Catholic Morality

 

SEX EDUCATION

What does the Holy Roman Catholic Church have to say?

A. THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE CONCERNING EDUCATION OF PURITY AND CHASTITY.

1. How are matters involving the virtue of chastity to be taught?

"When the ancient Greeks and Romans wanted to indicate things concerning chastity, they made use of the particular term "aidoia = verenda", that is modesty, thus signifying that such things must be treated in a respectful manner. Modesty, however, must not be intended as maintaining an absolute silence on this subject so that no mention of it be made in the moral education of the young, not even with sobriety and precaution. On this subject, let adolescents be instructed with suitable advice and be allowed to open their minds, to question without hesitation, and let them receive answers which will give them sure, clear and sufficiently full enlightenment and which will instill confidence into them." (Pius XII: Allocution to Professors of the Discalced Carmelites, September 23, 1951. Ed. 574.)

2. What method is used by the Church and by Holy Educators to instill moral purity?

"The first place is to be given to the full, sound and continuous instruction in religion of the youth of both sexes. Extreme desire and love of the angelic virtue must be instilled into their minds and hearts. They must be made fully alive to the necessity of constant prayer and assiduous frequenting of the Sacrament of Penance and the Holy Eucharist; they must be directed to foster a filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin as Mother of holy purity, to whose protection they must entirely commit themselves. Precautions must be taken to see that they avoid dangerous reading, indecent shows, conversations of the wicked and all other occasions of sin." (Decree of the Holy Office, March 21, 1931. Ed. 306.)

3. What need is there for vigilance in education to conserve chastity in the youth?

"Flight and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective means of combat in this matter; today, however, it does not seem that everybody holds the same opinion. Some indeed claim that all Christians, and the clergy in particular, should not be "segregated from the world" as in the past, but should be "close to the world"; therefore they should "take the risk" and put their chastity to the test in order to show whether or not they have the strength to resist. (Pius XII: Encyclical 'Sacra Virginitas,' March 25, 1954. Ed. 697.)

4. What role does modesty play in conserving chastity in the youth?

"The educators of the young clergy would render a more valuable and useful service if they would inculcate in youthful minds the precepts of Christian modesty, which is so important for the preservation of perfect chastity and which is truly called the prudence of chastity. For modesty foresees threatening danger, forbids us to expose ourselves to risks, demands the avoidance of those occasions which the imprudent do not shun. It does not like impure or loose talk, it shrinks from the slightest immodesty, it carefully avoids suspect familiarity with persons of the other sex, since it brings the soul to show due reverence to the body, as being a member of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. VI, 15, 19.) He who possesses the treasure of Christian modesty abominates every sin of impurity and instantly flees whenever he is tempted by its seductions.

Modesty will, moreover, suggest and provide suitable words for parents and educators by which the youthful conscience will be formed in matters of chastity. 'Wherefore, this modesty is not to be so understood as to be equivalent to a perpetual silence on this subject, nor as allowing no place for sober and cautious discussion about these matters in imparting moral instruction.' (See A. 1) In modern times, however, there are some teachers and educators who too frequently think it their duty to initiate innocent boys and girls into the secrets of human generation in such a way as to offend their sense of shame. In this matter, in fact, a just temperance and moderation must be used, as Christian modesty demands." (Pius XII: Encyclical 'Sacra Virginitas,' March 25, 1954. Ed. 698-699.)

5. Are vigilance and modesty sufficient to conserve chastity in the youth?

"Moreover, there is another argument worthy of attentive consideration: to preserve chastity unstained neither vigilance nor modesty suffice. Those helps must also be used which entirely surpass the powers of nature; namely, prayer to God, the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, a fervent devotion to the most Holy Mother of God." (Pius XII: Encyclical 'Sacra Virginitas,' March 25, 1954. Ed. 700.)

6. What are the duties of parents in relating to their children the mysteries of procreation?

"With the discretion of a mother and a teacher, and thanks to the open-hearted confidence with which you have been able to inspire your children, you will not fail to watch for and to discern the moment in which unspoken questions have occurred to their minds and are troubling their senses. It then will be your duty to your daughters, and fathers' duty to your sons, carefully and delicately to unveil the truth as far as it appears necessary, to give prudent, true and Christian answers to those questions and set their minds at rest.

If imparted by the lips of Christian parents, at the proper time, in the proper measure and with the proper precautions, the revelation of the mysterious and marvellous laws of life will be received by them with reverence and gratitude and will enlighten their minds with far less danger than if they learned them haphazardly, by some unpleasant shock, by secret conversations, through information received from over-sophisticated companions or from clandestine reading. Your words, if they are wise and discreet, will prove a safeguard and a warning in the midst of the temptations and the corruption which surround them 'because foreseen, an arrow comes more slowly.' (Dante, Paradise, XVII. 27)" (Pius XII: Allocution to Mothers of Italian Families, October 26, 1941. Ed. 415.)

7. What is the function of the Priest in the Catholic Education of children?

"In this great work of the Christian education of your sons and daughters, you will understand that training in the home, however wise, however thorough, is not enough. It needs to be supplemented and perfected by the powerful aid of religion. From the moment of baptism, the Priest possesses the authority of a spiritual father and a pastor over your children. You must co-operate with him in teaching them the first rudiments of the catechism and the piety which are the only basis of a solid education, and of which you, the earliest teachers of your children, ought to have sufficient and sure knowledge. You cannot teach what you do not know yourselves! Teach them to love God, to love Christ, to love our Mother the Church, and the pastors of the Church who are your guides. Love the catechism and teach your children to love it. It is the great handbook of the love and the fear of God, of Christian wisdom and of eternal life." (Pius XII: Allocution to Mothers of Italian Families, Oct. 26, 1941. Ed. 416.)

8. What is the role of teachers in the Catholic education of children?

"In your work of education, which is many-sided, you will feel the need and the obligation of having recourse to others to help you. Choose helpers who are Christians like yourselves, and choose them with all the care that is called for by the treasure that you are entrusting to them. You are committing to them the faith, the purity and the piety of your children. But when you have chosen them you must not think that you are henceforth freed from your duty and your vigilance. You must cooperate with them. However eminent school teachers may be in their professions, they will have little success in the formation of your children without your collaboration. Even less success will they have if instead of helping and lending support to their efforts you were to counteract and oppose them. What a misfortune it would be if at home your indulgence and fond weakness were to undo all that has been done at school, at catechism or in Catholic associations to form the character and foster the piety of your children!" (Pius XII: Allocution to Mothers of Italian Families, October 26, 1941. Ed. 417.)

B. CATHOLIC VIEW ON MODERN "SEX EDUCATION" OR "SEX INITIATION."

1. What is the Catholic stand on pedagogic naturalism?

"Every form of pedagogic naturalism which in any way excludes or weakens supernatural Christian formation in the teaching of youth, is (....) false. Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and which relies on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound. Such, generally speaking, are those modern systems bearing various names which appeal to a claim to self-government and to unrestrained freedom on the part of the child, and which diminish or even suppress the teacher's authority and action, attributing to the child an exclusive primacy of initiative, and an activity independent of any higher law, natural or divine, in regard to his education.

If any of these terms are used, less properly, to denote the necessity of a gradually more active co-operation on the part of the pupil in his own education; if it is intended to banish despotism and violence from education, which, by the way, are not to be confused with just punishment, this would be correct, but in no way new. It would mean only what has been taught and reduced to practice by the Church in traditional Christian education, in imitation of the method employed by God Himself towards His creatures, of whom He demands active cooperation according to the nature of each; for His Wisdom 'reacheth from end to end mightily and ordered all things sweetly.' (Wisdom 8: 1.)

But alas! It is clear from the obvious meaning of the words and from experience, that what is intended by not a few, is the removal of education from every sort of dependence on the divine law. So today we see, strange sight indeed, educators and philosophers who spend their lives in searching for a universal moral code of education as if there existed no decalogue, no gospel law, no law even of nature impressed by God on the heart of man, promulgated by right reason, and revealed by God Himself in the Ten Commandments. These innovators are wont to refer contemptuously to Christian education as 'heteronomous,' 'passive,' 'obsolete,' because it is founded upon the authority of God and His holy law. Such men are miserably deluded in their claim to achieve what they call the emancipation of the child, while in reality they are making him the slave of his own blind pride and of his disorderly affections, which, as a logical consequence of this false system, come to be justified as the legitimate demands of a so-called autonomous nature.

