Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

Calling Sin by its Real Ugly Name

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

As reparation for my sins, and to help me be a better protector of children, I have been reading the Grand Jury Report from Pennsylvania. The Report documents the history of clerical sexual abuse in six of the Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona, which have been the subject of other reports). It is truly horrifying reading, enough to make your blood boil with rage at the men who did these wicked evil demonic things and the foolish incompetent men who failed to properly respond to them.

The most horrifying thing about the report is not just the cold, clinical way in which these awful sins are described by the Report. That’s somewhat understandable, because it’s an official document and they should strive for a tone of objectivity. Rather, it’s the cold, clinical, impersonal way that the internal Church documents discuss the offenses and how diocesan officials were reacting and handling them.

The Report singles one statement that is really beyond belief, but it is sadly not untypical:

In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist. (6)

That kind of indifference to the victims and solicitude for the offenders is all too typical of the internal Church documents cited in the Report. It is incomprehensible to me that those diocesan officials did not die of shame when they read Matthew 18:6 (“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”) and 19:14 (“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”).

One of the hallmarks of the culture of silence and cover-up was the systematic use of euphemisms to describe what was happening. Terms such as “inappropriate sexual relationship”, “boundary issues”, “this difficult time”, and priests being “reassigned” or “out on sick leave” were used to conceal the true nature of what was happening. Plain words like “crime”, “sin”, “rape”, “sodomy”, and “torture” were rarely if ever used.

We have to call sin by its real name. Yes, those names are ugly, but not as ugly as the sins they describe. Nothing is as ugly as that. The Catechism provides a full panoply of very blunt talk about sexual sin, such as:

  • “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (CCC 2356)
  • “sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care… is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing.” (CCC 2389)
  • “Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.” (CCC 2396)
  • “intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (masturbation, CCC 2352)
  • “gravely contrary to the dignity of persons” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “grave scandal when there is corruption of the young” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure” (lust, CCC 2351)
  • “a grave offense” (pornography, CCC 2354)
  • “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.” (CCC 2357)

You hear none of that plain language in the internal documents of the Church cited in the Report. Indeed, you get little sense that the gross immorality of the abusive behavior was even on the radar. Nor do you feel any degree of moral outrage at the evil behavior of the offenders, nor any effort to seriously discipline them. There is virtually no indication that any bishop ever seriously considered using the ample penal procedures of the Canon Law. All the priests were treated as if they had an illness to be treated quietly, not as if they had committed grevious sins for which they needed to repent and do reparation.

The only way that this horrendous scandal can be adequately dealt with requires first and foremost that we tell the truth. About the failures to respond to allegations appropriately. About the failures to bring law enforcement into the picture. About the failure to protect others from known offenders. And, to be fair, about the strides that we have taken in the last decade to improve things.

But more than anything else, we need to call sin by its real ugly name. And treat it with the revulsion it deserves.

Preaching, Practicing, and Conversion

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Last week, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of the great encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. This event is being commemorated by Catholics around the world who share the Holy Father’s beautiful vision of marriage and love. We are particularly noting the Holy Father’s prescience in foreseeing all the ills that would befall society if contraception and sex outside of marriage were to become accepted.

This year also happens to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s comprehensive declaration on sexual morality, Persona Humana, which is best-known for its unequivocal condemnation of all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual acts and masturbation. It also marks the 37th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which is noted for its magnificent teaching on the beauty of marriage and the integrity of married sexuality, including a rejection of any form of contraception. It is also the 26th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which comprehensively catalogued Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, again including an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual acts outside of marriage and any contraceptive act. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s compendium of Church teaching and advice for families in educating their children, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

We can also note the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (13th anniversary), theUnited States Catholic Catechism for Adults (from the U.S. Bishops — 12 years old), and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (also USCCB — 9 years old), all of which reiterate the same immemorial Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

All of these teachings offer us a beautiful, uplifting and affirming understanding of the nature of the human person, the meaning of our bodies, the way to experience true love, and the means to embrace the gifts of fertility and new life. If people accepted and abided by them, there would be an immeasurable increase in human happiness, and many of our social ills would be eradicated. Just imagine what life would be like for women in particular. There would be no more abusive objectification of women through pornography, no degrading hook-up culture, no sex trafficking, and no sexualization of young girls. Marriages would thrive in a climate of actual mutual self-giving and respect. The #MeToo movement would be incomprehensible and unnecessary.

