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Catholic AIDS Curriculum Will Teach About Condom Use

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NEW YORK--The first nationally developed AIDS-education curriculum for Roman Catholic schools will include information on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the virus, the guidelines' authors said last week.

The guidelines, previewed here at the annual meeting of the National Catholic Educational Association, draw from a highly controversial policy statement on AIDS issued last December by a key panel of bishops.

That statement brought an angry response from several powerful church leaders, who charged that its qualified backing of instruction about condoms diluted church teachings against artificial methods of contraception.

The nation's 300 Catholic bishops are scheduled to hold a "full discussion'' of the issue at a meeting in June.

Meanwhile, the model curriculum--like the December document--restates church teaching on sexual morality but concedes that some people will not follow those precepts.

"We said [in the curriculum] that the only sure way to avoid contracting AIDS is abstinence, but some young people will not heed the moral message,'' said Elizabeth McMillan, an associate with the Catholic Health Association of the United States and a member of the panel that developed the guidelines.

The curriculum, which includes grades K-12, was written by the N.C.E.A.'s AIDS-education task force. The guidelines will be published and made available to schools in August, according to Sister Judith Coreil, the association's curriculum director.

Most Catholic schools nationwide have lagged behind their public counterparts in introducing AIDS education. The slow pace, a number of church educators say, has been due in part to the dilemma of reconciling such instruction with traditional Catholic doctrine.

Intended for Health Classes

The NCEA guidelines, which are expected to comprise more than 200 pages when published, outline current medical information on acquired immune deficiency syndrome and suggest resources for more detailed information on the fatal disease.

The materials are intended to be integrated into existing health programs. Most Catholic schools provide instruction on health, said Sister Carleen Reck, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., and chairman of the N.C.E.A. panel.

The curriculum, which includes three lesson plans for each grade level, also emphasizes teacher training and parent education, and urges compassion toward victims of AIDS.

The panel recommends that schools modify the plans to meet their own needs and to comply with local diocesan policies.

"This is not the final word,'' said the Rev. Rodney J. DeMartini, a task-force member.

Sister Coreil said the association has tentative plans to sponsor a national conference for Catholic educators to discuss the curriculum and its implementation.

Stance on Condoms

The panel members said the decision to include information on condoms was based on what they felt was a responsibility to give students accurate advice about all facets of the AIDS virus, and perhaps to correct misinformation that students may pick up outside school.

"We teach about drugs and we're not condoning their use,'' Sister Reck said.

In a statement last week on the association's views, Sister Catherine T. McNamee, president of the NCEA, also defended teaching about condoms.

"We must assist students in discerning the relationship between our position and the recommendations of the Surgeon General and others who advocate the use of condoms,'' Sister McNamee said.

Educating students about methods of preventing the spread of AIDS, even methods that go against church teachings, "is not to encourage or endorse'' those methods, she said.

"We cannot live in a vacuum; our students do not,'' she said.

Some teachers at the meeting urged the panel to include more information on the problem of AIDS among blacks and Hispanics, who represent a disproportionate number of AIDS cases.

More information on AIDS among minorities may be included in the final curriculum, said Sister Coreil. The materials are being reviewed by 35 readers, including several members of minority groups, she said.

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