New Sexual Revolution Requires Faithful, Parent-Centered Solutions

Catholic families need the Church’s help facing what amounts to a second “sexual revolution” in America. To that end, there are many good efforts to understand and rebuff the radical “gender ideology” and false ideas about sexuality, marriage and the nature of the human person that are taking hold in American society.

But a recently released sex education program promoted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, in its current form, is not what families need.

The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People was developed by married couples in Spain and has enjoyed the support of the Council and the Spanish bishops. It’s being presented as a work in progress, “an opportunity to convene a large community of people to collaborate, to work, to exchange experiences and knowledge in this special field of education.” The Council is inviting feedback for what may be future improvements to the program or alternative options. Thus far, no directives to use this resource have been issued by the Vatican or the U.S. bishops.

Even so, there is danger that the program in its current form will be adopted by Catholic educators and families since it’s seen as having a stamp of approval “from the Vatican.” But this program is clearly not ready for Catholic schools or homes.

As The Cardinal Newman Society found in our review of the program, following upon similar criticisms, The Meeting Point “makes frequent use of sexually explicit and morally objectionable images, fails to clearly identify and explain Catholic doctrine from elemental sources including the Ten Commandments and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and compromises the innocence and integrity of young people under the rightful care of their parents.”

This is not what Catholic families need while facing today’s corrosive culture, which is only getting worse. According to one national survey, acceptance of premarital sexual activity spiked in the 1970s and changed little in the next two decades, only to suddenly jump again in the new millennium. Most Americans now believe that premarital sex is “not wrong at all.”

I was struck by another recent report indicating the rapid slide of morality even outside the U.S. The article published last month in The Guardian declared, “Welcome to the most promiscuous Olympics in history.” Apparently what occurred off-screen in the Olympic Village during the Summer Games required the distribution of 450,000 condoms and other bedroom aids, supplied with a wink and a nod by the International Olympic Committee.

Such evidence of a declining culture shows why families need to ensure a faithful Catholic education for their children, especially as public schools become increasingly dangerous to the soul. It’s also why Catholic parents should reject any sex education for their children that does not fully conform to Catholic standards and does not have their permission and approval.

Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio:

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 reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents. (Sec. 36-37)

In its 1995 publication The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, the Pontifical Council for the Family also recognized the essential role of parents in ensuring education that is sound and faithful. It instructed parents, as the primary educators of their children, to refuse to “tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children outside the home” (Sec. 44). Sadly, The Meeting Point fails the parent test.

There’s much to be admired in the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family, but The Meeting Point in its present form is a significant departure from the traditional approach to Catholic instruction about human sexuality. Even if its unique approach to affective, conversational learning deserves further study by the Council, the program is not ready for Catholic homes and schools. The times demand much better from Catholic education.

This article was originally published by The National Catholic Register.

Serving “LGBT” Students in Catholic Schools

How do Catholic schools best serve students who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria (popularly called “transgendered”)? What should a school’s policies prescribe in order to prevent confusion, disputes and even litigation?

Previously, these questions were often addressed behind closed doors, as administrators worked quietly on a case-by-case basis and often within traditional moral norms. However, since this past summer’s Supreme Court ruling supporting same-sex marriage and the social acceptance of superstar Bruce Jenner’s gender dysphoria, Catholic schools face an increasingly public challenge to their teaching and mission.

This dynamic became painfully evident in the recent decision by a Rhode Island Catholic school, which ignited a national firestorm by refusing to admit transgendered students and then was pressured to reverse its policy within just a couple of days. The correct instinct that a Catholic school cannot accommodate willful gender confusion gave rise to a weak position statement, holding that transgendered students could not be admitted due to a lack of facilities to accommodate them. Activists seized upon the opportunity and offered to “crowd source” the necessary facilities, forcing the school to reverse its policy of strict exclusion.

While some Catholic school leaders might be persuaded to avoid this thorny issue, or to embrace a false compassion that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching, instead the Rhode Island school’s misstep highlights the grave necessity of a more comprehensive policy approach to sexuality in Catholic schools. Catholic schools must bravely serve all students, including same-sex attracted or gender dysphoric students, by forthrightly presenting and upholding truth. That’s why — in addition to the excellent resources for Christians already available from Alliance Defending FreedomThe Heritage Foundation and the Liberty Institute — The Cardinal Newman Society has released a new handbook of Human Sexuality Policies for Catholic Schools to help Catholic educators with specific exemplars and language tied to their Catholic mission.

Working with students who have these sexual inclinations is complex, especially since a Catholic school is called to serve everyone who has the capability and desire to partake in its mission. It must also be clear that all students are expected to follow the same school policies, and not work against the school’s mission, or its moral and religious standards and ends.

A Catholic school which clearly articulates the faith in these matters is bound to make some enemies in the common culture, and even possibly to be threatened with legal action. But Catholic educators must never compromise the faith, or the authentic good of their students, for fear of public ridicule or potential litigation. In fact, it is precisely a deeply felt and lived Catholicism, rooted in an authentic love for all students, which is the best protection against litigation. The more clearly and comprehensively a Catholic school articulates its unique religious mission and identity, and the more securely it anchors its policies for all students in this mission, the more protected it is from potential litigation. Such a comprehensive, mission-based approach ensures that students struggling with issues of human sexuality or gender dysphoria are not singled out for different treatment, but rather are held to the same faith-based standards as all students in the school.

Know Thyself

Since it is critical that Catholic schools ensure that all policies are consistent with their Catholic mission, they need to clearly articulate that mission. Pope Pius XI describes the purpose of Catholic education as “securing the Supreme Good, that is, God, for the souls of those who are being educated, and the maximum of well-being possible here below for human society.” Expanding upon this, the Church’s Code of Canon Law #795 sums up the mission of Catholic education this way:

Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end, as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.

The final end for which Catholic schools prepare their students is union with God through Christ. A Catholic school also facilitates students’ participation in the common good. Both goals are accomplished by integrally and harmoniously developing the students’ minds, spirits, morals, and bodies so that they might use their freedom properly. What is proper or good as a means of attaining our final end of salvation is always understood in terms of Church teaching, based on the person and truth of Jesus Christ.

This is what Catholic schools do. This is who we are. This is what we offer.

Those who do not want to receive what we offer are free to go wherever they want to find what they think they need. We are not required to change our standards to meet the needs of those who reject all or part of our efforts, especially if changing our standards works contrary to our mission. Those students or families who only want to benefit from a part of the mission, such as our intellectual formation, must still participate with goodwill in the full program.

This program includes formation of the whole human person. We cannot disaggregate our efforts or offer our formation a la carte, because: “In the Catholic school’s educational project, there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom,” according to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. The Congregation also emphasizes that everything in a Catholic school is Catholic, and the faith is everywhere:

What makes the Catholic school distinctive is its religious dimension, and that this is to be found in a) the educational climate, b) the personal development of each student, c) the relationship established between culture and the Gospel, d) the illumination of all knowledge with the light of faith.

A student or family may not like every part of the complete educational project, but they should be expected to participate in the complete mission, to the fullest extent possible for their state of life, and never do anything that works against the mission, or protests it. Surely those whose religious practices and beliefs run counter to Church teaching might experience conflicts as the school maintains mission integrity. Sincere questioning of the practices and traditions of the Catholic faith, in order to more deeply understand them, ought to be welcome, but openly hostile and public defiance of Catholic truths or morality are signs that a student may not be a good fit for a Catholic school’s primary evangelical mission and, therefore, may be denied admission.

All students should be welcome in our schools, including those working through issues of gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction, but all students must be willing to work within the religious mission of the school, and comport themselves according to the social and moral norms of the distinctive Catholic environment they have freely chosen.

Love One Another

A Catholic school always interacts with others in an attitude of deep respect. This respect is based on the essential human dignity of each person, who is made in the image and likeness of God. There is no room in a Catholic school for hatred, injustice, or a lack of charity or compassion. It is also true that while all people have an inherent dignity and fundamental freedom that must be respected, one need not have inherent respect for all that people do. Respect for particular human behaviors must depend on how completely they fulfill the proper nature of humanity as created by God.

Those who experience challenges in the proper exercise of their sexuality can be respected as members of the human family, and yet still be challenged in behavior which the Church considers as not fulfilling its proper nature. Catholic schools are places to clarify and distinguish between error and truth, sin and virtue, order and disorder, according to reason, natural law, revelation, and Church teaching. Catholic schools make no secret about what the Church teaches regarding human sexuality. We cannot compromise that teaching by looking the other way when one is in serious error, and we cannot allow for the advocacy of error in our hallways. We do this in humility to the truth, and out of love for others.

Respect and love can only transpire in the truth. Love entails seeking the authentic good of the other. A simple definition of “good” is when a thing well-fulfills its potentialities and purposes. Love, then, involves assisting another to fulfill their full human potentiality as created and loved by God.

While many groups differ as to what exactly constitutes human good, the purpose of a Catholic school is to address these issues from a distinctly Catholic perspective, and within a deeply felt and lived Catholic culture. When this dynamic is focused on issues related to human sexuality, it is clear that the Catholic Church has a distinct and defined theology regarding the potentialities and purposes of human sexuality. The Catholic school must ensure that these are presented, even in the face of a hostile common culture, with conviction, integrity, and charity. A school’s pastoral, and policy practices must be written in fidelity to the moral guidance and teachings of the Catholic Church in all areas that touch on human nature, including issues related to human sexuality.

