DETROIT, Michigan, OCT. 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Culture has all but embraced homosexual activity since abandoning the principle that procreative sex within a marriage is the only moral form of sexuality, says an expert on the Church’s sexual teachings.
Janet E. Smith, who holds the Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Issues at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, shared her views with ZENIT in this interview.
A consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family, Smith is the author of “Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later” (CUA Press). More than 500,000 copies of her tape, “Contraception: Why Not” (One More Soul) have been distributed.
Q: Do you see any connection between the rejection of the Church’s teaching on contraception and the push for homosexual marriages?
Smith: Not so many years ago at a conference on homosexuality, Russell Hittinger argued that there is not much ground for opposing homosexual marriages in a culture where most unions are contraceptive. He said we were already blessing unions whose primary reason for existence was sexual pleasure.
In fact, many years ago, when dissent first started concerning the Church’s teaching on contraception, some of those defending the teaching said, if we were to approve of contraception, soon people would be arguing that masturbation, fornication and homosexuality were morally permissible. Some people thought those claims were absurd and likely most now would as well, but in both the Church and in the culture it is clear that widespread acceptance of contraception has radically changed our understanding of sexuality.
Rather than holding to the Christian and common sense view that sex belongs within marriage between a male and a female committed to each other for life and open to children, our culture thinks that sex is quite simply for pleasure — and that almost any combination of consenting individuals may morally seek that pleasure without any commitment, without an openness to children.
Now, I am one of those who believe that probably most of those with homosexual orientations have some sort of psychological disorder probably not acquired through their own deliberate choices; something damaging may have happened in their youth or childhood. Thus, I am not suggesting that people who contracept are going to begin to engage in homosexual activity — though I do think they may develop appetites for various kinds of perverse sexual activity.
What I am saying is that the culture becomes more accepting of homosexual activity since it has abandoned the principle that heterosexuality with a respect for the procreative power of the act is the only moral form of sexuality.
Q: Dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception is still widespread. How has that changed dating and courtship over the past 40 years?
Smith: There basically is no such thing as dating and courtship except in the smallest of religious circles. Now there is “coupling” and “hooking up” and “living together,” but little really careful selection of dating partners followed by a slow and careful process of getting to know the other and to let oneself be known.
There is no question that contraception has greatly increased the incidence of sex outside of marriage. Certainly very few people marry as virgins. Many people start having sex early in a relationship.
The pattern of marriages in the United States is often something like this: multiple sexual partners before marriage; a two- or three-year period of cohabitation, all the while contracepting; two or three years of contracepted sex after marriage; suspending with contraception for a short period of time in order to conceive the first child; return to contraception; suspending contraception to conceive the second child; then the wife or husband gets sterilized; then they get divorced.
This is not the pattern of courtship or marriage that God had in mind.
Abstinence before marriage permits the couple to get to know each other without the confusion and premature bonding of sexual involvement; they can get out of relationships that aren’t leading to marriage without severe heartbreak and disruption to one’s life. They develop a wide range of methods of expressing their love for each other, and when they begin their sexual relationship after marriage it is the proper “seal” to put on a relationship they have already established and intend to nurture for a lifetime.
Q: In your experience with young people, what has been the impact, if any, of “Humanae Vitae”?
Smith: Young or not so young, few Catholics have read it or attempted to live it. For several decades seminarians were taught not to teach the teaching of “Humanae Vitae.” Father Charles Curran’s position was dominant: “The Church was wrong and would eventually change.”
Thus in the last several decades even Catholics who have gone through Catholic high schools and colleges and through Catholic marriage preparation have heard no explanation or defense of the Church’s teaching. The document has either been ignored or pilloried.
Q: What is the toughest thing for young people to understand about the Church’s teaching? Have you seen a shift in thinking among young people over the years?
Smith: It is not so tough for the young to understand once it is explained to them. The young and even the not so young are surprisingly receptive once they understand what the meaning and purpose of sexuality is.
They have some deep sense that this culture is tremendously messed up about sexuality and that people have suffered great damage because of their sexual choices. When they hear the Church’s teaching about sexuality articulated it makes quite a bit of sense to them.
One thing I can count on is that young people hate divorce; either they have grown up in divorced households and have experienced the heartbreak and trauma of divorce or they have friends who have. They want long-lasting marriages.
When I tell them that those who live by the Church’s teaching — no sex before marriage, no contraception within marriage, using of NFP [natural family planning] to space children when necessary — almost never divorce, they are prepared to listen.
Yes, there has been a huge shift. My generation didn’t want to listen to anyone over 30 and we have paid a great price for our arrogance, as have our children and our culture. Frankly, young people don’t want to be as messed up as we are, and are looking for another, better way.
The Church has the other, better way. Various movements in the Church are succeeding in galvanizing the faith of young people and they are prepared to give the Church’s teaching on any matter a very respectful hearing.
Q: Regarding sexual morality, contemporary society and the media promote a message very different from Catholic teachings. How can the Church communicate better to young people the wisdom of “Humanae Vitae”?
Smith: There is actually an abundance of good material out there. Parents should acquire some of it and read it, watch it, listen to it and discuss it with their children.
Among others, I recommend the works of Mary Beth Bonacci, Jason Everett, Chris West, Colleen Kelly Mast and Molly Kelly, and the programs developed by Family Honor, the Couple to Couple League, Teen Star and the Family of the Americas.
Q: What effect has Pope John Paul II’s teachings had in this regard?
Smith: It has had an enormous effect. Young adults are mesmerized by his “Theology of the Body,” especially as promoted by such effective presenters as Chris West. Themes such as the nuptial meaning of the body, the need for self-mastery and sexuality as being a complete gift of one’s self seem to grab young people. It is being taught with fervor in several seminaries and in conferences for laity across the United States. Seeds are being sown that will bear great fruit.
Q: Are you foresee any bright spots?
Smith: In another generation I think we will see a very different Church. Priests and seminarians will make promoting the Church’s teaching on sexuality one of the foremost themes of their pastoring, both through various means of educating their parish and through marriage preparation. The abstinence-based chastity education programs are having an effect.
If we get people basing their marriages on the Church’s teaching, we will have many more happy and healthy families. A good number of those families already exist and they are producing strong vocations to the religious life, to the celibate life and to married life. I am a firm optimist in this respect.