Tragically, that’s not the case. The destructive legacy of the sexual revolution is everywhere to be seen and is even worse than Blessed Pope Paul predicted. The signs are all around us and are  almost tiresome to repeat  — the saturation of culture with pornography, denigration of women in popular music, out-of-wedlock births, a dehumanizing dating scene based on meaningless sex, the decline in marriage, the breakdown of families, abortion, and on, and on, and on. Hearts have been twisted into thinking that this is all normal and acceptable, instead of being an abberation from God’s plan for human life and love. Opinion surveys repeatedly show that Catholics generally do not accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality and are largely no different from the rest of society in approval of non-marital sex, homosexual acts, contraceptive use, cohabitation, etc. We are definitely not practicing what our Church is preaching, and we are paying the price.

In fairness, it has to be said that regular Mass-goers are more likely to accept Church teaching, but the numbers are still appallingly low. It is also enormously encouraging that there is a core group of Catholics — especially young adults — who not only accept but cherish the teachings of the Church and see them as the liberating and life-giving gift that God intends them to be.

The sex abuse crisis that we have been going through as a Church and society is certainly an outgrowth of the sexual revolution. It stems from the evil lie that sex is merely a physical act with no deeper meaning and no necessary connection to marriage. It then adds the perverse idea that it can be used as an instrument of power, exploitation and oppression. The sins of abusive clergymen are wicked on several levels. They are violations of the absolute prohibition on sex outside of marriage; they are an inexcusable breach of the obligation of perpetual continence for the clergy; in most cases they are acts that the Church has called “acts of great depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”; they are horrific betrayals of trust that corrupt the innocent; they cruelly mistreat people made in the image and likeness of God as if they were mere instruments for use; and they are egregious acts of violence that leave lasting scars. They also weaken — if not destroy — the credibility of the Church in teaching the will of God for sexuality, and lead people to believe that there is no truth in it. In characterizing these acts, weak phrases like “disappointing” or “morally unacceptable” are nowhere near sufficient. They must be condemned in no uncertain terms as wicked sins that cry out to heaven for justice.

In this context, it’s hard for our priests to preach the truth about sexuality. It must be disheartening that so few of their flock are practicing what the Church preaches, and to read the headlines about the sins of other clergymen. But we cannot be satisfied with this status quo. Those of us who treasure and live by the teachings of the Church must stand up and speak the truth, and encourage our clergy to do the same. Even with all the negative factors in play, this is no time for defensiveness, it is a time for boldness. God’s truth about sexuality is good for us and good for society, and is the ultimate answer to all the sexual sins that horrify us.

The Church has given us a wealth of teachings about sexuality. We need more preaching. We need more practicing. And we all need more conversion.

Sowing, Reaping, and Protecting

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Our nation has been horrified over the past few months with revelations of sexual misconduct by major political and artistic figures. This follows the disclosure last year of the President’s sexual misconduct and the rehashing of past sexual scandals involving powerful political figures like President Clinton. Along with the new allegations have been numerous instances of cover-up conspiracies, cultures of fear and silence, and punishing and intimidating of victims and witnesses.

All of this is way too familiar for us in the Church. It is startlingly similar to the crimes of clerical sexual abuse against minors, and the failure to respond to those allegations, all of which began to come to light in 2001. We have learned many hard lessons from our past failures, and we are continually challenged to keep improving.

One thing we have learned is that sexual abuse of vulnerable people comes from many causes, and that there are many ways that we can respond to it.

One major contributing factor has been the destruction of all norms of sexual morality that came about from the Sexual Revolution. A climate of “anything goes as long as there’s some kind of consent” seems to be the only operating principle of sexual ethics in our culture. And even that standard seems to be optional among the rich and powerful. Gone are the virtues of modesty, chastity, continence, self-control, respect, and temperance. They have been replaced by a hedonistic worldview that treats human beings as mere bodies to be used for pleasure – a pornographic culture. Virtue has been superseded by vice. And we are left with the disordered sexual feelings that have eclipsed healthy sexuality and replaced it with lust.

This cultural ethos certainly infected the Church – we are not at all immune from social trends and attitudes. And it definitely pervades the entertainment industry, which has also been its principal propagandist. And, of course, the political world has been inundated with it. This shouldn’t surprise us, especially when you consider the toxic formula that produces it. The loss of sexual virtue plus the glorification of vice plus tremendous power imbalance in relationships equals a structure of sin that inevitably harms weak and vulnerable people – and in our culture, that principally means young women and men, and especially children.

