Neither Mónica Hernández, the new Director of Family Plan Ecuador, nor her agenda, can hide sympathies with the sexual morality of the Catholic Church. Although it took longer than expected, on Saturday February 28, 2015, Hernández was finally presented to the country by President Rafael Correa. In a recent interview, Hernández denied being part of Opus Dei, although she did admit to being Catholic.
The President, in a gesture not seen since the times of conservative ex-President Gabriel García Moreno (1861-1875), has again made a profession of Catholic faith. He has also claimed that the previous family planning program, the National Strategy for the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy (ENIPLA for its Spanish acronym), was a way of promoting “the purest and emptiest form of hedonism: pleasure for pleasure.” The new strategy, he said, is “founded in values.” Correa was emphatic: while he is in power, “values” and “family” will be the central focus of sex education provided by the State.
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But, what does Correa mean when he talks about “values” and “family?” Here are four key points on the National Plan to Strengthen the Family, which replaces the ENIPLA.
- To understand the National Plan, Opus Dei and its rhetoric must be taken into consideration
PLAN V had access to the operational document of Family Plan Ecuador, which outlines its cost as USD 32,974,397.75 (several times more expensive than the ENIPLA). Its framework is based on the education of “values” and the defense of the “family.”
The document cites, in several places, professors and scientists linked to Opus Dei and their international network of universities, such as the University of Navarra in Spain; the University of Piura in Peru; La Sabana University in Colombia; and Los Hemisferios University in Ecuador.
In fact, when defining “sexuality and emotions”, the document cites María Judith Turriaga Eguiguren, who studied at the Universities of Piura and La Sabana, as well as the University of Navarra, a global academic center for the Catholic organization. Turriaga, presented as a specialist in history and education, previously worked as a professor in Los Pinos College, an exclusive secondary school for girls in Quito. Los Pinos is run by Opus Dei, as is Intisana College, where the Vice-President of Ecuador, Jorge Glas, sends his children. Turriaga has also authored several books on sexual morality and Catholic education for children, including several studies on “emotions and sexuality” and the design of content matrices for Catholic sex education in Ecuador.
Opus Dei does not only quote educators and historians, it also cites doctors. One such, Jokin de Irala, has written books on “understanding homosexuality” and was previously Sub-Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Navarra.
As is usual in the global rhetoric of Opus Dei, it never or almost never makes explicit religious references. On the contrary, it resorts to euphemisms that claim to adapt religious concepts and stances for the secular world. This is one of its most well known strategies, advocated by Founder José María Escrivá de Balaguer, who was declared a saint by the Catholic Church during the pontificate of John Paul II.
- Statistics serve to justify anything
Although the pseudo-secular rhetoric of Opus Dei is emphasized, Mónica Hernández’s Family Plan, backed by President Rafael Correa, also counts on statistics to support its particular vision of the world and society. For example, it cites that in 2012, 19% of live births in Ecuador were born to adolescent mothers, with a slight variation in 2013. But after the official figures, the document goes on to again cite publications that are biased toward Catholic morality, including one which claims that masturbation is a consequence of sexual abuse.
This blend of statistics allows the new program to conclude: “If we carefully analyze everything heretofore described, we realize that many of the risky behaviors in which adolescents engage, are born from a lack of dialog within the family, sexual violence, lack of education about emotions and sexuality with a focus on family, lack of values, low self-esteem (…), the influence of social networks & unfiltered internet and no ability to manage this, among others.”
- The turnaround is ideological
It was claimed that the ENIPLA “succumbed” to radical feminism, shouting about gender identity from the rooftops and ignoring sexual diversity. The new program, however, feeds off the medical, psychological and educational theories of the Spanish Opus Dei, proclaiming the arrival of a new ideology for public sex education.
This may be deduced from the following: “The ENIPLA project in 2014 (…) had an ideological and biological focus, which did not take into consideration the integrality of the person but instead limited itself to sexual activity. Incomplete information was given about contraceptives and condoms, with not enough focus on the family and the formation of values that shape a person’s character. This is the reason, together with the program’s results, that the President of the Republic, Rafael Correa, decided to pass the leadership from the ENIPLA to the Presidency of the Republic, with the objective of turning the program around, to include values, responsibility and family.”
- More than a program, it’s a National Ministry of Morality
If the ENIPLA was a rather modest program, Correa’s Family Plan has the budget and ambitions of a real Ministry of Morality & Decency, on a national scale. In fact, the Plan establishes its “reference population” as the whole population of Ecuador, more than 15 million people. The Plan aims to reach almost five million people by 2017, that is to say, one third of the population, comprising young people under 29 and at least “420,000 families.”
The performance indicators of this crusade include: that 30% of adolescents will not have sexual relations; that adolescent pregnancy settles at 20% (showing that the supposed aim of reducing adolescent pregnancy is only a pretext); that 70% of families consider the imparted doctrines “useful.” Family Plan Ecuador’s generous budget exceeds 30 million dollars, ten times the cost of the ENIPLA. Of the 30 million dollars, at least 10 million will be spent on building project infrastructure, including personnel contracts, offices, furniture, expense allowances…
The medical and educational theories inspired by the Opus Dei scientists, euphemistically called “family focused,” will also be implemented through the public education system. The Ministry of Education is due to sign an agreement which permits the State to control the subject of sexual morality in the education system, through the Family Plan.
The Plan is supported by a complete “media campaign” from the State propaganda machine, comprising television and radio adverts, flyers and internet marketing. The campaign also includes 8,400 8-hour workshops, for no less than 420,000 families all over the country. These workshops will be realized through the creation of zone committees and family observatories, ensuring participation from all the municipalities and parish boards in the country. Is this the beginning of a morality police?
From a feminist perspective, there have been strong criticisms of the National Plan to Strengthen the Family, especially from columnists Natalia Sierra and Cristina Burneo. Rocío Rosero, meanwhile, in an interview with PLAN V, has denounced the Catholic Church for imposing this conservative agenda.