In an address that tackled attempts to redefine marriage, Pope Benedict XVI challenged the bishops of the United States to teach young people an authentic Catholic vision of sex and love.
“The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young,” he said March 9.
The Pope was addressing the bishops of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. They are currently in Rome as part of their “ad limina” visit, which involves discussing the health of their dioceses with Pope Benedict and various Vatican departments, as well as making a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
“Young people need to encounter the Church’s teaching in its integrity, challenging and counter-cultural as that teaching may be,” he told the bishops.
Children must see this vision “embodied by faithful married couples who bear convincing witness to its truth,” but the wider Church also has to give them support “as they struggle to make wise choices at a difficult and confusing time in their lives,” the Pope said.
The Pope focused his audience remarks on outlining the roots of the “contemporary crisis of marriage and the family.”
This crisis is evident, he said, in the “weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant” and the widespread rejection of a “responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity.”
He noted that these decisions have led to “grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”
The Pope dealt first with the threat posed by attempts to legally redefine marriage.
He recognized that drive to redefine marriage was being pushed by “powerful political and cultural currents,” which require a “conscientious effort to resist this pressure.”
This has to be done, he said, with a “reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution” consisting of “a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation.”
“Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” he said. This is why defending the institution of marriage is “ultimately a question of justice,” since it “entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike,” said the Pope.
Later this year, voters in Minnesota will accept or reject a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.”
Pope Benedict then addressed how the Christian vision of sex and love is taught to the young.
He said the bishops must “acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades.” This inadequate teaching has often failed to communicate “the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament,” as well as the “vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity.”
He called for better instruction of both the young and those preparing for marriage, with programs based upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These should also address the “serious pastoral problem” presented by “the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society.”
All Catholic family agencies should also give support and “reach out to” those who are divorced, separated, single parents, teenage mothers, women considering abortion, as well as children suffering due to family breakdown.
The Pope identified an “urgent need” for Christians to “recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity” which, he reminded the bishops, is defined in the Catechism as an “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.”
Fundamentally, he said, the Christian understanding of sexuality is “a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfillment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love.”
He concluded by telling the bishops that children have “a fundamental right” to grow up with an “understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships.”