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Sex, Lies, and Pam Stenzel; what my Freedom of Information request dredged up

The Stenzel story received more coverage in last Friday’s Times Educational Supplement Scotland, in conjunction with a closely related story about the uneven quality of sex education in Scottish high schools.

In brief: the school has failed in its basic responsibilities. It invited an ill-informed speaker on the basis of her reputation with the discredited abstinence-only US sex education movement, and because her message suited their agenda. It did this without bothering to check her credentials, or even her own website, where they would have seen how poor her qualifications were. It invited her to disseminate disinformation that even the head teacher describes as “contentious”, on topics of life and death importance including cancer and mental health. And finally, the task of evaluating and discussing her materials is assigned to the very RE teachers who suggested inviting her in the first place, using, as a teaching aid, the video of her error-laden talk.

The core problem is that sexual health and relationships education in Catholic schools in Scotland is delivered as part of the “Called to Love” module of religious education, and that in these schools the religious education curriculum is determined by the Scottish Bishops’ Council. So life-and-death factual information is entrusted to teachers with no training in biology or health-related issues, while the actual content is determined by a similarly unqualified committee of professional celibates.

As promised, I give here the replies that I received from Renfrewshire Council, the local authority responsible for St Andrew’s Academy. First I give those where the reply seems to be of interest, with my comments, but then, for the record, I include the others at the end so that you can see I am not quote mining.

What fees were paid to Ms Stenzel for her visit, and what contributions were made towards her expenses, and other incidental expenses connected with the visit, such as the cost of busing in children from other schools?

Ms Stezel did not charge fees for this event.

Comment: although she did not charge fees, she was, according to an eyewitness (see Garry Otton’s account on the Scottish Secular Society web page), doing a brisk business in the sale of her CDs.

What were the sources used to pay such fees, contributions, and expenses?

The costs of Ms Stenzel’s flights from Belfast to Glasgow and return were paid for by the school fund of St Andrew’s Academy. There were no other costs.

Comment: you might be wondering how Ms Stenzel, who is based in California, came to be in Belfast. She was there by invitation of Precious Life, a group opposed to abortion in all cases including rape.

An eyewitness was told that one of your RE teachers visited Ms Stenzel in California. Did the teacher receive any assistance from school or other funds for that trip?

A teacher of Religious Education attended the Diocese of Los Angeles R. E. Congress 2013 in California. She paid her own expenses for this Continuing Professional Development opportunity. Amongst other lectures she attended during the conference, she also attended the lecture by Ms Stenzel.

You read that correctly. The Diocese of Los Angeles organized a lecture on sexual morality.

Was the school aware that Ms Stenzel has no formal training or qualifications regarding the health matters that she discusses, her only academic qualification being a first degree in psychology?

The School and the church authorities were aware of Ms Stenzel’s reputation and the message she delivered in her books and her lectures.

Translation: we didn’t know and we don’t care. So what if she doesn’t know what she’s talking about? We agree with what she’s saying.

In evaluating her qualifications, did you take into account the fact that this degree is from an extreme Conservative US evangelical university, LibertyUniversity (founder, Jerry Falwell; funder, Sun Myung Moon), which collaborates with AnswersInGenesis and requires its biology professors to embrace Young Earth Creationism? (Such Creationism is of course incompatible with Catholic teaching.)

The school was not aware of this.

Comment: the school had not even bothered to visit Ms Stenzel’s self-description on her own website.

Were you, and other teachers involved in the decision to invite Ms Stenzel, aware that she would repeatedly claim that having more than one lifetime partner was dangerous and damaging (eyewitness report: “No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid”)? Did you consider the effect of this claim on children whose parents clearly have had more than one partner, including those remarrying with the full blessing of the Catholic Church after bereavement or annulment?

Having viewed her video/presentation the school’s head teacher was of the view that her general theme was to promote celibacy before marriage and monogamy during marriage as the best way to have positive relationships.

Comment: we approve of her general theme, so don’t bother us with troublesome details.