We situate this teaching in the conviction that the mission of a Catholic school includes the integral formation of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. The whole person includes the student’s attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors, of which the very complex area of human sexuality is a part. As a Catholic institution, we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, and temples of the Holy Spirit. We believe that human sexual behavior is only properly oriented to the ends of love and life in the context of a sacramental marriage.

We believe that the body and soul are intimately united: the body does not contain the soul, like water in a glass, but rather holistically and naturally expresses who we are in the order of creation as physical/spiritual beings. We believe that the sexes are complementary, and that “male and female he made us.” Our given biological sex is part of the divine plan. The Church teaches that sexual identity is “a reality deeply inscribed in man and woman” that is rooted in one’s biological identity, and that a person “should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” Biological identity and sexual identity are never disaggregated. Both are gifts from God for us to perfect and bring into harmony according to his plan and guidance. They are not ours to reject, or to change outside of their proper functioning at our own will, because we believe God has made a mistake which we must correct.

Catholic schools understand truth to be the state in which the mind is in conformity with reality: a reality which entails the fullness of God’s creation and divine plan. We also affirm that reality is knowable through the use of properly functioning senses and reason, as well as through the aid of divine revelation.

In this context, a student who wishes to express a gender other than his or her biological sex is understood as operating outside of the “reality deeply inscribed” within. Assisting the child in his or her disconnect with this reality — however sincerely experienced — by agreeing to participate in the child’s efforts to change gender expression, is contrary to the pursuit of the truth. Authentic love, a gift of the self for the good of the other, requires that we compassionately dwell in the truth, and assist those we love to do the same. We will lovingly accompany the student through the inherent challenges of this situation, but in the fullness of love, must also insist upon integrity between reality and comportment for the good of the child, and for the common good.

In a similar vein, we love and respect all of our students, but Catholic schools cannot condone or respect unchaste or disordered sexual activity. Every member of our school is called to a life of holiness, and that holiness includes living a chaste life appropriate to one’s vocation, whether as single, married, or consecrated religious. The Church defines chastity as the successful integration of sexuality within the person and, thus, the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being: “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.” Also, because the Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered, and that sexual activity is only appropriate for the purposes of love and life within sacramental marriage, those students experiencing this disordered inclination may not advocate for it, or express it in the context of our Catholic school classes, activities, or events. The Church encourages individuals experiencing same-sex attraction to pursue the virtues of chastity, self-mastery, and friendship, instead of acting upon those inclinations, romantically or sexually—as is the current norm in much of secular society.

Authentic Good for All Students

Once properly situated in the broad context of a school’s Catholic mission, particular efforts to work respectfully and holistically from within a Catholic context and culture with students experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria can be better understood, and more clearly articulated. Because the Church teaches that for all its students sexual activity is only properly exercised toward the ends of both love and life in the context of a valid marriage, and because it teaches that same-sex attraction is disordered, the school can and should prohibit actively advocating for, or manifesting same-sex attraction, at school and school events. Similarly, because a Catholic school does not disaggregate gender from biological sex, the school can clarify that it accepts people with gender dysphoria, but still holds them accountable to all policies and procedures (including dress code and facilities use) concordant with the student’s biological sex.

Granted this is a complex and potential litigious topic, but Catholic schools must be willing to secure the authentic good of their students, in season and out of season. If students and families want to pursue a competing concept of the good, that is, of course, their right; but Catholic schools do not need to provide, nor accommodate, a competing version of the good. It is our right and our responsibility to live the truth with love in complete fidelity to Christ and his Church.

Our message of love and human flourishing must be faithful, pastoral, and clear. Our Catholic schools should be open to all who wish to join our mission of complete human formation of our students for their own salvation and good, and for the good of others.

This article was first published on Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Experiencing “Transgenderism” on Religious Campuses

On many fronts, the courts are weighing in on the extent to which religious institutions of higher education can follow their faith-based missions.  Recent rulings1 respecting “transgendered” students have granted some exemptions to religious colleges who have set limits on students who choose to live their life as a gender opposite from that in which they were born.

The Cases 

In the first case, a student applied to, and was accepted by, California Baptist University as a woman, but later publicly revealed that “she” was a transgendered male.  The judge ruled that the university was within its rights as a religious institution to expel the student, but at the same time stated that the university could not bar the student from public spaces or online programs. The judge reasoned that some places and programs, such as the library, counseling center, art gallery and online courses “have little or no values-based component … [and] do not require participants to adhere to any moral code of conduct.”  In this case, the university’s standards and behavioral code were accepted, but limited by the judge’s opinion about what was, and was not, material to its religious identity.  While on the surface this may seem to have some rational basis, it completely fails to recognize that for institutions that take their religious identity seriously, there is no area in which their values are extraneous.  For such institutions, their values are an integral, indivisible part of all that they are.  Such values touch every program, every space and every person—with many institutions having explicit behavioral contracts2 and policies3 for their faculty and students.

