– A Review Article –

A small volume, "Education in Love", by Rev. William N. Seifert, William F. Urbine and Rev. Michael P. Orsi, with a Foreword by Bishop James T. McHugh (now Bishop of Rockville Center, NY), published by Pauline Books & Media (Boston, 1998, 125 pp.), is declared:

a guide for the deeper study of the document "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" (TMHS). Parents and teachers can find here abundant resources to help them educate children and adolescents in the meaning of true faith and chastity. The guide contains a detailed outline of the document as well as a selection of key quotes, a glossary, study questions, an extensive bibliography and other valuable information.

In an "Introductory Essay", the authors write appropriately that "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" (TMHS) issued by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family at the order of Pope John Paul II "reflects unity and consistency in the Church's teaching on this subject." The Church's teachings "are certainly realistic and not a naive vision of human nature." Based on a true Christian anthropology profoundly influenced by the Pope's "Theology of the Body", TMHS helps safeguard the dignity of the human person in the face of today's Culture of Lust and Death.

However, a grave defect vitiates the usefulness of this volume for parents and teachers. Despite the many references to the primary rights of parents in "sex education," parents are in fact subordinated to schools that have instituted sex education programs in their curriculum and often over parental objections. Bishop James T. McHugh (often termed "the Father of Catholic Sex Education") defends in his Foreword the propriety of "education in sexuality in schools":

In a special meeting held in Rome January 18-20, 1996, to discuss implementation of this new document, Cardinal Lopez-Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family...noted that some people have interpreted the document as opposed to education in sexuality in schools. But this is nowhere stated in the document; it was not intended because that would be contrary to Church policy and to many good programs in schools.

At the same time the school cannot accomplish this task alone, and some deficiencies and mistakes exist that can be corrected. Ideally, there should be a cooperative effort that respects the primary role of parents and the supportive role of schools and parishes, including religious education programs...Parents must take an active interest in schools and teachers, exercising 'attentive guidance' of the school. The school must make room for the active participation of parents in regard to education in sexuality.
(pages 9, 11)

The same view was delivered in the Bishop's keynote speech at a May 1996 symposium on TMHS held in his (then) Diocese of Camden. The Bishop's reiterated point of view represents a pro-school bias regarding sexual instruction that he has held since he was Director of the Family Life Division in the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) and a consultant to the Benziger Family Life sex education program placed in Catholic schools (and which still arouses a storm of controversy today). [In July 1998 the NBC "Dateline Program" attracted nation-wide attention to the Catholic children who were expelled from a Catholic parochial school in Miami, Florida, after their parents protested vigorously to school authorities Benziger's crude indoctrination via the school curriculum.]

The various "sex education" programs in Catholic schools have generated not only fierce controversies pitting Catholic parents against "professional" sex educationists but has led thousands of Catholic parents to withdraw their children from Catholic schools which are no longer regarded as fit institutions for the moral training of youth.

Bishop McHugh betrays a profound misunderstanding of the role of the Catholic school – one that has bedeviled the Catholic community since the beginning of the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties. That is to say, the traditional role of the Catholic school in teaching (delicately) Catholic sexual morality has been confounded with the radical innovation of the modern school's engaging in giving sexual information to children and youth that is graphic, explicit, provocative and sometimes erotic in character. It is essential to stress that all the sex education programs (or programs in human sexuality) introduced into public and Catholic schools these last 30 years have contained such material which is destructive of the virtues of modesty and chastity. The fierce battles between parents and schools with regard to the matter of "sex education" reveals much concerning the schools' willingness to abide by the "attentive guidance" of parents!

Bishop McHugh fails, moreover, to grasp the fundamental fact that formal programs of sex instruction that are part of the curriculum of a Catholic school involve a direct violation of the rights of those parents opposed in conscience to such mis-education. Over and above the clinical aspects of said programs (dealing with the reproductive system and genital acts, matters which parents rightly object to), a curriculum program (detailing sexual information which teachers rather than parents have determined to be necessary for young children and adolescents) means the loss of both parental consent and parental control of the sex education process. Parental choice and parental control in the matter of "sex education" are rendered impossible by school usurpation.

Bishop McHugh admits that:

There are different kinds of problems. Parents often leave too much to the school and do not study carefully the material given to children. Sometimes they feel unprepared or are practically excluded. Also, in many public schools the non-religious or secularist viewpoint predominates and it is very difficult to correct misshapen attitudes on the part of both teachers and other parents.

Here there is reluctance to acknowledge that such "problems" are, in fact, inevitable given the inclusion of "sex education programs" in the curriculum of schools and the weakening of the very concept of parental rights (wherein too many parents have acceded to the school's primacy in the transmission of "values" – and schools' themselves neglecting the Church's cherished social principle of subsidiarity). Catholic school authorities have particularly been guilty of violating subsidiarity in allowing curriculum programs of sexual instruction, thereby pressuring families into conformity. The result has been the sex education scandals and controversies characterizing the Catholic educational scene these last 30 years and the loss of parental confidence in Catholic education (as evidenced by continuing controversies, the flight of thousands of Catholic parents from Catholic schools, and recourse to newly established private academies and schools or to the burgeoning alternative of Home Education).