St. Paul hit it on the nose: “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). And we have certainly reaped the whirlwind. The calamitous results of the Sexual Revolution are uniformly depressing and tragic, as the daily headlines demonstrate. Just consider: 50+ million unborn children lost; the destruction of the nuclear family in large parts of our nation as marriage rates have gone down and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed; robbing children of their innocence and normalizing early sexual activity, which has disastrous consequences for mental and physical health; confusion about sexuality that even leads people to doubt the reality that we are made as male and female; an epidemic of sexually-transmitted disease, some of which are fatal and incurable; massive increases in depression in women and young people; the explosion and mainstreaming of pornography, which is fed by the appallingly exploitive human trafficking industry; and on, and on, and on. The number of victims grows daily.

And the behavior we’ve seen reported falls right into this disgraceful legacy. Some of it is as bad as it gets: rapes committed on the “casting couch”;  forcible grabbing and groping of private parts; pursuing, grooming and molesting minors. Others are not as grave but still appalling, particularly the persistent and egregious courses of sexual harassment like repeated lewd comments and unwelcome solicitations of sex. Organizations have rallied around the powerful to cover up their abuses, and the weak have been cast aside. I’ve been involved in policing this behavior for a long time and it still astonishes me how brazen and unprincipled some people are.

We’ve learned from our own history in the Church that there are concrete ways to prevent – or at least minimize – sexual abuse and harassment. The willingness of victims to come forward is the first and most important step in preventing the whirlwind from taking more casualties. That is the only way that we can remove offenders from circulation and prevent future victimization.

Of course, victims won’t come forward unless they know that they will be listened to and that justice will be done. Recent events and campaigns like #MeToo have shown that many are willing to speak up once they know that people will listen. Unfortunately, it’s also obvious that some people would rather re-victimize them in order to protect a powerful person like Harvey Weinstein or an institution like a Hollywood studio, to advance the political career of a person like Roy Moore, or to preserve a GOP advantage in the US Senate. We have to make clear that this kind of re-victimization is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible, and that there is no excuse for overlooking sexual abuse to serve some utilitarian agenda.

It’s also essential that victims understand that we want to help them to heal. The transition from victim to survivor is difficult to manage, and it’s a very individual thing. If an organization is serious about responding to sexual misconduct, they have to be willing to invest time, effort and money to helping victims heal. We’ve done that recently and successfully here in the Archdiocese with our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

We also have to have an up-front commitment that there will be no toleration of sexual abuse or harassment, and that an organization’s efforts will be held accountable and be transparent. There have to be clear standards and they have to be enforced consistently and reasonably. This is especially important in the sexual harassment arena, because the boundaries of acceptable behavior are malleable and uncertain right now, and it would be a tragedy if normal human relations are deterred because of unnecessary fear and suspicion.

The ultimate response to the scourge of sexual misconduct is to re-develop a climate of virtue. Authentic sexual desire is a gift from God, intended to lead us ultimately to the mutual self-gift of marriage. It can also be expressed in altruistic and chaste friendships, and in many other positive and healthy relationships in the workplace and elsewhere. If we could restore an ethos of sexual virtue, then that would be a genuine Sexual Revolution.

A Culture of Protection

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

In the past few weeks, we have seen a series of lurid and shocking stories about sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry. Accounts by actresses of disgusting sexual harassment and assault by powerful industry leaders. The continuation of the infamous “casting couch” where sexual favors are the price for advancing a career. Abuse of child actors that is excused, overlooked or explained away. And the conspiracy of silence and retribution that prevents victims from coming forward and allows offenders to act with impunity.

In the Church, we have seen more than our share of this. When the major scandal broke out in 2001, we were all horrified at the extent of child sexual abuse that had occurred, as well as the ineffectiveness (and in some cases culpable inadequacy) of the Church’s response.

But things have changed dramatically in the Church. In creating a safe environment for children, a protective corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable. We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (the Archbishop, Chancery, pastors, principals, DRE’s, etc), who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem.

Like every other diocese in the country, the Archdiocese has put into place comprehensive policies for child protection. We require all those who will be in contact with children to be screened (including a criminal background check) and trained in our policies and in how to recognize and respond to potential child abuse situations. Our policies address a wide range of potential situations, including overnight and day trips, online safety, professional boundaries, and child pornography. We regularly review and adapt our policies to address new situations. And we have a team of retired law enforcement officers who visit our parishes and schools to evaluate the effectiveness of our policies at the local level and to recommend any changes or updates that are needed. We are audited annually by an independent firm hired by the US Bishops’ Conference, and the audit results are submitted to the National Review Board and made public.

We have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity. All reports of child abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement authorities (typically local district attorneys, state child protection authorities, and local police). We fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, conduct our own internal  investigation as well. If it is determined that the allegation is substantiated, then the offender is permanently barred from any ministry. We have also tried to offer some closure and peace to past victims by setting up our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

The net result is a corporate culture in the Church that has demonstrated a clear commitment to child protection, as well as transparency and accountability for how we put that into practice.

