Vatican’s Sex Ed Curriculum Gets Low Grade for LGBT Topics

A curriculum for youth sex education has been released by the Vatican, and while it provides a more holistic approach to sexuality, some glaring omissions make it dangerous material for LGBT young people.

For heterosexual cisgender* young people, the Vatican’s new sex education curriculum, entitled The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People,” offers healthy approaches and guidelines for personal integration and development.  Absent from this document, however, is any mention of similar guidelines that will help  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth understand their own unique and holy experiences of sexuality and gender. [*Editor’s note:  “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.]

If this program is used in schools and parishes, it will send a damaging message of silence and invisibility to LGBT youth at very vulnerable points in their lives.  The material sends the message that they are not considered by the church, not welcome, and, worst of all, that they do not even exist.

Because the curriculum assumes heterosexuality as the only valid form of love, and because it assumes that gender is definitively binary and assigned to individuals based on sex (male/female), this material will instill shame, fear, and self-hatred in LGBT young people who are taught from it.   Such negative feelings lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, and, tragically, even suicide.

Some examples of the deficiencies in the document include:

In suggestions to the religious education teacher, the document includes the following statements:

  • “The step before falling in love is feeling attracted to a person of the opposite sex.”
  • “Choosing our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is another step in which they have to mature, opening themselves up to what is most difficult – to that which is different -, discovering reciprocity and heterosexuality.”
  • ‘Two ways of existing as a person: The body and soul constitute the unified corporeal-spiritual totality that is the human person. But this totality necessarily exists in the form of a man or of a woman. There is no other possibility than this for the existence of the human person. . . .Our very anatomical traits, as an objective expression of this masculinity or femininity, are endowed with an objectively transcendent significance: they are called to be a visible manifestation of the person.”
  • “The duality of the sexes affirms the axiological meaning of sexuality: man is for woman, woman is for man, and parents are for their children . The sexual difference indicates this reciprocal complementarity, and is oriented toward communication: toward feeling, expressing and living out human love, opening oneself to a greater fulfillment.”

Additionally, the document incorrectly refers to “pansexualism” as occurring when “happiness becomes confused with the greatest amount and duration of pleasures.” In the scientific community, the word refers to “the belief that a sexual instinct drives all human behavior.” With regard to an identity, “pansexual” describes “the sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.”

What makes this curriculum even more disappointing is that there are actually some good, broad approaches to other aspects of sexuality which would be good for LGBT young people to apply to their lives.  The document discusses areas including the idea that sexuality is far more than sexual activity, the various dimensions of human relationships, the importance of respecting the human dignity of others and of self,  the ways to integrate emotions into one’s life, the proper exercise of freedom, the importance of developing healthy relationships, the place of morality in making decisions about relationships, and many others.  These are lessons important to all young people.  However, since the material has a bias for heterosexuality and the gender binary, it is likely that these valuable messages will not get through to LGBT youth, who will likely feel themselves excluded from this conversation.

Likewise heterosexual and cisgender youth also lose if LGBT issues are not included, as they are deprived of a wealth of information about human development.  Such information could most readily be of use to this group if students if they have an LGBT friend or relative.

The fact that several secular sex education experts have praised it, and that a number of ultra-conservative Catholics have condemned it, may be the best evidence that there are some good ideas in this new approach.  For instance, reported:

Seattle’s Tina Schermer Sellers, author of an upcoming book titled “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy,” praised the new curriculum’s departure from teachings that were “ineffective and often hurtful,” including scare tactics, and presentation of God as unforgiving, unloving and damning.

Sellers said programs that couple sex education with a framework of values – as the new Vatican program does – help young people “make better sexual choices, get involved sexually later and have more satisfying sexual lives later in life.”

Indeed, it is commendable that there are no explicit condemnations of LGBT people in this curriculum.  Such would not have been the case even five years ago. This development shows that the Church is changing.  But, LGBT Catholics and their allies cannot be satisfied simply with the absence of condemnations. And our church’s leaders need to recognize the damage done by avoiding LGBT people in discussions of gender and sexuality.  In many places around the globe, these issues are discussed daily in mass media and ordinary conversation.  Young people, in particular, are acutely aware of these realities.  The silence about LGBT issues in this curriculum will speak loudly–and negatively–to young people.

