Despite strong criticism from parents and school trustees, the Archdiocese of Toronto has given the go-ahead to an AIDS education programme for grads 7 to 10.

At the heated management committee meeting of the Metro Toronto Separate School Board in early October, several parents objected to the programme, saying it is “disturbing, deplorable and sickening,” that “there is nothing Catholic about it,” and charging that “our children are being seduced into learning about the worst perverse sex acts.”

Trustee Harold Adams noted that the programme “gears its philosophy to giving the impression that, for some, homosexuality is innate.”  Mr. Adams went on to point out that this is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.  And trustee Father Carl Matthews said, “I find this is incomprehensible that we’d approach innocent children with such material.”  Noting the arguments against the programme, trustees voted to refer it back to the director of education for revision and approval by the archbishop, Cardinal Carter.

Faith and morals

At the end of October, the AIDS programme was on the agenda of the regular monthly meeting of the MSSB.  Many of the parents who spoke against the programme at the earlier management committee meeting were scheduled now to address the full Board with their objections.  However, before any could speak, the director of education announced that he had received a telephone call from Archbishop Ambrozic, speaking in the name of Cardinal Carter.  He said that the programme was acceptable from the point of view of “faith and morals” and that it was approved for use in the five separate school boards under the Archdiocese of Toronto.  Before the programme is distributed, however, the Archdiocese is preparing a statement of “clarification” which will accompany it.  This statement is not yet available.

Separate rights

The controversial programme was prepared by the Toronto-based Institute for Catholic Education, directed by Msgr. Dennis Murphy.  ICE was established a year ago by the Bishops of Ontario to “promote and maintain” the Catholic faith in the separate school system; it developed the AIDS programme to obey the Ontario government’s order for AIDS education in all schools in the province.  Although the Ministry of Education has prepared the programme for the public school system, it acknowledged the right of the separate school system to adapt that programme to reflect Catholic teaching.

Although the final version of the programme, a three-booklet printed package, shows a substantial improvement in content over the earlier draft version circulated for comment in June, many still find far from acceptable.

The main points of contention are the explicit descriptions of types of sexual intercourse, the sympathetic treatment of homosexuality, the downplaying of the homosexual element in the spread of AIDS and the violation of parental rights as the primary educators in such matters.  A point in the programme’s favour, however, is that the discussions on chastity have been greatly strengthened since the draft, and some emphasis is now given to the traditional teaching that sexual activity is only appropriate within the context of marriage.  Some critics charge, however, that the section on chastity is weakened by references to the use and effectiveness of condoms.

Explicit language

The writers preface their discussion on condoms with the much-discussed statement by Father Jack Galagher which argues that AIDS education should include the “technical information about the use of condoms” because to avoid it “would be artificial, would undercut the credibility of the program generally, and would seem to involve the Church in a rather meaningless program of trying to prevent immoral activity by holding back information which some students already have.”

The ICE writing team echoes Father Gallagher’s views, saying, “we are all people on a journey through life and at times we do not act in ways that are best for use.”

Many parents argue that children at the grade 7 level are simply too young to be introduced to oral, vaginal and anal intercourse.  Yet, as these are the known sexual means of transmission of AIDS, they will be taught about such intimate matters.

The teacher’s guidebook provides a glossary of terms with definitions for anal and vaginal intercourse, oral-anal and oral-genital sex so that any children unfamiliar with the terms can be given explicit, factual information.  How explicit the classroom discussion gets will depend on the discretion of the individual teacher, of course.  But every grade 7 class will contain children at different levels of emotional maturity; such information will have been learned much earlier by some, while others will be completely innocent in such matters.

Equal values

The glossary describes anal intercourse neutrally as “sexual union involving the penis in the rectum.” Vaginal intercourse is defined as “sexual union involving the penis in the vagina; also, commonly called ‘sexual intercourse.’” Equally clinical definitions are provided for oral-anal sex and oral-genital sex.

Children in grades 9 and 10 will be provided with a crossword puzzle to test their knowledge of AIDS.  Here are some of the clues: “a person who is attracted to someone of the same sex;” “the fluid that is expelled from the penis during orgasm”; “device over penis which, collects ejaculated semen;” and “devices used to inject drugs directly into the blood.”