The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark. In that world, there is a widespread acceptance and promotion of all kinds of sexual vice, including the gross sexualization of children (especially young girls). There has been no demonstrated commitment to identifying and excluding offenders, and there is no systematic approach to prevent further abuse. Repeated allegations by actors about having been abused as children have been ignored. Known offenders continue to work and in some cases are defended and given prominent honors. And the recent revelations make clear that powerful people in the industry can act with impunity, can intimidate victims into silence, and that there are many people who will turn a blind eye to abuses.

At the root of all of this, of course, it is a question of good and evil, vice and virtue. For all our faults, the Church has always upheld the virtues of sexual purity and chastity. That gives us a guiding star to orient all of our policies and programs. Failure to abide by those high standards is a terrible betrayal, but we can always re-orient ourselves back to the ideal with the help of God’s grace.

The entertainment industry, sadly, is not guided by any such principle. It is the leading promoter of sexual license and immorality, and as a result has created “structures of sin”. Pope John Paul had an important insight into this kind of phenomenon:

“such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world, and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16)

As he also noted, structures of sin “grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behavior.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

Corporate culture is rooted in individual actions. When an organization is committed to doing the right thing, the corporate culture will reinforce those efforts and make them more effective. In child protection, there is nothing more important than that.

The Disastrous Sexual Revolution

Friday, May 19th, 2017

So the Sexual Revolution is now almost sixty years old, if we date it from the first approval of oral hormonal contraceptives here in the United States. How’s that working out?

A handful of news stories over the last week provide a good look at how things have played out, and the results are pretty bad — for individuals, families and society as a whole.

The New York Times, always the bellwether of the latest cultural swamp’s thinking, tries once again to promote the wonders of an “open marriage”. Interestingly, one of the partners in this immoral tryst hasn’t told his wife about it – but there’s no apparent concern by any of the trio about how she might feel about his betrayal.

Some tech guys in California have invented a “sex robot”, so nobody has to actually have a human relationship in order to experience pleasure. It’s hard to tell which is creepier – the concept or the robots themselves.

Self-absorbed people have decided that the cool thing is to become a “sologamist” – meaning that they’re marrying themselves. This is just about a perfect snapshot of our narcissistic culture. Who needs another human being when it’s all about me?

Yet another study shows that chronic porn use leads to chronic sexual dysfunction in men. What a shock. Objectifying women, treating them as objects for personal use, and separating sex from actual human relationships – what could possibly go wrong?

A new poll shows that Americans hold increasingly liberal opinions about all kinds of sexual behavior. Again, no surprises, since original sin and personal sins lead us into all sorts of blindness.

These stories don’t appear in a vacuum. Statistics show a grim picture of current family life: only 50% of American adults are currently married, an all-time low; only 69% of American children live in families headed by two parents while 23% live in single-mother households; and 40% of births are to unwed mothers. The results of this are equally grim: 36.5% of single-mother families and 22% of single-father families live in poverty, compared to only 7.5% of married families; the life-time risk of divorce is now between 42% and 45%; the risk of social problems (crime, substance abuse, educational failure, physical and sexual abuse) are all much higher for children in non-marital households. So how’s that Sexual Revolution working out?

I know it’s antediluvian to do so, but maybe it would be a good idea to look back to the predictions made by Pope Paul VI in his prescient encyclical Humanae Vitae. Here is what he warned about if contraceptive use and mentality were to become prevalent:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. 

Yes, yes, and yes. The Holy Father has been proven correct, in abundance. Millions of children lost to abortion and contraception. Suffering of men and women post-abortion. Collapse of a supportive marriage culture. Separation of sex from procreation and from marriage. Broken hearts from the hook-up culture. Widespread acceptance of objectively immoral behavior. Massive increase in divorce and single parenthood. Epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. Rampant abuse and objectification of women. Torrents of pornography, particularly with disgusting and degrading violence towards women and children. Evil government policies of forced contraception and sterilization, limits on family size, and coerced abortions. Ideological colonialism by rich countries that tie desperately needed foreign aid to “population control” plans and propaganda campaigns.

Can anyone not blinded by ideology or captive to libertinism reasonably say that the Sexual Revolution has led to an overall increase in human welfare and happiness? The tragedy is that the antidote to this social and personal catastrophe is right in front of us – the truth of human sexuality and human love that is proclaimed by the Catholic Church, namely, that sexuality is a great gift that is ordered to the life-long unity and well-being of man and woman and the procreation and rearing of children. In other words, the solution is precisely what our hedonistic and self-destructive culture derides and holds in contempt.