If the Vatican wants to truly be comprehensive in their approach to sexuality, which this curriculum is one step towards being, Church leaders need to be pro-active in humanely addressing the experiences, lives, and relationships of LGBT people, and to affirm their holiness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Global Pulse:  Vatican launches sex ed website “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines





11 replies
  1. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    One of the worst aspects of this curriculum is that it leaves the teacher in an uncomfortable position when the young people inevitably ask the question, “What about gay people? My aunt/uncle/brother/sister is gay.” Gay people are not going back in the closet. Every young person knows someone who is gay. The good parts of the curriculum are overshadowed by the narrow, inadequate nature of this curriculum. If a teacher has to stand up there and back this, he/she will lose all credibility with kids, gay and straight. And the tragic part is that our young people are in drastic need for some actual conversations about sexuality and intimacy. Ignoring these subjects in childhood/adolescence contributes to the drinking/sex as recreation climate on college campuses. Our young people are vulnerable and we are letting them down. The church seems to be treating this entire subject as a political issue, not a human one.

    • Wilhelm Wonka
      Wilhelm Wonka says:

      Well said.

      Catholic Church hierarchs are seriously out of touch with the positve mood among young people, in a growing number of countries, towards their LGBT peers. Not only are they more accepting of them, but more protective of them, too. And more likely to speak out in their defence.

      I can easily imagine a scene in which a teacher, foolish enough not to deviate from the Vatican’s guidelines, having to face walkouts by students in protest.

      The guidelines are unworkable because they are fundamentally unjust. You’d have thought that common sense alone (never mind Christian compassion) would have taught the authors this.

  2. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    It is extremely disappointing in that it ignores LGBT persons. The latter are neglected, regardless of their obvious spiritual needs. I wonder how many of the writers are actually ‘closeted’; given the large number of gays in the Vatican, the document is more than disappointing. Sad!

  3. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    Yes, the Church is changing (indeed has changed) on LGBT issues, but in much more than the narrow way mentioned in the above article. ‘Church’ here does not refer to the People of God (clergy AND non-clergy), but to the Catholic clerical hierarchy.

    The truth is this hierarchy is but an infinitesimal part of the People of God, and it is becoming increasingly less representative of it. Catholics as a whole have become more accepting of LGBT equality, not just in the US, but in Europe and elsewhere. These Catholics have moved forward in terms of understanding, justice and inclusivity, leaving the Catholic hierarchy stuck in the mud of increasing moral irrelevance. There are, of course, notable exceptions, like Germany’s Cardinal Marx; but sadly, exceptions tend to prove rules rather than re-write them.

    Hopefully in time (and with heroic levels of perseverance ) lay Catholics will, once again, provide an irresistible moral lead to its supposed leaders in the hierarchy of the Church, underlining a fundamental and magisterial truth: that the teaching authority in the Church is the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit both forms and informs the ENTIRE Church, not just those clergy in positions of ecclesiastical power.

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    This is a mischievously geeky analogy — but I view the desperate attempts of the Vatican’s official theologians to explain “morally valid” human intimacies as comparable to the attempts of ancient observers to explain planetary motions through an inadequate system of “cycles and epicycles”! Here’s an informative link:

    The ancient observers didn’t have the necessary database to properly explain the observed celestial phenomena. Neither (apparently) do the Vatican’s purportedly celibate theologians have the necessary database to explain the vast and wonderful universe of human love, bonding and fidelity. These theologians prattle on about things which they do not properly understand. The more’s the pity that they do not recognize their own human experiential limitations. We love Pope Francis — of course — but why does he allow nonsense like this to be published under his presumed rubric of approval? It damages his otherwise stellar reputation as one of the world’s great spiritual leaders — and (almost surely) a future recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

    • Larry
      Larry says:

      A wonderful analogy to which I would add that in viewing human sexuality, the hierarchy is also looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

      But, Francis being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize??? If he would take firm and public action against his own bishops and cardinals who foster and support countries who discriminate against, marginalize and kill gay people and speak out against the regimes that do this then he might get on a nomination list. He is just too silent [or Jesuitically vague] on things that really matter to gays whose lives are always threatened.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Thanks, Larry! Actually, within the first year or two of his Papacy, Francis was indeed being openly discussed as a potential Nobel Peace Prize recipient. The drastic change in tone which he brought originally to the RCC’s social discourse catapulted him into the high domain of planetary religious leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama. But what happened subsequently was the slanderous counter-attack by the far-right-wing elements within the RCC — notably Cardinal Burke and his ecclesiastical acolytes — who cast Francis as some sort of quasi-heretical “outsider”. Those manufactured controversies put a damper on his original luster. But I think “Holy Truth And Beauty” will triumph in the end. “Watch And Pray”! What else could we do?

  5. Albertus
    Albertus says:

    [*Editor’s note: “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.] What does heterosexual cisgender mean? I am gay, but i definitely idenitfy with my male biological sex. So i too am cisgender, no?

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      “heterosexual cisgender” refers to people who are attracted to people of the opposite sex and who identify with their biological sex. From the way you describe yourself, you would be referred to as “homosexual cisgender.”


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