Monday, February 23, 2009

VIRTUS: Making the Problem Worse — Part 1 of 2

as featured on

I’ve run into a few conspiracy theorists in my time. You know the type: the hushed tones, furtive glances, the shocking revelations that demand your immediate action and urgent—dare they imply—undivided attention.

Generally, these folks have in mind only one way the problems can be solved. To the unknowing ear, their suggestions can seem compelling, giving one no time to consider the consequences, but simply to act. The current economic stimulus plan would be a prime example of this—yet that’s not the focus of this article.

Recently, I attended a training session that seemed to have an uncannily similar effect on the people around me. What is it we were being told?

  • That anyone can be a sexual predator
  • That “they” can be anywhere
  • That the real cause of sexual abuse is unknown (and that same-sex attraction has nothing to do with it), and therefore we need to be always on the alert
  • That at the earliest sign of suspicion we should report a person to the proper authorities

After the first of the two videos shown that night, the shock and alarm on most faces was evident. The facts of child sexual abuse in the Church had been handily laid out, and they were indeed horrifying.

Reflecting on the whole of the evening’s program, however, I came to the conclusion that if the Church’s response to the clergy sex abuse scandal is limited to the scope of what we learned that night, it is going to make the problem much, much worse.

Taking issue with VIRTUS

The three-hour “child protection” training course I attended that evening was part of the VIRTUS program established by The National Catholic Risk Retention Group. This program was created in response to the clergy sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and its primary goal is obvious and good: to protect children from sexual abuse.

The name VIRTUS is thus described on the organization’s website:

The word virtus derives from Latin, and means valor, moral strength, excellence, and worth. In ancient times, virtus denoted a way of life and manner of behavior that always aspired to the highest, most positive attributes of people and aspects of human interaction.

There is much to be commended about the intention to protect children from harm, and it is admirable to see the Catholic Church striving to take leadership in this issue, especially when its scope is much broader than the Church itself. However, I have two main complaints with the program as I experienced it:

First, in contrast to VIRTUS’s self-definition, the program did not raise our minds to “a way of life and manner of behavior that always aspired to the highest, most positive attributes of people and aspects of human interaction.”

Rather, it compelled us to act out of fear and suspicion—hardly the building blocks for flourishing human community.

Second, in focusing solely on the defensive protection of children, instead of incorporating a holistic approach to human sexuality and healthy touch, the program threatens to raise yet another generation of screwed up, sexually and emotionally starving persons who engage in deviant sexual behaviors as a result.

Let’s flesh these out.

God has not given us a spirit of fear

“For Freedom’s sake, Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Christ came to set us free from sin and we have truly been redeemed. Yet for what end? To enter into deeper communion with Himself, as well as with others. Think about it. Jesus Christ died to restore our friendship with God, which includes restoring the original unity our first parents had with each other before the Fall.

Certainly, we live in a broken world where not all has been redeemed. I am not advocating that we do not punish those who have sexually abused kids, or that we shouldn’t be wise as serpents (cf. Matt 10:16) in realizing how far the pornified culture has affected “good” Catholics. But we must also be as innocent as doves, and instead of creating a culture of suspicion, just waiting for a person to make a mistake so we can crucify them, we must take a more proactive approach.

It is imperative that any program responding to child sex abuse avoid using fear and suspicion as its main motivators. Certainly, we are going to experience these feelings, but for our response to be truly Christ-like, we also have an obligation to love (as stated in 1 John 4:18: “true love casts out all fear”) and to seek to bring the truth of Christ’s redemption to bear on the realities we encounter. While healthy awareness and observant behaviors are important for training ourselves and our children to prevent occasions of abuse, we must always approach this subject first through the lens of love and healthy respect for our own bodies and sexuality and for the other people with whom we come in contact.

Specifically in regard to the misuse of one’s sexuality, John Paul the Great teaches us in his Theology of the Body to avoid becoming “Masters of Suspicion.” I fear programs like VIRTUS, especially when aimed at a largely uncatechized crowd, encourage this dangerous line of thought.

A “Master of Suspicion” is one who, due to his (or her) own experience of concupiscence, lust, and his own sins, suspects the worst of everyone—“If I can’t look at a women wearing skintight jeans without lusting after her, surely the men around me have the same struggles, too.” One major reason for this is that they have only experienced a broken sexuality and they think this is the only way we can view the world. I can’t help but feel that those who had a hand in designing the VIRTUS program are from this camp and thus encourage attendees to see things through this limited perspective.