When the road is leading to ruin, it’s madness to keep going straight and press the accelerator down harder. The only thing to do is change course, get back on the right road, and heal the wounds of those who were damaged by this tragically failed revolution.

A True Understanding of Sexual Identity

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Having written a number of blogs about the nonsense of gender ideology, it’s only fair that I outline the true vision of sexuality presented by the Church.

It’s very important to understand at the outset that this vision is part of a coherent system of thought about human nature — anthropology in the real sense. It is informed by faith and revelation, but it is also confirmed by reason and science. It is not to be accepted just because the Church says so. It is proposed for acceptance because God has revealed it to us, and also because it makes sense.

First, let’s lay out a few definitions of terms.

  • “Sex” means whether a person is male or female.
  • “Sexuality” is a much broader term that encompasses one’s biological sex, but is not limited to our reproductive anatomy. It includes the characteristics that have been identified by science (e.g., psychology, neuroscience) to have an impact on the way we experience the world as males or as females. It also has an element of divine will in it – we are made deliberately by God as male or female, and are intended to express and receive love as men or women in all our relationships with family, friends, spouses, etc.
  • “Sexual identity” is the way that we integrate our sexuality into the overall self-understanding of who we are as persons.
  • “Gender”  I have serious misgivings about using this word.  The way it is currently being used, it means both too much and therefore virtually nothing at all, and it presupposes an irrational complete separation from biological sex. However, I think the term has some validity if it is understood in the narrow sense that Pope Francis uses it in Amoris Laetitia: “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. So in this limited sense, the term “gender” would mean our biological sex, including the innate characteristics that flow from that, plus socially-defined ideas and expectations about men and women.

Having said that, there are several points that serve as the fundamental foundation for our view of the human person, and thus of human sexuality.

  • Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. We are not just accidents of an impersonal evolutionary process (although we have certainly evolved in many ways from earlier forms). Instead, each person is directly willed by God and brought into existence. We are, each and every one of us, good in God’s eyes, even with all of our faults. And we have a purpose in life — to be happy in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
  • Human beings are not just material, but are the union of soul and body. Our soul is our spiritual component, the part of us where we experience feelings, thoughts, dreams, knowledge, personality, and free will. Our lives are a constant partnership of the physical and spiritual, in which we live in both the world of our senses and in our inner life. The physical and spiritual are intrinsically united, and I cannot even exist without both — their separation is the actual definition of death.
  • Every human person is made male or female. Our sex is a definitional part of who we are — God deliberately made each one of us, both body and soul, as a man or a woman. This is part of the innermost core of our being. This is crucially important — we are not male and female just because of our biological sex, we have that biological sex because God has made us male or female. Our anatomy is one of the ways that our male or female identity is revealed, but we can also see it in so many aspects of our lives.  We don’t know this just because of revelation, but it is confirmed by the evidence of science. Genetics, physiology, neurology, and psychology all recognize the intrinsic differences between the sexes. These can be seen in the ways that men and women experience the world, have feelings, and form our relationships. The differences between men and women do not in any way imply inequality. Instead, “Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. ” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Women, 7) This complementarity and equality of male and female has a deep meaning and significance for who we are and what we are meant to be.

The Church proposes a vision of human nature and sexuality that brings these principles into harmony and allows every human being to develop and flourish as God desires, so that we can find genuine love and be truly happy.

We hold firmly to the truth that we cannot separate sexuality or sexual identity from biological fact. The reality of our biological sex “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”. (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, 4). So our sexuality is not just a physical phenomenon. It helps to define every human being on every level – emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Indeed, since by our very nature we are ensouled bodies, there can’t be a radical separation of the physical and spiritual. Our true identity depends on both — we are male or female in both our body and our soul. Our bodies are not just raw material to be changed and adjusted to match our feelings, no matter how transitory or deeply-seated. Every person is a man or a woman, regardless of how they might feel, or how they might change their anatomy. I would be operating under a serious delusion if I were to make a mistake about this.

As a result, we have no need for notions of “gender identity” or “gender expression” that are at odds with our biological sex. Remember, as those terms are used in our culture nowadays, they mean one’s subjective attitude and experience of one’s “gender”, and how one expresses that. But it makes no sense to adopt an identity that denies an essential fact about myself (i.e., that was made by God as male or female), to define my identity based purely on transitory cultural norms, or — even more so — to trade one socially-defined “gender identity” for another. People can accept or reject social norms as much as they want — it’s a free country, after all — but it isn’t healthy to deny the truth about our sex, and what it means for who we are.

