and Contemporary Sex Education
By James Likoudis
what can we learn from the way Don Bosco handled youth?
In one of the most prescient books of the 1950's the great Harvard sociologist Pitrim Sorokin stressed the inevitable impact on formal education of purely secularist and rationalistic philosophies vying for the allegiance of men after the devastation of two World Wars:
It is now commonplace to observe how popular cries for "sexual freedom," "personal self-fulfillment," "open marriage," "alternative sexual life-styles" and "sexual maturity" reveal what another critic, Max Lerner, termed the "American absorption with sex." The leering preoccupation with sex that is characteristic of what Sorokin called a "sensate culture" is evident at every hand. Sex as America's cultural deity can be seen in the increasingly suggestive fare provided viewers of films, T.V. programs and commercials, as well as in smut magazines and the outright pornographic novels, journals and pictures flooding the market which also, interestingly, increasingly sport elements of blasphemy and sacrilege. In "The Secular City", Harvey Cox rightly referred to "today's sexually rapacious society" and noted: "No aspect of human life seethes with so many unexorcised demons as does sex...and the shamans of sales do their best to nourish them."
This latter comment appears particularly apt with reference to the manner in which professional educationists, publishers and media manipulators have conditioned parents and even some clergy to accept the fetish of "sex education" which has become entrenched in all too many public and parochial schools -- despite the stated moral norms of the Church's Magisterium prohibiting classroom sex education.(1) An impressive amount of evidence has accumulated showing how classroom sex education has become in fact one of the most important ideological vehicles for imposing an essentially secular humanist value system on those youth exposed to it.(2) Tragically, "Catholic" programs of sex education such as the Benziger' Becoming a Person program, the Paulist' Education in Love program and the New Jersey Fox program betray the same disastrous resonances of relativism and situationism in sexual ethics which inevitably characterize public-school curricula influenced by the "value-free approach" dear to the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)(3). For some years Catholic parents have protested the proliferation of sordid sex-education materials being utilized in catechesis which have threatened the purity and modesty of their children and which have scandalously deviated from the Church's teaching on masturbation, pre-marital sex, contraception, abortion, homosexuality and divorce(4). Sex-education controversies involving parochial schools have manifested the bitter resentment of parents at their offspring being inculcated with the false teaching that normative sexual morality is relative rather than absolute, and that questions of moral right and wrong are to be determined by the scientific research of sexologists and "porno-theologians" rather than by God's Natural Law and/or Christ's Revelation as communicated by the Teaching Authority (Magisterium) of the Church(5).
It is clear that the contemporary denial or neglect of the doctrine of original sin by sexologists, behavioral scientists and sex educators has resulted in their ignoring the consequences of the Fall of Adam on man's sexual nature. There is no (or little) recognition that Adam's loss of original justice and the supernatural gift of integrity has resulted in the perversion of the sexual function in his descendents, i.e., there is now a strong inclination to succumb to sexual lust or carnality. The Church has always taught that sex, originally intended for procreation and love, is now wounded in its operation, and needs to be redeemed and sanctified.
Christ's grace alone can regenerate and transform the whole of fallen man, and regain for him the divine purpose and meaning of sex. In this process of sanctification (in which the Sacrament of Matrimony has a key role), the careful cultivation of the virtue of purity is indispensable for directly controlling the power of sex in accordance with reason and Christian faith. A Russian Orthodox theologian has well written:
The refusal, however, of contemporary sex educators to take into account the results of the Fall of Adam visiting man with sin, corruption and death has lamentably minimized the need for man's transformation in Christ (wherein purity, self-denial, prayer and the sacraments are a necessary part of the Christian ascesis obliging both the married and unmarried).
The loss of a genuine theological perspective among those foisting classroom sex education on Catholic youngsters has resulted in the appalling introduction into the sphere of religious education of the naturalism, secularism and explicit sexuality which characterize the mores of a decadent civilization rapidly reverting to paganism. Instead of laying the foundations for that mentality among Catholic youth which is prepared to battle nature and its fallen tendencies in favor of the teachings of Christ, "Catholic" Family Life programs have engaged in watering down Christ's "hard sayings" about sex and marriage reducing them to the level of secular humanist banalities.
It is a serious matter that much "Catholic" sex-education literature put into the hands of children and youth and produced under the aegis of questionable theories of child-developmental psychology has gone so far as to exceed the bounds of decency in their detailed information concerning the "facts of life." Their authors have obviously forgotten these wise words which Feodor Dostoyevsky placed on the lips of one of his characters in The Brothers Karamazov: "Profound as psychology is, it's a knife that cuts both ways...You can prove anything by it...I am speaking of the abuse of psychology, gentlemen." It is a matter of fact that the psychology relied upon by most Catholic and secular sex educators is saturated with anti-Christian Freudian and neo-Freudian assumptions concerning the nature of man.
