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John Paul II Revisited . . . Teaching Marriage And Sexuality To The Young

December 12, 2015 Frontpage No Comments


One of my favorite images of St. John Paul comes from the first decade of his reign, in December 1988. Speaking without a note he searches for deep words which have an urgency that goes beyond time. “Holy Church of God, you cannot accomplish your mission in the world except through the family and its mission.”
As he speaks, his quiet voice and gentle demeanor are transformed with a passion which brings his whole person alive. He cries out, “Tell everyone, go out through the entire world and tell them” that the regeneration of every aspect of life, cultural, social, economic, comes “through the family, not at the cost of the family,” and he repeats, “through the family, not at its cost.”
We need that passion, and never more so than in the task which both the recent Family Synods have highlighted: educating the young for marriage and family life, and starting by teaching the children. It was one of the few topics on which this October’s synod was unanimously agreed. But how do you actually teach the Catholic idea of marriage to schoolchildren, everywhere?
The forces against us are enormous. Once upon a time, good Catholics were chiefly concerned about contraception and the aggressive programs of sex education which push its use at school. They worried that modesty was being broken down while children were taught to regard sex as a normal teenage pleasure.
Sex education now extends far beyond teaching contraception. It promotes masturbation and homosexuality, blurs the distinction between male and female and, most recently, promotes pornography and transgenderism. In England, the Education Department has just announced grants of 30,000 pounds to each school which hires and promotes “gay and transgender” teachers.
Every ideology fights to influence the next generation. That is nothing new. But with sex there is also a strong commercial interest to contend with. The sex industry has an interest in targeting the young just as the tobacco companies used to. Participants are many: the drug companies, abortion clinics, purveyors of pornography, not to speak of the many medical professionals who in some way receive income through giving out contraception.
This cannot but blunt their judgment. In England the number of girls who are given the Pill to “regulate their periods” when they suffer menstrual difficulties is astonishing. The Pill’s contraceptive effect is often seen by parents as an advantage. It gives the girls added “protection” — to which they can easily become used.
Government money tends to follows our present sex ideology, and in quantity. So, too, does regulation, often inspired by international agencies under the auspices of bodies like the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Against them, schools struggle. Relationships and Sex Education tends anyway to be a Cinderella subject in the school budget, carrying no academic kudos and little weight in school ratings. Teachers are easily tempted by free resources and training, especially if most of it is all right, and even programs for Catholic dioceses can be part-sponsored or produced by unlikely partners.
The saddest part is that so many of the adults, be they teachers, governors, or parents, no longer recognize clear moral distinctions anyway. Many practice contraception and are affected by irregular relationships or family breakdown. Most are wary of speaking with clarity to children, especially when so many of these come from broken homes. Many in a Catholic school are not even Catholic anyway.
How do you teach Catholic truths with firm conviction to classes where only a few actually practice the faith?
How do you teach marriage as the synod fathers are asking?
It takes an act of faith, that the Church’s teaching is right and will prevail, and one of obedience, to teach in the way that we have been told. St. John Paul himself gave us the guidelines back in 1995 through the agency of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality remains a providential document waiting to be put into common practice.
Its most essential feature is its insistence that parents, not schools, or parishes, or anybody else, are the given teachers of their own children in this delicate subject. They have a right, but also a duty to teach.
The problem is obvious. How do you encourage parents, who would often rather not, teach a subject they do not follow and often fail to understand? Even more, how do you do that in such a way that it reaches out to non-Catholic spouses and makes sense to those of little faith?
An answer can be found in the development of the human sciences over the last 50 years. We have now had 50 years of the Pill, but we have also had 50 years in which to study its effects, and to see how use of contraception attacks marriage and family at its very roots. By contrast, we have also a greater understanding than ever before of how fertility works, and how sexuality affects the human person in every dimension. Science is on the side of the Church. We have to capture that science and persuade parents, and the world, of its truth.
My own contribution has been to write a book. It is called Sexuality Explained: a Guide for Parents and Children, a name which speaks for itself. It teaches parents the latest knowledge of fertility in stories which are designed to engage their children and so take away the burden of teaching. It is important, I think, to show that the Church’s approach to marriage, and the intrinsic unity of the sexual act, make sense in purely human terms and so I don’t mention God. It is possible to write a book for everybody, of any religion and none. All it requires is that readers accept the innate dignity of the human person.
St. John Paul was extraordinary in his insistence that parents must teach their own children about sexuality. He overrode earlier published guidance, produced by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1983, precisely because it didn’t make enough of the parents’ role. No one but a man of God could have insisted that the way to turn the Church around was to rely on parents who, in most cases, did not know or follow the Church’s teaching themselves.
He was prescient. Even the Guttmacher Institute, which is closely linked to Planned Parenthood, has agreed that parents are the teachers who have the most influence. What we now face is a situation where schools may be so tied up with regulation that, if parents are not taught to teach sexuality and marriage in the home, it may be well-nigh impossible to teach them anywhere else.

