Archbishop Chaput, Chairman-Elect for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB, gave the Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame on September 15th, 2016. The full text is available here. The middle section, reprinted here, examines the importance of a true understanding of human sexuality:
So, what does any of this have to do with sex, family and the liberty of the Church? I’ll answer the question this way.
I’ve been a priest for 46 years. During that time I’ve heard something more than 12,000 personal confessions and done hundreds of spiritual direction sessions. That’s a lot of listening. When you spend several thousand hours of your life, as most priests do, hearing the failures and hurts in people’s lives – men who beat their wives; women who cheat on their husbands; the addicts to porn or alcohol or drugs; the thieves, the hopeless, the self-satisfied and the self-hating – you get a pretty good picture of the world as it really is, and its effect on the human soul. The confessional is more real than any reality show because nobody’s watching. It’s just you, God and the penitents, and the suffering they bring with them.
As a priest, what’s most striking to me about the last five decades is the huge spike in people – both men and women — confessing promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion as an ordinary part of life, and the massive role of pornography in wrecking marriages, families and even the vocations of clergy and religious.
In a sense, this shouldn’t surprise. Sex is powerful. Sex is attractive. Sex is a basic appetite and instinct. Our sexuality is tied intimately to who we are; how we search for love and happiness; how we defeat the pervasive loneliness in life; and, for most people, how we claim some little bit of permanence in the world and its story by having children. The reason Pope Francis so forcefully rejects “gender theory” is not just because it lacks scientific support — though it certainly has that problem. Gender theory is a kind of metaphysics that subverts the very nature of sexuality by denying the male-female complementarity encoded into our bodies. In doing that, it attacks a basic building block of human identity and meaning — and by extension, the foundation of human social organization.
But let’s get back to the confessional. Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are. And remember that people only come to Confession when they already have some sense of right and wrong; when they already understand, at least dimly, that they need to change their lives and seek God’s mercy.
That word “mercy” is worth examining. Mercy is one of the defining and most beautiful qualities of God. Pope Francis rightly calls us to incarnate it in our own lives this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a word we can easily misuse to avoid the hard work of moral reasoning and judgment. Mercy means nothing – it’s just an exercise in sentimentality – without clarity about moral truth.
We can’t show mercy to someone who owes us nothing; someone who’s done nothing wrong. Mercy implies a pre-existing act of injustice that must be corrected. And satisfying justice requires a framework of higher truth about human meaning and behavior. It requires an understanding of truth that establishes some things as good and others as evil; some things as life-giving and others that are destructive.
Here’s why that’s important. The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage. Multiply that wreckage by tens of millions of persons over five decades. Then compound it with media nonsense about the innocence of casual sex and the “happy” children of friendly divorces. What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems.
This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them — and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else. People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.
People too worried or self-focused to welcome new life, to bear and raise children in a loving family, and to form them in virtue and moral character, are writing themselves out of the human story. They’re extinguishing their own future. This is what makes the resistance of so many millennials to having children so troubling.
The future belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally. If you want a portrait of what I mean, consider this: The most common name given to newborn male babies in London for the past four years in a row is Muhammad. This, in the city of Thomas More.
Weak and selfish individuals make weak and selfish marriages. Weak and selfish marriages make broken families. And broken families continue and spread the cycle of dysfunction. They do it by creating more and more wounded individuals. A vast amount of social data shows that children from broken families are much more likely to live in poverty, to be poorly educated, and to have more emotional and physical health issues than children from intact families. In other words, when healthy marriages and families decline, the social costs rise.
The family is where children discover how to be human. It’s where they learn how to respect and love other people; where they see their parents sacrificing for the common good of the household; and where they discover their place in a family story larger than themselves. Raising children is beautiful but also hard work. It’s a task for unselfish, devoted parents. And parents need the friendship and support of other likeminded parents. It takes parents to raise a child, not a legion of professional experts, as helpful as they can sometimes be.
Only a mother and father can provide the intimacy of maternal and paternal love. Many single parents do a heroic job of raising good children, and they deserve our admiration and praise. But only a mother and father can offer the unique kind of human love rooted in flesh and blood; the kind that comes from mutual submission and self-giving; the kind that comes from the complementarity of sexual difference.
No parents do this perfectly. Some fail badly. Too often the nature of modern American life helps and encourages them to fail. But in trying, parents pass along to the next generation an absolutely basic truth. It’s the truth that things like love, faith, trust, patience, understanding, tenderness, fidelity and courage really do matter, and they provide the foundation for a fully human life.
Of course some of the worst pressures on family life come from outside the home. They come in the form of unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools.
These are vitally important issues with real human consequences. And in Catholic thought, government has a role to play in easing such problems – but not if a government works from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is. And not if a government deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well. Yet this could arguably describe many of the current administration’s actions over the past seven years.
The counterweight to intrusive government is a populace of mature citizens who push back and defend the autonomy of their civil space. The problem with a consumer economy though – as Christopher Lasch saw nearly 40 years ago — is that it creates and relies on dependent, self-absorbed consumers. It needs and breeds what Lasch called a “culture of narcissism,” forgetful of the past, addicted to the present and disinterested in the future. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence. In his inaugural speech of 1961, John F. Kennedy could still tell Americans, quite confidently, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Today I wonder how many of us might find his words not only naïve and annoying, but an inversion of priorities.
If we want strong families, we need strong men and women to create and sustain them with maturity and love. And as a family of families, the Church is no different. The Church is strong when her families and individual sons and daughters are strong; when they believe what she teaches, and then witness her message with courage and zeal.
She’s weak when her people are too tepid or comfortable, too eager to “fit in” or frankly too afraid of public disapproval, to see the world as it really is. The Church is “ours” only in the sense that we belong to her as our mother and teacher in the family of God. The Church does not belong to us. We belong to her. And the Church in turn belongs to Jesus Christ who guarantees her freedom whether Caesar likes it or not.
The Church is free even in the worst persecution. She’s free even when many of her children desert her. She’s free because God does exist, and the Church depends not on numbers or resources but on her fidelity to God’s Word. But her practical liberty — her credibility and effectiveness, here and now, in our wider society — depends on us. So we should turn to that issue in the time remaining.
Check out the newest video in the MUR series on marriage and religious freedom! Please share it and spread the word.
Echoing the themes of the Bishops’ Call to Prayer, Archbishop Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas wrote an article in the diocesan paper about the current threats to life, marriage and religious freedom– particularly the latter in light of the former!
Let’s get ready to focus on religious freedom with the fortnight for freedom at the end of this month! View the video prepared for this year’s event.
Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #17
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.
Religious Freedom (nos. 255-258)
The Church recognizes the importance of religious freedom for maintaining a healthy social dialogue and an atmosphere of peace; but what, exactly, do we mean by peace? Peace is not an absence of difference, but a respectful harmony within a healthy pluralism of beliefs, which “respects differences and values them as such” (no. 255). Attempts to privatize religion as an individual matter of conscience that must stay behind church doors reflect “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism,” rather than the progression of religious freedom (no. 255). Because our religious beliefs are meant to be embodied and manifested in our relationships and work in the public sphere, this kind of delegation does not grant us true freedom.
This lack of freedom is particularly prevalent in the intellectual and cultural realms. Pope Francis sees the modern tendency to disregard all religious thought as an attack not just on religious freedom, but also on reason. This discriminatory dismissal serves a “certain rationalism” that has largely dominated our culture, but is actually opposed to reason in the fullest sense. To ignore the history of thought that has arisen within a religious context is an impediment to, rather than a triumph of reason. This is evident in the narrow-minded views of most media representations of religion. When these “crude and superficial generalizations” become the norm, we lose a wealth of human understanding that the context of faith has developed.
To combat this rationalism, the Holy Father encourages interreligious dialogue, including that between believers and those who—though they don’t identify themselves with any religious tradition—“sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God” (no. 257). Such dialogue—especially in the realms of ethics, arts and sciences—can help to bring about peace through a mutual respect for the dignity of life and a mutual search for transcendent meaning.
Dialogue that respects and values difference should begin in the home! As we face increasing opposition in the public square, it is ever more important that our families be a place of openness and dialogue. Family members with differing beliefs must be accepted and loved, and this respect will be a model for children to follow. The peace within a family that appreciates the uniqueness of each member can serve as the starting point for peace in society.
This past March, Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska gave an address for the “Catholics in the Capitol” annual Legislative Advocacy Day at the Nebraska State Capitol. It is entitled: “Martyrs, Witnesses and Public Life: Catholics at the Capitol”
Here are a few sections from his address that are pertinent to the work of the USCCB in promoting and defending marriage. He says, “The freedom to practice the faith is threatened by aggressive unchecked secularism, which stops at almost nothing to establish what Pope Benedict XVI called the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Relativism today is veiled by words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘non-discrimination’ and ‘progressivism.'” Indeed, the truth about marriage is currently being portrayed as bigoted or discriminatory.
Bishop Conley notes, “Today, our lives are not threatened in the state of Nebraska. But our liberties are. But in our state, faithful Christians face threats to their livelihood, to the education of their children, and to their family life.” These will only continue and become more serious as time goes by if we do not have the courage to stand up for our religious freedom now.
He reminds us that it is the call of the laity to bring Christ into the public sphere. “The Second Vatican Council said that your [lay] task is to ‘animate the temporal order’ with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This means that our civil laws should reflect truth: the truth about the dignity of every human person; the truth about the sovereignty of families; the truth about the rights of children, and the disabled, and the elderly.” Catholic laypersons cannot sit on the sidelines on the debate about marriage.
Marriage is part of the common good for society. Bishop Conley notes, “Promoting human dignity is the common good. Promoting the family is the common good. Protecting truth and preserving justice is why we make law.”