Instead, a healthy sexual identity is always rooted in the reality that we are male and female in both body and soul. We then seek to integrate our feelings, personality, self-image, etc. with that fact, and express ourselves accordingly in our relationships. In this way, there is no separation between a person’s “gender identity” and their sexual identity.

To do this, it is vital to understand that my sexuality is not just about me. The physical reality of male and female anatomy itself shows that we are created for others, and that God did not intend for us to live in isolation. After all, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) In fact, we believe that human sexuality is fundamentally ordered towards the union of man and woman in matrimony – the unique loving relationship that involves a gift of self to another that is designed to bear fruit.

This means that every person is called to develop their sexual identity in a way that integrates their masculinity or femininity, and their call to live in relationship with others. This is a life-long task, and it goes through stages of development. Frequently, we find this to be difficult. There is often a tension between our physical impulses, our feelings, and God’s will. Society sends us conflicting signals about how to deal with this, signals that are becoming more and more confusing.

The way to integrate all of the elements of a healthy sexuality and sexual identity is by working on developing the virtue of chastity. That word is typically understood to mean abstinence from any sexual behavior, but in our view it actually means living our sexuality in the fullness of its deeper meaning, according to our state in life. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” ( CCC 2337) Chastity is expressed in different ways, in different relationships, according to God’s will.  For example, chastity means continence for single people and fidelity for married people.

Of course, it is not easy to live a life of chastity, and our present cultural values make it particularly difficult. But by developing this virtue with the help of God’s grace, we can harmonize our physical reality (e.g., our bodies and sensory desires), our spiritual nature and our affective experiences (e.g., our feelings and personality), and live in authentic loving relationships. We can thus truly be ourselves, on all levels of our being.

That is how a fully and properly ordered sexual identity works. We don’t try to change reality, nor do we deny human nature. We embrace them, and learn to live with them, however difficult that may be. But in the end this is the way to true happiness, by living according to the plan that God has set out for each one of us.

(Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra, for her contributions to this article, particularly her challenging questions that helped greatly to clarify my thinking and language)

Irrationality, Magical Thinking, and Gender Ideology

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

The drive to enforce universal acceptance of gender ideology is accellerating in our country. Government action, coupled with cultural propaganda, is seeking to transform our understanding of the nature of the human person as male and female. I have been having a number of discussions about this with my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra. She has a background in academic philosophy, which gives her very valuable insights into the problem. She recently wrote me an email that I thought was worth sharing, along with my responses (her thoughts in italics, mine in plain text):

First of all, why have we so easily accepted the distinction between biological sex and gender? Who suddenly defined gender as “an individual’s actual or perceived sex, gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned at birth”? Just because new concepts have been invented doesn’t mean we must accept them, let alone accept them without any sort of debate with regards to their correctness or truthfulness. 

The short answer, I’m afraid, is that people are acquiescing in this patent nonsense out of fear and cowardice. Smart people in academia, law, and the public square willingly submit and fail to resist, out of concern that they will be marginalized, penalized, and ostracized. Administrators of universities and schools bow to decrees from distant government agencies out of fear of conflict, and to sustain funding streams. Debate is stifled, or never initiated, because those who object are stigmatized as bigots and haters.

One would think that scientists – and those who like to style themselves as the “reason-based community” – would be the first to resist those who deny the reality of sexual difference. Just think of how vigorously people denounce “climate change deniers”, for even the slightest variation from “orthodoxy” on that issue. The science on the sexual differences between male and female is hugely developed, and indisputable in its conclusions. So why aren’t they in the forefront of the debate?

Philosophers, too, should see right through this kind of shoddy reasoning.  They certainly should realize that gender ideology is incoherent at its core. Gender theory holds that the idea of being male and female has no inherent meaning, that sexual identity can be defined independently of physical reality, and that the physical differences between men and women are irrelevant or meaningless. But if that is so, then what could it possibly mean for a person to claim to be a “transgender man” or “transgender woman”? “Male” or “female” can’t simultaneously both mean something and mean nothing. That violates a basic rule of reason, the Law of Non-Contradiction. Any philosopher should be able to see that this is irrational, and that the ideologues actually wish that “gender” simply means whatever any individual wants it to mean, at any given day. That is intellectual anarchy, not reason. But the philosophers are silent.

Secondly, aren’t we concerned that adhering to this ideology reinforces a lie? Namely, I can, by virtue of my will, create reality. There are no external forces beyond my control (i.e., the laws of nature, the laws of biology, the laws of logic, etc.) that shape reality. As such, I can be whoever or whatever I want, even if nature/biology/logic says otherwise.  A person may be born male, but can magically identify as female if he so chooses! And we all must now refer to him as such!

