- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Virginia nonprofit research group is blowing the whistle on a “graphic sexuality education program” that a Catholic service organization has administered to children in Rwanda.

The “My Changing Body: Puberty and Fertility Awareness for Young People” curriculum was introduced in Rwanda in 2009 by Catholic Relief Services even though it’s based on content from organizations that offer or promote contraception and abortion, said Michael Hichborn, president of Lepanto Institute in Partlow, Virginia.

“There is no justification for a Catholic organization to have had anything to do with this program as written, let alone actually implement it,” Mr. Hichborn said in a recent report. “At the very core of this program is the perversion of children and the complete destruction of innocence.”

Founded in November, the Lepanto Institute was “created to present the facts regarding organizations that claim the name Catholic or even Christian, but are acting in opposition to the teachings of our Blessed Lord and His Holy and Immaculate Church,” according to its website.

A spokesman for CRS, a decades-old organization under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday the services organization was aware of “the press release and report distributed yesterday accusing CRS of going against Church teaching in a program in Rwanda in 2009 and 2010.”

“We are currently looking into this accusation and will share the facts as soon as they are available. Because the program is from several years ago, it may be a few days before we have a response as we discuss this program with current and former staff to gather information,” said Paul Eagle, CRS director of communications.

It could not be determined whether “My Changing Body” is still being administered in Rwanda, Africa’s most densely populated nation, or whether the curriculum has been implemented elsewhere.

The Lepanto Institute report said the curriculum — which was taught to Rwandans ages 10 to 14 — is “completely incompatible with Catholic moral teaching” on such things as masturbation, condom use and contraceptives.

Catholic teaching says masturbation is “absolutely immoral” and “intrinsically disordered,” Mr. Hichborn told The Washington Times.

But in “My Changing Body,” the word “masturbation” is used in a positive fashion 48 times, according to the Lepanto report, which is based on a review of the second edition of the curriculum. Moreover, “a group exercise for boys called ‘My Body Feels Good’ [is] selling masturbation as ‘normal’ and ‘not harmful.’”

The report also objects to how the curriculum discusses “intimate details on the mechanics” of sexual intercourse; the use of contraceptives, including condoms, the “morning-after pill” and sterilization; and the issue of “sexual identity.”

“Heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth can all experience same-gender sexual attraction and/or activity around puberty,” according to “My Changing Body.”

“Such behavior, including sexual play with same-gender peers, crushes on same-gender adults, or sexual fantasies about same-gender people are normal for preteens and young teens, and are not necessarily related to sexual orientation,” the curriculum said. However, “young adolescents who are experiencing sexual attraction to and romantic feelings for someone of their own gender need support so they can clarify their feelings and accept their sexuality.”

The program’s recommended resources include the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and youth websites such as Go Ask Alice at Columbia University, I Wanna Know at the American Social Health Association and Sex, Etc. at Rutgers University.

The Lepanto report said Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health paid CRS and the international Catholic charity Caritas, which operates out of dioceses in Rwanda, to implement the program with “very young adolescents” in 2009 and 2010.

Requested responses from IRH were not immediately available, however, in October IRH said the “My Changing Body” curriculum was available online in English, French, Spanish and Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda.

Catholic Relief Services has rebuffed earlier criticisms from groups such as American Life League, where Mr. Hichborn served for eight years.

In an April 2014 statement, CRS spokesman Jim Stipe said the group is “a pro-life organization dedicated to preserving the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

“We are resolute in our commitment to the Church and its teaching,” Mr. Stipe said, adding that while corrective comments given in the spirit of Christian charity are welcome, “unrelenting attacks are not helpful.”

He said CRS “works with groups that do not share our Catholic values,” but does not participate in programs that “run contrary to Church teachings” and seeks advice from USCCB on questionable practices and policies.

In a 2013 statement, the USCCB said that people publicly criticizing CRS “do not speak for the Catholic Church,” and Catholic faithful should consult the CRS website for clarification before endorsing any critiques.

The bishops’ group added that it has thoroughly investigated allegations about CRS adherence to Church teaching and its identity as a Catholic institution, and “we wish to assure the Catholic faithful that CRS fully and faithfully adheres to Church teaching in fulfilling its mission of mercy.”

CRS does not distribute contraceptives, upholds pro-life teachings in its work and uses a “careful vetting system” to ensure its activities and partnerships with other groups or governments do not violate Catholic teaching, the USCCB said in 2013.

The “My Changing Body” curriculum, which says it relied on the work of abortion rights groups and their allies in sex education, “should have been untouchable to Catholics to begin with,” said Mr. Hichborn, adding that the resources the curriculum listed did not include “a single sexually conservative organization on that list at all.”

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