What Are We Doing to the Young?

Author: Cardinal John O'Connor


John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York

I was hardly dressed for what was coming, in my miter, full vestments and holding my staff in hand, waiting outside Our Lady of Sorrows 125- year-old church to begin the anniversary Mass. Her look almost withered my miter. Her words withered my ears.

"How many kids will die in these streets because you won't give out condoms in the schools?"

I could have shrugged it off as a no-win "When are you going to stop beating your wife" question. I didn't. It disturbed me because she meant it and she was sincere. Nor is she alone in her thinking. Various school boards throughout the country are saying much the same; cheered on by editorials in some of the most important newspapers. I'm told a delegation of assemblymen from Albany want to come to see me to tell me that Catholic teaching on condoms is leading to genocide.

I watched the entire Labor Day Parade from beginning to end. A lot of nice people marching, including a large contingent of the United Federation of Teachers, some with their own children. I spoke with a number and had pictures taken. They seemed serious about the care they were giving their own children. I didn't get any sense at all that they had become teachers to give out condoms.

But now it would appear that the federal government itself wants to get behind condoms in a big way. I saw young kids on television enthusiastic over the idea; heard them say their parents should have nothing to say about it--"none of my parents' business."

Good God! What are we doing to the young? They are crying for bread, and we're giving them stones. Who is killing them, not only physically, but morally and spiritually?

I'm not going to argue that too many condoms are defective, or improperly used, or induce a false sense of security, so that kids end up with AIDS or a venereal disease or get pregnant. Those arguments are absolutely true, but there's a much more critical argument about pushing condoms on kids: It's wrong! It's corrupting thousands of kids. It's telling them they have no personal moral responsibility for their actions. It's telling them that the only real sinners are those who deny them condoms. It says: "It's not your fault if you get AIDS or give someone else AIDS. It's the fault of those who try to push moral values down your throats--those killers--those Catholic priests and bishops, those Protestants and Jews and Muslims who believe in Divine Law and personal responsibility.

William Murchison, syndicated columnist based at the Dallas Morning News, writes betimes for The Human Life Review. I quote from his article in the latest issue, Summer 1993, "The Straight '90s." Speaking of the striking down of a Louisiana sex-education curriculum by a state court, he writes:

"The curriculum recommends sexual abstinence as one means of preventing pregnancy and sexual disease. Ah, but the court reasons that the promotion of abstinence violates 'the taboo on interjecting religious beliefs and moral judgments into teaching.'

"Such a finding is as interesting as it is outrageous. What the court has done is concede to religion the high ground of common sense. In other words, it can't be argued that abstinence doesn't work. Of course it works. Avoid sex, and you avoid the consequences of sex. But abstinence is also a moral proposition; in other words, morality equates with common sense. To do the right thing is to do the sensible thing, the thing that works. The court's problem is the moral connection. The Constitution (on the court's showing) rules out the interjection of moral and religious beliefs into public discourse.

"This means, under the new order, we can't teach what works best. All we can teach is what works second and third best, such as condoms, which are notoriously ineffective in preventing pregnancy, much less AIDS . . .

". . . We rule out the best remedy as unconstitutional. We settle for runner-up remedies, not on account of their effectiveness but rather to facilitate worship of ideological propriety."

I even hear otherwise intelligent people argue: "Well, kids are going to do what they're going to do, so at least we should give them some protection." And with that well-meaning "proverb" they buy into the "quick fix." Stop fighting the real problem. Give up on any hope of goodness and decency and common sense. Give up--let's face what we're really doing--give up on the antiquated notion that there's anything wrong with such normal good clean fun as sex outside of marriage, recreational sex, "inevitable" sex. "Everybody's doing it, so let's make it safe. It's that kind of "safety," not Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, on purity and virtue, on heaven and hell that kills. I have been scorned in some quarters before for saying it, but I'll say it again and again: "Bad morality is bad medicine." I have only heard that ridiculed, not disproved.

It's a sad, sad day when people really believe that the Church is engaged in genocide by teaching that condoms are a formula for disaster. It admittedly hurts to be called a killer, when you're all dressed up for Mass with a miter on. It hurts even more to know that others share that opinion. But it would hurt far worse if I believed it myself.

Sorry, lady, I think you're dead wrong.

Copyright 1993. Celebrate Life March-April 1994. This article previously appeared in Catholic New York; it is reprinted by permission.

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