This reviewer was at the same January 1996 conference in Rome attended by Bishop McHugh where Cardinal Trujillo explained the import and thrust of his Pontifical Council's document on "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality". The Cardinal made it quite clear that any sex education program in schools which was divorced from morality was prohibited by the Church. He also made it quite clear that any program of "sexual instruction" instituted in schools without parental consent and which prevented parental control of the program was prohibited by the Church. Moreover, the pollution of religious education presenting moral norms for sexual behavior by sexual information of a biological and physiological character (what may be termed the "sexological strand" of information endemic to all North American "sex education programs") was also prohibited by the Church as destructive of the reverence with which children and youth must approach the sexual sphere.

It is true that the Cardinal refrained from stating that the Catholic Church forbade any or all "sex education" (the term "sex education" possessing different meanings for different people and thus characterized by an unfortunate ambiguity). But His Eminence made it crystal clear that "sex education" in the mind of the Church refers to an "Education in Chastity", i.e., instruction in conformity with Catholic morality and devoid of any sexological contamination which has proved so offensive and objectionable to faithful Catholic parents. There was, in fact, general agreement by most of the North American participants at the conference (most involved in Pro-Life efforts) that the Vatican document was intended to foster the removal of all "sex education programs" in schools (public and parochial) which were in violation of the rights of parents and which exposed children and youth to materials focusing on private and intimate sexual behavior and genital acts.

At the conference in Rome, Bishop McHugh stated that the Pontifical Council's document was "complementary" to "Educational Guidance in Human Love" (EGIHL), thereby reinforcing a widespread misinterpretation that EGIHL sanctioned sexual instruction programs in Catholic schools. Thus Bishop McHugh once again reiterated his long-standing position that parental rights regarding sex education had to be understood in the context of the school's primacy regarding the moral formation of youth. Contrary to this thesis widely held by Catholic educators in North America, TMHS insists that parents must resist public and parochial schools' usurpation of their rights and reclaim observance of the principle of subsidiarity (intended to safeguard the proper balance between school and family). True, EGIHL was directed to teachers in Catholic schools but Catholic educators were obliged by the moral norms set forth in that document to observe the same protections for the virtues of modesty and chastity in youth that are insisted upon with even greater detail and vigor in TMHS. It is clear, moreover, that TMHS, published by order of Pope John Paul II, supersedes all other Church documents in clarifying the meaning and scope of parental rights as well as what a genuine "Education in Chastity" must be in light of the truths of divine revelation. The key principle of subsidiarity finds powerful expression in TMHS:

[Parents must be] aware of their rights and duties, particularly in the face of a State or a school that tends to take up the initiative in the area of sex or which "carry out programmes of sex education by taking the place of the family"
(TMHS, #1, 23-24, 41, 129)

Bishop McHugh has never explained how the classroom sex education programs he has encouraged for Catholic schools can be harmonized with the Church's understanding of the primacy of parental rights vis-a-vis the schools (parental rights are "original and primary," "inalienable and irreplaceable" and not to be trespassed upon or usurped by other agencies). Nor has he explained how the sex instruction programs in Catholic schools conform to the Church's cautions and warnings about clinical sexual information disturbing the "years of innocence" of children. Nor has he explained how such classroom sex instruction programs with their laboratory approach show respect for the privacy of students, fulfill the child's need for an "individualized formation," or provide that atmosphere of reverence with which the sexual area must be approached by parents and teachers seeking to form children and adolescents in virtue and holiness (see TMHS, #57, 65, 83).

Bishop McHugh has never demonstrated how the Church's education in chastity, which confines itself to the sound moral and religious training of the will of children via instruction in the 6th and 9th commandements of God (as given and delicately explained in "The Catechism of the Catholic Church"), can be reconciled with the clinical and mechanical, sometimes crude and vulgar, sexual information on "body parts" routinely imparted by schools in a group setting and which can prove disturbing to the emotional and psychic equilibrium of youth. That the deliberate attempt of all too many Catholic schools to subordinate the Catholic family to the Catholic school in the matter of sexual instruction was absolutely contrary to the intent of TMHS was specifically noted by Msgr. Peter Elliott, then a major official at the Pontifical Council for the Family: "We do not see the school as the normal place for instruction in sexuality. Not at all."

To declare, as Bishop McHugh has done repeatedly, that "the document [TMHS] is not opposed to sex education in Catholic schools" (quoted in National Catholic Register 6/16/96) is to tragically overlook a key passage in TMHS that forbids the contamination of Catechesis with "sexology":

Catechesis must not include the more intimate aspects of sexual information, whether biological or affective, which belongs to individual formation within the family...Catechesis would also be distorted if the inseparable links between religion and morality were to be used as a pretext for introducing into religious instruction the biological and affective sexual information which parents should give according to their prudent decision in their own home.
(TMHS, #133,141)

