Pope Benedict: Proper Understanding of Sexuality a Fundamental Right for Children

Message Correlates with Stand with Children's Mission

by William B. May

VATICAN, March 9, 2012 -- Pope Benedict XVI gave a strong message about children, sexuality, and marriage Friday, in his message to bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota during their ad limina visit. His words resonated with the Stand with Children project which draws on the particular wisdom of Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict, asserting the natural rights of the child. Children receiving a distorted understanding about human sexuality propagated by the culture and powerful interests are being deprived of a fundamental human right to know the truth about love and relationships that will contribute to their flourishing.

Pope Benedict XVI ad limina visit with Archbishop Neinstadt of Minneapolis St Paul and others from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota
Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop Neinstadt of Minneapolis-St Paul, and others from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota during their ad limina visit. (News.VA)

"... all our efforts in this area [defending marriage] are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships," the Holy Father told the bishops. "Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognizing our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfillment."

One of the key objectives of Stand with Children, is to help parents and young people, through Faith & Action Circles, understand and communicate the reality of the Church's teaching on love, sexuality, and relationships in secular terms that can be more easily understood in today's culture. CCG draws on the insights of Blessed John Paul's book, Love and Responsibility1, and the application of Christian personalism and social doctrine.

Pope Benedict also addressed the tragic consequences of the breakdown of marriage.  "It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost". This addresses the second group of victims of the efforts to redefine sexuality, marriage, and the family: children who have been deprived of their fundamental right to 'be born in a real family'2 and 'to be brought up within marriage'3."

"Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike," said Pope Benedict (emphasis added).

"In our conversations, some of you have pointed with concern to the growing difficulties encountered in communicating the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in its integrity, and to a decrease in the number of young people who approach the Sacrament of Matrimony. Certainly we must acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades, which failed at times to communicate the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, the vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity".

"In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. ... It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality. The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young. ... Chastity, as the Catechism reminds us, involves an ongoing “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom”.

"In a society which increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule this essential dimension of Christian teaching, young people need to be reassured that “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing, of what makes life free, beautiful and great”.

"It is my hope that the Church in the United States, however chastened by the events of the past decade, will persevere in its historic mission of educating the young and thus contribute to the consolidation of that sound family life which is the surest guarantee of intergenerational solidarity and the health of society as a whole".


  1. CCG recommends Man, Woman and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri, which provides an understandable and practical discussion of Love and Responsibility. 
  2. John Paul II, Address to the Committee of European Journalists for the Rights of the Child (13 January 1979): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 22 January 1979, p. 5.
  3. Donum Vitae. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Approved in audience with Pope John Paul II, February 22, 1987. 

William B. May is president of Catholics for the Common Good.

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