Montreal priest wants parents to teach his Catholic sex ed handbook

The director of liturgical pastoral services for the Montreal archdiocese, Fr. Robert Gendreau, says the aim is to teach sexual education through a Catholic perspective, but a social worker worries children could miss out on tools to help prevent sexual assault.

Education Ministry says children can only be exempted from courses under exceptional circumstances

Father Robert Gendreau, director of liturgical pastoral services for the Montreal archdiocese, co-wrote a handbook for parents to teach their children sex ed from a Catholic perspective. (Église catholique à Montréal/Youtube)

The director of liturgical pastoral services for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal wants parents to stop their kids from going to Quebec's new sex ed classes and teach them from a handbook he co-wrote instead.

Fr. Robert Gendreau wrote the book with Dr. Raouf Ayas, a Montreal cardiologist. The book is being sold on Amazon.ca for just under $10.

Gendreau says the aim is to teach sexual education through a Catholic perspective, but a Montreal social worker worries children pulled from the Quebec Education Ministry's program could miss out on important tools to help prevent sexual assault.

In an emailed statement, Quebec's Education Ministry says students cannot be exempted from the classes. 

"The only ones who will be exempt will be for exceptional and specific reasons. For example, for students who lived through serious trauma," a ministry spokesperson said in the statement.

"We believe sexual education is essential to a child's healthy development."

The current program was approved by several experts, the ministry said, and 86 per cent of parents surveyed reported being satisfied with the content.

No mention of marriage

On CBC Montreal's Daybreak Wednesday, Gendreau was asked what aspects of the Quebec ministry's program he considers cause for concern. 

"Not a word about marriage — nothing about the sacrament of marriage, nothing about prayer," he said.

Should Catholic parents take their children out of the new sex ed classes starting this fall? This priest thinks so, and he's created a handbook for parents so they can teach sex ed through a Catholic lens. Father Robert Gendreau is the director of liturgy services at the Diocese of Montreal, he co-wrote the book. 9:00

Gendreau also raised the issue of gender.

"I remember very clearly that they're trying to pass on the gender thing, OK?" Gendreau said, though he did not elaborate on what he meant by that.

"Is God willing with this? The kid will certainly say, 'No,' and the parent will say, 'You're right.' And it's going on in our society, and they can talk about it, but not [if they are] pushing it as something that is acceptable."

Preventing sexual assault

Laura El-Hachem, a social worker and psychotherapist with the Fondation Marie-Vincent, a Montreal child advocacy centre, says teaching gender equality is an important and basic part of the Quebec program. 

"To tell them that no matter if you're a boy or a girl, you can play with a ball, you can play with a doll — it sounds pretty simple, but what we know is that these are the basics of prevention of sexual assault, sexual violence and … unhealthy relationships in the long term," she said. 

One out of five girls and one out of 10 boys under 18 experience sexual assault, according to El-Hachem. 

This is one of the books the Fondation Marie-Vincent is using in a pilot project teaching daycare-aged children about gender equality. (Craig Desson/CBC)

She says it's one of the reasons children need to learn about respecting boundaries and personal space early.

Another essential part of the program teaches them the right words for their anatomical parts, she says. 

"There are so many kids out there that disclose and use the wrong words, and people don't understand what they mean. So, the message that they receive is that even when they tell, people don't hear [them]," El-Hachem said. 

Church history of abuse

El-Hachem says it's important for the adults teaching sexual education to do so in an unbiased way. 

"To work in an isolated way and to think that we have all the answers on our own, I think that's not the right way to go," she said.

When asked why the Catholic Church should provide parents with advice on sex education, given the church's widely reported historical cover-up of sexual assaults by priests, Gendreau said that was in the past. 

"If they go along with that, and they just condemn the Church and the priests, this is their point of view," he said on Daybreak.

Archdiocese position unclear

On Wednesday, the Montreal archdiocese sent out a news release about the book Gendreau and Ayas co-wrote, entitled Réflexions pour susciter le dialogue parents/enfants sur le programme Éducation à la sexualité du Ministère de l'Éducation du Québec de la maternelle à la 3e année du primaire.

On Thursday, however, the archdiocese said it did not endorse the publication. 

The archdiocese did not immediately reply to CBC's request for a comment on whether it supports Gendreau's suggestion that Catholic parents prevent their children from attending the sexual education courses.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Alison Northcott and Steve Rukavina

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