So many good and faithful priests have fallen under the undue burden of suspicion because of the exaggerated and unbalanced publicity about the clergy sex scandals. These men have been effectively stripped of their abilities to be fathers to the people, especially the children, in their care. They feel unwelcome to interact with children and young people on a meaningful personal level, hindering their ability to be mentors and role models, especially for young men who might otherwise consider the priesthood.

Heightened fear and suspicion, not tempered by truth and love, also increase the likelihood that reputations will be unfairly impugned, causing irreparable damage to a priest’s ability to carry out his vocation—and this applies to others who are not clergy as well.

Fear and suspicion cannot be our primary motivators when trying to rectify this situation. We must always ground our hearts in the truth that love redeems and sanctifies, even in the midst of threatening, confusing situations. We cannot lose sight of this truth, for the sake of our children, and for sake of our society that depends on healthy interpersonal relationships. This is true whether we’re teaching children how to navigate in this often dangerous world, whether we’re in the process of healing victims of abuse, or whether we’re reaching out to rehabilitate—or forgive—abusers.

Next time we’ll look at the underlying causes to the sexual abuse scandal, as well as layout what must be present in any “child-protection” program in order to truly prevent this from happening in the future.

Steve Pokorny, the Director of TOB Ministries (, specializes in speaking to youth and young adults about the gift of their sexuality. Steve has an MA in Theology and Catechetics from Franciscan University of Steubenville, received training from the Theology of the Body Institute, and will be completing his studies at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in 2009. He is associate editor for Catholic Exchange's Theology of the Body Channel (, and his blog is You can contact Steve at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why we should stop using the term “homosexual” and “heterosexual”

The term “homosexual” is an especially politically charged word, and the word “heterosexual” helps to actually foster this usage. For those who actually want to help heal the often deep wounds of those in same-sex relationships, read the following.

From page 23-24 of, "One Man, One Woman: A Catholic's Guide to defending Marriage," by Dale O'Leary, we read:

In public-policy debates, language is crucial. This is particularly true in the same-sex marriage dbate, an gay activists have been no less crafty in their language that the Sexual Left as a whole. For example, although there is no universal agreement about the definition of homosexual (does it refer to cetain desires, or behaviors, or convictions, or some combination thereof?), gay activists act as if it were a scientifically designated ategory of human beings. They have taken further advantage of this ambiguity, always seeking to influence public opinion, by carefully choosing words that fame the issue in their favor. They have eschewed the nineteenth-century term homosexual, for instance, and insisted on using gay and lesbian to refer respectively to men and women who A) identify themselves with their sexual attraction; and b) identify with the gay political agenda.

The language of sexual orientation and “sexual minorities” has also expanded to include bisexuals, transsexuals, transgenders, and transvestites. And thus, the entire constituency is today summed up in the acronym GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) or, alternatively, LGBT. Some also like to refer to themselves as “queer,” although others find this term insulting when used by non-members of their community.

However, none of these categories adequately describes all persons with same-sex attraction (SSA): for example, those who have never acted on it. Neither do these categories include those with SSA who don’t identify with the gay agenda. For this reason, I find “persons with SSA” to be the broadest and most accurate term, if a somewhat cumbersome one. I try to avoid using the word homosexual as a noun, of for that matter heterosexual, because these terms create the impression that human beings can be neatly divided into categories based on their patterns of sexual desire. People are either male or female. Patterns of sexual attraction are not their identity and, in fact, can be quite fluid over time. Some gay activists refer to those who are sexually attracted to the other sex as “straight,” or derisively as “breeders.” I prefer to refer to them simply as men and women.

I do use the word homosexual as an adjective, when referring to the various intimate acts that two persons of the same sex can engage in (Technically, of course, the acts that two persons of the same sex engage in are not “sexual acts,” because the sexual organs of both persons are not engaged in the same act – that is, sexual intercourse. So while we may use the term having sex to describe homosexual behavior, it isn’t really sexual intercourse.). This allows discussion of the behavior or acts without having to describe them in detail. I choose to avoid such explicit language wherever possible, although occasionally I think it is necessary to name precisely what we are talking about – lest we play right into gay activists’ strategy of euphemising their behaviors.

And we know that there are numerous terms of derision for persons with SSA. All of them reflect badly on those who use them; they demonstrate a lack of charity and should be scrupulously avoided, even if some persons with SSA use such terms in reference to themselves. Persons with SSA are human beings, and they are entitled to all the rights that belong to every human being. This does not include the right to change the definition of marriage.”

Thus, as I have been saying for a while now, there are no homosexuals, let alone heterosexuals (these terms were created in the 1800s). There are only human persons, male and female, and we must work to defend their dignity, not by affirming actions that are contrary to their true desires, but by leading them to the One who can redirect their lives and be the gift that they were created to be.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?

