Primary Educators League

Assisting parents in the eternal vigil of protecting the freedom and holiness of their families.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What will happen with "safe environments" under Archbishop Nienstedt

Yesterday, Bishop Nienstedt from the Diocese of New Ulm was named the new coadjutor Archbishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. According to this article in the Star Tribune, Bishop Nienstedt will shadow Archbishop Flynn for about one year until Archbishop Flynn retires.

It will be intesting to see if Archbishop Flynn essentially steps away from the day to day operational activities of the archdiocese and lets coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt take the realm and make decisions.

Given the controversy over the "safe environments" initiative in the Twin Cities, it will be interesting to see if he allows the status quo to prevail. If he is truly shadowing Archbishop Flynn for one year, we can expect to see no changes to the "safe environments" programs for the 2007-2008 school year.

From what can be seen online, the Diocese of New Ulm acted almost immediately after the U.S. Bishops enacted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. The diocese also appears to have provided significant transparency unlike our archdiocese. Here's a link to their "safe environments" programs.

If you want to learn more about how coadjutor Archbishoph Nienstedt thinks, he appears to have published a significant amount of material on the Diocese of New Ulm's web site.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Out of Harms Way" Assessment: Grades 5-8

The "safe environments" programs have kicked off in full force during the month of March as the parish schools need to complete the four lessons before the school year ends. This e-mail is concerning the “Out of Harms Way” program for our 5th – 8th graders.

We have confirmed that the 5th – 8th graders must take this assessment (click here to launch the PDF of the assessment). (Remember that a 5th grader is usually 10 years old). It will be given prior to the first lesson as well as after the fourth lesson. The same assessment is given to all grades (5-8). They will then be able to track the improvement based upon how each child answers the pre/post assessment.

All across the Twin Cities, parents received, or are soon likely to receive, a parents pack of information concerning the upcoming “safe environment” program for their 5th-8th graders. From what we've seen, there's very little information about the specific lessons that will be taught in the classroom for the “Out of Harms Way" program. We have not seen or heard that any parish mailed out copies of the assessment for the parents to review prior to their child being exposed to it. If your parish is hosting a curriculum night for the “safe environments” programs, we highly encourage you to attend and participate. If you can’t make it, schedule an appointment with the school/parish administration to review the materials.

Many who are on our e-mail list probably don't have their children at one of the parishes using this material. However, roughly 60-70% of the parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are using the "Out of Harms Way" program and their children will need to take this pre/post assessment. We encourage you to pass this on to people at other parishes.

Given that some parishes have started their “safe environments” programs, your child may have already been exposed to the “Out of Harms Way” assessment by the time you receive this e-mail. If you have an issue with this assessment, we would encourage you to call your school administration, school board members, pastor, and parish council members to discuss this matter.

It is unclear as to how this information might be reported. Having assessments are standard practice in education, but given the sensitive nature of this material, and the circumstances surrounding why the Church is pursuing this path, is this really the rightful position of the Church to step in and assess our children about these issues without the parents giving their blessing?

Here are some questions that you may want to have answered before your child takes the assessment:

1) Will parents receive copies of their child's pre/post assessment results after the completion of the program for each year?

2) Does the school/parish keep copies and a record of each child's assessment for each year?

3) If the school/parish keep copies or a record of each child's pre/post assessment, who has access to that information? What is the guaranty of confidentiality and privacy? (After all, this isn’t just another math test).

4) Do the results get sent back to the archdiocese and/or to the KidWISE Institute?

5) Is the school, parish, and/or archdiocese keeping a "safe environments" file on each student in the school for the duration of their attendance in that Catholic school?

The parishes and schools are diligently keeping track of each child who is in attendance for each lesson and which ones that are not in attendance. Additionally, they are keeping track of the reasons why your child is not attending...i.e. did he/she just happen to be sick that day, or did the parents opt him/her out. It seems like the Church doesn't pay nearly this kind of attention to those who receive the sacraments of First Confession, First Communion or Confirmation.

Please contact us if you run in to any challenges in discussing this information with your school and parish leadership. It is likely you will need to go beyond the level of your child's teacher and principal to make any headway. You may want to discuss this with your pastor and school board members to see if they agree as to whether or not they believe this assessment is appropriate for 5th – 8th graders in Catholic school.

Please consider joining our e-mail list at We don't send out a lot of e-mails, but if you want to stay informed please join the list. The issue with the "safe environments" does not appear to be going away any time soon.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

"Talking About Touching" 3rd Grade Lesson - Kerry's Story

Here's what our third graders will be learning in our Catholic schools across the Twin Cities during the months of March and April.

This is one of the required lessons as part of the "safe environments" initiative. It's also known as the Kerry lesson plan. If you'd like confirmation, you can listen to these clips from the Relevant Radio broadcast last year. There are two clips here and here.

The Archdiocese has published information on its site as well.

If you have difficulty viewing this lesson plan, you'll find it on our web site.

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"Talking About Touching" 2nd Grade Lesson Plan - Ian's Story

Here's what the second graders will be learning in Catholic schools across the Twin Cities during the months of March and April this spring.

For more information about the "Talking About Touching" program for our K-4th graders see here, and here. If you'd like to confirm that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is using this material, you can find it on its web site here.

If you have difficulty viewing this image, you can download it here.

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Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Policy on Safe Environments - Under Revision

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is in the process of updating its policy on safe environments called, "A Time to Heal: Preventing and Responding to Ministry-Related Sexual Misconduct." It is currently being revised. It will be interesting to see what the revisions bring.

It's good to know that we're only talking about misconduct here and not abuse.

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Should you sign the opt-out form?

Since the "safe environments" initiative has begun in earnest, the Catholic schools are being told to keep very accurate records as to who is attending the lesson plans and who isn't. For the kids who are not in attendance, they want to know why that child was missing. Was he/she just sick? Did his parents opt him/her out? Did the parents sign the opt-out form? Did they refuse to sign the opt-out form?

The question of whether or not parents should sign the opt-out form was discussed in the following blog entry .

If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to call the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C. at 202-541-3000. Teresa Kettlekamp is the head of the deparment. Sheila Kelly is her deputy.

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"Safe Environments" begin in the Twin Cities

We've heard that the "safe environments" programs have either kicked off or are about to once kids get back from spring break this week.

Many parishes have mailed out the parents package of information to inform the parents about the initiative. As usual though, there appears to be very little information about the actual lessons themselves included in the parents pack.

While the archdiocese encourage parishes to have public meetings for parents to come and review the material, it's doesn't appear that many did. Most parishes made some kind of note that parents could come in and review the materials. From what we've heard it sounds like very few came in to look at the material, thus there's very little outcry over the content that will be taught to our children.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Archdiocese of St.Paul and Minneapolis - Protection of Children and Youth Web Site

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis now has published quite a bit of information about the safe environments program in the Twin Cities.

On the site you'll find a "History of the Initiative in the Archdiocese," as well as a detailed outline of the safe environments program and some articles from the Catholic Spirit, found here and here.

It's nice to see all of this information published with the links established.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Opting out of "Safe Environments" Programs...Must Parents Sign an Opt Out Form?

Many parents have been contacting us wondering whether or not they should sign an official document that their schools are demanding they sign in they are going to withhold their children from the "safe environments" instruction.

It's important to note that the USCCB relaxed requirements recently regarding this exact situation. We posted a blog entry here which contains the original Catholic News Service story about the bishops relaxing their auditing requirements.

According to the information out of the USCCB as reported by the Catholic News Service, parents are not required to sign a document stating that they are opting their child out of the program.

By signing the opt-out form, parents may be exposing themselves to legal liability at some future date. Give it some serious thought before you decide whether or not to sign the paper opting your child out of these lesson plans. What are they going to do...kick your child out of school? If they threaten that, please let us know.

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"Safe Environments" 4 TAT Lessons in 4 Months

The "safe environments" initiative for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is about to kick in to high gear. Not much has been going on up until now. However, with Catholic Schools week out of the way, there remain only four more months in the school year. Most Catholic schools still have four "Talking About Touching" (TAT) lessons that they need to complete.

Since it has been awhile since many parents have been reminded about the kind of material that will be taught to our young children, please review some TAT lessons here. (There are links from this page to specific lesson plans). The Ian lesson will be taught to our second graders which can be found here. The Kerry lesson will be taught to our third graders and can be found here. This is material that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and many of our Catholic schools have made incredibly difficult for parents to preview before our children see it and discuss it in the classroom.

If you need more background on "Talking About Touching," more information is posted on our website.