Although the definitions of various types of sexual acts are factual, there is no reference to which of these acts are homosexual.  Nor, indeed, is there any hint in the clinical definitions provided on various types of sexual acts that the Catholic Church teaches that these acts can be immoral, even within the context of marriage.  As Lawler, Boyle and May write, in Catholic Sexual Ethics. “The Church’s teaching…applies not only to the use of contraceptive devices but also to any acts done with the intention of preventing a complete genital act between spouses from being a potentially life-giving act.  Thus…oral and anal sex, and similar acts in which orgasms are sought apart from natural intercourse are gravely wrong.”

Perhaps omitting such crucial nuances was a pragmatic decision on the part of writers, afraid of objections over such mature matters being introduced to children at this age.  Nevertheless, different types of sexual acts will be discussed if questions are asked.  Why else would a glossary of terms of provided?  Most children who are unfamiliar with the terms “oral” and “anal” sex will sooner or later ask to have them explained – especially when they are being told time and time again that this is the way they can catch AIDS.  And the clinical definitions provided have led critics of the programme to observe that the writers present all sexual acts as of equal moral value, whether practised by heterosexual or by homosexual couples.

The writers consistently emphasize that “AIDS is not a homosexual disease.”  And they make every effort to prove that statement.  At the same time, the writers – somewhat naively perhaps – express the hope that the issue of homosexuality will not be raised in the classroom.  The “note to the teacher” at the beginning of the grade 7 programme states, “Learning about AIDS may prompt students to ask questions about homosexuality which, in fact, extend beyond the objectives of this lesson.  It is hoped that the topic of homosexuality will be addressed during some mediate Family Life Curriculum.  However, included in the Teacher’s Guidebook, you will find a list of Basic Understanding and Attitudes which grade 7 and 8 students are capable of discussing should some attention to the topic of homosexuality be necessary at this time.

Arguable Points

A comparison of the ICE programme with the one prepared for public schools shows that references to homosexuality are a relatively minor part of the public school programme, while the Catholic programme devotes approximately one third of the lessons to discussing attitudes towards people with AIDS.  “Understandings and Attitudes about Homosexuality,” the teachers’ guide for questions from students, reads as though it had been prepared by a committee of homosexual-rights’ activists, not so much in what it says but in what it doesn’t say.

AIDS is not a homosexual disease, it states quite correctly, noting that AIDS affects both homosexuals and heterosexuals.  “Proven facts about the origins of AIDS do  not exist,” it goes on, again quite factually, adding that “theories about the origins of this disease are varied, but none of them claim homosexuality is the source.”

This is incorrect.  Many argue that homosexual promiscuity was primarily responsible for the spread of the disease to North America, pointing out that the first cases diagnosed on this continent were among homosexuals which is why it was first named GRIDS, Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The spread of the disease into the rest of society can be directly linked to homosexuals and bisexuals, both via sexual promiscuity and donations of contaminated blood.

A second arguable point in this section is the assertion that it is “commonly held by people in the psychological, medical and theological professions, that sexual orientation is determined by causes outside the individual’s own choosing.”  For every argument supporting this claim, an argument can be found to oppose it.  Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual orientation is not necessarily a matter beyond the individual’s control.

Thirdly, this section states that homosexual attractions among adolescents “are a normal part of development in human sexual growth, and do not necessarily indicate constitutional or lasting homosexual tendencies.”

There is no warning to the children that these attractions should not be acted upon,

although the teachers have the difference between adult homosexual orientation and activity clearly spelled out to them elsewhere in this section.

Social justice

Nor is any distinction between homosexual orientation and activity made in the lessons on chastity.  There, one might have expected to find such a reference, given the earlier assumption that homosexual attractions are “normal” for adolescents.  All discussions on chastity are based on boy/girl relationships with only one minor reference to teen homosexual activity – and that is buried in a quote from U.S. Surgeon General, Everett Koop.

