The glass is half full

The glass is half full

Maggie Gallagher had a good column last week that was on the same topic I’ve been addressing recently, i.e. how the American media keeps saying that the Catholic Church is out of step with American views on sex. She refutes much of the Amerocentric liberalism well, and then makes a good point. We often hear how so few Catholics live according to the moral teachings of the Church, especially with regard to artificial contraception. But look at it from the flip side: Look at how many do live those teachings.

To me, the shock is not how few American Catholics accept the church’s sexual teachings, but how many of us are out there in a society where such teachings are ridiculed in every way.

I have never heard a sermon on sex in a Catholic church. Few Catholic schools devote energy to forming young Catholics’ views on these matters. Yet in the largest recent poll on Catholic opinion I could find (a Zogby poll of 1,500 Catholics in 2001), 36 percent of all Catholics support the church’s teachings on contraception. (No doubt if one surveyed only churchgoing Catholics, the proportion would be higher.) Think of it! Right now there are 25 million American Catholics who accept the church’s teaching on sexuality. That’s more people than live in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia and Minnesota combined.

If each one of these faithful Catholics had, on average, three children and could find Catholic schools and communities that help them transmit the Catholic faith to their children, it wouldn’t take long for a second sexual revolution to get under way.

It’s certainly food for thought.

  • “I have never heard a sermon on sex in a Catholic church…”

    Let’s look at this complaint for a moment. What would a “sermon on sex” actually sound like? I heard one once. It was a young priest complaining about “young couples who are formicating before they are married.” Afterwords, I imagined a five-year old in the parking lot: “Mommy, what’s “fornicating”?

    I could be wrong, but maybe that’s why you NEVER hear a “sermon on sex.” We didn’t hear them in the so-called “good old days” either. What we did hear (and even then it was rare, because we didn’t have to), was references to “purity” or “modesty.”

    More food for thought, huh?

  • I never heard a sermon on sex in a Catholic Church when I lived in the diocese of Richmond, either.  Now that I’m in the diocese of Arlington, however, I get them pretty regularly.  However, I don’t think any of my five children (ages 3-16) are any the worse for hearing the clerical denunciations of fornication, contraception, homosexual acts, etc. from the pulpit.  Heaven knows they hear about those sins elsewhere just by breathing the air in our sick society, so I’m happy that they also hear that our clergy really believe them to be serious sins.  (In the diocese of Richmond, the clergy gave the impression that they’d repeat the party line if they were asked, but they didn’t really believe it, and they’d just as soon you didn’t put them on the spot by asking.)

  • Seamus:

    Depending on how the sermon is worded (and I’m from Arlington too), and depending on your children’s individual sensibilities, you may be perfectly well equipped to handle whatever transpires in the parking lot. Obviously you can’t always be sure. And it’s the parents’ job to first expose young children to those things, not a homilist; I don’t care how orthodox everybody says he is.

    What young children can understand, and where they can be formed, is in the area of modesty and purity in thought, word and deed. They hear other kids say risque things, and they can be told to stay away from that. Just like when I was six years old and a kid down the street tried to show me a girlie magazine. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew it was wrong to look.

    And I didn’t learn that from my fire-and-brimstone Irish pastor, or the Teutonic nuns who beat the crap out of us. (Oh, about all that, that’s another story…)

  • Good point, David, that parents are the primary educators of their children.

    I’ve heard exactly one homily on sexual issues, at St. T’s in West Roxbury, by Fr. Higgins, of course. He spoke about obscenity and depravity and how those words aren’t really even in our vocabulary anymore. But that they should be.

    Priests can and should speak about this stuff appropriately, of course, and do so OFTEN! Our “sick society,” well-put above, relentlessly tries to divorce sexuality from its unitive and procreative aspects.

    I guess I’d like the Church to point out too that there’s more to this than “impure thoughts.” Impurity of thought and deed are dangerous to the body and soul, for sure, but there’s more to it than that: contributing to porn, sexually-oriented businesses, etc is really tantamount to handing your money over to pimps and contributing to the Culture of Death, ie, to abortion, disease, abuse, prostitution, etc. That seems to me to be the *primary* evil here.

    Regards –

  • Parents are the primary educators of their children, but who’s educating the parents? Too many of them don’t know the Church’s teachings on sexuality, especially on contraception and openness to life. It needs to be preached so that it can be lived. I see that there’s a tricky situation for priests in discerning how to reach the parents in terms that are not so obscure even the parents don’t get it but not so explicit that the parents have difficult explaining to do. Still there must be a way.

  • Melanie:

    Parents are too chicken to teach their kids about sex, and are generally relieved when the schools (even the public ones) take the heat off. That sounds pretty bad, but in raising my own son and talking to teachers everywhere, that’s what I’ve learned.

    But the real big deal is, ours was supposed to be the generation that wouldn’t be so uptight about sex; you know, like our parents were. So here we are being more uptight than our parents.

    It’s the job of the sacred pastors of the Church to teach the parents about how to teach the children. What the parents do after that, they answer to their Maker for that. This whole thing about an agressive sex ed program to “protect” children is nothing more than a transparent PR scam. They’re even implying that parents could be the problem, not the priests.

    And that’s where things get a little wierd.

  • It’s too bad Catholics think all the teaching they are to receive has to happen in Mass.  It’s lazy, if you ask me.  How can it be said that a person is actively living out their faith if all they do is show up for 45 minutes a week and can’t be convinced to show up for anything else??

  • One benefit of such a sermon is that if your kid ever wants answers but not from you, he won’t wonder if his pastor ever heard of the topic.  I know families that think my pastor is too explicit, but I think they are kidding themselves about what their kids hear.  I homeschool, I live way out in the country with few neighbors, my 7-year old daughter still got the idea that she didn’t have to connect marriage and babies (from a cousin).