But what is worse is the claim, not only vain but irreverent and dangerous, to submit to research, experiment and conclusions of a purely natural and secular order, those matters of education which belong to the supernatural order; as, for example, questions of priestly or religious vocation, and in general the secret workings of grace which indeed elevate the natural powers, but are infinitely superior to them, and may be nowise subjected to physical laws, for 'the Spirit breathes where it will.' (John 3: 8)" (Pius XI: Encl. 'Divini Magistri.' Dec. 31, 1929. Ed. 279-281.)

2. What is the Catholic position regarding the applying of naturalism to education and to moral virtue?

"Another very grave danger is that naturalism which nowadays invades the field of education in that most delicate matter of purity of morals. Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education, erroneously imagining that they can arm youths against the dangers of sensuality by purely natural means, such as foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public; and, worse still, by exposing them at an early age to the opportunity, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers.

Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognise the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the Apostle speaks, warning against the law of the mind: (Rom. 7: 23) and also in ignoring what is taught by facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and deprived from the means of grace.

In this extremely delicate matter, if, all things considered, some private instruction is found necessary and opportune, on the part of those who hold from God the mission to teach and who are in a state of grace, every precaution must be taken. Such precautions are well known in traditional Christian education, and are adequately described by Antoniano, cited above, when he says: (Silvio Antoniano: Dell' educazione cristiana dei figliuoli, lib. II, ch 88.):

'Such is our misery and inclination to sin, that often in the very things considered to be remedies against sin, we find occasions for and inducement to sin itself. Hence it is of the highest importance that a good father, while discussing with his son a matter so delicate, should be well on his guard not to descend to details, or refer to the various ways in which this infernal hydra destroys with its poison so large a portion of the world; otherwise it may happen that instead of extinguishing this fire, he unwittingly stirs or hinders it in the simple and tender heart of the child. Speaking generally, during the period of childhood it suffices to employ those remedies which produce the double effect of opening the door to the virtue of purity and closing the door upon vice." (Pius XI: Encyclical 'Divini Illius Magistri.' December 31, 1929. Ed. 282-283.)

3. What is to be made of total sex initiation, which wants to hide nothing, to leave nothing out?

There is "therein a harmful exaggeration of the value of knowledge in these matters. There is, however, an effective sex education which, quite safely, teaches calmly and objectively what the young person should know, for his own personal conduct and his relationship with those with whom he is brought into contact. For the rest, special stress will be laid, in sex education, as indeed in all education, upon self-mastery and religious training." (Pius XII: Allocution to the First International Congress of Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology. April 13, 1953. Ed. 640.)


4. What is to be thought of so-called Catholic literature which promotes sex initiation?

"There is one field in which the work of educating public opinion and correcting it imposes itself with tragic urgency. It finds itself, in this field, perverted by propaganda which one would not hesitate to term fatal, even though, in certain instances, it originates from a Catholic source and aims at making way among Catholics, and although they who promote it do not seem to realise that they are unknowingly deceived by the spirit of evil.

We here wish to refer to writings, books and articles concerning sex initiation which today very often obtain enormous editorial successes and flood the whole world, gaining possession of childhood, submerging the new generation, troubling engaged and newly-wed couples.

With all the gravity, attention and dignity that the question calls for, the Church has treated the problem of instruction on this matter, according to the normal physical and psychological development of the adolescent or the particular cases advised by diverse individual conditions. In all truth, the Church can declare that, while deeply respectful of the sanctity of marriage, she has in theory and in practice left the married couple free in whatever the impulse of a wholesome and upright nature allows, without offence to the Creator.

