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Editor's note: See follow-up article published September 2 – School claims their sex-ed is in ‘full conformity with Church’ yet rejects Catholic teaching on parental rights.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, August 31, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic Diocese of Nashville is backing the administration of a private Catholic school in refusing to allow parents to opt their children out of an explicit sexual education program that parents say will corrupt their children by providing them with erotic and even salacious detail. Parents opposing the course say their hearts are broken since they feel betrayed by those in whom they had placed the trust of educating their children. 

“We don’t want the Catholic school to corrupt our kids,” said Susan Skinner whose child attends Father Ryan High School in Nashville, TN and who represents a group of concerned parents. “Why can’t Catholic schools simply be Catholic?” she added.

School administration told parents earlier this year that students cannot be opted out from the course, suggesting that when parents send their children to school they hand over their right and duty as primary educator. 

When LifeSiteNews contacted the diocese for comment on the matter, Director of Communications Rick Musacchio backed the school, stating that the course was “appropriate and necessary” and that “it is our policy that all students participate fully in all required classes.”

LifeSiteNews then reached out directly to Nashville Bishop David Choby, who is considered to be a traditional-minded bishop, to ask if Musacchio accurately represented his position. The bishop’s secretary Elizabeth Clay said the bishop was on vacation and assured LifeSiteNews that Musacchio represented the bishop and that it “is his position” that parents are not allowed to opt their children out of the sex-ed course. 

Well-known Catholic apologist, author, and commentator Fr. Peter Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., told LifeSiteNews that Catholic parents do not surrender their rights over their children when they send them to school. 

“Parents never relinquish their rights over their children anywhere, not even in a state school where parents are able to withdraw their kids from a course or a presentation if they don’t like it,” he said. 

Father Ryan High School in Nashville, where the sex-ed program is taught.

The Catholic Church holds that it is the parents’ primary right and duty to educate their children while schools play only a subsidiary role. Pope Pius XI emphasized this point in his 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge in which he urged parents living under the Nazi regime in Germany to never surrender their moral duty to instruct their children.

“Parents…have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions. Laws and measures which in school fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law and are immoral,” the pope wrote. 

Pope Saint John Paul II affirmed parental rights in the 1995 document “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” put out by the Pontifical Council for the Family, stating that schools are “bound” to respect parents when it comes to sex-ed in school. 

“Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents,” the pope stated. 

Commenting on the above passage, canon law expert Fr. Gerald Murray told LifeSiteNews that “any sex education program that is not in accord with the convictions of a child's parents cannot be made mandatory without violating ‘the right and duty’ of the parents to control what their children are taught in this delicate and sensitive matter.”

“The school must cooperate with the parents. When the school encounters parents who object to the chosen program, the school must offer an alternative which would include releasing the student from attending that program so that the parents can provide an alternative that respects their convictions,” he said. 

URGENT: Sign a petition urging the Diocese of Nashville to respect parental rights! Click here.

Even local public schools allow parents to opt their kids out of objectionable course material. Tennessee state law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1301 et seq.) requires public schools to notify parents in advance of sex-ed programs and to obtain written consent for a student to participate in or opt-out of the program. 

In 1931, the Holy Office following the lead of Pope Pius XI decreed that Catholic institutions must reject classroom sex education, stating that “no approbation whatever can be given to the advocacy of the new method [of sex-ed] even as taken up recently by some Catholic authors and set before the public in printed publications.” In 1951, Pope Pius XII reiterated this teaching, warning that the “problems” of sexual education must not be “pushed aside.”

Father Ryan High School’s ‘Human Sexuality’ course

The “Human Sexuality” course taught as part of the Father Ryan High School’s Theology I and II course offers graphic images and erotic sexual details concerning male and female body parts. Some of the problems in the course include [WARNING: Explicit content.]: 