Theology Of The Body

Once the Church’s teaching is seen to make sense in human terms, it becomes easier to absorb the theology, which again St. John Paul did so much to explain and deepen. His Theology of the Body needs to be much more widely taught to people of every age, including in parishes, but it lends itself to being taught at school to the young, who are idealistic and excited by the beauty and the challenges of his thought. This should be an essential ingredient in every Catholic secondary school program.
Yet another ingredient is to teach the young the human values on which sound relationships, and careers, are made. Christine Vollmer, who as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family helped to write Truth and Meaning, saw this many years ago. Every young person has a longing to be loved, and to love, forever, but many, especially among the poor, have lost even the desire for marriage. The transmission of good values between one generation and the next has broken down.
They can be resurrected by appealing to the fact that marriage (and religious and other single vocations) are not imposed from the outside. They are something for which we are made. One can help young people realize the dream inside them by giving them back the virtues and know-how which they are missing. This can be done at school, and in parish communities.
Mrs. Vollmer created her own school program called Alive to the World which is spreading from Latin America to many other countries including the UK, where I am its UK coordinator.
As children become older, they are readier to talk about the biology and morality of sexual behavior in public. This is when, at secondary level and being cautious to preserve modesty, schools and youth groups have a leading role to build on the foundations laid by parents. Sex education is decried by good Catholics, but look at it another way and the slot in the school curriculum becomes a vehicle ready to be usurped.
Here not only Catholics, but every student, can be reached with the latest science of sexuality, all of which points to the value of marriage. They understand the complementary roles of men and women in the family, that children are a gift, and so is the fertility which opens us to them. They should know that managing it naturally as a couple brings husband and wife close. They should know the difference between cohabitation and marriage and why marriage has so many benefits, including economic.
This is the time to prepare young people to answer all the questions that the sex revolution will thrust at them. They should understand contraception, its true failure rate, and the impact it has on health, fertility, and human relationships. They should know that condoms offer minimal protection against sexually transmitted diseases. They should be told the truth about pornography, how it alters the structure of the brain, and how its creation takes advantage of the vulnerable.
Science supports Church teaching in every aspect of sexuality and marriage and is there waiting to be taught.


The study of marriage and sexuality has been developed internationally by persons of every professional discipline, working together across faiths. Many are represented at the World Congress of Families, which is now meeting annually. In 2017, to coincide with the centenary of Fatima, it will be held in Portugal. A hundred years ago Our Lady of Fatima warned that Russia would spread her errors throughout the world. Those errors included attacks on the family as well as on religion.
Now, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, will all be gathered close to our Lady learning about marriage and family. This is no coincidence. The Holy Spirit is there with us, ready to teach our children too.
The obstacles are great but they are waiting to be overcome. What we need is united action held together by determination and courage.

+ + +

(Louise Kirk writes from England. She covered the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome for The Wanderer.)

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