THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY
THE TRUTH AND MEANING
OF HUMAN SEXUALITY
Guidelines for Education within the
The Situation and the Problem
1. Among the many difficulties parents encounter today, despite different
social contexts, one certainly stands out: giving children an adequate
preparation for adult life, particularly with regard to education in the true
meaning of sexuality. There are many reasons for this difficulty and not all of
them are new.
In the past, even when the family did not provide specific sexual education,
the general culture was permeated by respect for fundamental values and hence
served to protect and maintain them. In the greater part of society, both in
developed and developing countries, the decline of traditional models has left
children deprived of consistent and positive guidance, while parents find
themselves unprepared to provide adequate answers. This new context is made
worse by what we observe: an eclipse of the truth about man which, among other
things, exerts pressure to reduce sex to something commonplace. In this area,
society and the mass media most of the time provide depersonalized, recreational
and often pessimistic information. Moreover, this information does not take into
account the different stages of formation and development of children and young
people, and it is influenced by a distorted individualistic concept of freedom,
in an ambience lacking the basic values of life, human love and the family.
Then the school, making itself available to carry out programmes of sex
education, has often done this by taking the place of the family and, most of
the time, with the aim of only providing information. Sometimes this really
leads to the deformation of consciences. In many cases parents have given up
their duty in this field or agreed to delegate it to others, because of the
difficulty and their own lack of preparation.
In such a situation, many Catholic parents turn to the Church to take up the
task of providing guidance and suggestions for educating their children,
especially in the phase of childhood and adolescence. At times, parents
themselves have brought up their difficulties when they are confronted by
teaching given at school and thus brought into the home by their children. The
Pontifical Council for the Family has received repeated and pressing requests to
provide guidelines in support of parents in this delicate area of education.
2. Aware of this family dimension of education for love and for living one's
own sexuality properly and conscious of the unique "experience of humanity" of
the community of believers, our Council wishes to put forward pastoral
guidelines, drawing on the wisdom which comes from the Word of the Lord and the
values which illuminate the teaching of the Church.
Therefore, above all, we wish to tie this help for parents to fundamental
content about the truth and meaning of sex, within the framework of a genuine
and rich anthropology. In offering this truth, we are aware that "every one who
is of the truth" (John 18: 37) hears the word of the One who is the Truth
in Person (cf. John 14: 6).
This guide is meant to be neither a treatise of moral theology nor a
compendium of psychology. But it does owe much to the gains of science, to the
socio-cultural conditions of the family, and to the proclamation of gospel
values which are always new and can be incarnated in a concrete way in every
3. In this field, the Church is strengthened by some unquestionable
certainties that have also guided the preparation of this document.
Love is a gift of God, nourished by and expressed in the encounter of man and
woman. Love is thus a positive force directed towards their growth in maturity
as persons. In the plan of life which represents each person's vocation, love is
also a precious source for the self-giving which all men and women are called to
make for their own self-realization and happiness. In fact, man is called to
love as an incarnate spirit, that is soul and body in the unity of the person.
Human love hence embraces the body, and the body also expresses spiritual love.
Therefore, sexuality is not something purely biological, rather it concerns the
intimate nucleus of the person. The use of sexuality as physical giving has its
own truth and reaches its full meaning when it expresses the personal giving of
man and woman even unto death. As with the whole of the person's life, love is
exposed to the frailty brought about by original sin, a frailty experienced
today in many socio-cultural contexts marked by strong negative influences, at
times deviant and traumatic. Nevertheless, the Lord's Redemption has made the
positive practice of chastity into something that is really possible and a
motive for joy, both for those who have the vocation to marriage (before, in the
time of preparation, and afterwards, in the course of married life) as well as
for those who have the gift of a special calling to the consecrated life.
4. In the light of the Redemption and how adolescents and young people are
formed, the virtue of chastity is found within temperance — a cardinal virtue
elevated and enriched by grace in baptism. So chastity is not to be understood
as a repressive attitude. On the contrary, chastity should be understood rather
as the purity and temporary stewardship of a precious and rich gift of love, in
view of the self-giving realized in each person's specific vocation. Chastity is
thus that "spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of
selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes and in a sense defines
chastity in this way: "Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality
within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual
5. In the framework of educating the young person for self-realization and
self- giving, formation for chastity implies the collaboration first and
foremost of the parents, as is the case with formation for the other virtues
such as temperance, fortitude and prudence. Chastity cannot exist as a virtue
without the capacity to renounce self, to make sacrifices and to wait.
In giving life, parents cooperate with the creative power of God and receive
the gift of a new responsibility — not only to feed their children and satisfy
their material and cultural needs, but above all to pass on to them the lived
truth of the faith and to educate them in love of God and neighbour. This is the
parents' first duty in the heart of the "domestic church".
The Church has always affirmed that parents have the duty and the right to be
the first and the principal educators of their children.
Taking up the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the
Catholic Church says: "It is imperative to give suitable and timely
instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about
the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise".
6. The challenges raised today by the mentality and social environment should
not discourage parents. In fact it is worth recalling that Christians have had
to face up to similar challenges of materialistic hedonism from the time of the
first evangelization. Moreover, "This kind of critical reflection should lead
our society, which certainly contains many positive aspects on the material and
cultural level, to realize that, from various points of view, it is a society
which is sick and is creating profound distortions in man. Why is this
happening? The reason is that our society has broken away from the full truth
about man, from the truth about what man and woman really are as persons. Thus
it cannot adequately comprehend the real meaning of the gift of persons in
marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood and motherhood, and the
true grandeur of procreation and education".
7. Therefore, the educative work of parents is indispensable for, "If it is
true that by giving life parents share in God's creative work, it is also
true that by raising their children they become sharers in his paternal and
at the same time maternal way of teaching......Through Christ all education,
within the family, and outside of it, becomes part of God's own saving
pedagogy, which is addressed to individuals and families and culminates in
the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Death and Resurrection".
In their at times delicate and arduous task, parents must not let themselves
become discouraged, rather they should place their trust in the help of God the
Creator and Christ the Redeemer. They should remember that the Church prays for
them with the words that Pope Saint Clement I raised to the Lord for all who
bear authority in his name: "Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord and
stability, so that they may exercise without offence the sovereignty that you
have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honour and
power over the things of the earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their
counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by
exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have
given to them, they may find favour with you".
On the other hand, having given and welcomed life in an atmosphere of love,
parents are rich in an educative potential which no one else possesses. In a
unique way they know their own children; they know them in their unrepeatable
identity and by experience they possess the secrets and the resources of true
CALLED TO TRUE LOVE
8. As the image of God, man is created for love. This truth was fully
revealed to us in the New Testament, together with the mystery of the inner life
of the Trinity: "God is love (1 John 4: 8) and in himself he lives a
mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own
image... God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus
the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the
fundamental and innate vocation of every human being". The whole meaning of true
freedom, and self-control which follows from it, is thus directed towards
self-giving in communion and friendship with God and with others.
Human Love as Self-Giving
9. The person is thus capable of a higher kind of love than concupiscence,
which only sees objects as a means to satisfy one's appetites; the person is
capable rather of friendship and self-giving, with the capacity to recognize and
love persons for themselves. Like the love of God, this is a love capable of
generosity. One desires the good of the other because he or she is recognized as
worthy of being loved. This is a love which generates communion between persons,
because each considers the good of the other as his or her own good. This is a
self-giving made to one who loves us, a self-giving whose inherent goodness is
discovered and activated in the communion of persons and where one learns the
value of loving and of being loved.
Each person is called to love as friendship and self-giving. Each person is
freed from the tendency to selfishness by the love of others, in the first place
by parents or those who take their place and, definitively, by God, from whom
all true love proceeds and in whose love alone does man discover to what extent
he is loved. Here we find the root of the educative power of Christianity: "Humanity
is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to
humanity by the Church". In this way Christ has revealed his true identity to
man: "Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father
and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high
The love revealed by Christ "which the Apostle Paul celebrates in the First
Letter to the Corinthians...is certainly a demanding love.
But this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is
demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to
others". Therefore it is a love which respects and builds up the person because
"Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it
creates that good and gives it to others".
Love and Human Sexuality
10. Man is called to love and to self-giving in the unity of body and spirit.
Femininity and masculinity are complementary gifts, through which human
sexuality is an integrating part of the concrete capacity for love which God has
inscribed in man and woman. "Sexuality is a fundamental component of
personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with
others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love". This capacity for
love as self-giving is thus "incarnated" in the nuptial meaning of the body,
which bears the imprint of the person's masculinity and femininity. "The human
body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity, seen in the very mystery
of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the
whole natural order, but includes right ?from the beginning' the ?nuptial'
attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in
which the man-person becomes a gift and — by means of this gift — fulfils
the very meaning of his being and existence". Every form of love will always
bear this masculine and feminine character.
11. Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which
God saw as being "very good", when he created the human person in his image and
likeness, and "male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). Insofar
as it is a way of relating and being open to others, sexuality has love as its
intrinsic end, more precisely, love as donation and acceptance, love as giving
and receiving. The relationship between a man and a woman is essentially a
relationship of love: "Sexuality, oriented, elevated and integrated by love
acquires truly human quality". When such love exists in marriage, self-giving
expresses, through the body, the complementarity and totality of the gift.
Married love thus becomes a power which enriches persons and makes them grow
and, at the same time, it contributes to building up the civilization of love.
But when the sense and meaning of gift is lacking in sexuality, a "civilization
of things and not of persons" takes over, "a civilization in which persons are
used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of
use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents...".
12. The gift of God: this great truth and basic fact stands at the
centre of the Christian conscience of parents and their children. Here we refer
to the gift which God has given us in calling us to life, to exist as man or
woman in an unrepeatable existence, full of endless possibilities for growing
spiritually and morally: "human life is a gift received in order then to be
given as a gift". "In fact the gift reveals, so to speak, a particular
characteristic of human existence, or rather, of the very essence of the person.
When God Yahweh says that ?it is not good that man should be alone' (Genesis
2:18), he affirms that ?alone', man does not completely realize his existence.
He realizes it only by existing ?with some one' — and even more deeply
and completely: by existing ?for some one '". Married love is fulfilled
in openness to the other person and in self-giving, taking the form of a total
gift that belongs to this state of life. Moreover, the vocation to the
consecrated life always finds its meaning in self-giving, sustained by a special
grace, the gift of oneself "to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable
manner" in order to serve him more fully in the Church. Therefore, in every
condition and state of life, this gift comes to be ever more wondrous by
redeeming grace, through which we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2
Peter 1:4) and are called to live the supernatural communion of love
together with God and with our brothers and sisters. Even in the most delicate
situations, Christian parents cannot forget that the gift of God is there, at
the very basis of all personal and family history.
13. "As an incarnate spirit, that is, a soul which expresses itself in a body
and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified
totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in
spiritual love". The meaning of sexuality itself is to be understood in the
light of Christian Revelation: "Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only
on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its
mark on each of their expressions. Such diversity, linked to the complementarity
of the two sexes, allows thorough response to the design of God according to the
vocation to which each one is called".
