Catholic Orthopraxy in a Sexually Broken World
You probably don’t need to be convinced that we live in a sexually broken world. Here’s a current snapshot as a reminder, courtesy of Enough.org:
Child pornography is one of the fastest-growing businesses online, and the content is becoming much worse. In 2008, Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child-abuse domains.
The sexual victimization of children is overwhelming in magnitude yet largely unrecognized and underreported. Research indicates that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood.
According to “Sex on TV 4,” a Kaiser Family Foundation study (November 2005), the number of television sexual scenes has almost doubled since 1998. Seventy percent of all shows have some sexual content — averaging five sexual scenes per hour compared to 56% and 3.2 scenes per hour, respectively, in 1998.
There are nearly 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States today. However, as many as 150,000 are “lost” in the system, having failed to comply with registration duties and remain undetected due to law enforcement’s inability to track their whereabouts.
Half of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography. Sixty percent of the women who answered the survey admitted to having significant struggles with lust; 40% admitted to being involved in sexual sin in the past year, and 20% of churchgoing female participants struggle with looking at pornography on an ongoing basis.
UNICEF reported in 2004 that across the world there are more than 1 million children entering the sex trade every year and that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.
In opposition to this sad snapshot stands the testimony of Scripture, 4,000 years of consistent Judeo-Christian sexual ethic, our centuries-old understanding of natural law, and in recent times Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, which provides an orthodox vision for re-imagining our sexualized culture. For decades now, many in the Church have articulated well this alternate vision. The challenge before us today is moving our orthodoxy into orthopraxy. Anchored in the Scripture, rooted in the Church’s understanding of natural law and the God-given beauty of human sexuality and catechized by the theology of the body, it is time for the faithful of the Church to take our “right theology” (orthodoxy) and put it into “right action” (orthopraxy).
We are all affected by the sexual depravity around us. And many of us fail or stumble. For the last 20 years, I’ve worked with men involved in prostitution on the streets.
Sexual abuse, early exposure to pornography, early sexual experiences, a lack of parental role models, and broken families all contributed to these guys ultimately selling their bodies on the streets as a means for survival. Some don’t make it, and life ends up being very short.
But others do make it off the streets. They stumble frequently, but the path to wholeness, freedom from sexual brokenness and sin is found when we help them to get up and keep on walking toward truth.
In most people’s eyes, the sex-abuse crisis Roman Catholics have weathered for almost a decade has apparently robbed the Church of any moral authority to speak about matters of sexuality. C.S. Lewis’ fictional demon Wormwood would be cackling himself silly right now.
The Church with a dynamic theology of the body, the Church with the best, consistent historical commitment to the sanctity of the person and marriage, the Church with the loudest bully pulpit to speak into the public square, has been crippled from within.
The worldly “power” we had to speak to this culture is gone. But even though we seem to have been silenced, we must keep on talking and speaking the truth.
There are some particularly courageous people reaching out to the sexually wounded and broken in our world. Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons, the director of the Institute for Marital Healing (MaritalHealing.com) in Philadelphia has counseled people with same-sex attraction and gender-identity confusion. He also serves as a consultant to the Vatican on priests with sexual disorders.
This past June, the Episcopal Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released an excellent resource entitled “Pastoral Ministry to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction” (CCCB.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/ministry-ssa_en.pdf).
Father John Mulvey in Port Charlotte, Fla., is one of the few Catholic priests trained in counseling families and individuals affected by sexual addictions (FreedomSA.us/).
The My House Initiative (LoveIsFaithful.com) of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is a diocesan action to foster the virtue of chastity and increase awareness of the effects of pornography on society.
Courage: A Roman Catholic Apostolate (http://CourageRC.net/) for those experiencing same-sex attraction has a recently revamped website with a plethora of resources for those experiencing sexual brokenness in their lives.
Communita Cenacolo (ComunitaCenacolo.org) isn’t a therapeutic setting, but, rather, a “school of life” that assists men ages 18-40 through a variety of addictions, including pornography.
Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality (OSV Books, 2009) by Melinda Selmys is a rewarding read by someone able to articulate her own struggle with same-sex attraction — and how a dynamic encounter with the Church’s timeless teaching on human sexuality of the body led her to a new life in Christ.
These people and their efforts are truly blessings from God. But they are flickers of light in a black hole of need.
Deacon John Green is the author of the new book Streetwalking With Jesus: Reaching Out in Justice and Mercy (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011). He can be reached at [email protected]
- September 25-October 8, 2011