Were you aware that Ms Stenzel, in all her talks, makes a number of claims that depart considerably from received and informed medical opinion, and in many cases have been explicitly refuted, including the claims that 30% of all sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhoea are incurable and life-long; and that abortion leads to an increased risk of depression?

The school’s headteacher is aware that this area is deeply contentious across the medical profession. The facts of the case are followed up in R.E. classes using the most up-to-date medical knowledge.

Translation: we know that the medical profession insists that what she was telling the children is a load of bollocks, but we are going to carry on repeating it anyway.

I understand the event was filmed. Who owns this film and how will it be used? Who paid for the filming? Who will have access to the film?

The R.E. department of the school filmed the lecture for curricular use. There was no cost. The R.E. department would envisage using excerpts in their R.E. programme.

Comment: see translation of previous item.

Were you aware that she would conjure up from nowhere, as a question she was unable to answer, the possibility that chlamydia could lead to sterility?

As the head teacher did not have a script prior to the event, he was not aware that she would raise this issue.

Comment: the head teacher claims to have seen a video of her presentation before inviting her, but presumably failed to notice this minor detail.

Were you aware that she would grossly misrepresent the effectiveness of HPV vaccination, which she describes as effective only for 4 out of 18 strains of HPV, without mentioning that the vaccine is by design specific for HPV-16 and HPV-18, the very strains most capable of causing cervical cancer (which is why the vaccine is targeted against them)?

As with the previous question, the head teacher was not aware that she would raise this specific point about HPV vaccination.

Comment: as previous.

Do you know why, given her concern about cervical cancer, she failed to mention Papanikolaou (Pap) smears, which have been saving lives since 1941? And what measures are the schools taking to remedy this grave omission?

The school’s head teacher does not know why she failed to mention this issue.

Translation: we’re not really interested in keeping the children healthy. All we are really interested in is scaring them into being good.

Were you aware that by giving the impression that condoms are largely ineffective in preventing the spread of AIDS and STDs, the talk was in direct contradiction of official Scottish Government advice, as available at here:  “All young people must be given advice on “safe sex” and how to avoid or limit their exposure to infection. Young couples are encouraged to use a method of contraception and condoms to protect against transmission of infections.” [note that this advice refers to all young people] and, through that link, at “Always use a condom that carries the British Kite Mark or European CE safety mark during sex. This prevents your partner(s) becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes.”?

Ms Stenzel’s message about condoms were [sic] linked to the church’s message about celibacy and the fact that STDs are increasing in Scotland.

Comment is superfluous.

Did you or any one else involved with this visit take into account the possibility that the effects of her presentation are liable to include couples refraining from condom use, in the mistaken belief that it was ineffectual in preventing disease transmission, and individuals refraining from seeking medical attention for STDs, in the mistaken belief that they are incurable?

Ms Stenzel’s message about condoms was linked to the church’s message about celibacy and the fact that STDs are increasing in Scotland.

As for previous item.

Did you or anyone else involved in this visit take into account the extremely high probability that the effect on some pupils will be to totally discredit the schools’ teaching regarding sexuality, including the need to behave responsibly and to take appropriate precautions?

The school’s head teacher did not anticipate the outcomes you describe.

Comment: the NHS Health Education Department (see story here) can go jump in a lake.

Are you aware that studies in the US have shown that “abstinence only” sex education programs, extensively funded under the George W Bush administration, have been shown to be completely ineffectual?

In terms of Section 17 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, we have no recorded information to answer this question.

Comment: we don’t wish to know that. (However, Ms Stenzel knows it perfectly well, and when challenged about it is on record as saying that it doesn’t matter because she is telling the truth as she sees it, and because she is answerable only to God.)

And just for the record:

Which schools took part in this event?

All Catholic secondary schools of the Diocese of Paisley were invited to attend the meeting on 8 May 2013. Almost all sent some pupils, accompanied by their Religious Education teachers.

What part or parts of the school curriculum did this event address?