14. When love is lived out in marriage, it includes and surpasses friendship.
Love between a man and woman is achieved when they give themselves totally, each
in turn according to their own masculinity and femininity, founding on the
marriage covenant that communion of persons where God has willed that human life
be conceived, grow and develop. To this married love, and to this love alone,
belongs sexual giving, "realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral
part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one
another until death". The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls: "In
marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of
spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by
Love Open to Life
15. The revealing sign of authentic married love is openness to life: "In its
most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while
leading the spouses to the reciprocal ?knowledge'....does not end with the
couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by
which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person.
Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just
themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of
their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable
synthesis of their being a father and a mother". From this communion of love and
life spouses draw that human and spiritual richness and that positive atmosphere
for offering their children the support of education for love and chastity.
TRUE LOVE AND CHASTITY
16. As we will later observe, virginal and married love are the two forms in
which the person's call to love is fulfilled. In order for both to develop, they
require the commitment to live chastity, in conformity with each person's own
state of life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, sexuality
"becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of
one person to another, in the complete and mutual lifelong gift of a man and a
woman". Insofar as it entails sincere self-giving, it is obvious that growth in
love is helped by that discipline of the feelings, passions and emotions which
leads us to self-mastery. One cannot give what one does not possess. If the
person is not master of self — through the virtues and, in a concrete way,
through chastity — he or she lacks that self-possession which makes self-giving
possible. Chastity is the spiritual power which frees love from selfishness
and aggression. To the degree that a person weakens chastity, his or her
love becomes more and more selfish, that is, satisfying a desire for pleasure
and no longer self-giving.
Chastity as Self-Giving
17. Chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live
self-giving, free from any form of self-centred slavery. This presupposes that
the person has learnt how to accept other people, to relate with them, while
respecting their dignity in diversity. The chaste person is not self-centred,
not involved in selfish relationships with other people. Chastity makes the
personality harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace. This purity
of mind and body helps develop true self-respect and at the same time makes one
capable of respecting others, because it makes one see in them persons to
reverence, insofar as they are created in the image of God and through grace are
children of God, re-created by Christ who "called you out of darkness into his
marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
18. "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a
training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his
passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes
unhappy". Every person knows, by experience, that chastity requires rejecting
certain thoughts, words and sinful actions, as Saint Paul was careful to clarify
and point out (cf. Romans 1:18; 6: 12-14; 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11; 2
Corinthians 7: 1; Galatians 5: 16-23; Ephesians 4: 17-24; 5:
3-13; Colossians 3: 5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-18; 1 Timothy
1: 8-11; 4: 12). To achieve this requires ability and an attitude of
self-mastery which are signs of inner freedom, of responsibility towards
oneself and others. At the same time, these signs bear witness to a faithful
conscience. Such self-mastery involves both avoiding occasions which might
provoke or encourage sin as well as knowing how to overcome one's own natural
19. When the family is providing real educational support and encouraging the
exercise of all the virtues, education for chastity is made easy and lacks
inner conflicts, even if at certain times young people can experience
particularly delicate situations.
For some who find themselves in situations where chastity is offended against
and not valued, living in a chaste way can demand a hard or even a heroic
struggle. Nonetheless, with the grace of Christ, flowing from his spousal love
for the Church, everyone can live chastely even if they find themselves in
The very fact that all are called to holiness, as the Second Vatican Council
teaches, makes it easier to understand that everyone can be in situations where
heroic acts of virtue are indispensable, whether in celibate life or marriage,
and that in fact in one way or another this happens to everyone for shorter or
longer periods of time. Therefore, married life also entails a joyous and
demanding path to holiness.
Chastity in Marriage
20. "Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practise
chastity in continence". Parents are well aware that living conjugal chastity
themselves is the most valid premise for educating their children in chaste
love and in holiness of life. This means that parents should be aware that God's
love is present in their love, and hence that their sexual giving should also be
lived out in respect for God and for his plan of love, with fidelity, honour and
generosity towards one's spouse and towards the life which can arise from their
act of love. Only in this way can their love be an expression of charity.
Therefore, in marriage Christians are called to live this selfgiving in a right
personal relationship with God. This relationship is thus an expression of their
faith and love for God with the fidelity and generous fruitfulness which
distinguishes divine love. Only in this way do they respond to the love of God
and fulfil his will, which the Commandments help us to know. There is no
legitimate love, at its highest level, which is not also love for God. To love
the Lord implies responding positively to his commandments: "If you love me, you
will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
21. In order to live chastely, man and woman need the continuous illumination
of the Holy Spirit. "At the centre of the spirituality of marriage...lies
chastity, not only as a moral virtue (formed by love), but likewise as a virtue
connected with the gifts of the Holy Spirit — above all the gift of respect
for what comes from God (donum pietatis)... So therefore, the interior order
of married life, which enables the ?manifestations of affection' to develop
according to their right proportion and meaning, is a fruit not only of the
virtue which the couple practise, but also of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit with which they cooperate".
On the other hand, convinced that their own chaste life and the daily effort
of bearing witness are the premise and condition for their educational task,
parents should also consider any attack on the virtue and chastity of their
children as an offence against the life of faith itself that threatens and
impoverishes their own communion of life and grace (cf.
Education for Chastity
22. Educating children for chastity strives to achieve three objectives: (a)
to maintain in the family a positive atmosphere of love, virtue and respect
for the gifts of God, in particular the gift of life; (a) to help children
to understand the value of sexuality and chastity in stages, sustaining their
growth through enlightening word, example and prayer; (c) to help them
understand and discover their own vocation to marriage or to consecrated
virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven in harmony with and
respecting their attitudes and inclinations and the gifts of the Spirit.
23. Other educators can assist in this task, but they can only take the place
of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity. On this point
the Magisterium of the Church has expressed itself clearly, in relation to the
whole educative process of children: "The role of parents in education is of
such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute. It
is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love
and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated,
personal and social education of their children. The family is therefore the
principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society". In
fact education is the parents' domain insofar as their educational task
continues the generation of life; moreover, it is an offering of their
to their children to which they are solemnly bound in the very moment of
celebrating their marriage. "Parents are the first and most important
educators of their children, and they also possess a fundamental
competency in this area: they are educators because they are parents.
They share their individual mission with other individuals or institutions,
such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be
carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of
subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving
assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their
prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is
thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For
parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the
whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their
schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements
paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all
other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their
responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a
certain degree, with their authorization".
24. In particular, the project of education in sexuality and true love, open
to self- giving, is confronted today by a culture guided by positivism, as the
Holy Father notes in the Letter to Families: "..the development of
contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress
which is often achieved in a onesided way, and thus appears purely positivistic.
Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in
practice and in ethics... Utilitarianism
is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not
of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things
are used... To be convinced that this is the case, one need only to look at
certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often
notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents...".
In this context, based on the teaching of the Church and with her support,
parents must reclaim their own task. By associating together, wherever this is
necessary or useful, they should put into action an educational project marked
by the true values of the person and Christian love and taking a clear position
that surpasses ethical utilitarianism. For education to correspond to the
objective needs of true love, parents should provide this education within their
own autonomous responsibility.
25. Moreover, in relation to preparation for marriage the teaching of the
Church states that the family must remain the main protagonist in this
Certainly "the changes that have taken place within almost all modern
societies demand that not only the family but also society and the Church should
be involved in the effort of properly preparing young people for their future
responsibilities". It is precisely with this end in view that the educational
task of the family takes on greater importance from the earliest years: "Remote
preparation begins in early childhood in that wise family training which leads
children to discover themselves as being endowed with a rich and complex
psychology and with a particular personality with its own strengths and
IN THE LIGHT OF VOCATION
26. The family carries out a decisive role in cultivating and
developing all vocations, as the Second Vatican Council taught: "From the
marriage of Christians there comes the family in which new citizens of human
society are born and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, those are made
children of God so that the People of God may be perpetuated throughout the
centuries. In what might be regarded as the domestic church, the parents by word
and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.
They must foster the vocation which is proper to each child, and this with
special care if it be to religion". Yet the very fact that vocations flourish is
the sign of adequate pastoral care of the family: "where there is an effective
and enlightened family apostolate, just as it becomes normal to accept
life as a gift from God, so it is easier for God's voice to resound and to find
a more generous hearing".
Here we are dealing with vocations to marriage or to virginity or celibacy,
but these are always vocations to holiness. Indeed, the document Lumen
Gentium presents the Second Vatican Council's teaching on the universal
call to holiness: "Strengthened by so many and such great means of
salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state — though each in
his own way — are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the
Father himself is perfect".
1. The Vocation to Marriage
27. Formation for true love is always the best preparation for the vocation
to marriage. In the family, children and young people can learn to live human
sexuality within the solid context of Christian life. They can gradually
discover that a stable Christian marriage cannot be regarded as a matter of
convenience or mere sexual attraction. By the fact that it is a vocation,
marriage must involve a carefully considered choice, a mutual commitment before
God and the constant seeking of his help in prayer.
Called to Married Love
28. Committed to the task of educating their children for love, Christian
parents first of all can take awareness of their married love as a reference
point. As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae states, such love "reveals its
true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who
is love (cf. 1 John 4: 8), ?the Father from whom every family in heaven
and on earth is named' (Ephesians 3: 15). Marriage is not, then, the
effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it
is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind his design of love.
By means of the reciprocal personal gift of self, proper and exclusive to them,
husband and wife tend towards the communion of their beings in view of mutual
personal perfection, to collaborate with God in the generation and education of
new lives. For baptized persons, moreover, marriage invests the dignity of a
sacramental sign of grace, inasmuch as it represents the union of Christ and of
The Holy Father's Letter to Families recalls that: "The family is in
fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is
communion: communio personarum". Going back to the teaching of the Second
Vatican Council, the Holy Father teaches that such a communion involves "a
certain similarity between the union of the divine Persons and union of God's
children in truth and love". "This rich and meaningful formulation first of all
confirms what is central to the identity of every man and every woman. This
identity consists in the capacity to live in truth and love; even more,
it consists in the need of truth and love as an essential dimension of the life
of the person. Man's need for truth and love opens him both to God and to
creatures: it opens him to other people, to life in communion, and in particular
to marriage and to the family".
29. As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae affirms, married love has
four characteristics: it is human love (physical and spiritual),
it is total, faithful and fruitful love.
