Recently, I was reminded of the possible dangers of the religion/sexuality connection after reading “Catholic School Uninvites Whitman” in my regional newspaper.
The “Whitman” the article refers to is New Jersey’s former governor, Christie Whitman, who had been invited to speak at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart’s annual “Women in Leadership Forum.” Who would be more qualified to speak about women and leadership than the Garden State’s first and only female governor?
Unfortunately, Diocese of Trenton Bishop John M. Smith didn’t feel Whitman was an appropriate choice because her pro-choice beliefs were “totally contrary” to the church’s teachings. In a communication written to the school, the Bishop stated Whitman’s presence could falsely mislead the Stuart community into thinking the school supported abortion rights. As a result, the headmistress of Stuart—a nun—uninvited Whitman.
Although this example of the co-mingling of religion and sexuality is decidedly less harmful than the horrific child sexual abuse scandals from a few years ago, it is harmful nonetheless. It not only blurs the lines between church and state in the education of young people, but also tosses the concept of freedom of speech and the academy into the air. It made me wonder what would happen if this Bishop suddenly banned public school Catholic students from attending sexuality education classes that taught more than abstinence-only-until-marriage, or discussed the pro-choice position on abortion.
I am often concerned by schools’ skittishness to discuss sexuality and the different perspectives on abortion. I usually attribute it to the administrators’ fear of attracting local controversy. I guess they feel it’s better to simply skip the issue and deprive young people of balanced information.
Some years ago when I was the executive coordinator of Answer (formerly the Network for Family Life Education), I received a letter from a nun who taught at a private Catholic high school. She had been using Sex, Etc. in her class, but was told to stop after her Bishop found out. In her letter, she asked if we’d send the newsletter to her home because she wanted to stay in the loop about the issues that were most important to teens concerning their sexual health.
This brave teacher possibly risked losing her job (and conceivably suffering a guilty conscience) by placing the needs of her students ahead of orders from her Bishop. I admired her fearlessness and made sure she received the newsletter every time it was published. Like the parable of the loaves and the fishes that fed so many people, I hope the contents of each copy helped to satisfy her students’ hunger for honest, accurate information about their sexual lives.