Article on: Truth and the Meaning of Human Sexuality

Author: Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo


Pontifical Council for the Family

There is certainly nothing new in observing the serious stage we have reached in the area of sexuality. It is enough to open our eyes and look around. Every day the mass media bear witness to the deep wounds inflicted on individuals and society when people live human sexuality apart from its truth.

One often gets the impression that they want to hastily patch up the disordered effects produced by some forms of concrete behaviour, while really it is the spirit that has fallen dangerously ill because of an erroneous and false anthropology that is becoming widespread in countless ways.

The Pontifical Council for the Family is a good observation point for perceiving and ascertaining the bitter extent of the breakdown. Not only the young and the inexperienced personally sample and experience the negative effects. Couples are also being led astray. Without realizing it, they are becoming victims of a mentality that contradicts their own human nature and the mission they accept as married people.

Scientific research itself has become enslaved to the industry that, through its successful research, serves a commercial vision of life, in which profit seems to be the only real goal over and above the good of persons and society.

While in the natural order sex was understood as being connected with its responsible use in the family, in the 60's a "revolution" began. In the beginning it seemed to be an expression of emancipation, of liberation from sexual "taboos", in order to gain recognition for the right to pleasure, free from any responsibility. It is true that this tendency is as old as humanity itself; however, it seems that the new feature lies in the effort to justify this transition from the responsible use of sex to the search for selfish pleasure. This not only introduces the separation between sexual expression, the act and its meaning, but it entails a breakdown in the area of relationships.

The <other> is not recognized as a person: he or she is considered an instrument for enjoyment and treated without respect for his or her dignity, like a "thing". This "ideological" form of justification is supposed to open the way to a modern liberation. Today, however, the failures it has caused at the very heart of human relationships is a fact recognized by many, including non-Christians.

The "sexual revolution" in fact was encouraged and accelerated by new scientific discoveries, especially the "pill". The separation between the sexual act and its meaning thus became a greater possibility for the couple themselves, without their being able to see any harm to love in it, and much less the betrayal of love. The "revolution" has not only overwhelmed so many young people like an avalanche; it has invaded the couple's responsible relationship and falsified their mutual self-giving. All of this has been both an occasion and an expression of a "social sickness". Is this not an aspect of what is called "social sin" (<Reconciliatio et Paenitentia>, n. 16)?

Today this constant contradiction is very clear and it cannot hide a serious, ongoing tension which, however, could also open the way to hope. Sex is increasingly trivialized. In many cases, the communication media give the impression that everything is permitted and licit (it is enough to look at some television channels and advertising).

Society is more <eroticized> in an artificial way. Many "texts" for sex education become an apologia for even the most deviant kinds of behaviour. Therefore, the need arises to correct and discipline, and to defend oneself, even with rigorous and "puritanical" expressions. It is as if the dikes were foolishly destroyed, and then an attempt were made to halt the disaster and divert the raging currents back to their natural channel. However, in the reaction to all this, a seed of hope is certainly concealed.

The effects of this revolutionary, anthropological conception have given rise to what we all know is the deadly process of "separation from what is human": the separation of sexuality from marriage and the family; of love from life within marriage; of the unitive from the procreative dimension within the conjugal act, thereby giving great support to the campaigns in favour of abortion, contraception and family planning.

This <revolution> has also had political implications. In fact it was the radical ideology that made sex a revolutionary arm (sex revolution) for breaking down every bond with tradition, thus also breaking down the educational relationship between parents and children, in order to contest the family institution and set up the most exaggerated individualism. The followers of Marcuse who are responsible for this revolution obviously knew—although it was never said—that in this way young people would be better prepared for the real and proper political revolution. This revolution as a whole has had as its effect a deep slavery together with the spread of spiritual confusion.

Pushed onward by the euphoria of hedonism, the affluent society has offered sex for sale, sex as entertainment and a "leisure-time activity" outside the family, without a vision inspired by the good of the person but by consumerism. The mass media, pornography and erotic telephone services have given children the emotional impetus to enter the market, where they are regarded more as the object rather than the subject of the alienating mechanisms.

