True Love Defined

Canadian bishops issue pastoral letter on chastity.

(photo: Shutterstock)

OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) — Canada’s Catholic bishops invited young people to lead lives of chastity in a new pastoral letter.

Describing chastity as “more than the absence of sexual relations,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Doctrine said living a chaste life “calls for purity of mind as well as body.”

Issued Jan. 27, the eight-page letter addresses social issues and offers encouragement to teenagers and young adults to live chaste lives in a world that stresses personal satisfaction and gratification.

“Today, chastity is often mistakenly associated with being old-fashioned, with a fear of passion or with sexual inhibition,” the bishops said.

“If we are not working to develop a pure heart or a pure mind, then our bodily actions will reflect this,” they added. “If we have no control over our desires or passions, then we cannot be trusted in either the big or the small things.”

The pastoral letter was posted on the bishops’ website ( It was accompanied by a link to a video presentation showing young people reading the document aloud.

The document also echoed Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) about marriage, in saying “the sexual act has to be unitive and procreative” and “some kinds of sexual activity are not chaste.”

“Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when they fall short of what God intends,” the letter said.

The bishops cited examples of holy men and women who “embodied chastity” as they faced challenges throughout life. In particular, the document looks at the lives of St. Augustine, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as role models for young people.

Practical advice, such as prayer, receiving the Eucharist and reception of the sacrament of reconciliation also are offered by the document.

In Canada, the response of Catholic experts was positive.

“Obviously it is a totally countercultural document,” said Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. “We live in a hypersexualized world.

Our children grow up with a very limited vision of love and sexuality.”

“We should be grateful to the bishops for their courage in presenting another perspective, a more holistic perspective, on sex, and for reminding us of God’s humanizing plan on human love and sexuality,” Boulva said.

Patricia Murphy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, welcomed the bishops’ “honest and encouraging message” about the gift of sexuality.

“As their message acknowledges, we live in a hypersexualized culture, and young people don’t need to look past their computers or iPhones to be bombarded with all sorts of images,” she said.

Murphy said the bishops’ use of “virtues language” is helpful because virtues, like chastity, are good habits.

Boulva said, “In our day and age, so many women are treated as objects and so many spouses are cheated upon, with incredibly destructive impacts on children,” she added. “If chastity within marriage means not using your partner as an object for pleasure, and also on being faithful, who can be against that?”