This talk complemented the S3 Religious Education course “Called to Love” which is a central part of the Relationships and Model Education element of the S3 syllabus in a Catholic school.

Was the school aware that, according to publicly available tax data, in 2011 (the most recent date for which this information is available) Ms Stenzel’s operation had an annual budget in excess of $268,000?

The school is not aware of the annual budget of Ms Stenzel’s operation.

Which teachers were consulted before authorizing Ms Stenzel’s visit? In particular, were teachers involved in education regarding biology, health, and human sexuality consulted? What opinions did they express?

All staff in the School were informed of the visit. There were no objections to the visit.

In view of the well-known emotionally disturbing nature of Ms Stenzel’s presentations, what notification was sent to parents and to senior pupils, and what measures were taken to ensure their consent to the pupils’ attendance? (Please supply copies of relevant material as distributed to parents. I have an eyewitness report that one student, from St Ninian’s, denied parental involvement, and said that he had been sent by his teacher).

Letters were sent to the parents of all year groups from S3 – S6 in St Andrew’s Academy. No parents objected. Many parents came with their children to the event. It is also sent to the same age groups of pupils in TrinityHigh School. Other young people who attended were from schools outside Renfrewshire. As such we have no further information about how they informed young people.

Were you aware that her talk would be deeply insulting to males, and would include an anecdote about how she had humiliated a boy by asking him where his vulva was?

The school’s headteacher has had no feedback that would suggest that this presentation was insulting to males.

Comment: an eyewitness reported this anecdote, but I have relegated this evasion to the “boring” category in comparison with other items.

What plans exist or are contemplated to invite Ms Stenzel again?

There are none.

Comment: they have her recorded anyway. No need.


Out of control sex “education” in Scottish Catholic schools; background to the Stenzel Horrors

The underlying problem is that factual information about sex is, in Scottish Catholic schools, delivered under the Religious Education heading as part of the “Called to Love” module of sexual health and relationships education (SHRE), and tailored to suit Church doctrine, not scientific or educational reality.

A Scottish Parliamentary report, described here in Friday’s TESS, refers to “worrying” comments from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that Catholic schools had prevented NHS officials from scrutinising their SHRE.

In the words of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (I asked them), Religious Education in Scottish Catholic schools “is set out in statute with the Catholic Education Commission having responsibility for the faith content of the curriculum on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.  Religious education in Catholic schools takes place within the context of the wider Catholic faith community, in partnership with home and parish, and as part of the school curriculum’s Experiences and Outcomes.”

So there are no checks and balances. If it chooses (and it does so choose) the Bishop’s Conference can decide that agnosticism and atheism are not to be discussed as real options on a par with religious faiths. Even worse, it seems that the Bishop’s Conference can and does dictate the factual content of SHRE regarding human sexuality, refuses to even discuss the matter with NHS officials, and feels (and is) at liberty to override explicit Scottish Government guidance, when that guidance says (here and here) that

All young people must be given advice on “safe sex” and how to avoid or limit their exposure to infection. Young couples are encouraged to use a method of contraception and condoms to protect against transmission of infections.


a condom … prevents your partner(s) becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes

This leads to such horrific episodes as Pam Stenzel’s school visit in Paisley last month. I reported on this earlier, and have now heard back from the Local Authority in response to my Freedom of Information request. The visit has also been the subject of a story in today’s TESS, and I am happy to have been able to supply some if the information used there. If happy is the right word; we shouldn’t have to keep fighting against reality-denying nonsense in our schools, whether that nonsense is about creationism or about chlamydia.

Tomorrow, I am going to the Edinburgh Secular Society conference in Edinburgh where I will be talking about both those issues. On Sunday, I will post here the full response of Renfrewshire Council to my Freedom of Information request. There you will see, among other things, that the school who invited Ms Stenzel did not know about the highly questionable quality of her academic qualifications, that it regards nonsense claims she made as “contentious” when in fact they are downright wrong, and that her talk (filmed for future use) is in any case justified because it fits in with the overall message about being good.

More later.

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