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Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: "Safe Environments" and Sexuality Education should be taught together

Sr. Fran Donnelly, BVM, Director of the Protection of Children and Youth Inititiative for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently sent out this e-mail to all catechetical leaders and those involved in teaching "safe environments" in our Catholic schools and religious education classes.

We have stated for months about our concern that we are introducing scary and deviant sexual scenarios to our young children which may well shatter their innocence. Addtionally, many have expressed concern that there may be an alternative agenda since many of the themes found promoted in VIRTUS and "Talking About Touching" look all too familiar to those promoted by Planned Parenthood and SIECUS.

Now we read in Sr. Fran Donnelly's January 2007 e-mail broadcast that not only does Teresa Kettlekamp, Executive Director - Office of Child and Youth Protection for the USCCB, the unname auditor who was recently at the chancery office, as well as Fr. McGlone who wrote the high school "safe environments" program "Safe and Sacred Spaces," all believe that we need to link sexuality with safety instruction. This will all play out over the next several years as more and more "sexuality" information is taught to young child from pre-K to fourth grade.

From Sr. Fran Donnelly's January e-mail broadcast:

"Both (Teresa Kettlekamp and the unnamed auditor) affirmed Fr. McGlone’s advice that there is a need for both Catholic sexuality discussions and protection themes. Even though the audit only focuses on protection, it cannot be an either/or curriculum decision in our parishes and schools. Actually, we are hearing the same concerns being voiced by many of you and will be attempting to work through these challenges with you."

And you thought the "Safe Environments" initiative really was all about protecting our children?

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Sr. Fran Donnelly: "Safe Environments" Update for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

This email is being sent on behalf of Sr. Fran Donnelly, BVM, Director of the Protection of Children and Youth Initiative and Sharon Tomlin, PCYI Curriculum Liaison to Catechetical Leaders in Archdiocesan Catholic Parishes.

We would like to extend to you our wishes for a Happy New Year and the successful continuation of your programs for children and youth!

This past November the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis hosted two visitors focused on our PCYI efforts. One was Teresa Kettelkamp, Executive Director of the USCCB, Office of Child and Youth Protection. The other was a compliance auditor for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Both visits included frank discussions over difficult challenges that we are experiencing, affirmation of the work we have already done, and suggestions that will help us “pass” the 2007 audit.

Both Ms. Kettelkamp and the auditor commended the Archdiocesan efforts to develop a sound program from its inception. It was Fr. Kevin McDonough who insisted that those on the Archdiocesan task force focus our efforts on changing hearts and our culture. Only within this context, did he want us looking at compliance issues related to the audit. Nonetheless, the audit is exceedingly important and we do want to make sure that for the 2006 – 2007 program year, we are in full compliance with the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops! Many dioceses that focused on compliance first are now being challenged with issues related to effectiveness.

At all levels, the curriculum and audit forms appear to give both the Archdiocese and individual programs high quality information for adults and children, and thorough documentation that will be helpful to the auditors. The main concerns for both Ms. Kettelkamp and the auditor were related to the challenges of keeping the Family Safety Fair effective on an ongoing, yearly basis and of the alternative programs having a yearly, on-site sharing of information included in their programs. Both affirmed Fr. McGlone’s advice that there is a need for both Catholic sexuality discussions and protection themes. Even though the audit only focuses on protection, it cannot be an either/or curriculum decision in our parishes and schools. Actually, we are hearing the same concerns being voiced by many of you and will be attempting to work through these challenges with you.

Both Ms. Kettelkamp and the auditor were interested in hearing about your solutions to the first year of content rollout and again were impressed with the energy you all are putting into the initiative. We also thought you would like to know that it appears that the USCCB office will be coming out with clearer criteria in the late winter/ early spring. This will make all of our lives simpler!

We wanted you to be aware of a number of other considerations as you move into 2007 and begin planning for the 2007 – 2008 program year

1. Audits for the 2006 – 2007 program year will include some dioceses piloting on-site visits to randomly selected
parishes and schools. There is an expectation that leaders will be able to produce evidence to support the Fall and Spring

Audit Reports.

2. In the very near future, your pastor will be receiving a mailing that will include a Promise to Protect/Pledge to Heal

poster and A Prayer for Healing card from the USCCB. It is suggested that you display the poster in a prominent location

for adult and student viewing. The posters will have updated contact information for the Archdiocese’s Advocacy and PCYI

offices. This future mailing will also include insights gleaned from an upcoming meeting between regional bishops, the national

Office of Child and Youth Protection staff, and auditors for the 2006 – 2007 program year.

