One of the most disturbing news items of the past week was the decision of a middle school in Maine to make birth control pills available to its students, which mostly are 11-13 years old. While students need permission to use the school’s health center, the treatment received there is confidential. Therefore, students and health care providers are not even required to inform the parents about the contraceptive services provided at the school, let alone obtain parental consent.
This decision, fueled by a number of unwanted pregnancies in the school, has justifiably been criticized by parents and Church officials alike. Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine called the decision tragic, and expressed “outrage and disbelief” as he called for the school to rescind its decision.
Perhaps one of the more predictable yet still exasperating statements in favor the school’s decision came from this supporter: “This isn’t encouraging kids to have sex. This is about the kids who are engaging in sexual activity.” This is like saying that handing out bullet-proof vests to students in a gang-invested area isn’t encouraging a gunfight. This supporter is either criminally naive or more likely a faithful foot soldier of the “sexual left,” which is hell-bent on undermining traditional sexual morality.
It’s really a tale of two worldviews. The school’s decision, while limited to a little corner of the United States, is symptomatic of today’s secularist worldview. This worldview is telling our youth that they are disposable, that they’re junk. Many of their potential classmates have already been legally killed in the womb, and the rest are valued by what they do or contribute, and not for who they are. We want only the “perfect kids” who look like Barbie dolls or who have Arnold Schwartzenegger’s muscles or Albert Einstein’s intelligence.
In the context of sexuality, they’re mere animals who can’t be expected to exercise self-control, so we cross our fingers and hope at least they’re “safe” even as the sexologists do all they can to destroy their innocence and get them to “feel comfortable” with their sexuality. They’re machines with interchangeable parts that can be cut off, mutilated, adorned, or surgically altered on a whim. When they’re an old dog or their machine-like body gives out, they shouldn’t expect anything from the secularists but a lethal injection.
I could go on, but the point is that our society doesn’t think much of our youth. Whether we acknowledge it or not, they’re under siege.
But there’s another worldview. It’s the perennial Christian worldview, but it has been articulated with particular poignancy and urgency by Pope John Paul II for the past quarter century, especially in his magnificent “theology of the body.”
The Church’s message–good news–is that our children are masterpieces. They have the spark of the divine in them. They have God-given dignity, which entails both rights and responsibilities. They have been entrusted with dominion over our world. They have been called to a sublime vocation in Christ as God’s own children by adoption. Making the Lord’s words his own, Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict calls our youth to cast out into the deep, to step out bravely in faith. The Church exhorts our youth not to be afraid, but to understand that giving our lives to Christ is not only radical, but eminently practical if we want life in abundance.
Children need formation and guidance, not condoms and pills. As Bishop Malone points out, the school’s decision “communicates to young people that adults have given up on forming them in virtues like chastity.” Rather than just give up because of relentless societal pressure, we should redouble our efforts to safeguard our children’s spiritual and sexual development. The parents have a huge responsibility here. We must recognize the universal tendency to become unchaste, and yet at the same time affirm our youth’s ability, with God’s grace, to choose to be chaste. After all, human nature has been wounded by sin, but it hasn’t been completely obliterated such that all we can do is wave a white flag.
The young person must not only learn to fight temptation, but also to nurture a life of prayer that will allow him or her to receive the grace of purity. That’s not happening at public school, but it must happen at home.
For the Church’s teaching on authentic chastity education, check out these Faith Facts by Catholics United for the Faith: