In 1980, during a Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the paper now called the Catholic Register, Cardinal Carter in his sermon urged bishops to enter the public forum and make their views on controversial questions known.  But they could not expect merely to lay down the law; inevitably, he said, their opinions would be challenged and controverted, but still there would be much to gain from a free discussion.

Bishop John O’Mara

Presumably Bishop O’Mara of Thunder Bay does not agree with Cardinal Carter.  Apparently the last thing in the world he wants is a free discussion.

On October 17, 1991, he sent a letter to the Directors of all (62) Ontario Separate School Boards calling the Fully Alive program “a remarkable tribute to what enlightened collaboration can achieve for our home and school community.”

Then the Bishop then added the following paragraph:

“…recent criticism of Fully Alive, as aired in The Interim, should be simply ignored.  It is an irresponsible mixture of misguided zeal, error, misrepresentation, half-truths and innuendoes.  It undermines the total credibility of the editors of The Interim.”

The Interim’s editor, Father Alphonse de Valk, had written Bishop O’Mara (and also every other Ontario bishop) a personal letter on September 30, explaining our criticism of FA.

Instead of replying, Bishop O’Mara issued the above denunciation to third parties.  We would not have known about it, except that a trustee faxed it to us on October 29.

The bishop provides no evidence whatever to back up his accusations of “misrepresentation, half-truths, or innuendoes.”  Nor could he have found any; The Interim does not publish statements which it cannot support.  We are certainly prepared to listen to arguments on the other side, but the bishop is not trying to engage in the kind of free discussion of which Cardinal Carter spoke, but to cut if off, to suppress it.

Conclusion and summary

We conclude our examination of Fully Alive with a brief summary of our conclusions about it, our conclusions about its implementation, and the method we employed in introducing this subject for public debate in the first place.


In our opinion, the Fully Alive program of family life education has the following basic flaws:

  • The principle of separating sex instruction from Catholic moral content.  The latter is supposed to be provided in another class, in religious education, presumably by another teacher.
  • The presumption that the latency period – the period of innocence – does not really exist, but is a Freudian hypothesis.  Hence, the provision of full and explicit sex instruction at an early age.
  • The conviction that children should be taught about love, but not about sin.  Hence, the absence of any discussion of the latter.

These three principles, we think, are wrong.  The first two, we believe, can be traced back to the influence of the late Father Leo Lafreniere and the Family Education Program for teachers linked with schools in Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ontario.  His influence (and those of his colleagues) dominated Catholic teacher education in Ontario for several decades.  Even today it is being promoted, for example, by Mary Sue McCarthy, Professor of Education at York University. (See her article in The Grail, June 1986, a publication of St. Jerome’s College).

The third basic flaw is a silence about sin and an exclusive emphasis on love.  This reflects the current thinking of many progressive religious educators exclusively devoted to a developmental point of view.


Reactions from parents and trustees make it clear that ‘enlightened collaboration’, resulting from accounting for all opinions appears in a very different light from that presented by Archbishop Marcel Gervais.

When the guiding principles were put in place, including the first two of the three mentioned above, widespread consultation did not take place, they were the result of decisions by Bishop Gervais, then Auxiliary Bishop of London, and a small group of consultants.  People like Father John McGoey, who opposed these principles from the beginning were dismissed as incompetent and insufficiently flexible.

Questioning parents

After that, an ordinarily happens, questioning parents were few and far between.  Few had the time or ability to read and evaluate the masses of paper produced in the preparation of the program.  It takes time and effort and a strong sense of parental obligation to ask the right sort of questions.

But this very fact was used against those who raised objections.

They were told over and over again “You are only a small minority.  The vast majority of parents have no complaints.’ In fact, this tactic was employed by Fr. O’Malley from Oakville, when he telephoned the editor of The Interim on October 11, to complain about our criticism of FA.

He refused to discuss it: “No use talking to you people.  You’re just a minority.”

When parents were consulted at later stages, family life consultants were on hand to show them the unreasonableness of any reservations they had.

Persistent objectors were made to feel five inches high: “Are you questioning the bishops of Ontario?”  “Are you questioning the Catholic Faith?”  “Who do you think you are?” “In fact, one lady who was on the team preparing the material for one grade was made to feel that she was “only a housewife” who ought to defer to the “experts” and, moreover, that she was too orthodox – as if that were possible.

Our main complaint about the Ontario bishops, in fact, is that they themselves deferred to the so-called experts, the family life consultants, and did not pay enough attention to the parents who had taken the time and trouble to study it and were critical of it.

Three other points deserve mention.

First, the schedule of Fully Alive, not the parents, determines when a child is to be told about sexual intercourse.  (See enough, the topic is dealt with in grade one.)

If the parents feel the child is not ready, too bad for them and for the child.  The child must now begin eight consecutive years of detailed sex instruction.

Second, while the designers of Fully Alive claim that somebody else in some other class will provide the required Catholic moral context, this is not necessarily going to happen.  Sin is going to be downplayed.  (*See our August and October Insight stories on the Metro Separate School Board.)

Third, in a number of cases parents have been denied permission to withdraw their children from the program.  They have had to submit to this decision, or switch their children to other schools, or start home schooling.

Others have gained exemption for their children only after intimidation and humiliation, sometimes for a long period of time.

All these denials of parents’ rights are in direct conflict with Catholic teaching on the rights of the family, as contained, for example in Pope John Paul II’s landmark document, 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.”

The statement is definitive and conclusive.

It means that the right of parents is basic and inalienable; it cannot be given up by them, and it cannot be taken away by teachers, family life consultants, school principals, or even bishop (see also October ’91 Insight, page 3)


Our approach was quite simple.

First, Father McGoey dealt with the history and character of family education courses for Catholic teachers in Ontario.  As he has shown, many aspects of these courses were in conflict with Catholic teaching; and these were the courses which provided the training for many of the “experts.”  From the early seventies on, he kept objecting to the content of these, but he made little impact on any bishop until the day in 1982 when he deposited an illustrated textbook from one such course on the desk of one of them (See Insight, October 1991, front page)

Father J.H. Gillis of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, presented the traditional Catholic approach to sex education, one that stresses requiring modesty and parental supervision (August and October).  Frank Kennedy covered two meetings of the MSSB’s Religious Affairs Committee at which the chairman noted the absence of any teaching about sin in the new Come to the Spirit high school religious education program.

In October and November, Father McGoey returned to analyze the five themes of Fully alive, revealing the over=emphasis on love and absence of any sense of realism about the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Other articles in our October Insight reproved the program for its explicit, graphic sexuality, feminist overtones, and overwhelmingly humanist character.


As announced previously, in the Issue we conclude our analysis of Fully Alive.

The reader will find the fifth and last article by Father McGoey, comparing his own view of what Catholic sex education should be, as he described it in the Catholic Register in 1982, with what Fully Alive actually has to offer.

Joseph Thompson discusses the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the program, at the expense of the Father and the Son, Who play a minor role.

Archbishop Gervais is quoted at length about the alleged wide consultation concerning the program and his contention that the latency period does not exist.

A selection of letters from across the province describe experiences and reactions to Fully Alive and to The Interim. Diane McNicholl discusses FA’s deficiency in Catholic.  Finally, Dr. Bernharda Meyer discusses a program which is acceptable.

Our lengthy examination of Fully Alive arose out of a genuine desire to find out how well this program prepared children for the problems awaiting them in a world apparently preoccupied with sex.

As we have said on a number of occasions, this is the first time the program has undergone such a thorough public scrutiny.  We hope that all our readers will allow that for us to bring the issues to their attention does really constitute responsible journalism.