By William Mahoney, MA, STL, PhD
The Catholic Church has authority in spiritual matters to teach, govern, and sanctify. The Church’s authority in spiritual matters is preserved from error only when teaching on topics of faith and morals. The Church’s authority to teach, govern, and sanctify is directed entirely toward the salvation of souls (salus animarum suprema lex—“the salvation of souls is the supreme law”).
The Catholic Church is not preserved from error if speaking on subjects outside faith and morals. For example, the attribute of being preserved from error would not apply if the Church were to release documents on chemistry, sociology, or any other subject not pertaining to faith and morals. Such documents would not be binding on the faithful. In other words, these documents could be challenged without danger of subverting legitimate authority or endangering one’s soul.
The Pontifical Council for the Family’s latest project, The Meeting Point: Project for Affective and Sexual Formation, fails to provide clear Catholic instruction on faith or morals and thus falls outside the competency and authority of the ordinary magisterium. The project is not binding on the faithful and thus can be challenged.
Since the Church has already provided clear Catholic instruction on sexual education in light of faith and morals, this latest project of the Pontifical Council for the Family not only can be challenged, but must be challenged for many reasons. Suffice it to mention two crucial ones.
1. The project does not clearly state the role of parents in educating their children, especially in matters of human sexuality. Parents are only equivocally mentioned in the presentation by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. This is in stark contrast to previous magisterial instruction:
Pius XI: “Now it is certain that both by the law of nature and of God this right and duty of educating their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth, and they are indeed forbidden to leave unfinished this work and so expose it to certain ruin” (Casti Connubii, December 31, 1930).
Paul VI: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” (Declaration on Chrisitan Education, Gravissimum Educationis, October 28, 1965).
John Paul II: “Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them” (Familiaris Consortio, November 22, 1981).
Pontifical Council for the Family: “There are various ways of helping and supporting parents in fulfilling their fundamental right and duty to educate their children for love. Such assistance never means taking from parents or diminishing their formative right and duty, because they remain ‘original and primary,’ ‘irreplaceable and inalienable.’ Therefore, the role which others can carry out in helping parents is always (a) subsidiary, because the formative role of the family is always preferable, and (b) subordinate, that is, subject to the parents' attentive guidance and control. Everyone must observe the right order of cooperation and collaboration between parents and those who can help them in their task. It is clear that the assistance of others must be given first and foremost to parents rather than to their children” (The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, December 8, 1995).
2. The project does not follow Catholic teaching on education in sexual matters. The project states: “The Meeting Point: The Adventure of Love intends to offer an educational path in love that helps young people discover the beauty of mutual self-giving and the pursuit of happiness through the gift of body and spirit.” This is in contrast to Catholic instruction:
Catechism of Trent: “In the explanation of this Commandment [the 6th Commandment], however, the pastor has need of great caution and prudence, and should treat with great delicacy a subject which requires brevity rather than copiousness of exposition. For it is to be feared that if he explained in too great detail or at length the ways in which this Commandment is violated, he might unintentionally speak of subjects which, instead of extinguishing, usually serve rather to inflame corrupt passion.”
Pius XI: “Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education. . . . Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognize the inborn weakness of human nature . . . and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions” (Divini Illius Magistri, 65, 66, December 31, 1929).
Holy Office (Response to question on Divini Illius Magistri):
Question: “May the method called ‘sex-education’ or even ‘sex initiation’ be approved?”
Answer: “No. In the education of youth the method to be followed is that hitherto observed by the Church and the Saints as recommended by His Holiness the Pope in the encyclical dealing with the Christian education of youth, promulgated on December 31, 1929. The first place is to be given to the full, sound and continuous instruction in religion of both sexes. Esteem, desire and love of the angelic virtue must be instilled into their minds and hearts. They must be made fully alive to the necessity of constant prayer, and assiduous frequenting of the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. . . . Precautions must be taken to see that they avoid dangerous reading, indecent shows, conversations of the wicked, and all other occasions of sin” (AAS 23, 21 March, 1931).
For these and many other reasons, faithful Catholics in every vocation must raise their voices to challenge this extremely dangerous project of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
William Mahoney, PhD, is editor of ALL’s Celebrate Life Magazine, is a Doctor of Theology, and also holds a Dogmatic Licentiate of Sacred Theology.