Canada’s bishops invite young people to a life of chastity

  • February 1, 2011
OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops have issued a countercultural message to young people inviting them to lead lives of chastity.

“Today, chastity is often mistakenly associated with being old-fashioned, with a fear of passion or with sexual inhibition,” said the eight-page pastoral letter to young people on chastity issued Jan. 27 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Episcopal Commission for Doctrine. “But in reality it is much more than simply the absence of sexual relations.

“Chastity calls for purity of mind as well as body,” the document stresses. “If we are not working to develop a pure heart or a pure mind, then our bodily actions will reflect this. If we have no control over our desires or passions, then we cannot be trusted in either the big or the small things.”

The bishops posted it on the conference’s web site (, along with a link to a video presentation of the document showing young people reading the document out loud.

The letter, which takes a positive view towards human sexuality, echoes Pope Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae in saying about marriage: “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 says.

“Obviously it is a totally countercultural document,” said Michele Boulva, the 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. “

“I applaud the bishops for such an honest and encouraging message to young people about the true meaning of the gift of their sexuality,” said Patricia Murphy, an assistant professor of Christian Ethics at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto.

“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.”

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

The approach is both realistic and optimistic about the possibilities for growth in goodness, holiness and happiness, she said.

“Even bad habits can be overcome with perseverance and the right  supports.”

Both Murphy and Boulva said young people are receptive to guidance and direction on chastity. Boulva stressed  young people have been seriously hurt by society’s message about sex as a game without consequences. They have borne the unwanted pregnancies, the after-effects of abortion and the sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS that have destroyed their hopes for the future.

She also spoke of the wounds young people experience in their souls through the break up of relationships that have left them disillusioned and afraid to love.

“Young men and women who discover God’s plan for human love with an open heart want to live it out because they realize it is not only a physical adventure but also a spiritual endeavour towards true and enduring happiness,” Boulva said.

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