Catholic faithful vow to continue fighting controversial sex education bill

Avatar

After roughly 10 hours of debate and over 300 public testimonies, a Colorado House committee voted 7-4 to approve a controversial sexual education bill Wednesday. The bill now moves to the House Appropriations committee.

Several overflow rooms were needed at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 30 to seat the hundreds of people who showed up to voice their opinion on House Bill 19-1032.

The bill would require public and charter schools that choose to teach a sexual education curriculum to follow certain “comprehensive sex-ed” regulations, some of which include teaching that abstinence is equal to “safe sex”; if pregnancy outcome options are taught, then abortion, adoption and parenting must all be presented without bias; and the content must promote “sexual activity, sexuality, and sexual orientation as a normal part of human development.”

Among those present in opposition were parents and people of faith, many who waited hours for their turn to speak.

“This [bill] specifically undermines the rights of parents because there’s a section of the bill that says that teachers may discuss gender sexuality outside the curriculum,” said Kelsey Buckingham, a nurse and mother of a child in public school and parishioner at St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden. “So even though the bulk of the curriculum allows parental consent, it puts a loophole in that allows for teacher to have these conversations with my child without my consent.”

In the midst of the waves of people that waited to testify, parents of homeschooled children and those with children in Catholic schools made their voices heard too, declaring that the bill would also affect them.

“Even though we homeschool, we have friends that go to public schools and they’re going to have conversations with [my children] that I don’t want them to have because of this bill, if it gets passed. It’s robbing children of their innocence,” said Stephanie Kelley, mother of five children whom she homeschools and parishioner at Holy Name in Sheridan. “This bill [also affects all parents by] removing our God-given right to parent our children as we see fit. Please let parents be parents and kids be kids. Do not put tools that can harm our children in their hands before they can handle it…”

The bill has been opposed by the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Denver.

“[The bill] would require public and charter schools to either use a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum that contradicts human nature and is inconsistent with Christian values, or to provide no instruction on sexuality at all,” Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila said in a letter written to all the faithful of the archdiocese. “We know that God made us male and female, in his image and likeness, but the comprehensive curriculum route which most schools will likely adopt teaches innocent children this is not true.”

Also testifying Wednesday night was Father Daniel Nolan, vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Littleton. His comments on human sexuality were challenged by Rep. Brianna Titone, who asked him: “As a Catholic priest, are you abstaining from sex?”

A reaction of disapproval spurted from most of the audience, but Father Nolan humorously replied: “Well, I am a handsome man.”

The representative then said: “A follow up question, which was my main point: You seem to be an expert on the topic, how did you become on expert on the topic?”

The priest calmly responded, “I hear confessions,” which was followed by an outburst of claps from the audience that the Madame chair was forced to silence.

Rep. Mark Bailey — who publicly opposed the bill and called it “a violation of the First Amendment” for its suppression of religion in school districts —argued that the phrase “healthy relationships” had problematic outcomes for parents: “This is what it really is about: for parents to have the right to define for their children what a ‘healthy sexual relationship’ is… Is this our role as a state to determine what a healthy sexual relationship is rather than allow parents to define that for their kids?”

In a similar statement, Stephanie Currie, representative of Family Policy Alliance, said: “Parents, not the state, have the inalienable, constitutional rights for the moral upbringing of their children. This means parents have the right to define the inner boundaries of what they call sane and healthy relationships.”

Moreover, other parents and religious leaders testified that the bill pushed gender ideology at the expense of religious beliefs or traditional values.

“Unelected Colorado State entities have already demonstrated animosity toward people of faith and in views about marriage and sexuality,” said Jeff Johnson, a father of children in charter school. “This bill is trying to inculcate students into [specific] ideological beliefs about sexuality and relationships. This ideology is not rooted in science… Sexual orientation and gender identity are not measurable discrete scientific realities. They are moldered social constructs, and that is what this bill is forcing on local communities.”

Even though many opponents of the bill were saddened to see its approval despite the great opposition, they’re resolved to continue fighting as the bill still needs approval by the full House and then also the State Senate.

“It was an impressive turnout. It was unbelievable seeing the people that came out in opposition to this,” Buckingham concluded. “I just hope the legislators are giving weight to the fact that so many people are voicing concern. I hope they can keep that in mind, that they’re representing the public.”

Problems with HB 19-1032

*If pregnancy outcomes are covered, abortion and life must be presented as equal options.

*The “age-appropriateness” of the curriculum is vague and the actual content of the curriculum is undefined.

*Cannot teach abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventative method.

*“Healthy relationships” are defined by the state, not by parents.

*Creates a loophole where programming on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation can be taught outside of the human sexuality instruction without notification provided to parents.

*Charter schools may not apply for a waiver.

To contact your state representative and ask them to oppose House Bill 1032, click here.

COMING UP: The Pell case: Developments down under

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

In three weeks, a panel of senior judges will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unjust verdict rendered against him at his retrial in March, when he was convicted of “historical sexual abuse.” That conviction did not come close to meeting the criterion of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is fundamental to criminal law in any rightly-ordered society. The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence sustaining the complainant’s charge. The defense demolished the prosecution’s case, as witness after witness testified that the alleged abuse simply could not have happened under the circumstances charged — in a busy cathedral after Mass, in a secured space.

Yet the jury, which may have ignored instructions from the trial judge as to how evidence should be construed, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. At the cardinal’s sentencing, the trial judge never once said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict; he did say, multiple times, that he was simply doing what the law required him to do. Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be just as devastating to the prosecution’s case as was his defense at both his first trial (which ended with a hung jury, believed to have favored acquittal) and the retrial. What friends of the cardinal, friends of Australia, and friends of justice must hope is that the appellate judges will get right what the retrial jury manifestly got wrong.

That will not be easy, for the appellate judges will have been subjected to the same public and media hysteria over Cardinal Pell that was indisputably a factor in his conviction on charges demonstrated to be, literally, incredible. Those appellate judges will also know, however, that the reputation of the Australian criminal justice system is at stake in this appeal. And it may be hoped that those judges will display the courage and grit in the face of incoming fire that the rest of the Anglosphere has associated with “Australia” since the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

In jail for two months now, the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience. The Melbourne Assessment Prison allows its distinguished prisoner few visitors, beyond his legal team; but those who have gone to the prison intending to cheer up a friend have, in correspondence with me, testified to having found themselves cheered and consoled by Cardinal Pell — a man whose spiritual life was deeply influenced by the examples of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More during Henry VIII’s persecution of the Church in 16th-century England. The impact of over a half-century of reflection on those epic figures is now being displayed to Cardinal Pell’s visitors and jailers, during what he describes as his extended “retreat.”

Around the world, and in Australia itself, calmer spirits than those baying for George Pell’s blood (and behaving precisely like the deranged French bigots who cheered when the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus was condemned to a living death on Devil’s Island) have surfaced new oddities — to put it gently — surrounding the Pell Case.

How is it, for example, that the complainant’s description of the sexual assault he alleges Cardinal Pell committed bears a striking resemblance — to put it gently, again — to an incident of clerical sexual abuse described in Rolling Stone in 2011? How is it that edited transcripts of a post-conviction phone conversation between the cardinal and his cathedral master of ceremonies (who had testified to the sheer physical impossibility of the charges against Pell being true) got into the hands (and thence into the newspaper writing) of a reporter with a history of anti-Pell bias and polemic? What is the web of relationships among the virulently anti-Pell sectors of the Australian media, the police in the state of Victoria, and senior Australian political figures with longstanding grievances against the politically incorrect George Pell? What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

And what is the state of serious investigative journalism in Australia, when these matters are only investigated by small-circulation journals and independent researchers?

An “unsafe” verdict in Australia is one a jury could not rationally have reached. Friends of truth must hope that the appellate judges, tuning out the mob, will begin to restore safety and rationality to public life Down Under in June.

Featured image by CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images