Roman Catholic clergy in Baltimore have expressed concern over the city Health Department's recent decision to distribute birth control pills and condoms at seven public middle and high schools.
The open letter sent Tuesday to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was signed by 28 clergymen and one nun, Sister Jane Doyle, the pastoral director of Corpus Christi parish in Bolton Hill. The signers were convened by Auxiliary Bishop John Ricard, urban vicar of Baltimore's Catholic Archdiocese.
The signers wrote that the department's action "ignores the very personhood of our young people, by failing to recognize them as persons who must learn to make responsible moral decisions. Furthermore, this policy serves to weaken the family by having a public agency intervene between parents and their children in the moral decisions which face our young people."
"Our hope is to promote support for a renewed dialogue of religious, community, government and school leaders to create an educational approach to these pressing problems which is both morally sound and humanly effective," Ricard said of the letter.
City officials said last month that the Health Department program aims to reduce teen-age pregnancy rates and halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Schmoke defended the program, saying it was "ethically and morally defensible." He said health officials would meet with the clergy.
The clergy's statement acknowledges the city's efforts to address moral issues through its campaigns against drug and alcohol abuse and the proliferation of billboard advertisements for cigarettes and liquor.
"Yet when it comes to sexual activity, instead of shaping creative programs to enable young people to make responsible decisions, we seem to have surrendered to the belief in the inevitability of adolescent sexual promiscuity," the letter states. "In fact, the moral message that this public policy gives is that sexual activity among young people is not only acceptable, but even expected."
The letter urged government leaders, the school board, religious groups and local communities to establish "a forum to develop an educational program for our youth, that would promote parent and child interaction and focus on family values, a healthy and integrated acceptance of sexuality, stability in marital relationships, a sense of obligation toward other persons, and a willingness to accept the consequences of one's actions."