At the beginning of the teachers’ guide, the writers make it clear that AIDS is a “social justice” issue in their view, useful for raising “the issues of discrimination and condemnation of persons” and “to raise consciousness around the many human and moral dimensions of the AIDS crisis.

This goal of “social justice” conforms rather neatly with the recent attempts by homosexual activists to focus the public’s attention upon the spread of AIDS in society as a whole a s a way to deflect earlier attention on the homosexual population.

Just why young school children should be the targets of such propaganda is a question, which cannot be answered here.  But the very lessons in the AIDS education programme include this kind of indoctrination.

The first lesson in grade 7 opens with a “Fact or myth” quiz.  Children are asked to respond “true” or “false” to the statement, “AIDS is a disease of only homosexual men.”  The answer is “false,” and the explanation states, “In North America, a large proportion of people with AIDS are not gay or bisexual men.  In some countries the population having AIDS is largely heterosexual, half men, half women.”  It is interesting to note that the writers consistently use the political term, “gay.”

Percentages wrong

Further along in the lesson, in “AIDS facts,” the writers state, “in North America, almost 30 per cent of people with AIDS are not gay or bisexual men…”  They could just as easily have rephrased both of these points (“almost three-quarters of people with AIDS are ‘gay’…”) but obviously it does not have the same effect.  And, the percentages given are wrong.

According to Statistics Canada (latest figured available as of September 26), 82.9 per cent – over four-fifths – of AIDS cases in Canada have been diagnosed in homosexual and/or bisexual males.  In the United States it is 66 per cent and in Europe, 67 per cent, reflecting their higher percentages of intravenous drug users. (Canadian figures show 5 cases of AIDS, contracted through intravenous drug abuse, out of 1258 reported cases.)  The percentage of heterosexual cases is low in all three areas:  Canada reports 2 per cent and Europe 2 per cent.

Rewriting history

Obviously, no one wants to see even more cases of AIDS – regardless of how the individual has become infected.  But, given today’s figures, it does seem somewhat alarmist at this stage to be teaching young people that they are equally at risk as homosexual or bisexual adults.

Besides attempting to rewrite recent history by using inaccurate statistics and by changing the emphasis, the writers use the “real life” situations to form a basis for classroom discussions which emphasize heterosexual infection (drug abuse, blood transfusions, hemophilia) to continue deflecting attention way from the homosexuals.

Of the 11 situations, three involve homosexuals.  The first involves a showing of the video, AIDS – A Family Experience, followed by class discussion.  The video, which features a young homosexual dying from AIDS and focuses on how his family copes, was reviewed in our April edition by Nancy R. Pearcy.

As Mrs. Pearcy pointed out, the video deals more with death than with AIDS and homosexuality.  Developed for the public board, it treats death from a secular perspective and, she warns, “may undercut the spiritual beliefs of the children seeing it.”  While this may be acceptable in the public system, even though many of the children attending those schools come from families practicing a religions, it surely should be less acceptable in the separate system.  And, as Ms. Pearcy points out, it does not even portray the man dying from AIDS accurately.

She wrote, “…The process of dying is presented in fairly positive terms, and he and his family work through their anger and sense of futility and finally accept the inevitable.  If our purpose is to warn young people that AIDS is fatal (and that should be our purpose), it would be better to highlight the ugly, painful side of what it means to die from AIDS.  Both AIDS and the diseases likely to accompany it are wrenching and debilitating.  A good look at people suffering from them can have the same effect that showing accident victims has in driver education.”

The second case study concentrates on a young woman’s feelings on learning of her brother’s homosexuality when he contracts AIDS.  Adolescents react negatively to homosexuality, the teacher’s script goes, because “heterosexuality can represent success and acceptance with one’s peers, whereas homosexuality is seen negatively.”  The young man in the story hid his homosexuality because of “societal norms”; to tell his family would be “traumatic.”  Current pop psychology is repeated: “sexual preference is set early in life and a person does not usually choose to be a homosexual or heterosexual, but the way that person expresses his or her sexual orientation is a choice.”  The only purpose of this story seems to be to make the students feel guilty if they believe homosexual activity is wrong and to imply that if they end up as active homosexual adults then that is merely their choice – not wrong, just a choice.