These characteristics are founded on the fact that "In marriage man and woman
are so firmly united as to become, to use the words of the Book of Genesis — one
flesh (Genesis 2:24). Male and female in their physical constitution, the
two human subjects, even though physically different,
share equally in the capacity to live in truth and love. This capacity,
characteristic of the human being as a person, has at the same time both a
spiritual and a bodily dimension... The family which results from this union
draws its inner solidity from the covenant between the spouses, which Christ
raised to a Sacrament. The family draws its proper character as a community, its
traits of communion, from that fundamental communion of the spouses which is
prolonged in their children. Will you accept children lovingly from God, and
bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?, the celebrant
asks during the Rite of Marriage. The answer given by the spouses reflects the
most profound truth of the love which unites them". With the same formula,
spouses commit themselves and promise to be "faithful forever" because their
fidelity really flows from this communion of persons which is rooted in the plan
of the Creator, in Trinitarian Love and in the Sacrament which expresses the
faithful union between Christ and the Church.
30. Christian marriage is a sacrament whereby sexuality is integrated
into a path to holiness, through a bond reinforced by the indissoluble unity of
the sacrament: "The gift of the sacrament is at the same time a vocation and
commandment for the Christian spouses, that they may remain faithful to each
other forever, beyond every trial and difficulty, in generous obedience to the
holy will of the Lord: ?What therefore God has joined together, let not man put
Parents Face a Current Concern
31. Unfortunately, even in Christian societies today, parents have reason to
be concerned about the stability of their children's future marriages.
Nevertheless, in spite of the rising number of divorces and the growing
crisis of the family, they should respond with optimism, committing themselves
to give their children a deep Christian formation to make them able to overcome
various difficulties. Actually, the love for chastity, which parents help to
form, favours mutual respect between man and woman and provides a capacity for
compassion, tolerance, generosity, and above all, a spirit of sacrifice, without
which love cannot endure. Children will thus come to marriage with that
realistic wisdom about which Saint Paul speaks when he teaches that husband and
wife must continually give way to one another in love, cherishing one another
with mutual patience and affection (cf.
1 Corinthians 7: 3-6; Ephesians 5: 21-23).
32. Through this remote formation for chastity in the family,
adolescents and young people learn to live sexuality in its personal dimension,
rejecting any kind of separation of sexuality from love — understood as
self-giving — and any separation of the love between husband and wife from the
Parental respect for life and the mystery of procreation will spare the child
or young person from the false idea that the two dimensions of the conjugal act,
unitive and procreative, can be separated at will. Thus the family comes to be
recognized as an inseparable part of the vocation to marriage.
A Christian education for chastity within the family cannot remain silent
about the moral gravity involved in separating the unitive dimension from the
procreative dimension within married life. This happens above all in
contraception and artificial procreation. In the first case, one intends to seek
sexual pleasure, intervening in the conjugal act to avoid conception; in the
second case conception is sought by substituting the conjugal act with a
technique. These are actions contrary to the truth of married love and contrary
to full communion between husband and wife.
Forming young people for chastity should thus become a preparation for
responsible fatherhood and motherhood, which "directly concern the moment in
which a man and a woman, uniting themselves in one flesh, can become parents.
This is a moment of special value both for their interpersonal relationship and
for their service to life: they can become parents — father and mother — by
communicating life to a new human being. The two dimensions of conjugal
union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated
without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself".
It is also necessary to put before young people the consequences, which are
always very serious, of separating sexuality from procreation when someone
reaches the stage of practising sterilization and abortion or pursuing sexual
activity dissociated from married love, before and outside of marriage.
Much of the moral order and marital harmony of the family, hence also the
true good of society, depends on this timely education, which finds its place in
God's plan, in the very structure of sexuality and the intimate nature of
33. Parents who carry out their own right and duty to form their children for
chastity can be certain that they are helping them in turn to build stable and
united families, thus anticipating, insofar as this is possible, the joys of
paradise: "How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined
together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing,
announced by angels and ratified by the Father....They are both brethren and
both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or
flesh....Christ rejoices in them and he sends them his peace; where the couple
is, there he is also to be found, and where he is, evil can no longer abide".
2. The Vocation to Virginity and Celibacy
34. Christian revelation presents the two vocations to love: marriage and
virginity. In some societies today, not only marriage and the family, but
also vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, are often in a state of
crisis. The two situations are inseparable: "When marriage is not esteemed,
neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not
regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the
sake of the kingdom of heaven loses its meaning". A lack of vocations follows
from the breakdown of the family, yet where parents are generous in welcoming
life, children will be more likely to be generous when it comes to the question
of offering themselves to God: "Families must once again express a generous
love for life
and place themselves at its service above all by accepting the children
which the Lord wants to give them with a sense of responsibility not detached
from peaceful trust", and they may bring this acceptance to fulfilment not only
"through a continuing educational effort but also through an obligatory
commitment, at times perhaps neglected, to help teenagers especially and
young people to accept the vocational dimension of every living being,
within God's plan... Human life acquires fullness when it becomes a
self-gift: a gift which can express itself in matrimony,
in consecrated virginity, in self-dedication to one's
neighbour towards an ideal, or in the choice of priestly ministry.
Parents will truly serve the life of their children if they help them make
their own lives a gift, respecting their mature choices and fostering
joyfully each vocation, including the religious and priestly one".
When he deals with sexual education in Familiaris Consortio, this is
why Pope John Paul II affirms: "Indeed Christian parents, discerning the signs
of God's call, will devote special attention and care to education in virginity
or celibacy as the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very
meaning of human sexuality".
Parents and Priestly or Religious Vocations
35. Parents should therefore rejoice if they see in any of their children the
signs of God's call to the higher vocation of virginity or celibacy for the love
of the Kingdom of Heaven. They should accordingly adapt formation for chaste
love to the needs of those children, encouraging them on their own path up to
the time of entering the seminary or house of formation, or until this specific
call to self-giving with an undivided heart matures. They must respect and
appreciate the freedom of each of their children, encouraging their personal
vocation and without trying to impose a predetermined vocation on them.
The Second Vatican Council clearly set out this distinct and honourable task
of parents, who are supported in their work by teachers and priests: "Parents
should nurture and protect religious vocations in their children by educating
them in Christian virtues". "The duty of fostering vocations falls on the whole
Christian community....The greatest contribution is made by families which are
animated by a spirit of faith, charity and piety and which provide, as it were,
a first seminary, and by parishes in whose abundant life the young people
themselves take an active part". "Parents, teachers and all who are in any way
concerned in the education of boys and young men ought to train them in such a
way that they will know the solicitude of the Lord for his flock and be alive to
the needs of the Church. In this way they will be prepared when the Lord calls
to answer generously with the prophet: ?Here am I! send me' (Isaiah
This necessary family context for maturing religious and priestly vocations
brings to mind the serious situation of many families, especially in certain
countries, families with an impoverished life because they have chosen to
deprive themselves of children or where they have only one child, a situation in
which it is very difficult for vocations to arise and even difficult to develop
a full social education.
36. The truly Christian family will also be able to communicate an
understanding of the value of celibacy to unmarried children or those who are
incapable of marriage for reasons apart from their own will. If they are formed
well from childhood and during their youth, they will be equipped to face their
own situation more easily. Likewise, they will be able to discover the will of
God in such a situation and so find a sense of vocation and peace in their own
lives. These persons, especially if they have some kind of physical disability,
need to be shown the great possibilities for self-realization and spiritual
fruitfulness which are open to those who make a commitment to help their poorest
and most needy brothers and sisters, sustained by faith and the love of God.
FATHER AND MOTHER AS EDUCATORS
37. In granting married persons the privilege and great responsibility of
becoming parents, God gives them the grace to carry out their mission
adequately. Moreover, in the task of educating their children, parents are
enlightened by "two fundamental truths...: first, that man is called to live in
truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere
gift of self". As spouses, parents and ministers of the sacramental grace of
marriage, they are sustained from day to day by special spiritual energies,
received from Jesus Christ who loves and nurtures his Bride, the Church.
As husband and wife who have become "one flesh" through the bond of marriage,
they share the duty to educate their children through willing collaboration
nourished by vigorous mutual dialogue that "has a new specific source in the
sacrament of marriage, which consecrates them for the strictly Christian
education of their children: that is to say, it calls upon them to share in the
very authority and love of God the Father and Christ the shepherd, and in the
motherly love of the Church, and it enriches them with wisdom, counsel,
fortitude and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to help the
children in their growth as human beings and as Christians".
38. In the context of formation in chastity, "fatherhood-motherhood" also
includes one parent who is left alone and adoptive parents. The task of a
single parent is certainly not easy because the support of the other spouse and
the role and example of a parent of the other sex is lacking. But God sustains
single parents with a special love and calls them to take on this task with the
same generosity and sensitivity with which they love and care for their children
in other areas of family life.
39. Some other persons are called upon in certain cases to take the place of
parents: those who take on the parental role in a permanent way, for instance,
for orphans or abandoned children. They, too, have the task of educating
children and young people in an overall sense, as well as in chastity, and they
will receive the grace of their state of life to do this according to the same
principles that guide Christian parents.
40. Parents must never feel alone in this task. The Church supports and
encourages them, confident that they can carry out this function better than
anyone else. She also encourages those men or women who, often with great
sacrifice, give children without parents a form of parental love and family
life. In any case, all of them must approach this duty in a spirit of prayer,
open and obedient to the moral truths of faith and reason that integrate the
teaching of the Church, and always seeing children and young people as persons,
children of God and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Rights and Duties of Parents
41. Before going into the practical details of young people's formation in
chastity, it is extremely important for parents to be aware of their
rights and duties, particularly in the face of a State or a school that
tends to take up the initiative in the area of sex education.
The Holy Father John Paul II reaffirms this in Familiaris Consortio:
"The right and duty of parents to give education is essential,
since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original
and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the
uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is
irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely
delegated to others or usurped by others", except in the case, as mentioned at
the beginning, of physical or psychological impossibility.
42. This doctrine is based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and
is also proclaimed by the Charter of the Rights of the Family: "Since
they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary
and inalienable right to educate them; hence they ...have the right to educate
their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions, taking
into account the cultural traditions of the family which favour the good and the
dignity of the child; they should also receive from society the necessary aid
and assistance to perform their educational role properly".
43. The Pope insists upon the fact that this holds especially with regard to
sexuality: "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must
always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in
educational centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church
reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it
cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the
The Holy Father adds, "In view of the close links between the sexual
dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the
children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and
highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality".
No one is capable of giving moral education in this delicate area better than
duly prepared parents.
The Meaning of the Parents' Duty
44. This right also implies an educational duty. If in fact parents do
not give adequate formation in chastity, they are failing in their precise duty.
Likewise, they would also be guilty were they to tolerate immoral or inadequate
formation being given to their children outside the home.
45. Today this task encounters a particular difficulty with regard to the
dissemination of pornography, through the means of social communication,
instigated by commercial motives and breaking down adolescent sensitivity. This
must call for two forms of concerned action on the part of parents: preventive
and critical education with regard to their children, and courageous
denunciation to the appropriate authorities. Parents, as individuals or in
associations, have the right and duty to promote the good of their children and
demand from the authorities laws that prevent and eliminate the exploitation of
the sensitivity of children and adolescents.