  • Students are taught that the male and female “mature genitalia will react to sexual stimulus in a similar way.”
  • They are shown a picture of a spread-eagle vagina with names for every part. The picture is shown again in a test question where children have to label all the parts. 
  • At one point the sex-ed states: “Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.”
  • Students are taught the pleasure points of both the male and female reproductive organs, learning about “erotic nerve endings” that react to “sexual stimulus.”
  • They learn about an “aroused” clitoris and average penis lengths during erection.
  • At one point, the sex-ed states that the word “testes” is derived from the practice of two men swearing an oath while holding each other's testicles.
  • Students learn 10 different forms of contraception, including withdrawal, the condom, the diaphragm, spermicides, the birth control pill, the intrauterine device, birth control implant, depo-provera, tubal ligation, and vasectomy. A test question asks children to name and compare all the different methods as to how they function. 
  • At no point in the entire sex-ed supplement does the word “sin” appear, nor are there condemnations of the grave sexual sins of masturbation, fornication, and other sins against the virtues of chastity and modesty. Abstinence is given a passing glance and children are directed to external resources for more information on the practice. 
  • Students are not taught how willed sexual sins cut off the life of God’s grace in the soul and jeopardizes one’s eternal salvation. 

Portions of Father Ryan High School's sex-ed course can be seen here. [WARNING: Explicit images.]

Growing toward Intimacy by Bob Bartlett, a book given to students as part of the sex-ed course.

Former Texas abortion clinic owner Carol Everett has gone on record to state that the push for detailed sex-ed has its roots in the abortion business more than forty years ago where a “market for abortions” was created by getting kids interested and hooked on sex through explicit sex-education. Explicit sex-ed continues to be developed and pushed on teens by abortion giant Planned Parenthood. 

Fr. Stravinskas reviewed some of the more graphic details of the curriculum, calling it “salacious.” He wondered why such details were included in a class devoted to theology. 

As part of the course, students are also given the book Growing toward Intimacy by Bob Bartlett. The book is published by Good Ground Press run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, MN, a liberal religious order that has links on its website to pro-abortion and pro-homosexual organizations, such as Equality Now and the Matthew Shepard Foundation

Bartlett’s book quotes often from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and theologian who is deeply involved in the New Age, whose retreats involve men getting naked and leaping over fires, and who openly dissents from Church teaching on contraception, the ordination of women, and homosexuality. 

A chapter of Bartlett’s book titled “Learning to Touch in America” quotes the pro-homosexual priest Rohr who states: “We seem to like or even need to be touched, to be reminded that we are alive or that we matter to one another.” Pro-family advocates have warned parents that breaking down a young person’s natural inhibition to being touched by strangers is a common grooming technique employed by sexual predators. 

In Growing toward Intimacy, students also read about a counseling session for a married couple where they read that the average couple engages in 2-3 hours of sex a week. They are taught to debunk “sexual myths” involving erection, lovemaking, sexual activity, pregnancy, orgasm, climax, and masturbation. At one point students read a story about teens joking about “orgasm” and not knowing what it means. When in the story one friend admits that he does not know what the word means, another friend tells him, “Go look it up,” suggesting to the students that they can go online to look up sexual words that they are curious about. In other places, students read stories about men visiting prostitutes and teens engaging in sexual activity. The book also contains pictures of teens kissing. 

LifeSiteNews emailed Bishop Choby’s spokesperson Rick Musacchio the above details of the sex-ed that parents find problematic, asking him if the diocese still stands behind its original statement about refusing to allow parents to opt out of the sex-ed. Musacchio doubled-down on the original comment, calling the above presentation “inaccurate in subtle but important ways,” adding that the curriculum is “taught in a manner that reflects the beauty and dignity of the human person, the role of man and woman in God’s plan for married life, and the proper role of natural family planning, all in full conformity with Church teaching.”

‘Fighting a Goliath’

Concerned parents say they are dumbfounded at the resistance they have encountered at all levels in the exercise of their rights and duties as primary educator. 

Skinner told LifeSiteNews that when parents first addressed their concerns to school administration, they were told that the school is “proud” of its curriculum and that the administration did not share the concerns raised. Parents were told that the sex-ed was “necessary” for students. They were told on various occasions that opting their children out was not an option. When parents approached Bishop Choby, a 1965 graduate of the school, with their concerns, they were unable to secure a meeting with him. 

“We feel that we are fighting a Goliath. Everywhere we go, we’ve been roadblocked. Nobody is taking our concerns for our children’s spiritual well-being seriously. And the competent authorities seem to have no problem in overriding our rights and duties as parents,” Skinner said. 

Parents at first asked the school to simply delete the problematic content. When the school went on to revise the curriculum (for instance, deleting the price list for contraception and changing a few of the pictures) but kept the objectionable content in, parents felt betrayed by the trust they had placed in the school. LifeSiteNews contacted school president James McIntyre and school principal Paul Davis by phone and email for comment, but did not receive a response by press time. 

“We feel like the sex-ed curriculum basically amounts to a ‘wink and a nod’ to student sexual activity, especially when the curriculum gives them an exhaustive contraception list and tests the students to make sure they know how all of them function,” Skinner said. 

“The culture at Father Ryan’s shouldn’t be the same as the anti-culture outside its doors. You can’t make saints unless you set the bar high, but when it comes to sexual morality, suddenly there is no bar,” she added. 

Parents are now asking that the entire sex-ed course be scrapped. They say they would prefer a program that teaches chastity, self-mastery, and abstinence — all from an authentically Catholic perspective — such as the program YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body developed by best-selling Catholic authors Jason and Crystalina Evert. 

“There are so many aspects of the school that we love, but they shouldn’t teach this to our kids. It’s the parents’ right to teach their kids about such sensitive matters. We don’t want our kids seeing images of penises and vaginas. This will only corrupt them. We want the program gone,” states the group of parents. 

Susan Skinner’s husband Jason agrees that the situation is regrettable.

“I have no doubt that the school is trying to do what they think is best for the students, and expect they would say the same of me for my children. I’d like to think our views of theology are similar if not identical. But when it comes to sex education, it appears we have irreconcilable differences of opinion,” he told LifeSiteNews. 

“The minimum request made of the school was to opt our children out of this material just as public schools in most states are legally required to permit. Regrettably, this minor accommodation was deemed unacceptable. I just don’t understand why the only options available are to violate our conscience or leave the school completely.  What sense does this make for either party? How is this right and just?” he said. 

Action item: View the petition asking the Catholic Diocese of Nashville to support parental rights here.


Most Reverend David Choby
Bishop of Nashville
Ph: (615) 783-0761
[email protected]

Father Ryan High School
President James McIntyre  
Ph: (615) 383-4200
[email protected]

Principal Paul Davis
[email protected]


Full response from Diocese of Nashville’s Director of Communications Rick Musacchio to LifeSiteNews’ questions: 

LSN: Why does Father Ryan insist on teaching graphic sex ed class when a number of parents object to the material?

Diocese of Nashville: Human sexuality is so fundamentally important to an individual’s identity and relationship with God that it must be taught in light of sound theological foundations. It is not sufficient to present it solely as a biological process. Presenting the material in the context of a moral theology class is most appropriate and necessary.

Saint John Paul II has given the Church a great gift, stressing the importance of its teachings on the sanctity of life and insisting that young adults be formed in light of these teachings. Those same imperatives are reflected in Pope Francis’ recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). Presenting a clear, accurate explanation of human sexuality in the context of theology class not only helps students understand the nature of their own human identity, but also serves as the basis for an understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage and of natural family planning.

It is always good to regularly review materials used in our schools. Father Ryan High School reviewed its materials in light of suggestions that were brought forth by a few parents and made a number of changes in the presentation based on their suggestions.

LSN: Why will the school not allow the parents to opt their students out the class?

Diocese of Nashville: The full curriculum taught in our schools is developed in keeping with guidelines of the USCCB, under the supervision of our local bishop, and designed to meet recognized academic standards in all subject areas. It is our policy that all students participate fully in all required classes and in any elective classes in which they choose to enroll. Theology classes are an essential element of the curriculum. 

LSN: Does the school actually hold that parents hand over their right as primary educator when they attend your school?

Diocese of Nashville: Quite to the contrary. Our schools actively engage parents as partners in the education of their children. The schools are always open to address parents questions related to any area of the curriculum and to provide materials to assist families so that they may participate fully in the education and formation of young people. We want parents to understand that the entire curriculum has been developed in conformity with Church teaching and presented by faculty committed to presenting all subject matter in keeping with those standards.

When LifeSiteNews presented the diocese with a list of concerning material in the sex-ed course, asking if the diocese still stood by its comment, Director of Communications Rick Musacchio responded: 

Diocese of Nashville: Your presentation is inaccurate in subtle but important ways. On the whole, it presents a view of the material covered in the class that is lacking in completeness and accuracy. After careful review of the materials covered in the Theology course at Father Ryan High School, the Human Sexuality curriculum is taught in a manner that reflects the beauty and dignity of the human person, the role of man and woman in God’s plan for married life, and the proper role of natural family planning, all in full conformity with Church teaching.