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Mother takes issue with priest's presentation to boys

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

Over the last several years, there has been noticeable growth in the popularity of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, a series of reflections on human love and sexuality the late pontiff gave between 1979 and 1984.

Certain Catholics have become "experts" in the reflections, applying their own knowledge and interpretation to the Theology of the Body and giving lectures on the subject to groups of Catholic adults and youth.

But not entirely without controversy.

The following (edited) correspondence, between a mother whom I'll call Sandy, and a Chicago-area Catholic priest known for his lectures on the theology, illustrates said controversy.

"Dear Father ...

"We would like to bring to your attention a matter which might improve the effectiveness of your message to teens, especially given the fact that you are scheduled to speak at the ... later this month. Our son ... a freshman at ... attended your recent presentation at his school. While he recognized your fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church on the issues of sexual morality, he was scandalized by the graphic tone and vulgar comments you made in relation to such a sacred gift, you yourself being a consecrated man.

"We know you are trying to do a good thing and we applaud you for that. But as parents we are deeply concerned that the message you were trying to give them was obscured by the manner in which you delivered it. This may come as a surprise to you, but nonetheless you should be aware of how it affected our son, because no person should be talked to in that way.

"With all due respect, here are several of the specifics to which we object:

"• Graphic display of the extended middle finger. This is commonly regarded as crude and shocking. Coming from an adult, and even more so from a priest, it simply confuses and shocks the youngsters. Yes, it gets their attention, but it leaves a very bad taste in their mouths.

"• Your example of the job application question about sex: male or female? And your subsequent 'toss away comment' 'did you get some last night?' Again, that comment is counterproductive and insulting. It will incite a morbid curiosity in an adolescent. It is simply inappropriate. Ironically, by using such a phrase, it may completely undermine John Paul IFs 'Theology of the Body' because you speak of human sexuality in a cheap and degrading way. We assume that is not your intention; therefore, we think you would be well advised to choose your words more carefully in this regard.

"• The demonstration with two boys touching fingers. On the face of it, such a skit looks innocent enough, certainly much tamer than the fare served on Saturday Night Live. However, unless the boys were prompted to do such a routine, they would never do that on their own. That kind of invitation - literally putting the boys on the spot - violates their own sense of modesty and reserve, and as it were their own 'sacred space.' At the very least, the boys regard it as weird. Furthermore, you resort to a base theatrical trick to get the youngsters' attention: you are creating a titillating situation which causes the audience, and specifically the participants, to be nervous because they do not know where this is going. Without intending it, you create a situation of 'spin the bottle' for the audience, and once again, ironically, this demonstration undermines the 'Theology of the Body' of John Paul II.

"In no way do we want to judge your intentions, but in your effort to disseminate the teachings of John Paul II, we ask you to consider where he would use these techniques to teach the message. We would be happy to meet with you in order to discuss this further. With prayers and best wishes..."

The priest's response to Sandy:


"Thank you for your letter regarding my presentation at ... on the subject of the Theology of the Body and for the concern that you show for the proper spiritual development of our young people. It is a concern that I share with you. It seems that the report which you received of my presentation at ... was composed of sound bites and extractions accompanied by interpretations. This is unfortunate because sound bites by their nature cannot provide an accurate picture of any experience or presentation.

"My presentations are always designed for the specific audience at hand. As ... said on his radio interview this morning, we priests try to reach people 'where they are at.' It takes all kinds of priests with their gifts and styles to reach people today where they are at. I use imagery and things familiar to all of us from our cultural experience both good and bad in order to make the principles of the Catholic ethos absolutely real and integrated for a particular audience.

"I present the Theology of the Body to a wide spectrum of audiences including home schoolers and various Catholic groups and institutions. While I try to reach as many people as possible with the 'Good News,' it is impossible to reach everyone. However, the fact that I keep being invited back and that many of the boys at ...have been 'begging' me to return gives me some indication that my presentations may be of value to some. Calling upon the boys to be leaders and demonstrating how their human sexuality is an icon of the interior life of the Holy Trinity was the point of my presentation to the boys at...."


Matt Abbott , US
Matt Abbott - Author,



Catholic, Abbott

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