46. The Holy Father stresses this parental task and outlines guidelines and
the objective in this regard: "Faced with a culture that largely reduces human
sexuality to the level of something commonplace, since it interprets and lives
it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and
with selfish pleasure, the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a
training in the area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is
an enrichment of the whole person — body, emotions and soul — and it manifests
its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love".
47. We cannot forget, however, that we are dealing with a right and duty to
educate which, in the past, Christian parents carried out or exercised little.
Perhaps this was because the problem was not as acute as it is today, or because
the parents' task was in part fulfilled by the strength of prevailing social
models and the role played by the Church and the Catholic school in this area.
It is not easy for parents to take on this educational commitment because today
it appears to be rather complex, and greater than what the family could offer,
also because, in most cases, it is not possible to refer to what one's own
parents did in this regard.
Therefore, through this document, the Church holds that it is her duty to
give parents back confidence in their own capabilities and help them to carry
out their task.
PATHS OF FORMATION WITHIN THE FAMILY
48. The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for
forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of
charity, temperance, fortitude and chastity. As the domestic church, the family
is the school of the richest humanity. This is particularly true for the
moral and spiritual education on such a delicate matter as chastity. Physical,
psychological and spiritual aspects are involved in chastity, as well as the
first signs of freedom, the influence of social models, natural modesty and
strong tendencies inherent in a human being's bodily nature. All of these
aspects are connected to an awareness, albeit implicit, of the dignity of the
human person, called to collaborate with God and, at the same time, marked by
fragility. In a Christian home, parents have the strength to lead their children
to a real Christian maturation of their personalities, according to the measure
of Christ, in his Mystical Body, the Church.
While the family is rich in these strengths, it also needs the support of the
State and society, according to the principle of subsidiarity: "It can
happen...that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it
finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient
resources. It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies, but also
those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies
which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of
support, both for bringing up children and for looking after the elderly...".
49. Aware of this and of the real difficulties that exist for young people in
many countries today, especially when social and moral deterioration is present,
parents are urged to dare to ask for more and to propose more. They
cannot be satisfied with avoiding the worst — that their children do not take
drugs or commit crimes. They will have to be committed to educating them in the
true values of the person, renewed by the virtues of faith, hope and love: the
values of freedom, responsibility, fatherhood and motherhood, service,
professional work, solidarity, honesty, art, sport, the joy of knowing they are
children of God, hence brothers and sisters of all human beings, etc.
The Essential Value of the Home
50. In their most recent findings, the psychological and pedagogical sciences
come together with human experience in emphasizing the decisive importance of
the affective atmosphere that reigns in the family for a harmonious and
valid sexual education, especially during the first years of infancy and
childhood, and perhaps also during the prenatal stage, because children's deep
emotional patterns are established in these phases. The importance of the
couple's balance, acceptance and understanding is stressed. Furthermore,
emphasis is placed on the value of a serene relationship between husband and
wife, on the value of their positive presence (both father and mother) during
these important years for the processes of identification, and on the value of a
relationship of reassuring affection toward their children.
51. Certain serious privations or imbalances between parents (for example,
one or both parents' absence from family life, a lack of interest in the
children's education or excessive severity) are factors that can cause emotional
and affective disturbances in children. These factors can seriously upset their
adolescence and sometimes mark them for life. Parents must
find time to be with their children and take time to talk with them.
As a gift and a commitment, children are their most important task, although
seemingly not always a very profitable one. Children are more important than
work, entertainment and social position. In these conversations — more and more
as the years pass — parents should learn how to listen carefully to their
children, how to make the effort to understand them, and how to recognize the
fragment of truth that may be present in some forms of rebellion. At the same
time, parents will have to be able to help their children to channel their
anxieties and aspirations correctly, and teach them to reflect on the reality of
things and how to reason. This does not mean imposing a certain line of
behaviour, but rather showing both the supernatural and human motives that
recommend such behaviour. Parents will succeed better if they are able to
dedicate time to their children and really place themselves at their level with
Formation in the Community of Life and Love
52. The Christian family is capable of offering an atmosphere permeated with
that love for God that makes an authentic reciprocal gift possible. Children who
have this experience are better disposed to live according to those moral truths
that they see practiced in their parents' life. They will have confidence in
them and will learn about the love that overcomes fears — and nothing moves us
to love more than knowing that we are loved. In this way, the bond of mutual
love, to which parents bear witness before their children, will safeguard their
affective serenity. This bond will refine the intellect, the will and the
emotions by rejecting everything that could degrade or devalue the gift of human
sexuality. In a family where love reigns, this gift is always understood as
part of the call to self-giving in love for God and for others. "The family
is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it
finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self-giving
that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm
for the self-giving that must be practised in the relationships between brothers
and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the
communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy
and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the
active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon
53. Basically, education for authentic love, authentic only if it becomes
kind, welldisposed love, involves accepting the person who is loved and
considering his or her good as one's own; hence this implies educating in right
relationships with others. Children, adolescents and young people should be
taught how to enter into healthy relationships with God, with their parents,
their brothers and sisters, with their companions of the same or the opposite
sex, and with adults.
54. It must also not be forgotten that education in love is an overall
reality. There will be no progress in setting up proper relationships with
one person if at the same time there are no proper relationships with other
people. As we have already mentioned, education in chastity, as education in
love, is at the same time education of one's spirit, one's sensitivity, and
one's feelings. The attitude toward other persons depends largely on the way
spontaneous feelings for them are handled, the way some feelings are cultivated
and others are controlled. Chastity as a virtue is never reduced to merely being
able to perform acts conforming to a norm of external behaviour. Chastity
requires activating and developing the dynamisms of nature and grace which make
up the principal and immanent element of our discovery of God's law as a
guarantee of growth and freedom.
55. Therefore, it must be stressed that education for chastity is inseparable
from efforts to cultivate all the other virtues and, in a particular way,
Christian love, characterized by respect, altruism and service, which after
all is called charity. Sexuality is such an important good that it must
be protected by following the order of reason enlightened by faith: "The greater
a good, the more the order of reason must be observed in it". From this it
follows that in order to educate in chastity, "self-control is necessary, which
presupposes such virtues as modesty, temperance, respect for self and for
others, openness to one's neighbour".
Also of importance are what Christian tradition has called the younger
sisters of chastity (modesty, an attitude of sacrifice with regard to one's
whims), nourished by the faith and a life of prayer.
Decency and Modesty
56. The practice of decency and modesty in speech, action and dress is
very important for creating an atmosphere suitable to the growth of chastity,
but this must be well motivated by respect for one's own body and the dignity of
others. Parents, as we have said, should be watchful so that certain immoral
fashions and attitudes do not violate the integrity of the home, especially
through misuse of the mass media. In this regard, the Holy Father
stressed the need "to promote closer collaboration
between parents, who have primary responsibility for education, those in
charge of the mass media at various levels and the public authorities, so that
families are not left without guidance in such an important sector of their
educational mission... In fact the presentations, content and programmes of
healthy entertainment, information and education to complement that of the
family and the school must be recognized. Unfortunately this does not change the
fact that in some countries especially there are many shows and publications
abounding in all sorts of violence with a kind of bombardment of messages that
undermine moral principles and make it impossible to achieve a serious climate
in which values worthy of the human person may be transmitted".
In particular, with regard to use of television, the Holy Father specified:
"The life-style — especially in the more industrialised nations — all too often
causes families to abandon their responsibility to educate their children.
Evasion of this duty is made easy by the presence of television and of printed
materials in the home. These occupy the time for children and young people. No
one can deny the justification for this when the means are lacking, to develop
and use to advantage the free time of the young and to direct their energies".
Another circumstance that facilitates this is the fact that both parents are
busy with their work, in and outside the home. "The result is that these young
people are in most need of help in developing their responsible freedom. There
is the duty — especially for believers, for men and women who love freedom, to
protect the young from the aggressions they are subjected to by the media. May
no one shirk from this duty by using the excuse that he or she is not involved".
"Parents as recipients must actively ensure the moderate, critical, watchful and
prudent use of the media".
57. Respect for privacy must be considered in close connection with
decency and modesty, which spontaneously defend a person who refuses to be
considered and treated like an object of pleasure instead of being respected and
loved for himself or herself. If children or young people see that their
legitimate privacy is respected, then they will know that they are expected to
show the same attitude towards others. This is how they learn to cultivate the
proper sense of responsibility before God by developing their interior life and
a taste for personal freedom, that makes them capable of loving God and others
58. All of this reminds us more generally of self-control, a necessary
condition for being capable of self-giving. Children and young people should be
encouraged to have esteem for, and to practise self-control and restraint, to
live in an orderly way, to make personal sacrifices in a spirit of love for God,
self-respect, and generosity towards others, without stifling feelings and
tendencies, but channeling them into a virtuous life.
Parents as Models for Their Children
59. The good example and leadership of parents is essential in
strengthening the formation of young people in chastity. A mother who values her
maternal vocation and her place in the home greatly helps develop the qualities
of femininity and motherhood in her daughters, and sets a clear, strong and
noble example of womanhood for her sons. A father, whose behaviour is inspired
by masculine dignity without "machismo", will be an attractive model for his
sons, and inspire respect, admiration and security in his daughters.
60. This is also true for education in a spirit of sacrifice in families,
subject more than ever today to the pressures of materialism and consumerism.
Only in this way will children grow up "with a correct attitude of freedom with
regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being
fully convinced that ?man is more precious for what he is than for what he has'.
In a society shaken and split by tensions and conflicts caused by the violent
clash of various kinds of individualism and selfishness, children must be
enriched not only with a sense of true justice, which alone leads to respect for
the personal dignity of each individual, but also and more powerfully by a sense
of true love, understood as sincere solicitude and disinterested service with
regard to others, especially the poorest and those in most need". "This
education is fully a part of the ?civilization of love'. It depends on the
civilization of love and, in great measure, contributes to its upbuilding".
A Sanctuary of Life and Faith
61. No one can deny that the first example and the greatest help that parents
can give their children is their generosity in accepting life,
without forgetting that this is how parents help their children to have a
simpler lifestyle. Moreover, "...it is certainly less serious to deny their
children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the
presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to
realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety".
62. Lastly, we recall that in order to achieve these objectives, the family
first of all should be a home of faith and prayer, in which God the
Father's presence is sensed, the Word of Jesus is accepted, the Spirit's bond of
love is felt, and where the most pure Mother of God is loved and invoked. This
life of faith and "Family prayer has for its very own object family life
itself, which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God
and lived as a filial response to his call. Joys and sorrows, hopes and
disappointments, births and birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries of the
parents, departures, separations and home-comings, important and far-reaching
decisions, the death of those who are dear, etc. — all of these mark God's
loving intervention in the family's history. They should be seen as suitable
moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting abandonment of the family
into the hands of their common Father in heaven".
63. In this atmosphere of prayer and awareness of the presence and fatherhood
of God, the truths of faith and morals should be taught, understood and deeply
studied with reverence, and the Word of God should be read and lived with love.