Gender ideology adherents promote the strangest kinds of ideas. One recently wrote this about the simple, straight-forward statement that “transgender girls are biologically male”:

That is an offensive and inaccurate notion… But transgender girls are not “biologically male.”… [People] might believe that a person’s genitals define their “biological” sex, but that does not make it so. Continuing to put forth that narrative without challenging it as an ideological position, as opposed to a fact, is extremely harmful.

This is magical thinking. It denies a fundamental truth about reality, namely that things exist independently of anyone’s beliefs, language usage, feelings, conceptual ideology, etc. One cannot reason with a person who believes that they can change reality by waving a mental magic wand. The fundamental differences between men and women do not disappear, do not become a mere “narrative” or an “ideological position”, merely because someone wishes it to be so. They remain facts. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

As a lawyer, I also am dumbfounded at the way that gender ideology turns anti-discrimination law on its head. The traditional understanding of anti-discrimination law is that there are certain inherent qualities (e.g., race, sex, national origin, disability) that absolutely cannot be taken into account when making certain decisions (e.g., employment). This is an expression of the value that all persons must be treated equally under the law. Yet the drive to include “gender identity” in anti-discrimination laws actually does the opposite. It requires people not only to recognize the existence of this alleged quality, but to make it the essential factor in granting favorable treatment when making decisions (e.g., about bathroom access). In this one case, failure to use “gender identity” would be made unlawful. All this, based not on an immutable characteristic like race or sex, but instead on a purely self-defined, malleable concept that is entirely subjective and not related to any kind of reality.

Thirdly, why is this being perceived as compassionate? There is nothing compassionate about reinforcing lies. In fact, if we reinforce a lie held by another person, we not only harm the person by allowing him to continue living the lie, but we also rob him of an opportunity to know the truth. And as Christians, there are few roles of greater importance than proclaiming the truth to others.  

One does not have to be a Christian to understand that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Anyone with any degree of self-awareness and knowledge can tell that they cannot live in a coherent way if they deny the truth. Lies imprison us, truth liberates us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, on the day that he was arrested by the Soviet secret police due to his dissent from Communist ideology, wrote a great essay, “Live Not by Lies”. In it, he said this:

the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me… It’s dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

People who are struggling with their sexual identity are troubled, and need help. But we do them no favors if we continue to participate in the lies. More than anything, they need to be liberated from the irrationality and magical thinking of gender ideology. All it offers them is continued enslavement to false ideas about reality, sexuality, and the way to achieve happiness. Accepting the truth about our human nature, about our maleness and femaleness, has to be the foundation of the development of a healthy sexual identity.

More Gender Ideology Madness

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

It is axiomatic that a sound understanding of the nature of the human person is essential to a rational system of morality and public policy. The converse of that principle is equally true: an incoherent misunderstanding of the nature of the human person leads to nonsensical morality and public policy.

The best evidence for this are the ongoing lawless actions by the Administration to impose gender ideology on our nation, not by making law in the legitimate way established in the Constitution, but by issuing arbitrary edicts that purport to find new meanings in existing law, in ways that no rational person could ever consider sensible.

Let me be specific. Over the past several years, minor unelected officials in federal agencies (no doubt acting with the approval of high-ranking members of the Administration) have issued letters claiming that existing prohibitions against sex discrimination also ban any differential treatment of persons who consider themselves to be “transgender”. No acts of Congress have been enacted saying this, and no regulations have been issued through the normal course of rule-making. But that hasn’t stopped the Administration from making up law as it goes along, arbitrarily arrogating power to itself to re-define what it means to be human.

The most recent example is a threatening letter sent by the Justice Department to the State of North Carolina. That state recently passed a law declaring that multiple use bathrooms and locker rooms could only be used by persons of the appropriate sex, as determined by their biological sex as stated on their birth certificate. The Justice Department has decided that this law violates the federal civil rights statute, usually referred to as “Title VII”, and that the entire state could lose all federal funding as a result. Their reasoning, if you can call it that, is the bizarre notion that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of “sex” also includes a ban on any differential treatment of “transgender individuals” due to their “gender identity”.

Of course, Title VII says nothing about “gender identity” or “transgender individuals”. Nobody understood it that way at the time it was passed in 1964.  And nobody interpreted it in that way until this current Administration decided to do so. In fact, Congress has flatly refused the Administration’s request that they amend Title VII to include “gender identity”, an amendment that would surely not be necessary if the term “sex” already included that meaning as well. This is not an isolated case, by the way. The Administration has also pushed this agenda in other areas — education, health care, and government contracting.

