Worcester School Official Invokes Pope Francis, Ireland In Supporting ‘Comprehensive’ Sex Education

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/05/07/worcester-school-official-invokes-pope-francis-ireland-in-supporting-comprehensive-sex-education/

A member of the Worcester School Committee who voted for a comprehensive sex education program on Thursday quoted from Pope Francis and cited the experience of Catholic Ireland as support for her position.

Tracy O’Connell Novick, who was one of five members of the committee to vote for Rights, Respect, Responsibility, published by Advocates for Youth, referred to comments Pope Francis made about sex education during a flight to Panama in January 2019.

She presented the pope’s comments this way:

“We need to have sex education for children. The ideal is to start from home with the parents. It is not always possible, because there are so many different situations in families, and because they do not know how to do it. And so the school makes up for this, because otherwise it will remain a void that will then be filled by any ideology.”

The full quote from Pope Francis, as reported by Catholic News Agency in an English-language version (and with the ellipsis in the original version), is as follows:


I believe that in schools we must give sex education. Sex is a gift from God, it is not a monster, it is a gift from God to love. That some people use it to earn money or exploit is another problem. But we need to give an objective sexual education, that is without ideological colonization. If you start by giving sexual education full of ideological colonization you destroy the person. But sex as a gift from God must be taught. To educate is to educate, to make the best of people emerge and to accompany them along the way.

The problem is with those responsible for education, whether at the national, provincial or unit level (…), which teachers are chosen for this task and which textbooks, etc.. I have seen some books that are a little dirty. There are things that mature and things that do harm. I don’t know if it’s objective or not, that you don’t have sex education in Panama. I say this without putting myself in the political problem of Panama. We need to have sex education for children. The ideal is to start from home, with the parents. It is not always possible because there are so many different situations in families, and because they do not know how to do it. And so the school makes up for this, because otherwise it will remain a void that will then be filled by any ideology.


An Italian newspaper, La Stampa, said that by “ideology” the pope was “probably referring to the theories of gender,” though the pope did not specify what he meant.

In Worcester, supporters of the Rights, Respect, Responsibility sex education curriculum have praised the information and affirmation it provides concerning homosexuality and gender identity.

Some parents who spoke during public comment Thursday night against implementing the sex education curriculum in the city’s public schools objected to a reference to the mechanics of sexual intercourse in a kindergarten-through-second grade lesson plan, saying it is not appropriate to teach such information to children that young. Some opponents also objected to references in lesson plans for later years to mutual masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and pornography. They argued that the curriculum promotes what they consider destructive behavior.

Some opponents said that the presentation of human sexuality in the Rights, Respect, Responsibility curriculum violates their culture and their religious beliefs.

“We have beliefs. We have culture. And you guys talk like you own our kids,” said Jason DaSilva, a father of four who owns a barber shop in Worcester and has organized opposition to the curriculum.

Novick said culture and religion cannot dictate what a public school teaches – and she made a reference to her own ethnic heritage to illustrate her point.

“Child development is a field of study. We educate children in line with that, not in line with various degrees of adult discomfort. Best practice on teaching children about health in all fields is one that does so gradually and consistently over time, starting, yes, when they are young,” Novick said.

“And this remains true, Mr. Chair, regardless of the culture or even the religion of the families,” she continued. “We could do a world tour, and find the need for sex ed in any country that does not have it. We could easily start with my own cultural heritage, where a country that was run as very close to a theocracy for much of a century, is still uncovering decades of sexual abuse in religious schools, not to mention the horrific legacy of the Magdalene laundries. Don’t tell a great-granddaughter of Ireland that religion and culture should be allowed to block comprehensive sex education in the Worcester public schools.”

Magdalene laundries were industrial asylums run by Roman Catholic religious orders to house and attempt to reform prostitutes and other troubled girls and women.

Some women have reported experiencing poor working and living conditions and lack of freedom at these institutions. A Republic of Ireland Department of Justice report in 2013 did not find evidence of sexual abuse within the institutions. Instead, the report says:  “We have in fact never been told of sexual assault or brutal physical assault, including beatings with canes or belts, being perpetrated by nuns in the Laundries.”

Ireland has a well-known clergy sex abuse scandal going back decades that first came to public attention during the 1990s.

In Worcester, Novick was endorsed during her 2019 campaign for the city’s school committee by Planned Parenthood, which touted her victory. She is running for re-election in the September and November city elections this year, one of 10 candidates for six available seats.

Novick, a graduate of Smtih College and a former public school teacher, is the wife of Deacon Colin Novick, a permanent deacon assigned to the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul in Worcester, which is the seat of the bishop, as Catholic Action League of Massachusetts reported in October 2019.

During the school committee meeting Thursday night, Novick made apparent references to Catholic and Protestant clerics who spoke against the sex education curriculum, citing moral and other objections.

“It’s been infuriating, Mr. Chair, to hear the vast array of misinformation and outright lies that have been conveyed in this discussion, including by leadership that should know better, and which has a responsibility to tell the truth to people under their care,” Novick said. “It is deeply troubling how much of this testimony comes from fear. And yet we are told, that it’s the truth that sets us free.”


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