In this way Christ's truth will build up a family community based on the example
and guidance of parents who "penetrate the innermost depths of their children's
hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be
able to efface".
64. Parents in particular have the duty to let their children know about the
mysteries of human life, because the family "is, in fact, the best
environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in
sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making
acceptable without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrating them
harmoniously in a balanced and rich personality". As we have recalled, this
primary task of the family includes the parents' right that their children
should not be obliged to attend courses in school on this subject which are not
in harmony with their religious and moral convictions. The school's task is not
to substitute for the family, rather it is "assisting and completing the work of
parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of sexuality as
value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of
In this regard, we recall what the Holy Father teaches in Familiaris
Consortio: "The Church is firmly opposed to an often widespread form of
imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles. That would merely
be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the
loss of serenity — while still in the years of innocence — by opening the way to
Therefore, four general principles will be proposed and afterwards the
various stages in a child's development will be examined.
Four Principles Regarding Information about Sexuality
65. 1. Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive
individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their
children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the
appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their
children's physical and spiritual growth. No one can take this capacity for
discernment away from conscientious parents.
66. Each child's process of maturation as a person is different. Therefore,
the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotional, should be
communicated in a personalized dialogue. In their dialogue with each
child, with love and trust, parents communicate something about their own
self-giving which makes them capable of giving witness to aspects of the
emotional dimension of sexuality that could not be transmitted in other ways.
67. Experience shows that this dialogue works out better when the parent who
communicates the biological, emotional, moral and spiritual information is of
the same sex as the child or young person. Being aware of the role, emotions and
problems of their own sex, mothers have a special bond with their daughters, and
fathers with their sons. This natural bond should be respected. Therefore,
parents who are alone will have to act with great sensitivity when speaking with
a child of the opposite sex, and they may choose to entrust communicating the
most intimate details to a trustworthy person of the same sex as the child.
Through this collaboration of a subsidiary nature, parents can take advantage of
expert, well-formed educators in the school or parish community, or from
68. 2. The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Parents
should stress that Christians are called to live the gift of sexuality according
to the plan of God who is Love, i.e., in the context of marriage or of
consecrated virginity and also celibacy. They must insist on the positive value
of chastity and its capacity to generate true love for other persons. This is
the most radical and important moral aspect of chastity. Only a person who knows
how to be chaste will know how to love in marriage or in virginity.
69. From the earliest age, parents may observe the beginning of instinctive
genital activity in their child. It should not be considered repressive to
correct such habits gently that could become sinful later, and, when necessary,
to teach modesty as the child grows. It is always important to justify the
judgement of morally rejecting certain attitudes contrary to the dignity of the
person and chastity on adequate, valid and convincing grounds, both at the level
of reason and faith, hence in a positive framework with a high concept of
personal dignity. Many parental admonitions are merely reproofs or
recommendations which the children perceive more as the result of fear of
certain social consequences, or related to one's public reputation, rather than
arising out of a love that seeks their true good. "I exhort you to correct, with
the greatest commitment, the vices and passions that assail us in every age. For
if in some stage of our life we sail on, deprecating the values of virtue and
thereby suffer continuous shipwreck, we risk arriving in port devoid of all
70. 3. Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must
be provided in the broadest context of education for love. It is not sufficient,
therefore, to provide information about sex together with objective moral
principles. Constant help is also required for the growth of children's
spiritual life, so that the biological development and impulses they
begin to experience will always be accompanied by a growing love of God, the
Creator and Redeemer, and an ever greater awareness of the dignity of each human
person and his or her body. In the light of the mystery of Christ and the
Church, parents can illustrate the positive values of human sexuality in the
context of the person's original vocation to love and the universal call to
71. Therefore, in talks with children, suitable advice should always be given
regarding how to grow in the love of God and one's neighbour, and how to
overcome any difficulties: "These means are: discipline of the senses and the
mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of
modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and
frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Young people
especially should foster devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God".
72. To teach children how to evaluate the environments they frequent with a
critical sense and true autonomy, as well as to accustom them to detachment in
using the mass media, parents should always present positive models and suitable
ways of using their vital energies, the meaning of friendship and solidarity in
the overall area of society and of the Church.
When deviant tendencies and attitudes are present, which require great
prudence and caution so as to recognize and evaluate situations properly,
parents should also have recourse to specialists with solid scientific and moral
formation in order to identify the causes over and above the symptoms, and help
the subjects to overcome difficulties in a serious and clear way. Pedagogic
action should be directed more to the causes rather than to directly repressing
the phenomenon, and, if necessary, they should seek the help of qualified
persons, such as doctors, educational experts and psychologists with an upright
73. The objective of the parents' educational task is to pass on to their
children the conviction that chastity in one's state in life is possible and
that chastity brings joy. Joy springs from an awareness of maturation and
harmony in one's emotional life, a gift of God and a gift of love that makes
self-giving possible in the framework of one's vocation. Man is in fact the only
creature on earth whom God wanted for its own sake, and "man can fully discover
his true self only in a sincere giving of himself". "Christ gave laws for
everyone...I do not prohibit you from marrying, nor am I against your enjoying
yourself. I only want you to do this with temperance, without indecency, guilt
and sin. I do not make a law that you should flee to the mountains and deserts,
rather that you should be good, modest and chaste, as you live in the midst of
74. God's help is never lacking if each person makes the necessary commitment
to respond to his grace. In helping, forming and respecting their children's
conscience, parents should see that they receive the sacraments with
awareness, guiding them by their own example. If children and young people
experience the effects of God's grace and mercy in the sacraments, they will be
capable of living chastity well, as a gift of God, for his glory and in order to
love him and other people. Necessary and supernaturally effective help is
provided by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if a regular confessor
is available. Although it does not necessarily coincide with the role of
confessor, spiritual guidance or direction is a valuable aid in progressively
enlightening the stages of growth and as moral support.
Reading well-chosen and recommended books of formation is also of great help
both in offering a wider and deeper formation and in providing examples and
testimonies of virtue.
75. Once the objectives of the information to be provided have been
identified, the time and ways must be specified, starting from childhood.
4. Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly
and at the appropriate time. Parents are well aware that their children must be
treated in a personalized way, according to the personal conditions of their
physiological and psychological development, and taking into due consideration
the cultural environment of life and the adolescent's daily experience. In order
to evaluate properly what they should say to each child, it is very important
that parents first of all seek light from the Lord in prayer and that they
discuss this together so that their words will be neither too explicit nor too
vague. Giving too many details to children is counterproductive. But delaying
the first information for too long is imprudent, because every human person has
natural curiosity in this regard and, sooner or later, everyone begins to ask
themselves questions, especially in cultures where too much can be seen, even in
76. In general, the first sexual information to be given to a small child
does not deal with genital sexuality, but rather with pregnancy and the birth of
a brother or sister. The child's natural curiosity is stimulated, for example,
when it sees the signs of pregnancy in its mother and experiences waiting for a
baby. Parents can take advantage of this happy experience in order to
communicate some simple facts about pregnancy, but always in the deepest context
of wonder at the creative work of God, who wants the new life he has given to be
cared for in the mother's body, near her heart.
Children's Principal Stages of Development
77. It is important for parents to take their children's needs into
consideration during the different stages of development. Keeping in mind that
each child should receive individualized formation, parents can adapt the stages
of education in love to the particular requirements of each child.
1. The Years of Innocence
78. It can be said that a child is in the stage described in John Paul II's
words as "the years of innocence" from about five years of age until
puberty — the beginning of which can be set at the first signs of changes in the
boy or girl's body (the visible effect of an increased production of sexual
hormones). This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by
unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical
sexual development is evident, it is normal for the child's interests to turn to
other aspects of life. The rudimentary instinctive sexuality of very small
children has disappeared. Boys and girls of this age are not particularly
interested in sexual problems, and they prefer to associate with children of
their own sex. So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth,
parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period
should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be
79. During this stage of development, children are normally at ease with
their body and its functions. They accept the need for modesty in dress and
behaviour. Although they are aware of the physical differences between the two
sexes, the growing child generally shows little interest in genital functions.
The discovery of the wonders of creation which accompanies this phase and the
experiences in this regard at home and in school should also be oriented towards
the stages of catechesis and preparation for the sacraments which takes place
within the ecclesial community.
80. Nonetheless, this period of childhood is not without its own significance
in terms of psycho-sexual development. A growing boy or girl is learning from
adult example and family experience what it means to be a woman or a man.
Certainly, expressions of natural tenderness and sensitivity should not be
discouraged among boys, nor should girls be excluded from vigorous physical
activities. On the other hand, in some societies subjected to ideological
pressures, parents should also protect themselves from an exaggerated opposition
to what is defined as a "stereotyping of roles". The real differences between
the two sexes should not be ignored or minimized, and in a healthy family
environment children will learn that it is natural for a certain difference to
exist between the usual family and domestic roles of men and women.
81. During this stage, girls will generally be developing a maternal interest
in babies, motherhood and homemaking. By constantly taking the Motherhood of the
most holy Virgin Mary as a model, they should be encouraged to value their
82. In this period, a boy is at a relatively tranquil stage of development.
This is often the easiest time for him to set up a good relationship with his
father. At this time, he should learn that, although it must be considered as a
divine gift, his masculinity is not a sign of superiority with regard to women,
but a call from God to take on certain roles and responsibilities. Boys should
be discouraged from becoming overly aggressive or too concerned about physical
prowess as proof of their virility.
83. Nonetheless, in the context of moral and sexual information, various
problems can arise in this stage of childhood. In some societies today, there
are planned and determined attempts to impose premature sex information
on children. But, at this stage of development, children are still not
capable of fully understanding the value of the affective dimension of
sexuality. They cannot understand and control sexual imagery within the proper
context of moral principles and, for this reason, they cannot integrate
premature sexual information with moral responsibility. Such information tends
to shatter their emotional and educational development and to disturb the
natural serenity of this period of life. Parents should politely but firmly
exclude any attempts to violate children's innocence because such attempts
compromise the spiritual, moral and emotional development of growing persons who
have a right to their innocence.
84. A further problem arises when children receive premature sex information
from the mass media or from their peers who have been led astray or received
premature sex education. In this case, parents will have to begin to give
carefully limited sexual information, usually to correct immoral and erroneous
information or to control obscene language.
85. Sexual violence with regard to children is not infrequent. Parents must
protect their children, first by teaching them a form of modesty and reserve
with regard to strangers, as well as by giving suitable sexual information, but
without going into details and particulars that might upset or frighten them.
86. As in the first years of life also during childhood, parents should
encourage a spirit of collaboration, obedience, generosity and self-denial in
their children, as well as a capacity for self-reflection and sublimation. In
fact, a characteristic of this period of development is an attraction toward
intellectual activities. Using the intellect makes it possible to acquire the
strength and ability to control the surrounding situation and, before long, to
control bodily instincts, so as to transform them into intellectual and rational
An undisciplined or spoilt child is inclined toward a certain immaturity and
moral weakness in future years because chastity is difficult to maintain if a
person develops selfish or disordered habits and cannot behave with proper
concern and respect for others. Parents should present objective standards of
what is right and wrong, thereby creating a sure moral framework for life.