Then came the dual plague of drugs and AIDS to which sex is connected like a glue and a go-between, or as an effect of dependency. Drugs are expensive, and in order to get them, big money is needed that can be obtained through prostitution and pornography. The use of drugs spreads infections and sexually transmittable diseases—including AIDS—and paradoxically this fact suggests to many "experts" not the need for temperance and self-control, but rather access to another market of "free and safe sex" where there is no true freedom or safety.

This panorama of dissipating the reserve of love and youth causes many chain reactions in the family and society, spreading psychological and marriage breakdowns, and much violence towards children and women.

The reaction of the public authorities in many countries has been to try and solve the problem by promoting health information in the schools; however, this is often "reduced" to a weak vision, and exclusively about health. The only concern is for possible contagion, and above all precautionary measures are offered which have been and will be ineffective outside a framework of values.

In any case, the family has been shut out, and the "sex" education provided usually lacks a valid concept of sexuality.

On the other hand, pastoral experience has confirmed more and more clearly that the future family's unity and its sound spiritual and moral capacity presuppose a valid education in moral values in general, and a sound guidance with regard to sexuality during adolescence. Many times a family fails before it is formed.

The document, which the Pontifical Council for the Family has been working on for some time, aims at making a dual contribution: to offer an anthropological framework as the basis of sexual education, and to provide methodological guidelines that involve the family. The presuppositions of the present document are found above all in the Apostolic Exhortation <Familiaris consortio> (1981) and the Letter to Families from the Holy Father <Gratissimam sane> (1994), in addition to the many addresses by His Holiness during the Year of the Family.

An underlying anthropology

Sexuality, inborn in the body, is a dimension of the whole person. It pertains not so much to what a person can do or possess, but to what a person is. It totally involves the personality in physical, affective and spiritual life and is necessarily reflected in social relations. All psychologists teach—(to whom?)—that emotional immaturity can endanger a person in how he or she adapts and behaves, and that it threatens the marriage bond and the capacity for interrelationships between parents and children and with the social environment.

Therefore, the anthropological question is more than legitimate: How is a person's sexuality written into his or her growth, into the complementary relationship between one sex and another, and in openness to self-giving? In brief, the question regarding the "meaning and truth" of sexuality and love is essential.

As the Church continues to teach, the whole of society, on the other hand, must ask itself what type of young person, woman and man it wants to form for tomorrow; what is the relationship between sexuality and the person, between sexuality and the family, and if sexuality is legitimate or tolerable as a mere private function of aimless pleasure without reference to the family. Moreover, it is obvious that it is not just a matter of giving information to young people—which is often not exact—but of giving them values and testimonies of love.

The waters of a torrent are precious as sources of life and energy if they have two qualities: they must be free from poisonous and unhealthy pollution, and they must be contained by the banks that prevent overflows, the breaking of dams and destructive flooding.

The energy of sexuality is too precious for a person not to consider it a value that involves the self and one's destiny. Marcel stated, "le corps c'est moi" and it should also be said that "le sexe c'est moi". Indeed, sex is the capacity to build love and self-giving, the family and a social vocation, fatherhood and motherhood; it is also virginity transcending earthly love for a universal and eschatological vocation. The virtue capable of guiding the living current of love toward self-giving is called chastity. The document states: "Chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live self-giving, free from any form of self-centered slavery. This presupposes that the person has learnt how to accept other people, to relate with them, while respecting their dignity in diversity. The chaste person is not self-centered, not involved in selfish relationships with other people. Chastity makes the personality harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace. This purity of mind and body helps develop true self-respect and at the same time makes one capable of respecting others, because it makes one see in them persons to reverence, insofar as they are created in the image of God and through grace are children of God, re-created by Christ who 'called you out of darkness into his marvellous light' (1 Pt 2:9)" (n. 17).

