LONDON — The sexual revolution has run out of steam and a return to the virtues of strong families is under way, a senior Vatican official told a September conference on sex education.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that many of those who thought sexual license would bring happiness are now beginning to see the error of their ways.

Other participants at the conference, organized by Catholic doctors and pro-life activists, cautioned that a broadly-based shift in favor of traditional values remains overshadowed by the prevailing culture.

“There are those who helped introduce the sexual revolution who now confess that they were wrong,” said Cardinal Trujillo. “I am absolutely certain of this. If we present this truth of life to many young people, they will respond to the challenge” and cultivate a sense of chastity.

Cardinal Trujillo told the Register that he based his comments on a number of encouraging trends in the West, including a recognition that the family must be supported and defended, and that this is the terrain of more than just organized religion.

In particular, he cited a Vatican-sponsored meeting in August of politicians and legislators from North and South America in Buenos Aries in which politicians seemed to better understand that the family must be supported and not undermined by policies such as state-sponsored liberal sex education.

It “was a good surprise for me to see how interest is increasing everywhere in the truth,” said the cardinal. “This is good news because society must be engaged, not merely the Church.”

Cardinal Trujillo observed that “people are beginning to realize that if there is not a good formation in family life the family of the future is destroyed.”

The cardinal's argument was supported by Gordon Heald, former managing director of the Gallup United Kingdom polling company, who carried out opinion surveys for British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major as a private consultant in the 1980s and early 90s.

Heald, who also conducts research for the English and Welsh bishops'conference, cited a study he completed for the Major government.

“We found that 80% of the population expressed concern for family values, a caring community, respect for other people, honesty in public life, concern for others and the teaching of values,” he said, adding that family breakdown is still perceived as “the biggest problem facing society.”

Heald said those same concerns were mirrored in the European Values Survey which he helped produce in the early 1990s.

Western politicians are aware of the shift, he said, and are beginning to respond. He pointed to U.K. Health Minister Tessa Jowell's Sept. 24 call for a campaign to encourage teenage girls to say no to premarital sex as an example of the trend. “I don't think anybody expected her to say this,” said Heald.

Worst Not Over

Other participants at the conference did not dispute the existence of a positive shift but cautioned that many in a position to encourage the trend are instead resisting it in favor of earlier attitudes.

“If anything the U.K. scene is getting worse,” Valerie Riches, a Catholic who is director of the U.K.-based Family and Youth Concern, told the Register. “It is not sex education we have, it is education for promiscuity.”

Riches said she has seen educational material aimed at seven-year-olds that teach mutual masturbation as a form of safe sex.

Riches also pointed to the children's rights lobby as a group that, contrary to what might be implied by its name, is often anti-family. “You now get people arguing that it is a child's right to have sex,” she said. “I have come across cases where schools would not inform parents that their child had been caught having sex at school. They do not do this unless the child gives … consent.”

One bright spot in keeping with Cardinal Trujillo's argument, according to Riches, is a growing number of initiatives such as Michigan's values-based sex education that has replaced programs that deal with the mechanics of sex and such things as contraception in a supposedly morally neutral way.

“This idea of values-based education is normally anathema to those who promote sex education,” said Riches. “Yet, in practice, children do respond to values …”

Cardinal Trujillo agreed that the tide is only beginning to turn away from the era of sexual revolution, and that many powerful sectors will continue to promote libertine thinking that poses as education.

“People will [soon] consider what we have gone through as a historical disaster, especially as everywhere there are wonderful [changes in attitude],” said the cardinal. But the damage, he acknowledged, will be plain to see for many years to come.

The Vatican prelate also observed that parents are looking to take greater responsibility for their children's formation, including in the sexual area.

“Without this good formation it is not possible to be really happy,” he concluded.

Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.