87. Puberty, which constitutes the initial phase of adolescence, is a time in
which parents are called to be particularly attentive to the
Christian education of their children. This is a time of self-discovery
and "of one's own inner world, the time of generous plans, the time when the
feeling of love awakens, with the biological impulses of sexuality, the time of
the desire to be together, the time of particularly intense joy connected with
the exhilarating discovery of life. But often it is also the age of deeper
questioning, of anguished or even frustrating searching, of a certain mistrust
of others and dangerous introspection, and the age sometimes of the first
experiences of setbacks and of disappointments".
88. Parents should pay particular attention to their children's gradual
development and to their physical and psychological changes, which are decisive
in the maturing of the personality. Without showing anxiety, fear or obsessive
concern, parents will not let cowardice or convenience hinder their work. This
is naturally an important moment for teaching the value of chastity, which will
also be expressed in the way sexual information is given. In this phase,
educational needs also concern the genital aspects, hence requiring a
presentation both on the level of values and the reality as a whole. Moreover,
this implies an understanding of the context of procreation, marriage and the
family, a context which must be kept present in an authentic task of sexual
89. Beginning with the changes which their sons and daughters experience in
their bodies, parents are thus bound to give more detailed explanations about
sexuality (in an on-going relationship of trust and friendship) each time
girls confide in their mothers and boys in their fathers. This relationship of
trust and friendship should have already started in the first years of life.
90. Another important task for parents is following the gradual physiological
development of their daughters and helping them joyfully to accept the
development of their femininity in a bodily, psychological and spiritual
sense. Therefore, normally, one should discuss the cycles of fertility and their
meaning. But it is still not necessary to give detailed explanations about
sexual union, unless this is explicitly requested.
91. It is very important for adolescent boys to be helped to understand the
stages of physical and physiological development of the genital organs before
they get this information from their companions or from persons who are not
well-intentioned. The physiological facts about male puberty should be presented
in an atmosphere of serenity, positively and with reserve, in the framework of
marriage, family and fatherhood. Instructing both adolescent girls and boys
should also include detailed and sufficient information about the bodily and
psychological characteristics of the opposite sex, about whom their curiosity is
In this area, the additional supportive information of a conscientious doctor
or even a psychologist can help parents, without separating this information
from what pertains to the faith and the educational work of the priest.
92. Through a trusting and open dialogue, parents can guide their
daughters in facing any emotional perplexity, and support the value of
Christian chastity out of consideration for the other sex. Instruction for both
girls and boys should aim at pointing out the beauty of motherhood and the
wonderful reality of procreation, as well as the deep meaning of virginity. In
this way they will be helped to go against the hedonistic mentality which is
very widespread today and particularly, at such a decisive stage, in preventing
the "contraceptive mentality", which unfortunately is very common and
which girls will have to face later in marriage.
93. During puberty, the psychological and emotional development of boys
can make them vulnerable to erotic fantasies and they may be tempted to try
sexual experiences. Parents should be close to their sons and correct the
tendency to use sexuality in a hedonistic and materialistic way. Therefore, they
should remind boys about God's gift, received in order to cooperate with him "to
actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator — that of transmitting
by procreation the divine image from person to person..."; and this will
strengthen their awareness that, "Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of
conjugal love, the living testimony of the full reciprocal self-giving of the
spouses". In this way sons will also learn the respect due to women. The
parents' task of informing and instructing is necessary, not because their sons
would not know about sexual reality in other ways, but so that they will know
about it in the right light.
94. In a positive and prudent way, parents will carry out what the
Fathers of the Second Vatican Council requested: "It is important to give
suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their
own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise; in
this way they will be able to engage in honourable courtship and enter upon
marriage of their own".
Positive information about sexuality should always be part of a formation
plan so as to create the Christian context in which all information about life,
sexual activity, anatomy and hygiene is given. Therefore, the spiritual and
moral dimensions must always be predominant so as to have two special purposes:
presenting God's commandments as a way of life, and the formation of a right
To the young man who asked him what he had to do in order to attain eternal
life, Jesus replied: "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Matthew
19:17). After listing the ones that concern love for one's neighbour, Jesus
summed them up in this positive formulation: "You shall love your neighbour as
yourself" (Matthew 19:19). In order to present the commandments as God's
gift (written by his hand, cf.
Exodus 31: 18), expressing the Covenant with him, confirmed by Jesus' own
example, it is very important for the adolescent not to separate the
commandments from their relationship with a rich interior life, free from
95. As its departure point, the formation of conscience requires being
enlightened about: God's project of love for every single person, the positive
and liberating value of the moral law, and awareness both of the weakness caused
by sin and the means of grace which strengthen us on our path towards the good
and towards salvation.
"Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person" — which is "man's most
secret core and sanctuary", as the Second Vatican Council affirms, "enjoins him
at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges
particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are
evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme
Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments".
In fact, "conscience is a judgement of reason whereby the human person
recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is
in the process of performing, or has already completed". Therefore, the
formation of conscience requires being enlightened about the truth and God's
plan and must not be confused with a vague subjective feeling or with personal
96. In answering children's questions, parents should offer
well-reasoned arguments about the great value of chastity and show the
intellectual and human weakness of theories that inspire permissive and
hedonistic behaviour. They will answer clearly, without giving excessive
importance to pathological sexual problems. Nor will they give the false
impression that sex is something shameful or dirty, because it is a great gift
of God who placed the ability to generate life in the human body, thereby
sharing his creative power with us. Indeed, both in the Scriptures (cf. Song
of Songs 1-8;
Hosea 2; Jeremiah 3: 1-3; Ezekial 23, etc.) and in the
Christian mystical tradition, conjugal love has always been considered a symbol
and image of God's love for us.
97. Since boys and girls at puberty are particularly vulnerable to
emotional influences, through dialogue and the way they live, parents have
the duty to help their children resist negative outside influences that may lead
them to have little regard for Christian formation in love and chastity.
Especially in societies overwhelmed by consumer pressures, parents should
sometimes watch out for their children's relations with young people of the
opposite sex — without making it too obvious. Even if they are socially
acceptable, some habits of speech and conduct are not morally correct and
represent a way of trivializing sexuality, reducing it to a consumer object.
Parents should therefore teach their children the value of Christian modesty,
moderate dress, and, when it comes to trends, the necessary autonomy
characteristic of a man or woman with a mature personality.
3. Adolescence in One's Plan in Life
98. In terms of personal development, adolescence represents the period of
self- projection and therefore the discovery of one's vocation. Both for
physiological, social and cultural reasons, this period tends to be longer today
than in the past. Christian parents should "educate the children for life in
such a way that each one may fully perform his or her role according to the
vocation received from God". This is an extremely important task which
basically constitutes the culmination of the parents' mission. Although this
task is always important, it becomes especially so in this period of their
children's life: "Therefore, in the life of each member of the lay faithful
there are particularly significant and decisive moments for discerning
God's call...Among these are the periods of adolescence and young
99. It is very important for young people not to find themselves alone in
discerning their personal vocation. Parental advice is relevant, at times
decisive, as well as the support of a priest or other properly formed persons
(in parishes, associations or in the new fruitful ecclesial movements, etc.) who
are capable of helping them discover the vocational meaning of life and the
various forms of the universal call to holiness. "Christ's ?Follow me'
makes itself heard on the different paths taken by the disciples and confessors
of the divine Redeemer".
100. For centuries, the concept of vocation was reserved exclusively for the
priesthood and religious life. In recalling the Lord's teaching, "You,
therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew
5:48), the Second Vatican Council renewed the universal call to holiness. As
Pope Paul VI wrote shortly after the Council: "This strong invitation to
holiness could be regarded as the most characteristic element in the whole
Magisterium of the Council, and so to say, its ultimate purpose". This was
reiterated by Pope John Paul II: "The Second Vatican Council has significantly
spoken on the universal call to holiness. It is possible to say that this call
to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and
daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of
Christian life based on the gospel. This charge is not a simple moral
exhortation, but an undeniable requirement arising from the mystery of the
God calls everyone to holiness. He has very precise plans for each person, a
personal vocation which each must recognize, accept and develop. To all
Christians — priests, laity, married people or celibates — the words of the
Apostle of the Nations apply: "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" (Colossians
101. Therefore, in catechesis and the formation given both within and outside
of the family, the Church's teaching on the sublime value of virginity and
celibacy must never be lacking, but also the vocational meaning of marriage,
which a Christian can never regard as only a human venture. As St. Paul says
"This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church." (Ephesians
5:32). Giving young people this firm conviction is of supreme importance for the
good both of the Church and humanity which "depend in great part on parents and
on the family life that they build in their homes".
102. Parents should always strive to give example and witness with
their own lives to fidelity to God and one another in the marriage covenant.
Their example is especially decisive in adolescence, the phase when young people
are looking for lived and attractive behaviour models. Since sexual
problems become more evident at this time, parents should also help them to love
the beauty and strength of chastity through prudent advice, highlighting the
inestimable value of prayer and frequent fruitful recourse to the sacraments for
a chaste life, especially personal confession. Furthermore, parents should be
capable of giving their children, when necessary, a positive and serene
explanation of the solid points of Christian morality such as, for example, the
indissolubility of marriage and the relationship between love and procreation,
as well as the immorality of premarital relations, abortion, contraception and
masturbation. With regard to these immoral situations that contradict the
meaning of giving in marriage, it is also good to recall that: "The two
dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be
artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal
act itself". In this regard, an in-depth and reflective knowledge of the
documents of the Church dealing with these problems will be of valuable
assistance to parents.
103. Masturbation particularly constitutes a very serious disorder
that is illicit in itself and cannot be morally justified, although "the
immaturity of adolescence (which can sometimes persist after that age),
psychological imbalance or habit can influence behaviour, diminishing the
deliberate character of the act and bringing about a situation whereby
subjectively there may not always be serious fault". Therefore, adolescents
should be helped to overcome manifestations of this disorder, which often
express the inner conflicts of their age and, in many cases, a selfish vision of
104. A particular problem that can appear during the process of sexual
maturation is homosexuality, which is also spreading more and more in
urbanized societies. This phenomenon must be presented with balanced judgement,
in the light of the documents of the Church. Young people need to be helped to
distinguish between the concepts of what is normal and abnormal, between
subjective guilt and objective disorder, avoiding what would arouse hostility.
On the other hand, the structural and complementary orientation of sexuality
must be well clarified in relation to marriage, procreation and Christian
chastity. "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who
experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the
same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in
different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained". A
distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of
homosexuality that "are intrinsically disordered" and contrary to Natural Law.
Especially when the practice of homosexual acts has not become a habit, many
cases can benefit from appropriate therapy. In any case, persons in this
situation must be accepted with respect, dignity and delicacy, and all forms of
unjust discrimination must be avoided. If parents notice the appearance of this
tendency or of related behaviour in their children, during childhood or
adolescence, they should seek help from expert qualified persons in order to
obtain all possible assistance.
