Imagine for a moment that an innocent inquiry throws you into what amounts to a political firestorm. Your only purpose was to defend your Catholic faith. You meant no malice towards anyone. There was no personal agenda. The intent behind your inquiry and concern was merely to ensure that the teachings of the Church were being respected and upheld, not only for your child but for future children, as well.
Then imagine that the very entity that you approach in this matter identifies themselves as Catholic and persecuted you for daring to question their authority.
Concerned About SexEd Content
This situation is exactly what Susan Skinner found herself in when she questioned the content of the human sexuality material being used by Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tennessee in their sex education program. Mrs. Skinner felt the material of choice by the school unsuitable for freshman and sophomore students to be exposed to. A leading Catholic authority on human sexuality education material, who wishes to remain anonymous, confided to Mrs. Skinner that the material used by Father Ryan High School is far too explicit.
Not only were her concerns largely dismissed, but instead of allowing her son to opt-out of the course, as is allowed by Tennessee state law, her son was expelled from the school.
A Mother’s Pain
This ordeal has become particularly painful for Mrs. Skinner. The result of her inquiry was not the end-game she had in mind. In fact, she has been told by those involved with choosing the curriculum that the explicit and graphic material included in the course is nothing to be concerned about because “all the kids are having sex and viewing pornography anyway.” Bear in mind that “all the kids” that are being referenced are 14 to 16 years old at a Catholic high school.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to Mrs. Skinner about her experience.
Pete Socks: The one thing I have not been able to find out is what exactly did the material consist of? I believe this is important so people truly understand the level of the problem.
Mrs. Skinner: There are two parts to the freshman curriculum, which consists of a book called, “Growing toward Intimacy” by Bob Bartlett, and a supplemental packet that the school created itself which pulls things from many different places. The custom packet is also used for the sophomore year as well, though not the book. Students are pulled out of regular Theology for 4 weeks both freshman and sophomore year to learn this sex education content, but it remains under the umbrella of Theology.
Though the supplemental packet does include some church teaching, there are portions that are very graphic. To me, it seems to pay lip service to Catholic teaching, while giving students a wink and a nod. It also seems to particularly objectify women, even having the test in the back focused on the external genitalia of the woman, labeled “female reproductive system,” while the test on the male is an internal picture of the reproductive system. I cannot understand the focus on the external view of the female.
Additionally, students are tested on ten or more birth control methods and how they all work. I just don’t understand why they feel the need to provide such detail. It is not at all beautiful the way I think human sexuality could be presented.
PS: You now find yourself in the middle of what is becoming national news. Did you ever imagine you would be taking a stand on this type of situation?
Mrs. Skinner: I never imagined myself here. After we enrolled and this packet was brought to my attention by other parents, I thought I would simply have a meeting and they would allow my child to opt out. That obviously was not the case. I never wanted this.
PS: A follow-up to the last question…why? What drives you to do this?
Mrs. Skinner: I had to follow my conscience which told me parents have authority over their children, as does church teaching. Parents never ever sign that right over, even upon enrolling in a private school. I felt compelled to defend my God-given rights, and to protect the soul of my son. I felt this curriculum could lead him into sin with the level of detail it provided. My goal as a parent is to help my son get to heaven, so I would be remiss if I didn’t protect him from something that was a near occasion of sin.
PS: What has the reaction been from your fellow school parents?
Mrs. Skinner: Many parents have called and emailed to express their support. There are others who think I am wrong. I have received a vitriolic message from one of the alumni and also a particularly nasty email sent to me at work. But for the most part, I have received a lot of support and prayers which I am grateful for.
PS: You’ve said that you had an awakening in 2010 that had changed you as a person. You learned to love and forgive. How has this impacted this situation for you?
Mrs. Skinner: I was totally transformed by my friend’s murder. I can say it brought me to my knees and made me come to know a very personal Christ. I could no longer pick and choose which teachings I would follow. Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I decided I could no longer be a lukewarm Catholic. I told the Lord he has my unequivocal “yes”. Love means sometimes you have to do what is hard. You have to sacrifice. I had to make the decision to stand up for what is right, even though there has been much suffering. In that too, I bear no ill will toward anyone. I forgive and pray for all those involved.
PS: Obviously this has not been an easy situation for you. How have you been handling this suffering and how is your son doing?
Mrs. Skinner: My son is a good kid. He is actually my hero because he has not complained to me once. I know he has gotten grief from his friends, and that he is suffering, because it is a loss for him of the community he knew. But he has kept a positive attitude and for that I am grateful. In my suffering, I rely on what gets me through everything, the Eucharist, adoration,confession, and the Rosary. I have a special devotion to the Blessed Mother because seeing the suffering she went through, as a mother, I can relate to suffering over your children.
PS: You have said that trust, do, love and spread hope to others is your motto. I believe your witness during this situation is fulfilling that motto.
Mrs. Skinner: This is about total trust. It’s about doing what He asks even when it’s hard, even in the suffering. We as Catholics have a gift. We have the light of truth. Hope is here, and His name is Jesus Christ. It is in Him that all things are made new.
It is quite apparent that this outcome is not what she envisioned. She only wanted to remove her son from this course and exercise her right to determine what best suited her son when it came to educating him on human sexuality. This parental primacy is well established in the Catholic Catechism.( CCC 2223, CCC 2226) As a Catholic father of five, whose children are homeschooled, I can tell you that the person I spoke with on the phone during this interview is an impressively strong individual, and though wounded and deeply pained, she faithfully carries this cross alongside her Lord.
How many of us would be as convicted and courageous in Mrs. Skinner’s position?