The Canadian bishops are providing young people with 'the true meaning of the gift of their sexuality,' says moral theologian Patricia Murphy.
When Canada's Catholic bishops issued a countercultural message to young people inviting them to lead lives of chastity, the mainstream news media reacted — but with surprisingly little controversy.
News of the letter hit the media with the digital age's lightning speed as soon as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops posted it at www.cccb.ca, along a link to a video presentation of the document showing young people reading the document out loud.
The Canadian Press quoted the document and supplied a link to a YouTube video. Only the National Post zeroed in on the bishops' call for chastity within marriage and found a moral theologian in the United States who criticized the document for representing views about sexuality similar to those prior to the Second Vatican Council.
The letter , which takes a positive view towards human sexuality, echoes Pope Paul VI's controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae in saying about marriage: "The sexual act has to be unitive and procreative" and "some kinds of sexual activity are not chaste."
"Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when they fall short of what God intends," said the eight-page pastoral letter to young people on chastity issued Jan. 27 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' Commission for Doctrine.
"Today, chastity is often mistakenly associated with being old-fashioned, with a fear of passion or with sexual inhibition. But in reality it is much more than simply the absence of sexual relations. Chastity calls for purity of mind as well as body."
The full text of the bishops' letter was published in the Jan. 31 WCR.
In Canada, the response of Catholic experts to the bishops' letter has been positive.
"Obviously it is a totally countercultural document," said Michele Boulva, the director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family.
"We live in a hyper-sexualized world. Our children grow up with a very limited vision of love and sexuality."
"We should be grateful to the bishops for their courage in presenting another perspective - a more holistic perspective — on sex, and for reminding us of God's humanizing plan on human love and sexuality."
"In our day and age, so many women are treated as objects and so many spouses are cheated upon, with incredibly destruct impacts on children," Boulva said. "If chastity within marriage means not using your partner as an object for pleasure, and also on being faithful, who can be against that?"
"I applaud the bishops for such an honest and encouraging message to young people about the true meaning of the gift of their sexuality," said Patricia Murphy, an assistant professor of Christian Ethics at St. Augustine`s Seminary in Toronto.
"As their message acknowledges, we live in a hyper-sexualized culture — and young people don't need to look past their computers or iPhones to be bombarded with all sorts of images."
"It has probably never been more difficult to be a teenager — to be a young person trying to love authentically and to cultivate the virtue of chastity," Murphy said.
Murphy said the bishops use of "virtues language" is helpful because virtues — like chastity — are, "by definition, good habits."
The approach is both realistic and optimistic about the possibilities for growth in goodness, holiness and happiness, she said. "Even bad habits can be overcome with perseverance and the right supports."
Murphy praised the bishops for introducing examples of holy men and women who "embodied chastity," whose real life examples and challenges provide role models.
She also noted the practical advice the bishops offer on fostering chastity, such as prayer, and the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Both Murphy and Boulva said young people are receptive to guidance and direction on chastity.
Boulva stressed young people have been seriously hurt by society's message about sex as a game without consequences. They have borne the unwanted pregnancies, the after-effects of abortion, and the sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS that have destroyed their hopes for the future.
She also spoke of the wounds young people experience in their souls through the breakup of relationships that have left them disillusioned and afraid to love.
"Young men and women who discover God's plan for human love with an open heart want to live it out because they realize it is not only a physical adventure but also a spiritual endeavour towards true and enduring happiness, " Boulva said.