For most homosexual persons, this condition constitutes a trial. "They must
be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust
discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to
fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the
sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their
condition". "Homosexual persons are called to chastity".
105. Awareness of the positive significance of sexuality for personal harmony
and development, as well as the person's vocation in the family, society and the
Church, always represents the educational horizon to be presented during the
stages of adolescent growth. It must never be forgotten that the disordered use
of sex tends progressively to destroy the person's capacity to love by
making pleasure, instead of sincere self-giving, the end of sexuality and by
reducing other persons to objects of one's own gratification. In this way the
meaning of true love between a man and a woman (love always open to life) is
weakened as well as the family itself. Moreover, this subsequently leads to
disdain for the human life which could be conceived, which, in some situations,
is then regarded as an evil that threatens personal pleasure. "The
trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to
contempt for new life. Only a true love is able to protect life".
106. We must also remember how adolescents in industrialized societies are
preoccupied and at times disturbed not only by the problems of self-identity,
discovering their plan in life and difficulties in successfully integrating
sexuality in a mature and well-oriented personality. They also have problems in
accepting themselves and their bodies. In this regard, out-patient and
specialized centres for adolescents have now sprung up, often characterized by
purely hedonistic purposes. On the other hand, a healthy culture of the body
leads to accepting oneself as a gift and as an incarnated spirit, called to be
open to God and society. A healthy culture of the body should accompany
formation in this very constructive period, which is also not without its risks.
In the face of what hedonistic groups propose, especially in affluent
societies, it is very important to present young people with the ideals of human
and Christian solidarity and concrete ways of being committed in Church
associations, movements and voluntary Catholic and missionary activities.
107. Friendships are very important in this period. According to local
social conditions and customs, adolescence is a time when young people enjoy
more autonomy in their relations with others and in the hours they keep in
family life. Without taking away their rightful autonomy, when necessary,
parents should know how to say "no" to their children and, at the same time,
they should know how to cultivate a taste in their children for what is
beautiful, noble and true. Parents should also be sensitive to adolescents'
self-esteem, which may pass through a confused phase when they are not clear
about what personal dignity means and requires.
108. Through loving and patient advice, parents will help young people to
avoid an excessive closing in on themselves. When necessary, they will
also teach them to go against social trends that tend to stifle true love and an
appreciation for spiritual realities: "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the
devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him,
firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of
your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little
while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you" (1 Peter 5:8-10).
4. Towards Adulthood
109. It is not within the scope of this document to deal with the subject of
proximate and immediate preparation for marriage, required for Christian
formation and particularly recommended by the needs of the times and Church
teaching. Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that the parents' mission does
not end when their children come of legal age which, in any case, varies
according to different cultures and laws. Some particularly significant moments
for young people are also when they enter the working world or higher education,
moments when they come into contact with different behaviour models and
occasions that represent a real personal challenge — a brusque contact at times,
but a potentially beneficial one.
110. By keeping open a confident dialogue that encourages a sense of
responsibility and respects their children's legitimate and necessary autonomy,
parents will always be their reference point, through both advice and example,
so that the process of broader socialization will make it possible for them to
achieve a mature and integrated personality, internally and socially. In a
special way, care should be taken that children do not discontinue their faith
relationship with the Church and her activities which, on the contrary, should
be intensified. They should learn how to choose models of thought and life for
their future and how to become committed in the cultural and social area as
Christians, without fear of professing that they are Christians and without
losing a sense of vocation and the search for their own vocation.
In the period leading to engagement and the choice of that prefered
attachment which can lead to forming a family, the role of parents should not
consist merely in prohibitions, much less in imposing the choice of a fiancé or
fiancée. On the contrary, they should help their children to define the
necessary conditions for a serious, honorable and promising union, and support
them on a path of clear and coherent Christian witness in relating with the
person of the other sex.
111. Parents should avoid adopting the widespread mentality whereby girls are
given every recommendation regarding virtue and the value of virginity, while
the same is not required for boys, as if everything were licit for them.
For a Christian conscience and a vision of marriage and the family, St.
Paul's recommendation to the Philippians holds for every type of vocation:
"...whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is
pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellency, if
there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians
112. In the context of education in the virtues, parents thus have the task
of making themselves the promoters of their children's authentic education for
love. Through its very nature, the primary generation of a human life in
the procreative act must be followed by the secondary generation, whereby
parents help their child to develop his or her own personality.
Therefore, summing up what has been said so far and putting it on a practical
level, whatever is set out in the following paragraphs is recommended.
Recommendations for Parents and Educators
113. It is recommended that parents be aware of their own educational role
and defend and carry out this primary right and duty. It follows that any
educative activity, related to education for love and carried out by persons
outside the family, must be subject to the parents' acceptance of it and must be
seen not as a substitute but as a support for their work. In fact, "Sex
education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried
out under their attentive guidance whether at home or in educational centres
chosen and controlled by them". Frequently parents are not lacking in awareness
and effort, but they are quite alone, defenceless and often made to feel they
are wrong. They need understanding, but also support and help by groups,
associations and institutions.
1. Recommendations for Parents
114. 1. It is recommended that parents associate with other parents,
not only in order to protect, maintain or fill out their own role as the
primary educators of their children, especially in the area of education for
love, but also to fight against damaging forms of sex education and to ensure
that their children will be educated according to Christian principles and in a
way that is consonant with their personal development.
115. 2. In the case where parents are helped by others in educating their own
children for love, it is recommended that they keep themselves precisely
informed on the content and methodology with which such supplementary education
is imparted. No one can bind children or young people to secrecy about the
content and method of instruction provided outside the family.
116. 3. We are aware of the difficulty and often the impossibility for
parents to participate fully in all supplementary instruction provided
outside the home. Nevertheless, they have the right to be informed about the
structure and content of the programme. In all cases, their right to be present
during classes cannot be denied.
117. 4. It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex
education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their
children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles.
However, such a decision of the parents must not become grounds for
discrimination against their children. On the other hand, parents who remove
their children from such instruction have the duty to give them an adequate
formation, appropriate to each child or young person's stage of development.
2. Recommendations for All Educators
118. 1. Since each child or young person must be able to live his or her own
sexuality in conformity with Christian principles, and hence be able to exercise
the virtue of chastity, no educator — not even parents — can interfere with
this right to chastity (cf. Matthew 18: 4-7).
119. 2. It is recommended that respect be given to the right of the child
and the young person to be adequately informed by their own parents on moral
and sexual questions in a way that complies with his or her desire to be chaste
and to be formed in chastity. This right is further qualified by a child's stage
of development, his or her capacity to integrate moral truth with sexual
information, and by respect for his or her innocence and tranquility.
120. 3. It is recommended that respect be given to the right of the child
or young person to withdraw from any form of sexual instruction imparted outside
the home. Neither the children nor other members of their family should ever
be penalized or discriminated against for this decision.
Four Working Principles and Their Particular Norms
121. In the light of these recommendations, education for love can take
concrete form in four working principles.
122. 1. Human sexuality is a sacred mystery and must be presented according
to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church, always bearing in mind the
effects of original sin.
Informed by Christian reverence and realism, this doctrinal principle
must guide every moment of education for love. In an age when the mystery
has been taken from human sexuality, parents must take care to avoid
trivializing human sexuality, in their teaching and in the help offered by
others. In particular, profound respect must be maintained for the difference
between man and woman which reflects the love and fruitfulness of God himself.
123. At the same time, when teaching Catholic doctrine and morality about
sexuality, the lasting effects of original sin must be taken into
account, that is to say, human weakness and the need for the grace of God to
overcome temptations and avoid sin. In this regard, the conscience
of every individual must be formed clearly, precisely and in accord
with spiritual values. But Catholic morality is never limited to teaching about
avoiding sin. It also deals with growth in the Christian virtues and developing
the capacity for self-giving in the vocation of one's own life.
124. 2. Only information proportionate to each phase of their individual
development should be presented to children and young people.
This principle of timing has already been presented in the study of the
various phases of the development of children and young people. Parents and all
who help them should be sensitive: (a) to the different phases of
development, in particular, the "years of innocence" and puberty, (b) to
the way each child or young person experiences the various stages of life, (c)
to particular problems associated with these stages.
125. In the light of this principle, the relevance of timing in relation to
specific problems can also be indicated.
(a) In later adolescence, young people can first be introduced to the
knowledge of the signs of fertility and then to the natural regulation of
fertility, but only in the context of education for love, fidelity in
marriage, God's plan for procreation and respect for human life.
(b) Homosexuality should not be discussed before adolescence
unless a specific serious problem has arisen in a particular situation. This
subject must be presented only in terms of chastity, health and "the truth about
human sexuality in its relationship to the family as taught by the Church".
(c) Sexual perversions that are relatively rare should not be
dealt with except through individual counselling, as the parents' response to
126. 3. No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children or
young people of any age, individually or in a group.
This principle of decency must safeguard the virtue of Christian
Therefore, in passing on sexual information in the context of education for
love, the instruction must always be "positive and prudent" and "clear
and delicate". These four words used by the Catholic Church exclude every
form of unacceptable content in sexual education.
Moreover, even if they are not erotic, graphic and realistic representations
of childbirth, for example in a film, should be made known gradually, so as not
to create fear and negative attitudes towards procreation in girls and young
127. 4. No one should ever be invited, let alone obliged, to act in any way
that could objectively offend against modesty or which could subjectively offend
against his or her own delicacy or sense of privacy.
This principle of respect for the child excludes all improper forms of
involving children and young people. In this regard, among other things, this
can include the following methods that abuse sex education: (a)
every "dramatized" representation, mime or "role playing" which depict genital
or erotic matters, (b) making drawings, charts or models etc. of this
nature, (c) seeking personal information about sexual questions or asking
that family information be divulged, (d) oral or written exams about
genital or erotic questions.
128. Parents and all who help them should keep these principles and norms in
mind when they take up various methods which seem suitable in the light of
parental and expert experience. We will now go on to single out these
recommended methods. The main methods to avoid will also be indicated, together
with the ideologies that promote and inspire them.
129. The normal and fundamental method, already proposed in this guide, is
personal dialogue between parents and their children, that is,
individual formation within the family circle. In fact there is no
substitute for a dialogue of trust and openness between parents and their
children, a dialogue which respects not only their stages of development but
also the young persons as individuals. However, when parents seek help from
others, there are various useful methods which can be recommended in the light
of parental experience and in conformity with Christian prudence.
130. 1. As couples or as individuals, parents can meet with others who are
prepared for education for love to draw on their experience and competence.
These people can offer explanations and provide parents with books and other
resources approved by the ecclesiastical authorities.
131. 2. Parents who are not always prepared to face up to the problematic
side of education for love can take part in meetings with their children, guided
by expert persons who are worthy of trust, for example, doctors, priests,
educators. In some cases, in the interest of greater freedom of expression,
meetings where only daughters or sons are present seem preferable.
