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EFFORT TO FOCUS ON ABSTINENCE FROM SEX

Encouraged by the declining teenage pregnancy rate and now supported by a $2.4 million federal grant, Catholic Charities is launching a comprehensive abstinence-only sex-education program.

Catholic Charities officials said Thursday the program, named ProjecTruth, aims to dispel the myths of "safe-sex" education, expose the benefits of abstinence and tackle a popular culture that promotes promiscuity and sex outside marriage.

"Our mission is to present a convincing, effective, positive rationale for abstinence until marriage in all settings, which impact the adolescent, including schools, family, health systems, churches and businesses," Monsignor Henry J. Gugino, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Buffalo, said during a news conference.

Gugino said the agency received the grant of $800,000 a year for three years from the program Special Projects of Regional and National Significance to develop and implement the pilot program in Western New York's eight counties. The agency is one of five nationwide to receive the largest grant available.

The agency is recruiting staff to present the abstinence-only curriculum, which will be age-specific and culturally sensitive, in schools and communities.

Following the national trend, teenage pregnancy rates have dropped in Western New York. In 1999, the number of teenagers giving birth declined 22 percent in Erie County. The decrease has been attributed to abstinence and safe-sex messages. But Dr. John Diggs, national spokesman for the International Abstinence Clearinghouse, said condoms are only 85 percent effective and can protect against only two of the eight sexually transmitted diseases.

Gugino said the message will not be based solely on morals. The curriculum will emphasize character building and will focus on risk factors, health issues and the negative social and psychological consequences of sex before marriage.

Judith Marie Vogtli, program director, said it will focus on the media and popular culture, which influence teens' thoughts about sex.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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