By Fr. Chris Smith, p.v.,

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of in ordinary time

The Austrian man who invented the birth control pill, Carl Djerassi, has just published an interview in the Vatican newspaper in which he refers to his invention as a demographic catastrophe. Early twentieth century thinkers were convinced of that now debunked myth of global overpopulation. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, advocated contraception as part of a racist plan associated with Nazi groups in the United States, as she boldly stated, “Colored people are like weeds and need to be exterminated.” In 1930, the Church of England became the first Christian body to allow for contraception. One by one every Protestant denomination gave the green light for birth control, so by 1968, everyone assumed that the Catholic Church would sooner or later get with the program.

So when Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical Humana vitae, the world was caught by surprise. The man who invented the pill, and just about everyone else, reacted violently. Forty years later Carl Djerassi called Paul VI a prophet. The Pope cautioned that to accept artificial contraception was to divorce two things which by their very nature belonged together: sex and procreation. The consequences of such a divorce would be disastrous, he said, but most people felt that if such a technology has been developed surely God could not be against the interests of science? So the vast majority of Catholics in America agreed to disagree.

What has happened since then? An entire generation of priests, bishops and women religious set themselves against the Pope. They counseled people to follow their conscience without also informing them of the grave duty to form their conscience according to divine and natural law. Their seminaries and convents are empty, and families are much smaller today.

Contraception creates the illusion of freedom: without children, a couple can be happier because they do not have more material burdens. Contracepting couples became accustomed to a greater ease in fulfilling whatever wants and needs they had; economic prosperity created a world in which anything was possible. But the children born to these families grew up not with the virtue of self-sacrifice, but with the vice of self-gratification. And so now the children put their parents away when they get old because they don’t have the time or desire to deal with them; the old folks get in the way of their self-gratification. The population implosion has imbalanced age demographics and the financial crisis of the entire world was precipitated not in small part by the greed which unrestrained self-gratification has wrought.

Paul VI said that if contraception were to become pervasive, a whole host of other evils would result. Marriage by its nature has two ends: procreation of children and the union of the spouses. If you get rid of one, then the other follows suit. So is it a surprise that the rate of divorce has skyrocketed since 1968? I have never counseled a couple who was divorcing who was not using contraception. The breakdown of their parents’ marriages has led a younger generation to question the viability of the institution of marriage. Even despite the fact that 70% of couples who live together subsequently divorce, cohabiting young people think their trial marriage will ensure its success later on, as if entering into a fake marriage with the idea that you can get out it would somehow guarantee its permanence after the vows. Sex removed from its natural consequences has led to the explosion of pornography, which has now become practically inescapable to anyone who owns a computer or television. Marriage itself is being redefined to mean practically nothing more than a convenient partnership of two persons who live together until boredom doth them part. Sex removed from its natural consequences has led to abortion being seen as rearranging matter, fertility as a disease. Meanwhile the crisis of infertility continues to grow and scientists are just now beginning to realize the ecological effects that the hormones released by birth control pills into the atmosphere is having on both male fertility and the environment.

The Catholic Church appears before this comedy of errors of the world without God kind of like the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. She is ready to point out that sin has its consequences, but everyone worshipping the potentate of self-gratification wants to keep up the farce. Many people think that their little private sin remains between them and God, and having put a barrier between them and God by repeated sin, their darkened intellects and weakened wills still refuse to acquiesce to the evidence.

The human body is not an instrument for self-gratification. Defying the laws of nature and God may give you the illusion of material happiness for a little while, but it is fruitless and dangerous for the soul. The body is not for immorality, but for the LORD, and the LORD is for the body. We cannot pretend that our souls can be pure when we misuse our bodies. Weakness is there, the acquired habit of vice may excuse us from some of the culpability of sin, the pressure of the culture may make it seem impossible at times to follow the teachings of the Church, but we must continually ask ourselves: why did God make me and why did He make my body? What does He expect of my body? Saint Paul pointedly reminded the Corinthians, who were know throughout the ancient world for trying to divorce sex from its natural consequences even back then, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?

Technology is a great thing and can be used for great good. But some things which may seem to be good at first turn out to be catastrophic. Frankenstein’s monster was a science experiment grown terribly awry; Mary Shelley’s curious doctor thought that he could open the secret to the origins of human life by assembling parts of a dead man together. But the creature turned on him and destroyed everything he loved. We must be careful not to tinker with the body in ways contrary to God’s pan for it. The immorality of doing so has a powerful way of taking a ghastly life of its own and destroying marriages, families, and souls.