Notre Dame Prep ordered to stop using video on sex

March 22, 1995|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Reacting to complaints from parents and alumnae at Notre Dame Prep, Cardinal William H. Keeler announced yesterday that an "appalling" and "inappropriate" video containing explicit pornography would no longer be used by teachers there.

The cardinal also announced that Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Roman Catholic schools in the archdiocese of Baltimore, will oversee an immediate review of the sex education curriculum at the girls' preparatory school in Towson.

That "on site" review will be expanded later to include the school's handling of parents' complaints, said William Blaul, the cardinal's spokesman.

"The input of parents is a cornerstone of Catholic education," he added.

Sister Christine Mulcahy, who chairs the school's board of trustees, said after conferring with Cardinal Keeler: "We welcome the archdiocese to assess the outstanding religion program, and we are open to their expertise."

But she added: "We are deeply saddened by the manner in which the educational and moral values of Notre Dame Prep School have been distorted by a very small group whose identity is unknown to us."

Parents and alumnae at Notre Dame, whose complaints about the sex video triggered Cardinal Keeler's action, claim that their leaders are known to school administrators and that they have been treated with "heavy-handed" hostility. They say that they have sought -- without success -- a meeting with the full 24-member board of trustees to register complaints about the teaching methods and content in the religion department.

The long-simmering controversy surfaced publicly because of a letter signed by Lucy M. Plowden, a Homeland resident who is the mother of two alumnae of the school. The letter, which charged that some faculty members have failed to support traditional Catholic values, was mailed to the parents of Notre Dame's nearly 600 students in February.

Another complainant is Paul K. Van Sant, a Baltimore investment counselor who last week obtained a copy of the controversial sex video used in religion instruction. After reviewing it with several parents, Mr. Van Sant described himself and the group ** as "flabbergasted" over the film's vulgarity.

The 68-minute video, a documentary titled "Not a Love Story," is described in promotional material as the "chronicle of two women, Bonnie Klein, the director of the film, and Linda Lee Tracey, a stripper, as they explore the world of XXX-rated peep shows, strip joints and sex supermarkets."

The video has been used in the school's Workshop on Sexual Violence in the Media.

Mr. Blaul, the cardinal's public relations director, reviewed the film for him and described it as "disgusting."

Its many examples of hard-core pornography -- strung together by discussions using coarse language -- include close-ups of genitals, sexual intercourse, masturbation and sado-masochism.

For the past 10 years, Sister Christine said, "seniors with parental permission have participated in this workshop. This has been presented in an educational forum with preparation and follow-up discussion.

"I have spoken with the cardinal concerning the use of this documentary, and we will not be using the documentary in the workshop."

But some parents complained that the permission form for their signatures did not describe the graphic nature of the video's scenes and language, omitting a warning in the video itself that it "contains sexually explicit material that may disturb some people."

As described by the video's distributors, the National Film Board of Canada Library in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., women in the film "are motivated by the desire to know more about pornography -- why it exists, the forms it takes, and how it affects relations between men and women."

An ad for the film says that it "offers insights and perspectives from men and women who earn their living in the skin trade, and from some of the industry's most outspoken critics."

After use of the film was made public yesterday and became the subject of several radio talk shows, Sister Christine said: "I regret the disruption caused to the students, their families, teachers, administration, staff and Board of Trustees of Notre Dame Preparatory School."

She is also the Baltimore superior of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the order of nuns that operates the school.

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