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How not to be used: Love and Responsibility

8/18/2003 - 9:10 AM PST

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Dale O'Leary


In the last thirty years, advocates for a revolution in sexual ethics and practice have mounted a frontal assault on traditional morality. These Sexual Revolutionaries have presented themselves as promoters of pleasure and freedom, working to liberate the world from the bondage of sexual restraint. Their activism has lead to the removal of legal restrictions on sexual behavior, popularization of what a generation ago would have deemed pornography, and a shattering of social norms.

In today's media-driven culture the defenders of traditional sexual morality face derision and contempt. The powerful entertainment industry delights in breaking down barriers and portraying sexual rebels as heroes persecuted by neurotic, hypocritical bigots. Journalists treat Sexual Revolutionaries as victim/heroes fighting for freedom against oppressive discrimination.

Is it possible to mount a credible and convincing defense for Catholic sexual morality? Some may ask why bother. Other religious groups have surrendered to the demands of the Sexual Revolutionaries and become "tolerant" of what was previously universally considered sexual sin, why should the Catholic Church waste its resources defending a system which is indefensible?

Because, in the area of faith and morals, the Catholic Church considers itself to be under the protection of the Holy Spirit. If the Church has been wrong for 20 centuries in such a crucial matter, then all its other claims are suspect. If Catholic teaching on sexuality can be discredited, then the final obstacle to the total triumph of the Sexual Revolutionaries will be eliminated.

Love and Responsibility

Is there a way to answer the challenge posed to traditional sexual morality by the Sexual Revolutionaries, one which will appeal to the heart, answer the legitimate questions, and not compromise the truth? Yes, in the book Love and Responsibility, Fr. Karol Wojtyla, (Pope John Paul II) presents a clear analysis of why the Sexual Revolution is fundamentally anti-person and how Catholic sexual morality, based on the truth about the human person, is the path to true love. Love and Responsibility is not a marriage manual, even less a list of dos and don'ts. It is a dense philosophical treatise filled with deep psychological insights.

The media may try to dismiss John Paul II as the product of a backward country, personally popular, but out-of-touch with modern problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has been a direct witness to the great conflicts of the 20th century. The Sexual Revolution was introduced into Poland in the 1950s, a decade before it took hold in the West. The Communist occupiers actively promoted sexual immorality and abortion as a way of undermining the power of the Polish Catholic church. As a confessor Fr. Wojtyla saw the effect on souls.

During the 1950s Fr. Wojtyla, combined his pastoral duties with work as a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin -- the only Catholic University which survived the Communist take over of Eastern Europe. In 1957 on a vacation with philosophy, psychology, and medical students in the Mazurian Lakes region of Poland, he discussed the draft of a book he was writing on sexual and marital ethics. The students input was crucial to the development of an approach to sexual ethics which confronted the real problems of ordinary people. The material was further developed in a series of lectures entitled "Love and Responsibility" which he delivered from 1957 to 1959, and then published as book under the same title in 1960.

In his introduction to the first edition, then Bishop Wojtyla explains his purpose:

"...although it is easy to draw up a set of rules for Catholics in the sector of 'sexual ' morality the need to validate these rules makes itself felt at every step. For the rules often run up against greater difficulties in practice than in theory, and the spiritual adviser, who is concerned above all the practical, must seek ways of justifying them. For his task is not only to command or forbid but to justify, to interpret, to explain. The present book was born principally of the need to put the norms of Catholic sexual morality on a firm basis, a basis as definitive as possible, relying on the most elementary and incontrovertible moral truths and the most fundamental values or goods. Such a good is the person and the moral truth most closely bound up with the world of persons is 'the commandment to love' -- for love is a good peculiar to the world of person."

Fr. Wojtyla begins Love and Responsibility with an analysis of the verb "to use" and a critique of Utilitarianism. According to Fr. Wojtyla, "Utilitarians regard the principle of maximization of pleasure accompanied by the minimization of pain as the primary rule of human morality" and regard pleasure ...

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