In the opinion of many Catholic parents, nothing is more readily calculated to destroy confidence in Catholic schools than a corrupting classroom sex instruction which ignores Original Sin and its effects on human personality, assaults the personal privacy of the child and violates the spirit of purity, modesty and reverence which the Church declares must mark the moral formation of Catholic children and youth.
The contemporary classroom stress on the "psychosexual development" of the child as "part of Christian personal development" must be understood as a disreputable apologia for engaging in detailed physiological information about sex which the Church has always warned against. Such a "scientific" approach flies in the face of the Church's teaching which insists that sexual sins are not so much the result of the intellect's ignorance as of weakness of will exposed to corrupting influences and deprived of the means of grace. (Cf. Pius XI's classic "Encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth", #52-61.) This abusive pedagogy being indulged in by contemporary sex educators flagrantly contradicts the "positive and prudent sexual education" called for by the Second Vatican Council (Gravissimum Educationis #1) which on this delicate matter as on other subjects harkens to the traditional teaching of the Saints for inspiration. Indeed, the principles and methods of Christian education successfully utilized by the Saints in training youth remains an ever-fertile source of guidance for those engaged in instructing children in the virtue of purity. St. John Bosco (1815-1888) is a model "par excellence" of the kind of "sex educator" the Church wishes to see engaged in the instruction of her children. It will be evident that an abyss separates St. John Bosco as a teacher of morals from the run-of-the-mill sex educators let loose even within the Church.
The life and example of the founder of the Salesians, St. John Bosco, makes resplendent the role of Christianity in acting not so much as a simple policeman of the passions but as a truly supernatural Mater et Magistra of souls inspiring in man that love of the truth, of God, which will bring him to that moral heroism Christ demands "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). How St. John Bosco loved the virtue of purity and encouraged his students to love and respect it is a major theme that is dwelt upon by all his biographers. Above all, it was from the positive base of personal holiness that he made his young students understand the terribleness of desacralizing and impoverishing the gift of sex received from a loving Creator. When speaking of purity, he often appeared to his listeners to be more an angel than a man.
As Fr. Giovanni Battista Lemoyune, the first and greatest chronicler of his life, related:
It is striking to read Don Bosco's exhortations to his clerics and religious to keep from his boys anything that might arouse unseemly curiosity about sex or evil thoughts:
Never did St. John permit himself any undue familiarities with his boys, and he was extremely reserved in his relations and contacts with women. He stressed the need for strict self-control over the senses and there are some remarkable stories of the care he took to safeguard himself from the "concupiscence of the eyes" (Cf. 1John 2:16). Like countless other Saints, he especially urged his boys to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, when tempted, and have frequent recourse to the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance for spiritual strength.
St. John Bosco instilled such an ardent love of God and purity of soul in his young charges that his conscientious biographer was obliged to add:
St. John Bosco's pedagogical emphasis on the moral aspects of human sexuality (combining a prudent contextual reserve with careful instruction on the commandments and on virtues and vices he did not fear, moreover, to label sin for the evil it is) is clearly at odds with the reigning "sex-education-industry" approach which appears determined to multiply consumers via coercive classroom settings. The supernatural wisdom of the Saint, however, finds modern support in the writings of such eminent psychiatrists as the Viennese psychotherapist Dr. Viktor Frankl:
In light of the aforesaid spiritual teaching, counsels and example given by such enlightened Saint-educators as St. John Bosco, it is reasonable to conclude that the force-feeding elementary and secondary "Catholic" sex-education programs currently in vogue with all their panoply of illustrations, charts, diagrams and weighty "scientific" bibliographies constitute a serious deformation of the "positive and prudent sexual education" of youth requested by the Second Vatican Council, and represent a monstrous caricature of the divine pedagogy of the Saints with respect to Educating for Purity.
The great French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac was not a canonized saint, but he too could write penetratingly for the benefit of modern educators:
Is it not time for attention to be focused on those assassins of purity in both Church and civil society who are the horrendous counterpart of those whom another great Frenchman, the late Jean Cardinal Danielou, once called "assassins of the Faith?"
This article appeared in "HOMILETIC & PASTORAL REVIEW" a fine religious periodical, Aug./Sept. 1975