3. All of the Alignments for PCYI Curricula with the Archdiocesan K – Grade 8 Religion Standards are now posted on both

the Extranet and the Archdiocesan Website:

4. Sharon Tomlin continues to be in conversation with the Saint Paul Police Department regarding an internet safety program

that the department is willing to fund for all of our Archdiocesan schools. It would be very helpful for parish faith formation

staff members to get the word out to your public school teachers and local police department staffs that these materials are

available. The materials were developed by Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program and NetSmartz with
sponsorship coming from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and The Office Of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention. These curriculum materials are probably best taught by technology instructors and cannot be used as

a substitute for Protection of Children and Youth materials; however, many instructors might find these materials to be a

valuable addition to their present resources.

Until the newest edition becomes available, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the NetSmartz developers are encouraging people to go out to the following website in order to preview materials: General Information and Parent Preview:

5. Lastly, Sharon Tomlin would love to be invited out to observe some of your classrooms or debrief with your catechists this winter and early spring. Whether the focus is TAT, Out of Harm’s Way, Family Safety Fair, Creating Safe and Sacred Places or any other Archbishop Flynn-permitted curricula, Sharon would like to see the programs during implementation and learn from your staff’s experience what appears to be working well and what we need to do to make these even more effective programs. Her contact information is: work phone number: 651-290-1622 and work email address:

In closing, we would like to encourage you to pass this information on to your Protection of Children and Youth site coordinator or committee, and to find a good place to display the USCCB poster. We hope that you can spread the word about NetSmartz materials and that faith formation staff members will find time to view the full set of alignments on the Archdiocesan website. Lastly, we hope that some of you might be able to have Sharon come out and visit your programs in the near future.

Sincerely yours in Christ’s name,

Sr. Fran and Sharon

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"Safe Environments" Fallout: The Academy of Sts. Peter and Paul in Loretto loses 21 families due to "Talking About Touching."

The safe environments programs have caused upheaval in several Catholic parishes and schools across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

One such parish, Sts. Peter and Paul in Loretto, Minnesota has been particularly hard hit. Many parishioners were very upset about the handling of the safe environments initiative at the school and parish. The debate was contentious last spring between parents and the parish leadership. As a result, we have heard that 21 families left the parish school. This has been devasting to the school budget and the greater parish community. The Catholic school's future is uncertain given the massive loss of tuition money those 21 families represented. This defection is a result of the way the parish and school leadership handled the decision to teach the controversial "Talking About Touching" program to the youngest school-aged children.

Other Catholic schools saw parents pull their children, but the situation in Loretto is one of the more dramatic examples of the fallout from the USCCB's "Safe Environments" initiative and the"Talking About Touching" program promoted by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

It's a shame that Catholic families are being driven away from parish schools to public schools and other schooling alternatives.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis -" Talking About Touching" Aligned with Catholic Religious Instruction

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis recently published a 27 page document outlining in detail how each lesson correlates to the teachings of the Catholic Faith. This is different than the recently published "Correlation Guide" by Harcourt Press. However, this 27 page document looks very similar to one that was distributed at the rollout meeting nearly one year ago. The final few pages of the document are dedicated to "Creating Safe and Sacred Spaces" for high school students.

It is unclear who the authors are of this document. However, at the Archdiocesan-wide meeting in February 2006, the spokeswoman for the Committee for Children admitted that they, CFC, had created something for the Archdiocese of Boston that aligned the Catechism with "Talking About Touching." This document has a similar look and feel to that shared by the Committee for Children representative at the February 2006 meeting.

This document comes on the heals of the Catholic doctors calling for an end to "safe environments" and they specifically called out "Talking About Touching" as being anything but Catholic teaching.

The 27 page document can be found on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis "Protection of Children and Youth Initiative" page. This page has some information about the "safe environments" initiative. On the left side where you'll see the new document, you will also see an article from Archbishop Flynn as well an article on "safe environments" published by the Catholic Spirit. Neither of those articles have been available to the public for some time. In addition, the Catholic Spirit no longer has posted the Special Report they published this fall to rollout the "safe environments" initiative to the Archdiocese. We have asked the editor, Joe Towalski, repeatedly post these articles again. While Mr. Towalski has never responded, Sr. Fran Donnelley just informed me that they are working on getting these reposted. We have also asked Mr. Towalski if he would be reporting on the Catholic Medical Association's devastating report on the U.S. Bishops' child safety programs. There has been no response.