132. 3. In certain situations, parents can entrust part of education for
love to another trustworthy person, if there are matters which require a
specific competence or pastoral care in particular cases.
133. 4. Catechesis on morality may be provided by other trustworthy
persons, with particular emphasis on sexual ethics at puberty and adolescence.
Parents should take an interest in the moral catechesis which is given to their
own children outside the home and use it as a support for their own educational
work. Such catechesis must not include the more intimate aspects of sexual
information, whether biological or affective, which belong to individual
formation within the family.
134. 5. The religious formation of the parents themselves, in
particular solid catechetical preparation of adults in the truth of love, builds
the foundations of a mature faith that can guide them in the formation of their
own children. This adult catechesis enables them not only to deepen their
understanding of the community of life and love in marriage, but also helps them
learn how to communicate better with their own children. Furthermore, in the
very process of forming their children in love, parents will find that they
benefit much, because they will discover that this ministry of love helps them
to "maintain a living awareness of the ?gift' they continually receive from
their children". To make parents capable of carrying out their educational work,
special formation courses with the help of experts can be promoted.
Methods and Ideologies to Avoid
135. Today parents should be attentive to ways in which an immoral education
can be passed on to their children through various methods promoted by groups
with positions and interests contrary to Christian morality. It would be
impossible to indicate all unacceptable methods. Here are presented only some of
the more widely diffused methods that threaten the rights of parents and the
moral life of their children.
136. In the first place, parents must reject secularized and anti-natalist
sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of
a child as a threat. This sex education is spread by large organizations and
international associations that promote abortion, sterilization and
contraception. These organizations want to impose a false lifestyle against the
truth of human sexuality. Working at national or state levels, these
organizations try to arouse the fear of the "threat of over-population" among
children and young people to promote the contraceptive mentality, that is, the
"anti- life" mentality. They spread false ideas about the "reproductive health"
and "sexual and reproductive rights" of young people. Furthermore, some
antinatalist organizations maintain those clinics which, violating the rights of
parents, provide abortion and contraception for young people, thus promoting
promiscuity and consequently an increase in teenage pregnancies. "As we look
towards the year 2000, how can we fail to think of the young? What is being held
up to them? A society of ?things' and not of ?persons'. The right to do as they
will from their earliest years, without any constraint, provided it is ?safe'.
The unreserved gift of self, mastery of one's instincts, the sense of
responsibility — these are notions considered as belonging to another age".
137. Before adolescence, the immoral nature of abortion, surgical or
chemical, can be gradually explained in terms of Catholic morality and reverence
for human life.
As regards sterilization and contraception, these should not be
discussed before adolescence and only in conformity with the teaching of the
Catholic Church. Therefore, the moral, spiritual and health values of methods
for the natural regulation of fertility will be emphasized, at the same time
indicating the dangers and ethical aspects of the artificial methods. In
particular, the substantial and deep difference between natural methods and
artificial methods will be shown, both with regard to respect for God's plan for
marriage as well as for achieving "the total reciprocal self- giving of husband
and wife" and openness to life.
138. In some societies professional associations of sex-educators,
sex-counsellors and sex-therapists are operating. Because their work is
often based on unsound theories, lacking scientific value and closed to an
authentic anthropology, and theories that do not recognize the true value of
chastity, parents should regard such associations with great caution, no matter
what official recognition they may have received. When their outlook is out of
harmony with the teachings of the Church, this is evident not only in their
work, but also in their publications which are widely diffused in various
139. Another abuse occurs whenever sex education is given to children
by teaching them all the intimate details of genital relationships, even in a
graphic way. Today this is often motivated by wanting to provide education for
"safe sex", above all in relation to the spread of AIDS. In this situation,
parents must also reject the promotion of so-called "safe sex" or "safer sex", a
dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can
provide adequate protection against AIDS. Parents must insist on continence
outside marriage and fidelity in marriage as the only true and secure education
for the prevention of this contagious disease.
140. One widely-used, but possibly harmful, approach goes by the name of
"values clarification". Young people are encouraged to reflect upon, to clarify
and to decide upon moral issues with the greatest degree of "autonomy", ignoring
the objective reality of the moral law in general and disregarding the formation
of consciences on the specific Christian moral precepts, as affirmed by the
Magisterium of the Church. Young people are given the idea that a moral code is
something which they create themselves, as if man were the source and norm of
However, the values clarification method impedes the true freedom and
autonomy of young people at an insecure stage of their development. In practice,
not only is the opinion of the majority favoured, but complex moral situations
are put before young people, far removed from the normal moral choices they face
each day, in which good or evil are easily recognizable. This unacceptable
method tends to be closely linked with moral relativism, and thus encourages
indifference to moral law and permissiveness.
141. Parents should also be attentive to ways in which sexual instruction can
be inserted in the context of other subjects which are otherwise useful (for
example, health and hygiene, personal development, family life, children's
literature, social and cultural studies etc.). In these situations it is more
difficult to control the content of sexual instruction. This method of
inclusion is used in particular by those who promote sex instruction within
the perspective of birth control or in countries where the government does not
respect the rights of parents in this field. But catechesis would also be
distorted if the inseparable links between religion and morality were to be used
as a pretext for introducing into religious instruction the biological and
affective sexual information which the parents should give according to their
prudent decision in their own home.
142. Finally, as a general guideline, one needs to bear in mind, that all the
different methods of sexual education should be judged by parents in the light
of the principles and moral norms of the Church, which express human values in
daily life. The negative effects which various methods can produce in the
personality of children and young people should also be taken into account.
Inculturation and Education for Love
143. An authentic education for love must take account of the cultural
context in which the parents and their children live. As a union between
professed faith and concrete life, inculturization means creating a harmonious
relationship between faith and culture, where Christ and his Gospel have
absolute precedence over culture. "Therefore, because it transcends the entire
natural and cultural order, the Christian faith is, on the one hand, compatible
with all cultures insofar as they conform to right reason and good will, and, on
the other hand, to an eminent degree, is a dynamizing factor of culture. A
single principle explains the totality of relationships between faith and
culture: Grace respects nature, healing in it the wounds of sin, comforting and
elevating it. Elevation to the divine life is the specific finality of grace,
but it cannot realize this unless nature is healed and unless elevation to the
supernatural order brings nature, in the way proper to itself, to the plenitude
of perfection". Therefore, explicit and premature sex education can never be
justified in the name of a prevailing secularized culture. On the contrary,
parents must educate their own children to understand and face up to the forces
of this culture, so that they may always follow the way of Christ.
144. In traditional cultures, parents must not accept practices which are
contrary to Christian morality, for example rites associated with puberty which
sometimes involve introducing young people to sexual practices or acts contrary
to the dignity and rights of the person, such as the genital mutilation of
girls. Thus the authorities of the Church are to judge whether local customs are
compatible with Christian morality. But, the traditions of modesty and reserve
in sexual matters, which characterize various societies, must be respected
everywhere. At the same time, the right of young people to adequate information
must be maintained. Furthermore, the particular role of the family in such a
culture must be respected, without imposing any Western model of sex education.
Assistance for Parents
145. There are various way of helping and supporting parents in fulfilling
their fundamental right and duty to educate their children for love. Such
assistance never means taking from parents or diminishing their formative right
and duty, because they remain "original and primary", "irreplaceable and
inalienable". Therefore, the role which others can carry out in helping parents
is always (a) subsidiary, because the formative role of the family
is always preferable, and (b) subordinate,
that is, subject to the parents' attentive guidance and control. Everyone
must observe the right order of cooperation and collaboration between parents
and those who can help them in their task. It is clear that the assistance of
others must be given first and foremost to parents rather than to their children.
146. Those who are called to help parents in educating their children for
love must be disposed and prepared to teach in conformity with the authentic
moral doctrine of the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be mature persons, of
a good moral reputation, faithful to their own Christian state of life, married
or single, laity, religious or priests. They must not only be prepared in the
details of moral and sexual information but they must also be sensitive to the
rights and role of parents and the family, as well as the needs and problems of
children and young people. In this way, in the light of the principles and
content of this guide, they must enter "into the same spirit that animates
parents". But if parents believe themselves to be capable of providing an
adequate education for love, they are not bound to accept assistance.
Valid Sources for Education for Love
147. The Pontifical Council for the Family is aware of the great need for
valid material, specifically prepared for parents in conformity with the
principles set out in this guide. Parents who are competent in this field and
convinced of these principles should be involved in preparing this material.
They will thus be able to offer their own experience and wisdom in order to help
others educate their children for chastity. Parents will also welcome the
assistance and supervision of the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities in
promoting suitable material and in removing or correcting what does not conform
to the principles set out in this guide, concerning doctrine, timing and the
content and method of such education. These principles also apply to all the
modern means of social communication. In a special way, this Pontifical Council
for the Family is counting on the work of sensitization and support by the
Episcopal Conferences, who will know how to vindicate, where necessary, the
right of the family and parents and their proper domains, also with regard to
State educational programmes.
Solidarity with Parents
148. In fulfilling a ministry of love to their own children, parents should
enjoy the support and cooperation of the other members of the Church. The
rights of parents must be recognized, protected and maintained, not only to
ensure solid formation of children and young people, but also to guarantee the
right order of cooperation and collaboration between parents and those who can
help them in their task. Likewise, in parishes or apostolates, clergy and
religious should support and encourage parents in striving to form their own
children. In their turn, parents should remember that the family is not the only
or exclusive formative community. Thus they should cultivate a cordial and
active relationship with other persons who can help them, while never forgetting
their own inalienable rights.
Hope and Trust
149. In the face of many challenges to Christian chastity, the gifts of
nature and grace which parents enjoy always remain the most solid foundations on
which the Church forms her children. Much of the formation in the home is
indirect, incarnated in a loving and tender atmosphere, for it arises from
the presence and example of parents whose love is pure and generous. If parents
are given confidence in this task of education for love, they will be inspired
to overcome the challenges and problems of our times by their own ministry of
150. The Pontifical Council for the Family therefore urges parents to have
confidence in their rights and duties regarding the education of their children,
so as to go forward with wisdom and knowledge, knowing that they are sustained
by God's gift. In this noble task, may parents always place their trust in God
through prayer to the Holy Spirit, the gentle Paraclete and Giver of all good
gifts. May they seek the powerful intercession and protection of Mary
Immaculate, the Virgin Mother of fair love and model of faithful purity. Let
them also invoke Saint Joseph, her just and chaste spouse, following his example
of fidelity and purity of heart. May parents constantly rely on the love which
they offer to their own children, a love which "casts out fear", which "bears
all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1
13:7). Such love is and must be aimed towards eternity, towards the unending
happiness promised by Our Lord Jesus Christ to those who follow him: "Blessed
are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Vatican City, December 8, 1995
Alfonso Card. López Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
+ Most Rev. Elio Sgreccia
Titular Bishop of Zama Minor
Secretary of the Pontifical Council
for the Family