TEACHING CATHOLIC MORALITY TO CHILDREN
by Carol Egan
Recently, the woman from whom I purchase my morning coffee
commented on the perils of raising her teenage daughter. In a voice filled
with weariness and irony, she told me that she had to place her sixteen
year old daughter on birth control pills since she and her boyfriend were
now into a "meaningful relationship." Her absolute powerlessness in the
face of her daughter's insistence on being sexually active seemed so
typical of how parents are portrayed in the media, on television and in
the movies that I had to wonder if the influence of these powerful means
of communication may be at the roots of the confusion of so many
There is a commonly held belief in the modern self-serving
religion of "feel goodism," that the two most dreaded events in a
teenager's life are pregnancy and the AIDS virus. The biggest "sin" one
can commit in this "religion" is the practice of unsafe sex. It is into this
confused society that we must eventually release our children. We,
therefore, must--no option here--we must be conduits of the truth as the
revealed word of God long before the illusions of society make
themselves known to the child.
Morality certainly has a wide range of interpretations. We have
the certainty of truth which the Catholic Church has provided. Deo
gratias! The rules of morality have been detailed, most recently in the
new Catechism of the Catholic Church.
What is education in sexuality? It is neither a series of "thou shalt
nots" nor a laissez faire policy in which the fingers are crossed in hopes
that the child will pick it up on his or her own. No, it is nothing else than
a gentle, ongoing, reality-based introduction into adult living. Why
"reality-based?" Because modern thought in this area is fraught with
deception and omission.
Many people today are living an illusion. Anything which does
not have the interests of the Creator as its end and is therefore opposed to
the truth, as revealed to the Church, must be called an illusion.
Commonplace are lifestyles and behaviors which, even thirty years ago
would have been condemned by most people. The modern divorce and
remarriage rate is at least fifty percent; homosexuality is not only
tolerated, but promoted as a healthy lifestyle; abortion on demand is
normative; fornication is so "normal" that chastity is considered not only
out-moded, but unhealthy. It is therefore essential to instruct children,
from the earliest age, in the Church's teachings. By itself, sex education is
intrusive, inadequate and even scandalous to a youngster in his
formative years. Without the necessary moral underpinning, modern sex
education can be excessively stimulating to a young mind at best and
pornographic at its worst. Children must be taught the morality which
should underlie not only their sexual conduct, but all their actions.
What is morality? Morality is defined as the relation between a
human act and the final destiny of a human being. It is the norm of
behavior that flows from each person's ultimate end, which is the
possession of God in the Beatific Vision (Modern Catholic Dictionary, pg.
360). Our decisions, therefore, can have eternal consequences. So
detailed is the Church's provision for direction in one of the most
sensitive areas of human life, that the new Catechism enumerates three
sources of morality: " The morality of human acts depends on: the object
chosen; the end in view or the intention; and the circumstances of the
action" (n. 1750). And so, in weighing any human action against the laws
of God, we must place them before the tribunal of the teaching Church.
No human authority can reinterpret or change the deposit of truth.
To be noted is that morality should be solidly Catholic, not merely
Christian. Parents should, whenever possible, consult sound Catholic
sources. Many so-called Christian churches allow the practice of
contraception. Divorce and remarriage are permitted as well, in many
mainline Protestant Churches.
Who should give children their introduction into human sexuality?
No one is more qualified than the child's parents because they are the
bridge whom God has provided between the child and the world. They
are in place to give a gentle, ongoing introduction to family life. The
home is still the womb of the family. The peaceful cushion of the home
insulates the child from what must be called the lies of the world.
Outside of the walls of the home is a world hell- bent on stealing the
innocence of children. Examples are all too well-known: pornography,
rock music, the drug culture, gangs, the "new morality" and most
important and pervasive, the intrusion of school- based sex education
programs. To be especially noted is the intrusion of television into the
home from which children are daily indoctrinated in the morality of the
producers. In one study, well over 90% of producers and directors
admitted they did not believe in God! No surprise when one considers
the moral degradation and violence broadcast 24 hours every day on
television, but especially during prime time hours on the major networks.