I can't help but think what the Church and the world would be like if we marshalled the same kind of passion, commitment, organization, and financial backing to educate adults in the Faith.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Archdiocese of Boston and Harcourt Press Provide Cover for “Talking About Touching.”

Harcourt Press, publishers of many of the controversial sex ed materials taught throughout Catholic schools in the U.S., has joined the fray in the “safe environments” controversy that has been roiling many dioceses across the country.

In an e-mail and letter sent by Claudia Glaze from the Committee for Children, (the nonprofit publishers of the Talking About Touching program), to instructors using TAT in order to comply with the U.S. Bishops’ mandate for “safe environments” training for all Catholic school and religious ed children, she states that the Committee for Children has “collaborated” with Harcourt Religion Publishers and “religious educators from the Boston Archdiocese” to publish a “Call to Faith – Talking About Touching Correlation Guide.” She goes on to state that correlation guide, “is a wonderful breakthrough for Catholic educators who are teaching the Talking About Touching program within a religious-education context.” In other words, we will now be able to wrap TAT in Catholicism. However, for those who oppose the use of TAT and other like programs in our Catholic schools, this “Correlation Guide” will not quiet the outcry to remove these programs from our Catholic schools and religious education programs.

Given that 95+% of Catholic school children in the U.S. were already enrolled in some sort of “safe environment” program prior to the start of the ’06 – ’07 school year, why would Harcourt Press and the Archdiocese of Boston only now come out with a guide book that places “Talking About Touching” in context of Catholic teaching? Harcourt must expect a good return from this kind investment. Someone believes these “safe environments” programs and “Talking About Touching” will be around for a long time to come in our Catholic schools.

Catholic Doctors Call for an End to Bishops’ “Safe Environments” Mandate

Last month, the long awaited report by the Catholic Medical Association concerning the U.S. Bishops mandated “safe environments” programs was published. The 55 page report entitled, “To Prevent and To Protect” challenges the “safety” experts and calls upon the U.S. bishops to end the “safe environments” mandate and take a serious review of Article 12 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The CMA concludes, "We therefore recommend that U.S. bishops rescind the safe-environment mandate as it applies to children and adolescents and discontinue all child-empowerment programs for preventing child abuse."

Across the country, parents have reacted negatively as many view the U.S. bishops' madate as usurping their role as primary educators for their children. According to Our Sunday Visitor, 5.7 million Catholic school children have received “safe environments” training either through their Catholic schools or their parish religious education programs. It is estimated that over 95% of all Catholic children from pre-school to high school are currently enrolled in one of these programs.

Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, a physician-psychiatrist and lead author of the Catholic Medical Association’s report, “To Protect and to Prevent” is quoted as stating the following in Our Sunday Visitor about various "safe environments" programs, “it (safe environment programs) causes children to be very confused. You could have a child who is 6 years old hearing about sexual abuse. It's a deviant, perverted form of sexuality that has nothing to do with love and marriage and chastity and responsibility for others. It's very frightening for the child and causes them to have confusion as to who is a safe person and who isn't.

Several important news analysis articles have been published recently that are worth reading.

Mary Jo Anderson has been covering this story for the past several years. Don’t miss her latest article, “Grave questions about bishops’ child-abuse prevention programs.”

Mary Ann Sullivan, who writes for the National Catholic Register and has also been covering this story for many years, just published this article on Monday, “Doctors Recommend Reform of Bishops’ Sex Abuse Prevention Plans.”

Paul Likoudis, The Wanderer Press, provides more detail of the recommendations offered by the Catholic Medical Association. This three page story does an exceptional job of bulleting out the areas of concern raised by the CMA and highlights key recommendations.

Domenico Bettinelli, publisher of the Bettnet Blog, made this entry after the report was released. Bettinelli lives in Boston and has been reporting the clergy sex abuse scandal and it’s aftermath from the epicenter of where this story initially broke years ago.

If you’re interested to learn more about the Catholic Medical Assocation, see their web site. “To Prevent and To Protect,” is available for purchase directly from the CMA’s web site for $10.