Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
I asked five prominent American Catholics to share their thoughts on the Sexual Revolution and its effect on the Church.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama
I agree with Pope Benedict XVI that the origins of the scandals we’re experiencing are related to the changing sexual mores in society that we really began to see in the 1960s. The 1969 music festival at Woodstock, New York, symbolized the change in American culture. Moral values in our country, and in the Western Hemisphere, had changed. The drug culture came with it.
It influenced the world and Church in a detrimental way. The Church should have been telling certain of its members: “Stop that!” But we were too casual in our response; we didn’t put the brakes on.
The Church is not done with the Sexual Revolution, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’re addressing things more directly. We haven’t licked the problem, we’re still working on it, but we’ve made a dent in it.
Remember, we have to deal with a secular Western culture that has lowered the bar on moral values and sexual morality. It’s a far cry today from the time when I was ordained a priest in 1970. We didn’t have laws protecting “transgenderism” … Our laws offered protection to the unborn. But no more.
In 2019, Alabama changed its laws so that probate judges no longer have to witness marriages. It was because there were probate judges who said, “We can’t in good conscience witness same-sex unions.” So now you just have to file an affidavit in probate court and you’re married. It protects the rights of probate judges.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, the Ruth Institute (www.ruthinstitute.org)
I would define [the Sexual Revolution] as having three components: 1) contraception ideology, that a good and decent society should separate sex from procreation, 2) divorce ideology, that a good and decent society should separate both sex and procreation from marriage, and 3) gender ideology, that there are no differences between men and women.
… For the longest time, [the Catholic Church was] the last holdout [to the Sexual Revolution]. It created a lot of hostility toward the Church. We said certain behaviors were wrong, so we ended up with a big target on our backs.
But dissent within the Catholic Church to Catholic teaching on marriage and family has created a huge opening for the Sexual Revolution. And, we’ve seen that it includes members of our hierarchy. That’s why, at the Ruth Institute, we’ve been highlighting and honoring Catholic prelates who are saying that [2016 apostolic exhortation] Amoris Laetitia must be read in continuity with past teaching on marriage and family. These include Archbishop Sample, [outgoing] Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Harold Burke-Sivers, permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Portland (www.deaconharold.com)
We’ve lost the moral compass that was once a part of our country’s ethos. This is due to a variety of factors: the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, no-fault divorce, absent fathers, dependence on government and, certainly, the legalization of abortion.
The black community has been particularly hard hit. When I was a kid, there was a television show about a black family called Good Times [1974-79]. It reflected the undaunted determination of black families to stick together despite challenges they faced in the post-slavery era of our country’s history.
Slavery had separated families, and they fought doggedly to reunite, stay together and succeed despite obstacles of racial oppression and poverty. A few generations ago 78% of black families were headed by married couples. However, today, that number has reversed, with over 70% of families not being headed by married couples.
My own parish, Immaculate Heart in Portland, is predominantly black, and we have an inordinate number of children being raised by grandparents. When, as a deacon, I perform the Rite of Baptism, I have to change some of the words that refer to fathers because they are so often not there.
I know personally what it is like to grow up without a father in the home. My father was seldom around when I was a boy. He loved women, alcohol and cigarettes more than us. He was not a man of faith. The reason my mother stayed married to him as long as she did was to give us the illusion that we had a traditional family unit. She was sensitive to this because she and he had both grown up without a father in the home. My father did come home sometimes, but was involved with numerous affairs, and my parents eventually divorced. [Deacon Burke-Sivers would later have an emotional reconciliation with his father, who came to embrace religion after watching a series his son did for EWTN.]
Hence, when I was growing up, I did not learn what it was like to be a “real man” from my father. Children, especially when they get older, need the strength and guidance from a man in their lives. In my situation, I had to find other men I could look up to. I was an Eagle Scout, so one role model for me was my scout master. I went to a Benedictine high school, and the monks became like fathers to me. Also in school, there was a wrestling coach I admired.
And, ultimately for me, it was my Catholic faith that acted like Super Glue that held my life together.
Fr. Brian Mullady, retreat master and mission preacher (https://fatherbrian.weebly.com/)
[Addressing specifically the coming of “The Pill” in the 1960s] In his 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that if contraception was accepted it would lead to widespread divorce, the destruction of the family, compromising of the institution of marriage, abortion on demand and devaluing of human life. People laughed at him. But these predictions have come true.
We’re living with a society that has completely destroyed the institution of marriage. But marriage is central to the proper development of society. It is the primary social cell. It’s no wonder that so many people in our society are addicted to drugs and alcohol and sexual perversions.
Many more people are choosing to live together rather than get married. And, for those who do marry, they think that if they have problems, they can always get out of it.
… [the Church is not “anti-woman”] actually, the Church is “pro-woman.” The Pill is extremely destructive to a woman’s health, hence there are many warnings placed on it.
But contraception is not specifically a male or female issue. Some people characterize it as such because the woman has to carry the child. A hostility toward the child can even develop among some women toward their unborn children; Simone de Beauvoir, companion to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, used to say, “the child is a predator on the mother.”
But the Church’s perspective is that the child is a gift from God. It’s not anti-woman to encourage women to have children and, of course, for the father to be involved. The Pill, in fact, has allowed men to completely absent themselves from any responsibility for their sexual practices.
The Church is not anti-woman in any sense. It is pro-life.
Brother Ken Apuzzo, general superior, Brotherhood of Hope (https://brotherhoodofhope.org/)
[Discussing how the Sexual Revolution led to the founding of the Brotherhood of Hope in 1980] Our founder, Fr. Philip Merdinger, had a clear conviction and insight into the collapse of celibacy in the Church during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s. We live in a sex-crazed age, and lifelong religious celibacy had become an absurdity to many.
Fr. Philip is one of the best teachers I’ve ever met about the power, beauty and exclusively unique relationship the celibate person can have when dedicates his heart and soul to God. So, the first imperative in his founding of the Brotherhood of Hope was that it was to be a community dedicated to the renewal of religious celibacy … in my early days in the community I wouldn’t have said this, but today I do in a humble way: we believe the Lord is using our community the bring about a renewal in religious brotherhood.