One is appalled at the intolerable impudence of such literature; and while paganism itself, in the face of the secret of matrimonial intimacy, seemed respectfully to draw the line, We are compelled to witness this mystery violated and its vision - sensual and dramatised - offered as food to the public at large, even to the youth. It is the case really to ask oneself if the dividing line is still sufficiently visible between this initiation, which is said to be Catholic, and the press which with erotic and obscene illustrations purposely and deliberately aims at corruption and shamefully exploits, for vile gain, the lowest instincts of fallen nature." (Pius XII: Allocution to the French Fathers of Families. September 18, 1951. Ed. 568-570.)

5. What are the pernicious results of this same literature for Catholics?

"Such propaganda also threatens Catholic people with a double punishment, not to use a stronger expression.

First of all, it greatly exaggerates the importance and range of the sexual element of life. Let us even admit that these authors, under the purely theoretical aspect, keep themselves within the limits of Catholic morality; this does not however do away with the fact that their way of explaining sexual life is such as to attribute to it, in the mind and practical judgement of the average reader, the sense and value of an end in itself. It makes the real and primordial aim of marriage to be lost sight of, that is, the procreation and education of children and the serious duty of the married couples with regard to this end, which the writings in question leave obscure.

Secondly, this literature, if such it could be called, does not seem in any way to take into account, based as it is on nature, the general experience of all times, whether it be that of today or yesterday, which attests that neither initiation nor instruction in moral education offers any advantage of itself. Rather it becomes seriously unwholesome and prejudicial when not closely allied with constant discipline, with vigorous self-control, and above all with the use of the supernatural force of prayer and the sacraments. All Catholic educators worthy of this name and of their mission know very well the decisive part played by supernatural forces in the sanctification of man; whether young or old, single or married.

But it is already much if, regarding what We have said just now, even some slight mention is made in those publications; often they are completely silent on the matter. Even the principles so wisely illustrated by Our Predecessor Pius XI, in the Encyclical 'Divini Illius Magistri,' on sex-education and questions connected whereto (see B 2) are set aside - a sad sign of the times! - with a smile of compassion: Pius XI, they say, wrote twenty years ago, for his times! Great progress has been made since then!" (Pius XII: Allocution to the French Fathers of Families. Sept. 18, 1951. Ed. 571-572.)

C. PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS FOR CATHOLIC PARENTS FACED WITH CAMPAIGNS FOR GENERALISED SEX EDUCATION.

1. Can one approve of the method called "sex education" or "sex initiation"?

"No. In the education of youth the method to be followed is that hitherto observed by the Church and the Saints as recommended by His Holiness the Pope in the Encyclical (see B 2) dealing with the Christian education of youth, promulgated on Dec. 31, 1929." (Decree of the Holy Office, March 21, 1931. Ed 306.)


2. But aren't these norms concerning sex education out of date now?

"The Holy See published certain rules in this connection shortly after the Encyclical of Pius XI on Christian Marriage (see A 2; C 1; C 2). These rules have not been rescinded, either expressly or via facti." (Pius XII: Alloc. to the Fifth Intern. Congress of Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, April 13, 1953. Ed. 640.)

3. Can one approve of what has been written or published even by Catholic authors regarding the new method of sex education?

"No approbation whatever can be given to the advocacy of the new method even as taken up recently by some Catholic authors and set before the public in printed publications." (Decree of the Holy Office, April 21, 1931. Ed. 306.)

4. What are the duties of Catholic parents vis vis campaigns to promote sex education?

"Fathers of families, (. . . ) there are many other Christians throughout the whole world and in all countries, fathers of families like yourselves, who share your own sentiments. Unite with them therefore (. . . ); call to your aid all Catholic women and mothers with their powerful contribution, in order to fight together, without human timidity or respect, to stop and curtail these movements under whatever name or under whatever patronage they conceal themselves or are patronised." (Pius XII: Alloc. To the French Fathers of Families, Sept. 18, 1951. Ed. 573.)

NOTE

All of the above texts cited have been drawn from the following book:

"PAPAL TEACHINGS: EDUCATION"

Selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, Boston, by the Daughters of St. Paul.

For easy reference, consult the number following the abbreviation "Ed."


Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact