Catholic Schools' Lesson on Touching Rubs Some Parents the Wrong Way

By Susan McMahon
Lowell Sun [Lowell MA]
Downloaded May 28, 2003

LOWELL A new safety program in Catholic schools that deals with child sexual abuse is too explicit for young children, some local parents say.

But the Archdiocese of Boston, which implemented the program in its schools, says the Talking About Touching program covers many safety issues, not just sexual abuse, and is recognized as one of the best programs of its kind in the country.

Parents argue that when it comes to the sexual-abuse content, it's their role to teach their children about such issues. Some are raising questions about the suitability of the program in a Catholic school setting.

"This is really a parent's rights issue," said Susan O'Hare-Black, a Lowell parent. "It's up to a parent, and a parent only, when and how a child is exposed to this."

Some parents have asked for an opt-out option for the classes, which, thus far and in certain schools, has been granted. Now, they are working with school principals and teachers to make that time more educationally advantageous for their children.

But their ultimate goal is to get the Talking About Touching curriculum out of Catholic schools entirely.

Archdiocese officials say the program serves a valid purpose, and the original goal was to make the program mandatory without an opt-out clause in all schools next year. But following the many concerns raised by parents, church officials are in conversations about possibly changing that requirement.

"The hope is that we will not have to use the opt-out for next year, that we can show parents there is real value in this program, so they won't find any need to take the children out," said Archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne.

Currently, 174 schools in the archdiocese are implementing the program.

Talking About Touching was implemented at the direction of former Cardinal Bernard Law. The program, developed by the Committee for Children, has been used in schools nationwide, with the committee estimating it has reached about 372,000 students.

Coyne says it is not a sexual-education program and avoids sexually explicit language.

"There are some scenarios that are put forward that must be used when teaching children about touching incidents," he said. "But that's just good education. You don't want to leave children in the abstract. You want to get concrete with them."

While agreeing that sexual abuse is a problem, and children should be taught about issues surrounding abuse, some local parents say they believe that is a lesson best learned at home, where a parent knows a child's limits and knows the best way to get the message across.

Some suggest letting parents sit in on the training sessions for teachers, and then letting the issue be dealt with at home.

"How about teaching the parents, allowing them to attend a training session?" said Lisa Tobio of Billerica. "I am the parent, and I want to make the final choice."

The parents say they are also concerned about the way the program was presented to them in large informational sessions, where, they say, questions about the program's sexual content were brushed aside.

Now, some parents are talking about pulling their children out of the Catholic schools and home-schooling them, withholding donations to the Archdiocese and withdrawing as teachers from religious education programs.

"The people the archdiocese is irritating are the really faithful Catholics," said Eileen Wood of Tewksbury, whose children attend St. Louis de France school in Lowell. "We are the CCD teachers, the ones who do pre-cana work. We are not the Catholics who just show up on Sunday."

Wood, who sits on the archdiocese's marriage advisory board, also says the program does not align with the church's teaching on sexuality, which emphasizes the goodness and beauty of marital love and says premature sex information should not be imposed on children.

"This program is in direct contradiction to Vatican doctrine," she said.

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is .


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