The whole idea makes no sense at all. Set aside for a moment the fundamental nonsense of gender ideology, which I have written about before. In this case, the government is arguing that acting on the basis of biological sex is discriminatory against people who think that biological sex is meaningless, and who are defining their identity in a way that they feel has no relationship with their biological sex. They also claim that the state is treating people badly on account of their “gender identity”, even though the state is completely disregarding the person’s claimed identity, and is instead using the person’s undisputed biological sex as the relevant standard.

There is no way to extract any intellectual coherence from the Administration’s position. But reason has little force when people in power are pursuing an ideological crusade to re-make man in their own image and likeness, when they have no trouble running rough-shod over the rule of law in order to impose this new orthodoxy, and when they will brook no opposition or dissent.

We Need to Talk Frankly

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

On April 19, the Governor of Utah signed a resolution, which had been passed by a unanimous legislature, declaring pornography to be a public health crisis. The evidence supporting that conclusion is massive, and unequivocal. So why aren’t we talking about it more?

Pornography is ubiquitous in our society, and exposure to porn is virtually universal among adolescents and young adults — precisely the times when people are supposed to be maturing in their personalities and sexuality, and preparing for marriage.  The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has an incredibly detailed set of studies about the evil effects of porn. Just a sampling of their findings, all of which are backed by academic studies, is that among adult males, exposure to pornography is connected with:

  • Greater acceptance of sex before marriage
  • Having more sex partners
  • Considering their partner to be less attractive
  • Less satisfaction with partner’s sexual performance
  • Greater desire for sex without emotional involvement
  • More callousness in sex
  • Acceptance of “rape myth” (i.e., that raped women enjoy rape and “got what she wanted”)
  • Trying to get partners to act out scenes from pornographic films
  • Going to prostitutes and strip clubs
  • Greater acceptance of adultery
  • More likely to have an affair
  • Using more negative and sexual terms to describe women
  • Less child centeredness during marriage
  • Reduced desire for female children
  • Sexual dysfunction with their partner (but not with porn)
  • Engaging in more aggressive sexual behavior
  • Committing date rape
  • Abusing sex partners
  • Coercing sex
  • Using alcohol or drugs to coerce sex
  • Engaging in marital rape

One particularly horrifying reality about porn is the level of violence and degradation against women.  The NCSE’s studies of this are appalling — they found, in a random sample of popular porn videos, that 88% included actual physical violence against women. It has even gotten so bad — but accepted in the industry and market — that popular porn sites actually categorize videos by the kind of violence they depict. The NCSE compares this disgusting attack on women to be tantamount to torture, and for good reason — the accounts of former porn performers are horrific. It is deeply disturbing that men are deriving sexual pleasure from watching women be degraded, abused, and raped.

Many people find it difficult to talk about porn, for a variety of reasons. But we can no longer allow our squeamishness to prevail. Lives are being ruined by porn. Relationships are twisted and destroyed. The crisis demands a response.  One thing that we must do first and foremost is clearly identify the distorted sexual desires that lead people to porn, and the way to counter them.

The sexual activity shown in porn is not normal, healthy, or good, and the desire to have that kind of sex is not properly ordered towards its real purpose. The true goal of human sexuality is not to achieve an orgasm at all costs, without any human contact. That’s the lie that porn teaches — it is fundamentally artificial, because it only shows a two-dimensional image of a person, removed from any real sense of humanity. It is, on many levels, inhuman.

The real goal of human sexuality is to lead us to a real relationship with a real person of the opposite sex. Our sexuality is designed to be expressed and experienced not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually — in a way that involves the entire person. And ultimately, it is designed to bring us to the communion of persons that can only be fully achieved in the permanent and exclusive self-giving bond of man and woman. Real sexual desire is ordered towards marriage, and is deeply human.

We need to talk frankly about this to young people, to encourage them to resist the lie, and strive for the truth. Even the most habitual user of porn can — admittedly with difficulty — re-train their sexual desires so that they are correctly ordered. The first, and most important thing they must do is to get off the internet. Single people then have to seek out healthy, chaste dating relationships. Married people need to re-focus their desires towards their spouse and no other. It takes practice to minimize our disordered desires and build up our properly ordered desires. Vice is all too easy — it’s as close as our smartphone. Virtue takes hard work and patience.

This can be done. Many men and women have struggled with this temptation, and have achieved some level of success. But nobody will ever be victorious, unless we talk frankly about the evils of porn.