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THE CHURCH AND SEX: WHAT DO WE TELL OUR CHILDREN? CAROL ALTEKRUSE BERGER AND PATRICK F. BERGER* The only very remarkable thing about last year's Vatican declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics is that it has proved to be an event of very little remark. There were, of course, the official "welcomes ," tendered by those who are expected to welcome such things. Bishop Bernadin, of Cincinnati, for instance, was quoted to the effect that the document was "a welcome reaffirmation of traditional Catholic teaching on sexual morality." Nor was the declaration without its critics, as evidenced in the Daniel Maguire article which appeared in Commonweal last winter or in the remarks of priest-psychologist Eugene Kennedy, who was cited by a national news magazine as one who found the declaration "disappointing" and "out of date." No surprise there. But the fire and passion of the old post-Humanae Vitae days is largely gone and, even if officialdom can find something to comment upon, it seems perfectly obvious that the average Catholic in the street (and, more to the point, the Catholic in the bedroom) is not giving a second thought to Vatican declarations. We were, in fact, stunned to read that the editor of a major Catholic magazine is supposed to have expressed the opinion that this latest Vatican treatise on sexual ethics was "an affirmative document reflecting the consensus of the Catholic community both in practice and in moral theology" (emphasis added). We are deliberately suppressing the name of the purported author of that statement, because we cannot believe that he was not the victim of a misquote. If one's own observations while mingling in the ranks of the faithful are not enough to dispel the delusions that any such consensus exists, there is always the matter of the survey conducted recently by Andrew Greeley et al. for the National Opinion Research Center which indicated that 83 percent of the Catholics polled approved of artificial contraception and a substantial number deviated from official church positions in a number of areas such as divorce and remarriage . One has only to look at the agenda ofthe Detroit conference to see»Address: 12308 Fawn Royal Court, St. Louis, Missouri 63131.© 1978 by The University of Chicago. 0031-5982/78/2102-0004$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Winter 1978 | 205 that the church's official view of sex is under scrutiny from all sides by Catholics themselves. And it is this lack of consensus in the face of repeated papal pronouncements on sex that seems to us to mark the turning point in the course of the American Catholic church. For despite all the negativity, overkill, and downright fear of sexual joy brought forth in the declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics, some very basic and legitimate concerns about homosexuality, premarital sex, and the nature of marriage were raised. But because this decree was based on the Vatican 's view of natural law which in turn dictates its views on contraception which in turn defines the end and nature of marriage, increasing numbers of Catholics are simply ignoring the validity of this document and other church pronouncements in such areas as the abortion question, premarital sex, and human sexuality in general. Because of this discrepancy and because the people who are least impressed with the church's ban on contraception are the persons who are producing the next generation of Catholics, the present interpretation of natural law and birth control has to be reinterpreted if credence in the teaching power of the church on sexual matters is to have any validity. The danger is not so much apostasy in this generation but apathy and eventual erosion in the next. Of course, transcendent religious values cannot be compromised to the tastes of an admittedly somewhat fluid mass. One cannot shift religious values to suit the taste of any people at any given time. And on major issues, even schism has to be endured in the name of truth. But is this in fact such an issue? Is not there any way that both tradition and transcendence can be preserved so that the present cultural sentiments can be taken...


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