“Get thee to a nunnery” took on a whole new meaning May 2-5 in Edmonton when a retreat facility run by the Sisters of Providence gave space to a controversial sexuality seminar.

The seminar, sponsored by the Edmonton Board of Health, has been held through out the province for some years but recently achieved notoriety when publicly criticized by several past participants.

According to these criticisms, the workshop entitled “Sexuality, a Communications Process” includes a compulsory film segment which features videos of people masturbating, homosexual acts, and heterosexual intercourse between elderly couples and handicapped couples shown simultaneously on three screens.

While a group of concerned Catholics picketed outside the Providence Renewal Centre, its director, Sister Doreen Victor, repeatedly refused comment.

She stated only that the former director of Providence Centre (which is also a convent for nuns and a home for retired priests), had researched the seminar and “found nothing objectionable.” Sister Doreen would not divulge if she had seen the films or reviewed the presentation material.

The seminar at Providence Centre, including the film component, was “essentially the same” as those publicly denounced earlier this year, confirmed Edmonton Board of Health spokesman Bill Carney.

The seminar’s intent, as stated in the brochure for the Providence session, is to “provide participants with opportunities for a positive intensive look at sexuality especially in relation to professionals counseling or educating adolescents.”

But no school counselor needs to be exposed to such material, according to Art Poettcker, who attended the same workshop this October in Grande Prairie.

“It’s brutal. It is more than the human spirit can bear,” Mr. Poettcker, a teacher and student counselor noted. The seminar is a “subtle exercise in peer pressure” and involves a “conditioning of one’s values.”

Edmonton pharmacist Joanne Lewicky also attended the seminar in 1983, and joined the protest outside Providence Centre. “The Providence Centre should have programs that would teach human beings how to stabilize their emotions and grow spiritually,” Miss Lewicky observed. “This seminar concentrated purely on the physical aspect of sexuality as decreed by secular humanism…It’s diametrically opposed to Catholic doctrine.”

As for the necessity of viewing the wide range of sexually explicit films, Miss Lewicky pointed out that although certain professionals have to know about nausea and vomiting, “I’ve never seen any seminar with three screens showing simultaneous scenes of vomiting.”

The picket of Providence Centre was called as a last resort. According to Frank Laucher of the St. Thomas More Pro-Life Group, the director of the Centre was approached last year about the workshop. When it was discovered that the seminar was to be held again this year, the parish pro-life group corresponded with the current director, Sister Doreen Victor.

What the group got for its pains was a reprimand from St. Thomas More Parish Council, which decided the group could no longer use St. Thomas More Parish letterhead. Father Joseph Doucette, parish priest, also wrote to Sr. Doreen apologizing for the “over-zealousness” of some of his parishioners.

Mr. Laucher says the group objected to the seminar’s “mechanistic” approach to sexuality, and fund it highly inappropriate that such an event would be held in a Christian institution.