By Gudrun Schultz

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 28, 2006 ( – The Catholic Medical Association has asked the U.S. bishops to stop using controversial sexual abuse education programs, aimed at teaching young children to protect themselves from abusers, in their dioceses.

During the association’s annual conference in Boston last month, the CMA released a 55-page study that condemned programs such as “Talking About Touching” as ineffective, out-of-step with child development, and not in keeping with the Church’s teaching on the appropriate sex education of children, the National Catholic Register reported last week.

The report, entitled To Prevent and to Protect: Report of the Catholic Medical Association Task Force on the Sexual Abuse of Children and Its Prevention, echoes complaints from parents and pro-family groups against the safety programs implemented at the bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Opponents criticized the programs for exposing young children to sexual concepts inappropriate to their age, and for burdening children with the responsibility of protecting themselves against sexual abuse.

Bishop Robert Vasa, who acts as Episcopal adviser to the CMA, said he wants to see the association’s study presented in the light of Catholic faith.

“The men and women who worked on the task force,” he said, “relied very heavily on the Pontifical Council for the Family document ‘The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.’”

“I think it makes an important contribution to a dialogue that has been going on for years and which needs to continue in order to help assure that we not only do something for the children but more importantly that we do something truly good and effective in protecting them.”

The CMA report says sexual abuse of minors has not dropped since the education programs were implemented, which they argue reinforces their objections to the programs. Although opponents dispute the CMA’s claim of unchanging abuse rates, the executive director of the CMA said whether or not the rates have changed is not the point of the reports’ conclusions.

“I wouldn’t want to hurl one set of statistics versus another and argue about whether the incidence of sexual abuse has gone down some or not,” he said. “We need to ask: Are (the programs) well designed, effective in practice, consistent with the Church’s teaching on human persons, family and sexual love?”

The CMA report objects to the concept of “child empowerment” which the report authors say places undo responsibility onto small children to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

Joan Duffell, with the Seattle-based Committee for Children which developed the Talking About Touching program, said the CMA’s use of language such as “child empowerment” gave a misleading impression about the intention of the program developers.

“We and our colleagues in this field do not expect children to become ‘empowered’ to stop abuse or in any way shoulder the burden for their own protection,” Ms. Duffell said. “Thus, well-developed child abuse prevention programs do not use the ‘child empowerment’ frame but simply teach safety skills in a pedagogically supportable way to children, parents, caregivers and educators, in order to help everyone respond effectively.”

Copies of the report were sent to bishops in mid-October, ensuring they would have access to the material in time for the annual U.S. Bishops Conference.

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Read coverage from the National Catholic Register:

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:
  Archdiocese Facing Parent Complaints over “Talking about Touching” Sex-Ed Program

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Parents Continue to Object to Diocesan Child Protection Programs