead to healthy dating — that’s something that needs to be taught to a generation of students who see casual relationships promoted in popular entertainment — but responsible campus policies certainly can help. Student programming, such as the chastity speaking events at Franciscan University and other faithful colleges, are helpful too.

New online dating apps and other options are being created to help address the Catholic dating problem. But it helps to live in a culture that supports authentic relationships. Faithful Catholic colleges attract students with similar values, and they are uniquely positioned to help prepare Catholic students for happy and meaningful lives.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Educators Need More than ‘Male and Female He Created Them’

The Vatican has reasserted one of the most basic facts of Christian anthropology: “Male and Female He created them,” which is good as far as it goes. The question for Catholic educators is, ”Now what?” They are being challenged by the relentless march of “gender theory” or “gender ideology”—a deception that claims that sexual orientation and gender are fluid and self-determined—and they desperately need a path forward.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, has described Male and Female He Created Them as a “practical” document, in contrast to the deeper theological reflection expected soon from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But the education document does not give practical guidance to educators on the thorny particulars of admissions, personnel and student policies.

And educators urgently need such guidance, because every week brings another activist, lawmaker or attorney accusing Catholic educators of discrimination for refusing to comply with the dictates of the new gender ideology and a parade of related causes that are wholly contrary to the traditional Catholic understanding of human nature. This is a grave threat to faithful Catholic education.

Consider cases similar to the one in Kansas City, where the Archdiocese turned away a kindergarten student because of same-sex parents. What are the principles that guide Catholic school and college admissions policies? Can Catholic educators and administrators articulate them? Is a student always admitted out of concern for the child, regardless of the parents’ actions and ideology, or should educators consider the influence that adults can have on other children and protect against scandal? Does a school or college accept a child struggling with gender confusion? If so, what message does this send to other students and what pronouns are used, and when? Answer these questions the wrong way, and a school could compromise its Catholic mission or be the target of a lawsuit.

With regard to personnel policies, how does a Catholic school or college respond when a teacher or professor announces a same-sex marriage, declares a new gender identity, or simply insists on embracing aspects of gender ideology? At the Cardinal Newman Society, we have heard from well-intentioned academic leaders who refuse to spell out their policies, instead leaving each situation to their own discretion. That is a recipe for disaster.

In all of these examples, clear standards consistent with traditional Catholic moral and theological norms are key and will help ensure fidelity, compassion and justice.

But there’s another sense in which the truths taught in Male and Female He Made Them need to be developed further to address the practical needs of educators. As noted above, the document’s teaching addresses one of the most basic aspects of human anthropology, the fact that we are created male and female.

Following from that truth and over the centuries, Catholics had developed tried-and-true lessons and habits that helped young people preserve chastity, respect marriage and celebrate children. But in many ways, our culture has forced us to start again from scratch, re-learning simple habits and patterns of male-female relationships.

That means that Catholic educators need to recover and teach to young people these habits and patterns.

For example, not a single faithful Catholic from any generation prior to the 1960s would have doubted that coed dormitories and closed-door visits by the opposite sex in student bedrooms would result in premarital sex, mortal sin, STDs and even sexual assault. Yet most Catholic colleges, with notable exceptions at a few Newman Guide colleges, allow a student to have their boyfriend or girlfriend in their bedroom with the door closed, often after engaging in binge drinking that lowers inhibitions. How many souls have been damaged by these visitation policies that clearly invite near occasions of sin?

Yet when I and my Newman Society colleagues raise the concern of Catholic college dorm policies and near occasions of sin, we are looked upon as relics of a bygone age. I am entirely certain that near occasions of sin are still quite real. What has been lost is our sensitivity to man’s fallen nature and the grave importance of preserving chastity for the good of families and for the good of our souls.

Yes, God created us male and female. It is very good that the Vatican has reasserted this basic truth.

But like mathematicians reasserting fundamental arithmetic, we ought to also understand much more about the natural and moral implications of our sexuality and human nature—and Catholic educators especially need to teach these to the young.

Our problem, of course, is that we Catholics got comfortable compromising on little things when the culture was still reliably Christian. In today’s militantly secular culture, we had better get serious about consistently teaching the truth and remembering fundamentals like 2+2=4, that God created us male and female, and that concupiscence is real. And we had better be able to articulate the principles behind the policies we develop, to uphold Catholic identity before it is too late.

This article was first published at The National Catholic Register.

Dating 101 at a Catholic College

Many young Catholics find more than truth on campus—they may just find a future spouse! Faithful Catholic colleges are uniquely positioned to promote healthy and holy relationships between men and women, while teaching the fullness of truth about marriage and sexuality.

Through courses like Theology of the Body, campus speakers who discuss Catholic marriage and family, and respectful policies like single-sex dorms, many Catholic colleges take seriously their mission of Christian formation. Graduates of these colleges are bright lights in a culture that often distorts the true meaning of relationships.

It’s no secret that courtship on college campuses has been replaced by a rampant hook-up culture. But Jason Evert, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, encourages students to “Keep it chaste both emotionally and physically. In other words, if you’re single, don’t pretend like you’re dating. If you’re dating, don’t behave like you’re married.”

Evert, who is a popular speaker on chastity, also suggests that young adults work on perfecting themselves rather than finding the “perfect person.” He encourages them to take an inventory of their interior lives and “root out all the things that would be toxic to a future marriage, such as porn, alcoholism, self-absorption, anger, etc.”

Cecilia Pigg—a graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., another faithful Catholic college recommended in The Newman Guide—thinks that students need to be reminded to actually “ask people out on dates.” “If you are asked out by someone, say yes,” she says. “It’s just a date. Dates are opportunities for growth.”

Her only caveat is that she suggests freshmen avoid dating someone exclusively. “If you are both still interested sophomore year, go for it. But most people change a lot freshman year, and it is better to be single and navigate life and yourself without the added pressure of a relationship,” Pigg explains.

While a student at Benedictine, Pigg discerned her vocation to marriage during spiritual direction, and she met her husband Ryan on campus. Now she serves as the editor of

Another couple credits their faithful Catholic education with influencing their marriage for the better. Andrew and Michelle Ouellette recall that Northeast Catholic College in Warner, N.H., provided them with “wonderful teachers and thought-provoking texts, particularly senior year Theology,” which gave them “solid reasons for living a truly Catholic marriage.” They also have the “memories of the ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, amusing and tragic experiences we shared as classmates and friends” as a basis for their relationship.

A graduate from The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H, says that prayer and study helped him discern his vocation.

“If it were not for the demanding education at Thomas More College, I would not have been able to see that I had so great a need to practice the self-discipline and sacrifice necessary for loving one’s spouse. It was in Rome where I discovered that God was not calling me to the priesthood, and it took almost a year of reading St. Benedict’s Rule (a text I was introduced to through Thomas More College’s curriculum) for me to learn that I was not to be a monk either. Shortly after this decision my wife and I began courting,” he explained.

For students up for a challenge to make the most of dating while in college, he suggests: “wake up before the sun, never trust yourself, put all your trust in God, and pray Thomas More’s Psalm of Detachment every day.”

On Saint Valentine’s Day, young people are presented many images of romance that can be selfish and even self-destructive. May all young Catholics learn that true love consists in respect, self-sacrifice, and joy in doing God’s will, and never settle for anything less.