In the second case, the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) rejected a complaint filed on behalf of a “transgender” student (who identifies as a male) whom George Fox University (“Oregon’s Nationally Recognized Christian University”) refused to let reside in male student housing.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bars gender discrimination by educational institutions, and the DOE has recently stated4 that Title IX covers transgender students.  GFU offered the student a private room, but the student claimed that “he” should be entitled to live with male friends just as other male students have that right.  The student’s lawyer is quoted as stating that the use of such exemptions “will do a lot of harm…  [The students] will be abused.”

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride5 (an organization that serves LGBT student leaders and campus organizations working to free campuses of anti-LGBT prejudice, bigotry and hate) wrote that it is “frightening…that  any private college is now encouraged to use ‘religion’ as a means to justify discrimination.” (quotes in the original)  He goes on to claim that transgender students face threats of harassment and physical violence:  “At the end of the day we must remember this is an issue of safety for transgender young people.”  This statement reflects a standard view that people who do not experience themselves as their biological gender are subject to a number of uncomfortable situations on a typical campus, including difficulty accessing healthcare, navigating their residence halls and utilizing locker and restroom facilities.

While undoubtedly some persons experience negative reactions—and several6 colleges have taken steps to try and address some of those instances—it is unclear that the incidents described above (i.e., abuse, bigotry, hate, violence) are common occurrences.  Rather, a digital search of “danger to transgender students in college” reveals a number of accounts in which students were uncomfortable and distressed by events on campus, but few accounts of violence7 or abuse.

From the data, it appears that while those who disagree with the case rulings above present their arguments in terms of abuse, violence, and safety, the real issue is much more simple: they are offended.  They don’t like the universities’ policies.

Of What Virtue? 

Certainly, any policy by a Christian institution (or any institution, for that matter) should be implemented in a manner that protects all persons’ right to live safely, and any boundaries necessary to that end should be firmly established on the virtues: charity, kindness and compassion among others.  Acts of violence and bigotry, when they occur, must be roundly condemned and reparations made.  But what of “non-offensiveness” as a virtue?  For sure, there is a place for sensitivity in civilized society, and community living requires a respect for human differences.  Yet, this, too, has limits—limits that have traditionally been defined by natural law8, a naturally-knowable and universally-binding law of right and wrong.  One’s gender identity, based upon one’s biological sex, would have clearly fallen into this type of naturally-known limit for many centuries.  The phenomena of gender confusion is not new, but what is new is the idea that this confusion is anything but disordered and something needing intervention and healing.

Unfortunately, gender bending isn’t the only fundamental issue facing shifting opinions with dire consequences for our culture today.  Take for example, the issue of proper human sexual interaction and procreation.  In generations past, it was taken for granted that sexual coupling and childbearing was reserved to marriage between a man and a woman.  Although same-sex marriage is capturing the headlines these days, it is important to consider that the real shift9 began a half-century ago when promiscuity began to be more-widely accepted.  Slowly but surely, the shift took place whereby it became “offensive” to “judge” a person who was exploring his or her sexuality prior to marriage, and some even suggested that such exploration was a healthy advancement beyond the “sexual repression” of the past.  What has come with this shift?  Increasing numbers of children without two parents, and the dire consequences10 that follow.

The normalization of behavior that violates natural law is dangerous; these universities are taking a difficult but laudable stand against the current cultural drift by being clear and unapologetic about their values.  Acquiescing to the demands of a limited number of students in opposition to a school’s core values paves the road to confusion and chaos for the remainder of our young people (not to mention the assault on their own sensibilities).

There is no essential conflict11 between non-discrimination and upholding one’s values. President Michael Lindsey of Gordon College, a liberal arts college that “retains its roots in the Christian faith” and which also has come under scrutiny12 for requesting an exemption, summarizes the issues well: “We have never barred categories of individuals from our campus and have no intention to do so now. We have always sought to be a place of grace and truth, and that remains the case.  As a Christian college, we are all followers of Christ.  As long as a student, a faculty member, or a staff member supports and lives by our community covenant documents, they are welcome to study or work at Gordon.”

Freedom on campuses in the United States is fundamental; such freedom is not, however, rampant license for forcing upon others one’s own predilections. Instead, it is freedom within the boundaries of the community which one joins.  No person is compelled to attend a college or university that has values and goals at odds with those that he or she holds.  But, when he or she chooses to do so, the virtue of integrity demands that he or she do so with the intent of accepting the education sought, on the terms on which it is offered—with the intent of accepting, and giving back.  Such giving involves fostering the mission of the school, upholding its values, and yes, even growing and changing on a personal level.