And finally, Bishop Conley reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle with demons, “minions of the evil one,” and must fight for the good of all souls, including those who disagree with us. “We need to remember that those who disagree with us are created by God for salvation with him—and we are called to be missionaries to them, in order to invite them to a transformative religious relationship with Jesus Christ.”
This Easter, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we may also contemplate the gift of religious freedom; a gift that sometimes requires vigilance.
Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles wrote an article for The Tidings Newspaper in which he highlighted the importance of marriage and family to the plan of God, and the necessity of all citizens to be able to express their views about it. He noted, “Those who govern and shape the way Americans think and behave — in politics and law, education, entertainment and the popular media — form an increasingly secularized elite that has little tolerance for religious institutions or values.”
Regarding marriage, Archbishop Gomez reminded us that, “In his own teaching, Jesus pointed us back to this “beginning.” He told us that the marriage covenant between man and woman is at the heart of God’s design for creation — and that no one has the power to change that design.”
He encouraged us to pray for our country, and said, “But I’m sad to say that right now across the country, others are trying to impose their “faith” — a secularized ideology and an anti-religious morality — on religious believers and it is our rights that are at risk of being denied.”
On March 2, Cardinal Wuerl sent out an email to his people about being courageous in the face of the government’s increasing encroachment on religious freedom.
He writes, “We are being told that in our schools, social service ministries and other Church programs we may not insist that those who teach the Catholic faith and carry out Catholic ministry should do so in word and the manner they live their lives.”
The two laws the Cardinal draws our attention to are:
- The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 (RHNDA) which would deprive the Church of its right to ensure that those whom it entrusts to carry out its mission are faithful to its teachings on human life and sexuality, and
- The Human Rights Amendment of 2014 (HRAA) which would require Catholic schools to formally recognize, endorse, and support student groups dedicated to promoting homosexual behavior.
The Cardinal connects all of this activity back to Lent, writing, “This Lent we all need to ask ourselves if we are prepared to stand up for our beliefs and to speak up on behalf of our schools, parishes and charities.”
The chairmen of four committees responded to the new Department of Labor Regulations that are the result of the Executive Order of July 21 prohibiting federal government contractors from what the Administration deems “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination. The chairmen are Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Here is the full text:
The regulations published on December 3 by the U.S. Department of Labor implement the objectionable Executive Order that President Obama issued in July to address what the Administration has described as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination in employment by federal contractors. We will study the regulations carefully, but we note the following initially. Our Church teaches that “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination” against those who experience same-sex attraction “should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2358)—but it appears on an initial reading that these regulations would prohibit far more than that “unjust discrimination.” In particular, they appear also to prohibit employers’ religious and moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, which creates a serious threat to freedom of conscience and religious liberty, because “[u]nder no circumstances” may Catholics approve of such conduct (CCC 2357). Very many other people over a broad spectrum of different religious faiths hold this same conviction. Additionally, the regulations advance the false ideology of “gender identity,” which ignores biological reality and harms the privacy and associational rights of both contractors and their employees. In justice, the Administration should not exclude contractors from federal contracting simply because they have religious or moral convictions about human sexuality and sexual conduct that differ from the views of the current governmental authorities.
In the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Southern Missouri, Bishop Johnston released a statement on September 30th regarding the Springfield City Council’s consideration of altering their “non-discrimination” ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the statement, Bishop Johnston points out that an alternative “creed” is being forced on people of faith, who are being persecuted for their beliefs about marriage:
“The rejection of inherent dignity is frequently accompanied by, or results from, a world view that replaces faith in God with faith in ‘progress,’ or ‘history,’ which is to say, blind faith in human technological power to recreate the world according to one’s own desires. Our cultural elites claim that, even in the context of marriage and parenthood, men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, are interchangeable—even though our basic biology makes obvious that this is not the case in forming a family or bringing new life into the world. Judges, politicians, and some activists suggest that accepting this new secular doctrine, really a competing government-supported secular ‘religion,’ is the price we must pay for our membership in the American political community. Already some persons, who refuse to pledge full allegiance to this new creed, have lost their jobs, been driven out of business, or fined for living their convictions, what they believe—something many of us never thought would happen in America.”
And he poignantly notes: “In the name of preventing discrimination against some, they would impose it on others.”
Read the full statement here and support the bishop with your prayers.
The USCCB, when faced with similar situations at the federal level, has explained its opposition against the “Employee Non-Discrimination Act”.
Cardinal George reflects in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s newspaper on the way that the current American culture requires us to choose between our faith and full civic participation, since the dominant ideology has become like a religion.
He writes: “Swimming against the tide… means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers…. the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.”
The Cardinal also points out that, “American civil law has done much to weaken and destroy what is the basic unit of every human society, the family. With the weakening of the internal restraints that healthy family life teaches, the State will need to impose more and more external restraints on everyone’s activities.”
Thanks to the Cardinal who has such a gift for seeing and guiding us! Let’s pray for him and all our bishops!