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Premier Notley, No One Believes in Consent More Than Catholics Do

Catholic sexual morality upholds the dignity, value, and eternal importance of every individual and the sanctity and specialness of their sexuality.

11/06/2017 09:37 EST | Updated 11/06/2017 09:58 EST
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to reporters following a Council of the Federation meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

I'm really, really tired of hearing people lie about Catholic education.

For example, I've already heard several people say that the draft letter expressing the Catholic approach to teaching sexual education asserts that consent is not necessary in sexual relations. Even Premier Notley got in on the act, denouncing it as a "curriculum that normalizes an absence of consent."

Most of the people making this claim probably didn't read this document. Instead, they simply trusted people like Paula Simons, whose column quoted the line: "...we guard against a reductionist view of our human sexuality that consent is the most important factor in decision making." Simons coyly called this "problematic" without explaining why, and, without telling her readers the context of this line, the implication became obvious: The Catholic schools will teach that you don't need to consent to sex!

In moral theology, we might call this a grave sin of omission. In colloquial terms, we would call it deceptive and mendacious.

The draft is explicit that "consent is always necessary for any sexual activity to be healthy." To use Simons' language: Nothing about this should shock anyone who knows anything about Catholic teachings. Catholicism is well-known for teaching that sexual intercourse is only acceptable within the bounds of marriage, and one of the criteria for a valid marriage is the informed and rational consent of both parties, which is why the Church does not recognize shotgun or otherwise non-consensual marriage. (Paragraphs 1625-1632 of the Catholic Catechism are dedicated to "matrimonial consent," if you're interested.) Even sexual acts within marriage must be free and consensual in order to be "properly marital," otherwise they are also sinful and forbidden.

Catholic sexual morality upholds the dignity, value, and eternal importance of every individual and the sanctity and specialness of their sexuality.

In other words, if Premier Notley wants a sex-ed curriculum that makes consent essential for sex, she should be a big fan of the Catholic one. There is a lot more protection of consent in our view than in the one that allows for "consensual" sex that occurs amidst drunken impulsiveness at singles' bars.

What the draft says is that consent is necessary, but insufficient. In other words, two people can consent to an act that is demeaning to them or diminishes their human dignity. In addition to consent, we also need to retain a respect for persons in their humanity.

If this is difficult to understand, consider an economic analogy. Pope Leo XIII, writing on the injustices of the economy, said that just because an employer and an employee freely agree on what the employee's wages should be, that doesn't morally justify those wages. A worker may consent to be paid less than he deserves, and that unjust wage is still unjust. Leo even says that the "consensual nature" of the arrangement is insufficient to justify it. The NDP seems to agree, since it believes in raising the minimum wage; apparently, they agree that a "consensual" arrangement can still be objectively unjust.

This is the point of the letter, which says that "sexual relationships are not based solely [emphasis added] upon ongoing consent and pleasure, but rather the understanding that they are to occur in an authentic life-giving relationship."

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Other claims that Premier Notley made about this draft are false. She accuses it of "refus[ing] to talk about contraception," when the text is frank that "we would be able to teach/educate about different forms of contraceptives in detail" even if we "cannot promote" them. She also asserts that it "marginalizes sexual minorities" by upholding the Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Henri Nouwen, one of Hillary Clinton's favourite authors, was a gay Catholic who chose celibacy because of the Church's teachings; if you think that homosexual persons are diminished by this teaching, then you marginalize celibates with homosexual inclinations, a group that is already pretty marginalized.

But what is especially interesting is that, a few days ago, Premier Notley expressed outrage at Quebec's "religious neutrality" bill banning Islamic face coverings for women. But a curriculum which compels Catholics to teach a system of sexual morality different than the Church's is at least as much of a government interference in religious liberty.

The premier's own father, Grant Notley, a great proponent of the public schools, was (according to page 163 of his biography) "opposed to allowing private schools to control their curriculum, except as it came to religious instruction." Mr. Notley had much the same priorities as his daughter, but he understood the importance of respect religious schools' right to effectively teach in accordance with their convictions.

Catholic sexual morality upholds the dignity, value, and eternal importance of every individual and the sanctity and specialness of their sexuality. Despite the lies you may be hearing, Premier Notley, it's nothing to be afraid of.

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