- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Catholic parishes, with encouragement from the Archdiocese of Washington, are in the midst of a petition drive against new sex-education classes in Montgomery County public schools.

“The curriculum is obviously not reflective of our values,” said Michael Caruso, the archdiocese’s assistant superintendent for secondary schools.

Catholic officials, pastors and lay persons said the curriculum condones sexual experimentation and teaches that homosexuality is not a choice, without including religious and moral viewpoints on such subjects.

“My main concern is that the kids who go through the program may experience the ill effects of experimenting with homosexual behaviors,” said Ellen Castellano, a parishioner at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg. “It paints way too rosy a picture of homosexuality without including all the facts, especially the medical consequences associated with homosexual behavior.”

Mrs. Castellano, a parent of seven children in public schools and a member of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, said more than 2,000 signatures have been collected on the petition,which also asks the county’s board of education to seek more public input. The group will present the signatures to board members in March or April.

“Chastity would be something we would want included in a curriculum, and that has been written out of the program,” said the Rev. Mike Fisher, pastor of St. John Neumann.

“It is undermining the role which parents and churches have,” said the Rev. Tom Kalita, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Olney. “It’s telling youngsters that there are no values that are objective. There is no objective right or wrong.”

The archdiocese sent a letter in December to its 39 Montgomery County parishes stating which parts of the curriculum contradict Catholic teachings.

“Since homosexual relations can never generate new life and the God-given complementarity of man and woman is not present, the union is incomplete and cannot lead to fulfillment,” the letter stated. “At the same time, our faith recognizes some people feel an attraction for their same gender. We are called to treat them with respect, compassion and sensitivity, to avoid unjust discrimination against them and to understand their call to chastity.”

The letter also urged parents to learn more and to become involved in their children’s schooling.

The archdiocese has been reluctant to issue a public statement or take public action against the curriculum.

“If we weighed in on the curriculum, I’m afraid it would just be a blip, and then it would be forgotten,” said Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese spokeswoman. “The real change comes from people getting engaged in what’s being taught.”

Most of the county’s 200,000 Catholics send their children to public schools, Miss Gibbs said.

Groups such as TeachtheFacts.org (TTF), a parent organization in favor of the curriculum, also was collecting petition signatures to send to the board.

Moral and religious objections to homosexuality have been a central point of disagreement in the 4-month-old debate over the curriculum, which will be tested in six schools in April and May. The board will vote on the curriculum this summer.

The six pilot schools have not been named.

Advocates of the curriculum say it simply acknowledges that homosexuality exists, and gives teenagers all the facts about sex and sexual orientation. They also say the curriculum encourages children to accept others.

“The curriculum doesn’t tell any child about what their values should be, except for one, and that is the golden rule,” said Maryam Balbed, a mother of two public school students and TTF co-founder. “If there are any values in this curriculum, it’s summed up in one rule: Accept others.”

Curriculum opponents see it differently.

For example, the eighth-grade “Family Life and Human Sexuality” course discusses “how you develop your sexual identity,” which includes a student’s sexual orientation and “gender identity,” which is “a person’s internal sense of knowing whether he or she is male or female.”

Critics say the passage encourages children to consider whether they are homosexual or “transgendered,” a term that has been approved for teacher reference.

Mrs. Balbed and Jim Kennedy, another parent and TTF co-founder, say the passage instructs students only about what already exists.

“It has to do with how one incorporates sexuality into [his or her] overall identity,” Mrs. Balbed said.

Mr. Caruso is also the Catholic representative on the citizens advisory committee that crafted the curriculum. He has not voted for the curriculum, and he said the committee has a bias in favor of homosexuality. The committee chairman has denied this charge.

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