It is a matter of considered reflection that in the 30 years in which sex education controversies have swirled about Bishop McHugh and with sex education programs meeting fierce parental objections that Bishop McHugh has never called for the removal of said programs from either public or parochial schools. Parents have never received support in their struggles with educationists imposing collectivistic and compulsory sex instruction programs in schools which contravene the moral order of God and which trivialize the nuptial meaning of human sexuality. It is, moreover, interesting to compare Bishop McHugh's record of collaboration with the Sex Education Establishment over many years with the recent action taken by a Catholic Bishop in Canada who felt obliged to denounce in vigorous terms the "Fully Alive" sex education program that had been approved no less, by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops. The "Fully Alive" program in Catholic schools, he declared:

ignores the latency period of our children and therefore can contribute to the loss of innocence. It gives group instruction in intimate sexual matters although the Church has specifically forbidden this. It is woefully deficient in its treatment of moral principles. It often ignores the Church's teaching on sin and grace and modesty. It does not distinguish between the different degrees of maturity in the same class as the Church tells us teachers must do. It violates the principle of imparting information on sexual matters only at the point of development when this is needed. The 'Fully Alive' program is not a program for formation in Christian virtue but a program of imparting sexual knowledge to children...This sexual education program descends to the level of child abuse.
(Ukranian rite Catholic Bishop Roman Danylak, quoted in "Catholic Insight", June 1998)

Bishop Danylak gave vivid expression to the need for more Catholic Bishops to fully implement the norms for an authentic education in chastity as happily called for by TMHS. It should not be forgotten that "Fully Alive" was heralded as a "Chastity Program" by its promoters, both clergy and lay and despite its erroneous inclusion of "biological and affective information which the parents should give according to their prudent decision in their own home" (TMHS, #141). "Chastity programs" which follow a similar "method of inclusion," being passed off as catechesis or religious education, clearly violate the moral norms of the Church and have no place in Catholic schools. In a letter to the presidents of the Canadian and U.S. Episcopal Converences, Cardinal Pio Laghi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, expressed the misgivings of his Congregation regarding the manner in which the Congregation's own document "Educational Guidance in Human Love" (EGIHL) had been abused by Catholic educators who had ignored the rights of parents:

In the Plenary Assembly of this Congregation for Catholic Education, in Nov., 1995, the member Cardinals and Bishops took note of the concern which has been evinced in various parts with regard to the teaching of sex education in Catholic schools. With some frequency, the Dicastery receives letters of complaint and protest on the subject...Almost 15 years have gone by since that document was published but the information reaching this Dicastery indicates that the criteria which it suggests in order adequately to implement sex education in a school setting are not always fully assimilated.
(Letter of May 2, 1997)

Certainly, EGIHL's emphasis on "sex education in a school setting" is identical with TMHS's "Education in Chastity" which excludes "the method of inclusion" of biological and physiological information into the religious education program which Catholic parents expect to be the heart and soul of the authentic Catholic school. It is to profoundly muddle the intent and purpose of both TMHS and EGIHL to attempt to justify current classroom curriculum "education in sexuality" programs that presently disfigure some Catholic schools. Both documents (so cavalierly treated by the Catholic Sex Education Establishment operative in the Church) conceive "sex education" as a personalist formation in Christian love and knowledge of the moral norms for sexual behavior given in Catholic catechesis. Both documents resound with the strongest possible affirmation of parental rights.

The authors of the volume being reviewed, correctly noted:

"The current document [TMHS] is the Vatican's response to the controversy surrounding teaching human sexuality to children, especially in light of the loss of the truth and meaning of human sexuality within the culture".
(page 99)

However, they ignore "the loss of the truth and meaning of human sexuality" within certain circles in the Church and essentially refuse TMHS's clarion call for a revolutionary new approach to "sex education" involving reaffirmation of parental rights in sex education and the removal from public and parochial schools of "human sexuality programs" that violate the rights of both parents and children. "No educator – not even parents – can interfere with [each child's or young person's] right to chastity" (Cf. Matthew 18:4-7); (TMHS, #118). They blunder badly in their bibliography which gives blanket approval to documents that have grave defects and flaws:

  • the NCCB document Human Life in Our Day (1968)
  • USCC's Sharing the Light of Faith (1979)
  • USCC's Education in Human Sexuality for Christians (1981)
  • NCCB's Human Sexuality; A Catholic Perspective for Education and lifelong Learning (1991)
  • Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's Sexuality and Church Teaching (1980)
  • Bishops of the Dioceses of New Jersey -- A Joint Pastoral Statement on Education in Human Sexuality (1980)
  • Bishop Francis J. Mugavero's Sexuality -- God's Gift: A pastoral Letter (May 1976)
  • Archbishop John R. Roach's Grateful for the Gift: Sexuality, Parents and Teens. A Letter to Parents (1988)
  • Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut on Sex Education in Public Schools (1980)
  • Articles of Richard P. McBrien on Moral Theology


The volume "Education in Love" published by Pauline Books & Media cannot be recommended. It only furthers confusion as to the true import of TMHS, which encourages parents to reclaim their rights in sex education and to help remove coercive and compulsory classroom sex instruction programs from both public and Catholic schools.

In TMHS parents are told to "consider any attack on the virtue and chastity of their children as an offense against the life of faith itself" (#21). It is tragic that our authors have failed to see that such attacks have been levied within the Church's own educational institutions.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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