On August 26, the Metropolitan (Toronto) Separate School Board (MSSB), easily passed a motion, proposed by Trustee Harold Adams, which supported Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic’s statement banning the promotion of condoms in the Catholic school system.
As a result the statement will be distributed to all the MSSB schools.
In his letter to the five school boards in the Archdiocese, Archbishop Ambrozic said that the Church cannot accomplish the goals of a moral education by promoting or providing the flimsy, band-aid solution of condoms.” As a protection against infection, especially AIDS, the Archbishop compared the use of condoms to a game of Russian Roulette.
Medical science has long since demonstrated that ‘safe sex’ with a condom is a dangerous figment of the imagination.
The failure rate of condoms is normal sexual intercourse is at best 1 out of 4; for homosexual acts, the rate is somewhere near 3 out of 4.
On September 16, the Durham Separate School Board (DSSB) followed the example of the MSSB. A similar motion of approval moved by Trustee Susan Dulny, was passed by a vote of 14 to 4.
But what of the York Separate School Board?
It was here that the controversy began in October 1990, when the Board sought to make official what had been the year-long unauthorized practice of teachers to recommend the use of condoms for sexually active students.
The YSSN has no plans to publicly endorse the archbishop’s statement, Director of Education, Frank Bobesich told The Interim. Instead, a special board committee is in the process of writing the second draft of a resource document for teachers on sexual values, Mr. Bobesich explained.
Subject to approval from the archdiocese, the document will repeat the Church’s teaching on chastity, he stated, adding that it will also include a useful “non-esoteric” section that gives teachers the freedom to provide “appropriate counseling” for students who won’t abstain from sexual activity.
Mr. Bobesich said teachers will not be advised to say to teens, “Go get the condoms,” but he admitted that in the end he had not control over how a teacher privately advised a promiscuous student.
Members of the “core committee” preparing the document include Tom Tittel, Guidance Consultant, John Borst, Curriculum Superintendent, John MacRae, Program Superintendent and Noel Cooper, religious Education Co-ordinator.
It is the administrator last named who emphatically objects to the Archbishop’s condom statement.
Mr. Cooper contends that Archbishop Ambrozic’s letter banning the recommendation of condoms refuses to deal with the question of sexually active students.
Noel Cooper sketches out the prospects for bypassing the Archbishop’s ban in an April 1991 memo to Frank Bobesich, and John MacRae (see “RC School officials press for condom policy,” The Interim, September 1991)
Mr. Cooper admits that the Archbishop’s statement is an “unequivocal statement of principle.” But he clearly believes that it is a futile and unrealistic response to the real problem of teenage promiscuity. “It is unsatisfactory for the purposes of teachers,” he states.
“Maybe bishops’ teaching should…be nothing but an unequivocal statement of principle, but I don’t think teachers….can operate solely at the level of principle,” he explains.
In the theoretical domain of the Archbishop, Christian sexual morality may be fine, Mr. Cooper implies, but in the “real world” a teacher needs to have more to offer the student “who is sexually active against [his] advice,” he says.
To emphasize his argument that it is ineffectual to simply restate the ‘principles,’ Mr. Cooper reports on several meetings with parents. According to him, 98 per cent of them agree that “our love and concern for our children overrides our dedication to the principle that it is immoral to use condoms.”
Opposing this ‘morality-by-the-majority’ opinion, Mr. Cooper singles out “only the priests and a very small proportion of parents who would say that you must state the principles and nothing more.”
Mr. Cooper claims the Archbishop “demonstrates inadequate respect for the intelligence” of the student when he asserts (in his April 1991 statement) that “to advise the use of condoms is to condone sexual activity in the eyes of the adolescent.” In Mr. Cooper’s view, this is the pivotal sentence in the whole letter. Teens, he says, are “quite capable of making the distinction; they know that teachers don’t agree with their being sexually active.”
“Mr. Cooper’s position is absurd,” said Janet Smith, a York Region parent when shown Mr. Cooper’s argument. “He’s left out the critical part of the sentence. The Archbishop actually wrote, “To advise the use of condoms is to condone sexual activity in the eyes of the adolescent, despite intention to do otherwise.”
“Cooper remind me of parents who say ‘no’ but really mean ‘maybe,’ she says. “Advocating condom use to sexually active students puts at risk those who have remained chaste. They are at risk from peer pressure, from self-doubt about their own moral standards and, most importantly at risk of losing all faith in the standards set forth by parents and teachers. No must mean no,” she added.
Mr. Cooper circulated his memo less than a week after Archbishop Ambrozic issued an uncompromising ‘no’ to condoms on April 19 of this year.
Arch bishop Ambrozic’s statement was a response to the maneuvering of the YSSB for an officially approved condom policy. At the direction of Mr. Cooper and Mr. MacRae, the YSSB has been trying to draft a ‘safe sex’ policy since the fall of 1990 in order to legitimate what was already being practiced. YSSB personnel had been recommending the use of condoms for at least a year, if not more.
Moreover, York Region Public Health Department flyers advertise the Markham Birth Control Clinic were distributed at YSSB high schools and Public Health Nurses promoted illustrated condom flyers.
In his memo, Mr. Cooper expresses the hope that the YSSB “Will not declare the matter closed as a result of the archbishop’s statement.” He advises against issuing a public statement to “contradict” the archbishop. However, he feels that “if we don’t say something to deal with practical realities, we are not being faithful to teachers or to students.”
With this purpose in mind, Mr. Cooper outlines “some alternatives” which, despite their tentative style, constitute a clandestine strategy to neutralize the Archbishop’s condom ban.
Alternative one is a “resource document to teaching sexual values.” Board personnel who are counseling sexually active individuals will find “practical advice in the document. It is like this advice would contain the gist of the board’s controversial January 1991 recommendation of condoms and foam for “students…engaging in sexual activity.” Therefore, to avoid public scrutiny and embarrassment, Mr. Cooper suggests that the board approve it as a new source document rather than as a policy statement, and hope nobody notices.”
Alternative two proposals as an approach to obtain unofficial recognition from the YSSB that “different viewpoints” about condoms “excel in our system.”
At the board’s initiative Mr. Cooper and others sympathetic to the recommendation of condoms would meet in secret with “Guidance Chaplaincy, Religion, and perhaps all other department heads. Trustees and administrators would also be present.
So as to pre-empt any future inquiry perhaps, Mr. Cooper proposes that the minutes of the meeting be kept. The condom advocates “would talk…and say what we think would be best. Disagreement among the participants” would arise, but “by their presence (and perhaps by the spoken contributions),” administrators and trustees would acknowledge that plurality of opinions about the subject exist. And, Mr. Cooper concludes, “that’s the way it should be.”
Alternative three will especially concern parents.
With a view perhaps protect the jobs and reputations of teachers who privately counsel promiscuous students to use condoms, Mr. Cooper suggest the board “make some vague statement saying (perhaps) that teachers will not be penalized for counseling sexually active students in a way that they consider appropriate.”