By Kathleen Gilbert
BALTIMORE, Maryland, October 14, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – At St. Thomas More Academy in Buckeystown, Maryland, students read classical literature and recite the rosary daily as part of an integrated, Catholic curriculum. The school is one that parents typically choose for its outstanding fidelity to Church teaching.
But when the young Academy recently petitioned the Archdiocese of Baltimore for official status as a diocesan Catholic school, they were told this was impossible unless Thomas More implemented the Archdiocese’s “Human Sexuality” course.
The course is a curriculum for elementary-age children that teaches sexuality “in a spiritual and developmental context as well as a biological context.”
In the introduction to the “Catechesis for Human Sexuality,” the Archbishop writes that “because of the pervasive influence of many of the negative aspects of our society, parents need and should welcome assistance in carrying out their role.”
Founder and president of Thomas More, Dr. James Merckel, however, did not wish to use the curriculum. He, as well as a number of Thomas More parents, felt the curriculum would be inappropriate for the public setting of a mixed classroom. When Merckel therefore requested dialogue to find a compromise on the issue, he was told that the curriculum was “non-negotiable.”
Merckel told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that, were he to accept the sexuality series, alarmed parents would withdraw at least one-fifth of the school’s students.
“That, financially, would destroy us,” he said.
While Thomas More has succeeded in establishing itself as an excellent faith-based school, if not an officially Catholic one, Merckel said there are significant burdens involved in lacking recognition from the Archdiocese. Thomas More recently lost its accreditation status with the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools (NAPCIS) when, desperate to fill a position, they hired a non-Catholic teacher. Though this was the sole exception to the school’s norm, which requires teachers to swear an oath of allegiance to the Magisterium, the hire was a breach of NAPCIS requirements.
This, in addition to being unable to celebrate Mass or prepare students for the reception of the Sacraments, has put Thomas More in a squeeze.
“It’s very awkward,” said Merckel, adding, “Ecclesiastically we’re correct, politically we’re not.”
While so far the Archbishop has refused to budge on the issue, documents issued by the Vatican appear to back up the school’s position on how human sexuality should be taught. In its guidelines for appropriate sex education, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education emphasized that all sex education, when conducted outside the home, must be in harmony with the wishes of parents. The Congregation quotes John Paul II, who speaks of the role of the school as “responsible for this education in service of and in harmony with parents.”
In elaborating upon the family as being uniquely suited to teaching delicate matters, the guidelines state, “The fact remains ever valid that with regard to the more intimate aspects, whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family.
“It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents.”
The Catechism also firmly emphasizes that “the right of parents to educate their children is primordial and inalienable.”
While the Archdiocese officially acknowledges parents’ “essential role as the primary educators of their children,” it has also rejected Merckel’s attempt to compromise through a home-based course in chastity similar to ones used in other U.S. dioceses.
“It’s sort of like being an orphan child, not recognized by your parents,” said Merckel.
Attempts to contact the Archdiocese were not answered by press time.
To contact the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Division of Catholic Schools: