On April 19, 1991, Toronto Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic issued a strongly-worded ‘no’ to condoms as a solution to the spread of AIDS or as a barrier to conception.
The next appeared in a letter addressed to the five Catholic school boards within the Archdiocese of Toronto. However, the letter as also endorsed by all the bishops of Ontario, making it a matter of concern to all 54 Catholic boards in the province. The full text of the letter may be found on the front page of the current issue of Insight.
Late last year, John McCrae, Superintendent of Programs and Student Services at the York Region Roman Catholic (YSSB) proposed that board personnel “advocate the use of condoms if students are engaging in sexual activity against the teaching of the Church and their elders’ advice.” (see Insight, The Interim, April 1991)
The motion which would formalize what had been board practice for at least a year was temporarily shelved at the January 29 meeting of the YSSB’s Education Committee. At the beginning of February, The Interim was told that the threat of public protest from Bishop Robert Clune had decided the issue already.
Bishop Clune heads the Northeast Pastoral Region of the Archdiocese of the Toronto, where the YSSB is located. When contacted by the Interim, Bishop Clune’s office declined to comment.
In a letter to Frank S. Bobesich, the YSSB’ Director of Education, dated February 1, 1991, Bishop Clune informed him that “the Episcopal Board was unanimous in condemning the motion…as contrary to Catholic teaching and morality.”
Bishop Clune voiced the dismay of the Episcopal Board (composed of Abp. Ambrozic and the regional bishops) with the unilateral nature of the committee’s proposed condom motion.
“We were taken a back that your Education committee would not have consulted Archbishop Ambrozic, or myself …about such a controversial moral issue before giving our press releases and presenting this motion to your board,” he stated.
No “bona-fide Catholic group, “he wrote, has ever advocated that young people “make use of contraceptives whenever engaging in extra-marital sexual intercourse. “this ground-breaking action from the Education Committee of the YSSB exemplifies the ‘slippery slope’ theory, “he remarked.
By way of explanation, Bishop Clune disclosed that in February 1988 the YSSB’s former Director of Education, John Zupancic, had contended that students have the “right to receive correct information to the extent that they will know what contraceptives are and their function.” Yet three years later, Bishop Clune observed, the Education Committee of the same board is “now prepared to advocate that contraceptives be used whenever youth engage in extra-marital sexual activity.”(emphasis added)
Religious Education Coordinator Noel Cooper was one of the influential board officials prepared to push for the use of condoms in the York Separate School Board.
In a letter date February 4, 1991, Mr. Cooper pressed Archbishop Ambrozic “to permit our school Board to go ahead with the resolution as it has been proposed.” With respect to the Archbishop’s conscience, Mr. Cooper asked him “to re-iterate official Catholic teaching, and give a signal to the Board that they may go ahead with the resolution, calling it ‘an application of the principles to the concrete situation’.”
Mr. Cooper allotted most of his letter to justifying the reasons for the ‘condom resolution’ in what he tagged an “urgent situation” in the YSSB: “rampant” sexual activity in the high schools; pregnancies rearing 100 in the York region alone; abortion as the common solution to teenage pregnancies (here, Mr. Cooper blames parents for “demanding abortions,” while the teachers “offer support…to let the child be born”); and the “perilous” threat of HIV (AIDS) infection among high school students.
Any recommendation to teens to use condoms will be seen by some “as tacit permission to go ahead and have sexual intercourse,” Mr. Cooper admitted, but he denied that “it is equivalent to accepting or condoning such activity.”
He concluded his letter by urging Archbishop Ambrozic to defer to the anxieties of both parents and educators and “let our school board…recommend that sexually-active students use condoms and foam to reduce the danger of fatal infection.”
Faced with the likely YSSB of the controversial measure, Archbishop Ambrozic issued a statement April 19 to the five separate school boards located in the Archdiocese of Toronto banning the promotion of condoms as a solution to teenage sex.
When reached by the Interim for his reaction to the Archbishop’s statement, Mr. Cooper refused to comment.
Two weeks following the publication of the Archbishop’s statement, none of the five Catholic boards in the Archdiocese of Toronto had issued an official response.
“We’re basically in agreement with the Archbishop, the attitude is very accepting among officials, “Tom Reilly, Director of education for the Dufferin-Peel Roman Catholic School Board told The Interim. Copies of the statement have been distributed to all school principals in the region located immediately to the west of Metro Toronto, Mr. Reilly added.
Catherine Tunney, Chairman of the Durham Region Roman Catholic Board, said that no official reply would be released until the trustees had had a chance to examine the Archbishop’s statement.
The Metropolitan Separate School Board does not plan an official response, said Director of Public Information John Fauteux. “We did not find the Archbishop’s statement alarming in any way,” he offered. The issue of contraceptive devices is touched on in the Grade 8 family Life program, but abstinence is always stressed, the maintained. Copies of the statement have been circulated to senior administrative heads, department heads and trustees, he said.
In the board where it all started, the York Region Roman Catholic Separate School Board, don O’Shaughnessy, coordinator of Communications, told The Interim that the issue will be resolved by the end of the school year. Both the Archbishop’s statement and the recommendation of the officials who conceived the ‘condom proposal’ will be evaluated at the next full meeting of the board sometime at the end of May or in June, Mr. O’Shaughnessy revealed.
Surprisingly, none of the five boards indicated that they would be making the letter on condoms available to all their teachers.