When should we begin to teach our children about their sexuality?
Like prayer, it should begin before birth. A child who is deeply loved
from conception will be secure and assured of his own unique place in
life. As he grows, he will ask questions about life and living; about
himself and about God. Each stage is marked by its own capacities and
abilities to learn. The parents, understanding and loving their children
as no one else could, will be available to answer all their questions. The
should be answered honestly and appropriately to their age level while
all the time respecting their uniqueness. They are temples of the Holy
Spirit. As adolescence approaches, a providential time and place for girls
and boys to be introduced to their reproductive gifts and functions will
become apparent. Family and individual prayer and the frequent
reception of the sacraments is not only encouraged, but absolutely
necessary to insure chastity not only for the children, but for the parents
How to teach it? Because each child is so unique, the parents'
approach should be tailored to him or her. The subject is so delicate not
because we Catholics are " prudish or old-fashioned" but because it is
natural. God has implanted in every human person a holy shame.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said it best when he described the natural shyness
of even small boys and girls when in each other's company. Because of
the potential for life within little girls, little boys are aware of this a
young age. This, therefore, is why girls and boys usually play separately
and make them shy around each other. The girl's future ability to
become a mother makes little boys deeply aware of their differences even
though it is mainly subconscious. (Modern educators pass this off as guilt
which our parents impose!)
Much of what they teach their children will be unspoken. A new
baby is expected; the child notices his mother's abdomen swell. The baby
is nursed at his mother's breast as the child plays beside her. The parents
embrace; the child smiles contentedly. All of these loving, nurturing
family experiences are as surely assimilated by the child as is any learning
Parents should answer questions about human sexuality with
matter-of-fact, but honest answers. Anatomical names should be used for
body parts, no matter what the age. If a child hears sensitive information
from his parents first, he will be better equipped to deal with the
inevitable street vocabulary. He will also be less likely to use denigrating
language with his peers.
"Where did I come from?" could mean when and where did my life
begin, or it could also mean "in which state was I born?" A sensitive
parent will not answer delicate questions before the child is ready. Each
child's uniqueness is a serious factor. Each stage of development in a
child's life signals a new readiness to receive more detailed information
That is why the classroom is the poorest place for a child to hear about
reproduction and sexuality. It removes a child's right to private,
individual, one on one instruction in the most highly sensitive area of
human behavior. The imposition of information before the child is ready
to hear it could do irreparable damage. Gender differences, femaleness
and maleness, are not interchangeable, as though men and women are
blended into some kind of androgynous conglomerate. Men and women;
boys and girls are different because God made them to complement each
Three modes of living are especially important in the nineties.
During the Vietnam war, one prisoner of war noted that they carried him
successfully through seven years of horrible torture, starvation and
deprivation. All his life he had practiced moderation, kept order and
exercised discipline. This is no easy task in this modern age where
feeling good and creature comforts are of prime importance. If a child
observes his parents denying themselves occasionally, being orderly not
only in the home but in their activities and using firm but loving
discipline in raising them, the groundwork will be laid for their own
future struggles, especially in the use of self-restraint when adolescence
arrives with its powerful urges.
The ultimate end of each thought, word and deed of every
creature should be to give glory to Almighty God. We give glory to God
when we not only respond--with the graces He has given us--to His holy
will, but we actually embrace His holy will, no matter what it is, painful
or pleasant. The new Catechism explains how parents must regard their
children: "Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in
heaven, [parents] educate their children to fulfill God's law" (n. 2222).
We can be certain that if the Church teaches it, it is indeed His holy will to
give strong example and to teach them about God's loving plan for the
human race that we might all enjoy a happy eternity. The new
Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent source for parents to
consult as they "raise up their children in the way they should go."
Taken from the "The Catholic Family's Magnificat!", P.O. Box 43-1015,
Pontiac, MI 48343-1015, 810-412-1959, e-mail addresses: on CRNET:
Marianna C Bartold@crnet.org, On Prodigy: TXEF95A@prodigy.com, On
America On-Line: Marianna1@aol.com. Subscriptions to this excellent
magazine for homeschooling families are available for $20.00 a year (4