Case studies

The last case study, which ends the grade 10 programme, is perhaps the most alarming: it asserts a change in behaviour that has not yet been substantiated.

This case study concerns John, infected with ARC (the AIDS-related complex), who “admitted being sexually active with a number of different partners.  He was probably spreading the virus for AIDS in his sexual activity.”  In keeping with the rest of the programme, the students are not told whether or not his sexual activity is homosexual.

The students are asked to discuss how they can protect themselves, “given that some individuals do continue with irresponsible behaviour.”  They are then asked, “Do you think irresponsibility is a common response for someone infected with the AIDS virus?”

The “discussion leader” is instructed to “allow your group to answer this question” but is then told to provide the following information.

“Most people diagnosed with AIDS are conscientious about not putting others at risk.  They do not have unsafe sex, shared needles, or donate blood.  In fact, research in San Francisco shows that about 80 per cent of gay men there have altered their sexual practices to avoid exposure to or transmission of the AIDS virus.

“This is a remarkable statistic and shows a more powerful response to this health crisis than any other in history.  For example, how many people continue smoking, eat high-fat diets, refuse to wear seat belts, etc. even though they are well-documented life-threatening risks.”

Research ignored

This assertion that homosexuals have changed their sexual behaviour simply cannot be substantiated in Canada.  The only research available is from a “safe sex” campaign conducted among homosexuals in Montreal (discussed in some detail in “The Condom Crusade,” The Interim, March 1987).  As I wrote then, 839 homosexuals (75.4 per cent of those who completed a survey issued at the end of the campaign), acknowledged that the campaign had “influenced” their sexual behaviour: they had used a condom.  Only 69 – 8.2 per cent – said they had been celibate in the month following the campaign.  Another 54 said that they had had 10 partners during that time, 144 said 4 to 9, 511 reported 1 to 3 partners, and 36 had one partner.  Moreover, 109 indicated that they had also had heterosexual “relations” during this time.

The October 19 issue of Newsweek contains a book review of And the Band Played On: People, Politics and the AIDS Epidemic.  Author Randy Shilts openly admits to his own homosexuality and does not cover up the way in which some homosexuals deliberately infect others. Gaetan Dugas, a steward for Air Canada, is said to be the first AIDS victim in North America. Shilts reports that Dugas would visit bathhouses in many cities, choose his own victim, and before leaving say, “I’ve got gay cancer. I’m going to die and so are you.”

Written by Dignity

The biased treatment of the homosexual element in an AIDS education programme prepared specifically for Catholic schools has led one critic to observe that it reads as though it was written by Dignity, the officially disapproved organization for Catholics who are active homosexuals.

Father John McGoey, a noted expert in teaching teen sexuality, says he is stunned that the Cardinal and his co-adjudicator, Archbishop Ambrozic, approved a programme that he finds is “80 per cent fraud.”  He charges that “not even 10 per cent of the research available on AIDS” was used by the writing team.  His advice to parents is to “take the kids out” of the programme.  If enough parents do this, he believes the Toronto archdiocese may be forced to re-examine its approval.

Parents’ rights

Parents do have the right – and responsibility – to remove their children from programmes they find unacceptable, although this option is not mentioned in the ICE package, which merely directs schools to send letter home advising parents that the programme is starting and also suggests that parent’s nights be organized to educate them

Removing children from classes is not a step any parents take lightly since it is difficult for the children, who will feel embarrassed.  Perhaps a more acceptable alternative for some parents is to request a copy of the ICE programme from the school, study it carefully, and make sure their children have a proper grasp of all the implications before they attend the AIDS lessons at school.

Although the ICE programme has the go-ahead in metro-Toronto schools, each diocese in Ontario is making its own decision whether or not to use it.  The Interim has learned that most dioceses across the province have approved the programme with without any reservations.  The diocese of Hamilton, whose Bishop, Anthony Tonnos, wrote a strong pastoral letter earlier this year condemning classroom promotion of condoms, has still to announce his decision.