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Q. How would you talk to children in grades four to six about such things as adultery, premarital sex, contraception, homosexuality, and similar topics? Is there a resource for catechists and parents of children in middle school and high school that would provide short answers to these and other hot-button issues? — S.H., Massachusetts.
A. Catechists of young people face a dilemma when talking about sexuality. Do they ignore or gloss over this difficult topic, or do they give the children a truthful explanation that is appropriate for their age? The first point that must be emphasized, regardless of the age group, is that our sexuality is a gift from God that He expects us to use according to His plan. That plan is spelled out in the first book of the Bible where God created Adam and Eve, told them to “be fertile and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), and instituted marriage by saying, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen. 2:24).
According to the plan of God, then, any use of our sexual faculties outside of a lifelong, faithful, and fruitful marriage of one man and one woman is wrong. It’s not a question of how a person feels about these matters, which seems to be the determining factor today, but a question of what God says is true and good — for the individual, for the family, and for society.
The consequences of not following God’s plan, of letting each person decide for themselves what’s right and wrong, could not be more obvious: the breakdown of the family, sexual abuse of children, more than a million teen pregnancies, millions of abortions, an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, and other social problems. All of these consequences could be avoided simply by following the Creator’s plan for the use of our sexuality.
If children can first be helped to understand the Creator’s plan, then it will be easier to discuss, for example, the question of adultery, which may come up in fourth grade since that is the year in most programs that focuses on the Commandments. In a grade four bilingual text published by Sadlier, we find these comments on the Sixth Commandment:
“Human sexuality is the gift of being able to feel, think, choose, love, and act as the person God created us to be. Human sexuality makes us female or male. Males and females are different but equal. Our differences come from God. They are good and beautiful and are an important part of who we are. The Sixth Commandment is about love and the ways to show our love. The Sixth Commandment is ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20:14). This commandment asks us to honor the love a husband and wife have for one another and to honor their promise to be faithful. From this commandment we also learn about the…need to respect and be in control of our bodies.”
In the glossary of the grade seven text of Loyola’s Finding God series, we find this definition of adultery:
“. . . a sin of unfaithfulness to one’s marriage vows that injures the bond of the marriage covenant. It occurs when two people have sexual relations while at least one of them is married to another person. The Sixth Commandment forbids adultery because it undermines the institution of marriage and is harmful to children who need the stability of their parents’ marriage commitment.
In these two excerpts, you can see the progression from a general explanation in grade four to a more specific explanation in grade seven. Perhaps you could tailor the topic to those in grades four to six by asking them if they have a best friend with whom they share feelings and dreams and secrets. Then ask how they would feel if they learned that this “best friend” was saying mean and untrue things behind their back.
So, too, a husband and wife promised on their wedding day to be faithful and true to each other for life. If one spouse then goes behind the back of the other and breaks their marriage promises by getting sexually involved with another person, that is adultery. It is not only a sin against God’s Commandments, it is also a betrayal of one’s marriage vows.
Regarding sex between persons who are not married, which is called fornication, that is a violation of God’s plan, too. He wanted married couples to use their sexuality to cooperate with Him in bringing new life into the world and to use their union to express their deep mutual love for each other. This twofold purpose is confined to marriage because only married couples can provide the stable, loving environment which a child needs to grow and develop properly.
Engaging in sex before marriage not only violates God’s plan, but it usually involves using contraception to prevent a child from being conceived, and often it leads to abortion when the contraceptive method does not work. It is a fact that couples who save sex for marriage have a much better chance of staying married for life than couples who engage in premarital sex.
Since God’s gift of our sexuality is about babies and bonding, the Church teaches that it is sinful to take steps to prevent new life through contraception. This was the position of every Christian church until 1930, when the Anglican Church in England approved contraception, but only for married couples “where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.”
That view quickly spread to America and was approved by the Protestant Federal Council of Churches, which at the same time conceded that “serious evils, such as extramarital relations, might be increased by general knowledge of contraceptives.”
Even The Washington Post, a secular journal, editorialized on March 22, 1931, that the use of contraception “would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality.”
Every Pope since then and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) have opposed contraception as a legitimate way of preventing births. In his famous and widely ridiculed encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted in 1968 that if contraception became widespread, four things would happen. He said that there would be less faithfulness in marriage, a general lowering of morality among young people, a loss of respect for women, and government use of this “dangerous weapon” to control population.
Is there any doubt that all these things have come true, even to the point of the government trying today to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception and abortion-causing devices? When God’s plan is ignored, bad things happen.
Once contraception is accepted, and the life-giving purpose of sexuality is cast aside, then any kind of sexual behavior is allowed, including that between persons of the same sex. But we know that two men or two women cannot be “fertile and multiply” or “become one body,” as God intended, so same-sex relationships are contrary to His plan. Nor can persons of the same sex call their union “marriage” since God said that marriage involves one man and one woman wedded to each other for life. You can call an elephant a canary, but that doesn’t make him a canary. Nor does calling the relationship of two men or two women “marriage” make it marriage.
This is a difficult point to get across, to children as well as adults, because people today base their moral decisions on feelings, not on truth or on how God wants us to live. But the job of a catechist is to present what God teaches, in a sensitive and compassionate way, of course, always distinguishing between the sinner, who is loved by God, and the sin, which is not loved by God. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk since we sound so out of touch with the world around us. But if our students don’t hear the truth from us, where will they hear it?
As for resources with short answers, there is the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (known as YOUCAT) and two short books by Pam Stenzel, a nationally known speaker on chastity — Nobody Told Me and Who’s in Your Social Network? Both books feature e-mail exchanges between Stenzel and young people with many questions.
There are also some good books and videos by Jason and Crystalina Evert, and they have a web site (chastityproject.com) that contains commentaries in writing and on videos on such topics as dating, how far is too far, pornography, homosexuality, birth control, STDs, starting over, how to stay pure, and vocations and spirituality. There is much valuable information on this web site that will help catechists teach these important subjects, but the catechist will still have to determine what material is suitable for a particular age group and what the best way would be to present it.

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