Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Catholic bishop of Arlington has replaced a widely criticized sex-education curriculum for children, Good Touch/Bad Touch, with a less controversial program for adults, Protecting God’s Children.

In a column today in the Arlington Catholic Herald, Bishop Paul S. Loverde announced that he would consider only Catholic programs, which excludes the secular Good Touch/Bad Touch curriculum.

“Cooperation with parents in addressing this sensitive issue is crucial,” Bishop Loverde wrote.

A spokesman said yesterday that the diocese has dropped its months-long effort to retool Good Touch/Bad Touch to include church doctrine.

In use in 77 dioceses, Protecting God’s Children was designed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group Inc., an insurance company, and begun in 1998.

“It’s been a well-received program,” said Pat Neal, director of Virtus programs and services, a subsidiary that produced Protecting God’s Children.

Mrs. Neal declined to say how much the program will cost the Arlington diocese. In Protecting God’s Children, parents and teachers receive four hours of video instruction, plus online instruction at

The diocese still has to select a program for children.

Mrs. Neal said that at the end of next month, Virtus will debut its children’s program, which is being vetted by Catholic theologians. It will involve two 30-minute lessons for four age groups.

Pam Church, the Atlanta-based originator of Good Touch/Bad Touch, notes that Virtus has not been tested on children, but her program has been widely used for years. On Tuesday, she sent an overnight letter to Bishop Loverde seeking reconsideration.

“I am very concerned the negative publicity will impact the program,” she said. The criticism “is not based on fact and it can be misconstrued by the public.”

She added: “I want a chance to speak. My program is being used as a football.”

Good Touch/Bad Touch was assailed during a four-hour meeting on Jan. 12 among 230 parents and four diocesan officials at a Manassas church.

Opponents, who said Good Touch/Bad Touch introduces sexual concepts to children, flooded the diocesan chancery with critical e-mail, letters and faxes in the past month.

Last week, Catherine Nolan, the diocesan child protection and safety officer overseeing Good Touch/Bad Touch, resigned after only six months. Jennifer Alvaro, a part-time social worker, is replacing her.

Local Catholics expressed satisfaction with Virtus.

“We are especially gratified and, I must say, pleasantly surprised,” said Christopher Manion, founder of the Front Royal-based PURITY (Parents United to Respect Innocence in Teaching the Young). “I am grateful the bishop made this decision.”

The diocese was under pressure to produce a sex-abuse-prevention program after an audit by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized 19 dioceses, including Arlington, for not having such a program in place.

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