Anyone who may think that the Church is estranging herself in this area from the climate of the times, or has been overtaken by a desire to be cloistered far from society ought to think again. Precisely in order to restore society to health and once more propose values of hope and life, many groups of young people, associations and movements, are asking the Church to speak out for the dignity of the person, the dignity of women and the family, through a complete human and rich way of seeing sexuality. This is the first step towards a healthier future that is nonviolent and free from the exploitation of youth.

Moreover, in recent years, the Pontifical Council has received many letters and appeals to take a stand with regard to erroneous and harmful information that circulates in different countries, and to offer assistance to families on this subject.

Why in the family?

The parents' right to be the first educators of their children, especially during childhood and adolescence, is a requirement of the natural order and represents a constant high point in the teaching of the Church. In the Letter to Families <Gratissimam sane>, the Holy Father had already stated, "If it is true that by giving life <parents> share in God's creative work, it is also true that by raising their children they <become sharers in his paternal and at the same time maternal way of teaching... Through Christ> all education, within the family and outside of it, becomes part of God's own saving pedagogy, which is addressed to individuals and families and culminates in the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Death and Resurrection" (n. 16).

The recently published document comments, "On the other hand... parents are rich in an educative potential which no one else possesses. In a unique way they know their own children; they know them in their unrepeatable identity and by experience they possess the secrets and the resources of true love" (n. 7).

Of course, the Pontifical Council for the Family realizes that not all families are fully aware of this right and duty that is their own and irreplaceable, under normal circumstances. Families sometimes leave this task to silence, to the indirect, but often unhealthy influence of chance, the television or the school, because of the objective difficulty the delicate subject entails, or out of a kind of neglect passed on from the preceding generation. In this way a kind of expropriation has taken place by the schools, or rather by personnel who are not in harmony with the parents, who act using methods not in accord with the parents, and who are often only concerned with promoting their own pragmatic or ideological conceptions or the interests of agencies outside the real interest of persons and families. Nonetheless, many persons of good will called on in the schools to present sexual education also feel the need for valid guidelines.

Moreover, we must not overlook the fact in this situation that the organizations promoting <family planning> and guided by the precepts of anti-natalism have found ways of inserting themselves into the "education" of adolescents and of taking the place of families. The document certainly does not exclude the school or other educational associations, but it does strongly reclaim the irreplaceable role of parents and the family environment as the primary, irreplaceable educational factor, and as the constant reference points for schools, religious communities and associations.

A methodology

It should be added that in the great, almost countless, number of publications about sexuality coming from university, specialized or simply informational sources, the part lacking is that concerned with offering parents both elementary and yet fundamental points and methodological guidelines for carrying out their task. Publications of this kind can be counted on one hand.

The present document does not pretend to be a didactic manual. It is a brief, clear synthesis, accessible to all cultural levels, offering methodological guidelines and the essential moral and pedagogical content to be borne in mind, together with a precise synthesis of the parents' rights to intervene in society and in the schools. The fundamental elements of the Magisterium, especially the rich and plentiful teaching of John Paul II, are presented synthetically.

The first four chapters of the document refer to the content of an anthropological and pedagogical nature, as their titles indicate: <Called to True Love>; <True Love and Chastity>; <In the Light of Vocation>; <Father and Mother as Educators>.

The other three chapters refer to methodology: <Paths of Formation within the Family>; <Learning Stages>; <Practical Guidelines>. The conclusion reminds parents of the source and resources from which they can confidently draw in order to carry out a task that is difficult but not impossible, which is recognized as a primary and noble task. "In the face of the many challenges to Christian chastity, the gifts of nature and grace which parents enjoy always remain the most solid foundations on which the Church forms her children. <Much of the formation in the home is indirect>, incarnated in a loving and tender atmosphere, for it arises from the presence and example of parents whose love is pure and generous. If parents are given confidence in this task of education for love, they will be inspired to overcome the challenges and problems of our times by their own ministry of love" (n. 149).

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical
Council for the Family

Bishop Elio Sgreccia
Secretary of the Pontifical

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 February 1996

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069