Pondering Permissiveness and Attitudes toward Premarital Sex in the Church. What the Data Shows.

I have already mentioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that collects and reports a good deal of data about the Church. Combing through the data I came across a surprising report on the attitudes of Catholics regarding premarital sex. I knew we had a lot of re-catechizing and re-evangelizing to do on this topic but until now I didn’t have a lot of clear numbers on Catholic attitudes about pre-marital sex (fornication). But this study from CARA provides some pretty basic and startling numbers that show just how much work we have to do. Let’s look at the data.

The Table at the left depicts Responses over the years to the following question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?”  You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. Now it can be seen by the trend lines that the numbers are going in the undesirable  direction. In 1972, 39% of adult Catholics responded that premarital sex was  “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 54% responded as such that year. In the most recent survey, conducted in 2008, only 14% of Catholics responded that premarital sex is “always wrong.”  Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded as such.

In other words, more than 70% of Church-going Catholics do not hold or agree to the teaching the Church and Scripture that premarital sex (fornication) is always wrong.  Among Catholics who do not  go to Mass the number is even higher at 86%.

I knew it was bad, I did not know it was this bad. We have a lot of work to do.

But here is what is even more surprising. The Protestant numbers are much higher than the Catholic ones. Again, lets look at the data. The table at the right depicts the Protestant answers to the same question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?” You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. For Church-going Protestants, the number of those who agree with the Biblical teaching on premarital sex is between 53 and 62%. For non-Church going Protestants the numbers are between 30 and 40%. You will note too that the trend lines on this graph are going in the right direction, upward toward  greater Biblical fidelity. I suspect that the polling was done more heavily in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist segments of Protestantism since I doubt the numbers would be as high in the liberal or mainline Protestant branches.

So it is clear that we have a lot of work to do in our Catholic parishes to re-evangelize the faithful on this important moral topic. It is important not only because sexuality is important, but it is also important because many young people make important and life-changing decisions around this matter. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread and many of them are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Surprise pregnancies often lead to abortion. And college and career can be adversely affected by those who, thankfully, do not abort. Hence this is an important topic to teach and to insist upon.

I know by personal experience that we have done a minimal and poor job of teaching on this matter in the Church. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s we got little or nothing in Sunday School in terms of instruction about sexual morality Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know?  Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.

Through most of the sexual revolution the Church, at least at the the parish level,  was silent.  I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that rule, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.

I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex(or fornication, as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality.  To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao);  and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:


We can turn the poor numbers back, I am convinced, if we teach right out of God’s Word. I suspect this is why the Protestant numbers are better than our. Please review and share these texts.

60 Replies to “Pondering Permissiveness and Attitudes toward Premarital Sex in the Church. What the Data Shows.”

  1. Msgr. Pope
    So many Catholic students (most, maybe even all) were very poorly catechized starting in the 70’s (maybe even the late 60’s) and that seems to have continued on. Why? Why did the Church allow this to happen? And realizing that it did happen, when is the damage going to be corrected? Are all of hose who were children in the 70’s and 80’s and onward just going to be considered dispensable? It’s as if the Church wants to teach correctly now, without going back and addressing the damage done to countless souls. It’s as if someone took a 40 year chunk of Catholic humanity and said they didn’t count. This has always troubled me. If I’ve always known it’s wrong to not correct the damage that was done, then it goes without saying that priests and bishops and cardinals and our dear Popes have known it is wrong. Please tell me that there is a chance that the Church will admit to neglecting these people, that she will state the errors that were taught, and that she will ask to be allowed to the necessary remedial work. Have you read ‘Good-bye Good Men’? Is this where the problem started? What hope is there if such people have infiltrated the Church? Oh Monsignor, if only there were more priests like you! I’ll keep you and all priests in my prayers.

    1. I wonder if the greatest cause is the Church’s neglect, or the Church’s bestowal of the freedom to neglect oneself.

    2. The Church herself is holy and sinless. However, her members are sinful and capable of committing great evil – even in the name of the Church. It always makes me laugh that our very sinful age makes roughly 100 years ago seem morally pristine, yet it was in 1917 – and not 1977 – that Our Blessed Mother came to Fatima, reminding us of the great need for prayer and penance because of the sins of humanity (and a chastisement that would occur without special devotion on our part). And it was in 1846 – not 1946 – that Mary presented an even more startling sequence of prophesies, at La Salette, detailing what would happen (a sequence of events quite awful) if the world kept on the same course it was on at *that* time. The bottom line is that the events of the 60s and those that followed are only the maturation of a much deeper disposition toward sin that far predates the current crisis. After all, those that did not catechize my parent’s generation of Catholics were (presumably) very well catechized – well enough to know the importance of knowing and passing on the Catholic faith. Catechesis is not enough, it must be born of charity (and that includes a hatred of sin). It might be that widespread charity evaporated from this world more than 100 years before the 60s, and it has taken a long time (thankfully?) for the consequences of that disposition to reach a climax. The question then to ask is not one regarding why the Church acts the way she does, but why God’s providence permits such evil. We have a sort of answer already: so that we may cooperate in His redemptive plan, by acts of prayer and penance for sin and for sinners. The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.

    3. I don’t have a lot of answers to the questions Mary asks. However, I would conjecture that the problem oes way back before 1968. At one level the Church and parents had largely depended on the culture to keep sexual morality in check. In the “old days” it was rare for young people to be together much before marriage. Chaperones et al. were the norm. Likewise, people married a lot earlier. Hence the Church and frankly many parents didn’t say as much about this aspect of life since it was less of a problem then. But when the sexual revolution happened we did not change tactics and we tend to remain shy about talking to young people about sex. We have to be clear and to the point. But shyness has been a big factor, I am sure. But, as I say, we have to overome that and speak biblically and properly to our young people. We have not adjusted well to the sexual revolution.

      1. “Chaperones” were hardly common either after 1920 for the upper middle class, or at any time for the working-class! Young people were together a great deal, growing up and playing together in neighborhoods, going to school and church, and finally at work. Be realistic here!

        Nor was it all that unusual to have two in the wedding gown: Mother and Baby. The difference realistically is exactly that young people knew each other well, and did not think it was a social requirement, rather like shaking hands, to engage in sexual intercourse on the first date. The so-called “sexual revolution” put sexual intercourse on the level of a bodily function, with no more meaning than going to the toilet. It profoundly downgraded sexuality, and abandoned all responsibility.

        Now the “baby-daddy” of any class feels no responsibility to marry his partner and raise their child together. It’s her problem. He may not even recall her name, or he may treat the children he’s fathered as no more than notches on his gunbelt: Moral and financial responsibility are not issues!!!

      2. So many Catholic students (most, maybe even all) were very poorly catechized starting in the 70’s (maybe even the late 60’s) and that seems to have continued on. Why?

        Unless you mean the 1870s or 1760s or something like that, Mary, I agree with the others that I’m afraid you’re operating from a false premise. The poor catechesis did not start in the 1970s or 1960s, but has long been a problem.

        There is a reason that the Council was called by Pope John — the people were not as knowledgeable or strong in the faith as they should have been. And those that did know all too often had a superficial knowledge that was wholly incapable of dealing with all of the social issues that arose in the 20th century, as is obviously from so many falling away so quickly.

        On a related note, I also question the assertion that we have lost ground in the last few decades. That would presume that we were ever on firm ground in the first place. We weren’t. Most of the world is and always has been and always will be in darkness, and the Church will always be a beacon of light. If the world itself was light or if the world retained the light that it receives from the Church (which comes from Christ), there soon would be no need for the Church because the light would be everywhere always.

  2. Wasn’t all of this prophesized by Paul VI in Humanea Vitea 1968 section 17 “Consequences of Artificial Methods”? It’s actually chilling to read this in light of where we are today.

    17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

    Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

  3. Catholics pray the rosary and dismiss the bible. Protestants do the opposite. There you have it. But why have Catholics dismissed the bible? Why do they put the Rosary before the bible, the very Word of God? Yes, of course, Catholics claim to meditate on the mysteries between each decade of the Rosary, but for how long, 1.5 seconds? In any case, the mysteries don’t talk about marriage. If a catholic has 20-30 minutes per day to pray, ask him/her where it should go, and almost all will point to Mary, not the bible.

    Almost half of US Catholics reportedly don’t believe Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist (like the protestants) and one hardly hears Catholics praying to Jesus Christ. But show me a Catholic who doesn’t pray to Mary who it is claimed leads us to Christ. as if Christ was not accesible.

    I am a Catholic because unlike the protestants I believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist. But I don’t think that Catholics have been consistently and correctly guided to Christ above all. Many don’t even kneel (or only partially) before the most Holy Eucharist, God Himself.

    So many don’t believe Christ is accessible except through Mary and not even in the Eucharist. Further, they don’t even comprehensively read the most important primary source for their faith and (until very recently were hardly encouraged or expected to.

    How is it no Catholic is talking about where the Catholic faith has been misdirected all these years, even though it is so obvious?

    1. My experience growing up was strangely opposite, but still a poor job of catechizing in my opinion. Our church never once spoke of any Marian doctrine or belief. In CCD, those chapters were always skipped over. The priest did suggest that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, however he failed by not taking it to the next step: A clear devotion to the Eucharist! He himself never actually handed out the Eucharist during communion, but would allow only the Eucharistic Ministers to do it.

      When I went off to college in 2000, I went a couple Catholic churches, but also visited Protestant ones with my two roommates. For a few months I went to those instead, but there was always something just pulling me back. I knew that in essence… this wasn’t “church.” Eventually I finally just looked up what their mission statement was, their statement of faith essentially, and I acknowledged that I simply didn’t believe these things. Therefore, it was inappropriate to attend regularly and participate in something I didn’t believe. Ultimately, it came down to the Eucharist. If Christ is really present in the Eucharist, and if you REALLY do believe it, then why not take every opportunity to receive Him?

      Though my own understanding of Marian doctrines only came around a few years ago, I have found a lot of strength in praying the Rosary, and asking Mary and the saints for intercession with my prayers. But this is where I would say I differ:

      You cannot simply leave your prayers as intercession and not ask God for these things yourself. You can’t go and ask all your friends to pray for you, and then not actually pray to God yourself. We need that communication with God, not for the sake of God hearing our prayers, but for us to hear God! For every minute of intercession, or rosary, or asking a friend or family member for prayers, that must be met with an additional minute of personal prayer to God, the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

      I’m reminded of when I asked for my girlfriend’s parents for their permission to marry her. While everything went great, and I asked for them to help us and everything, I couldn’t just leave it at that and expect something to change. I still had to go ask her if she would marry me! 😉

    2. ….And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Acts 9:4-5


      Your gift for concise illustration of current misconception regarding Catholicism, Catechesis and the Rosary is astounding. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is calling you to greater participation in the new Evangelization of the Body of Christ. Please give the following documents prayerful consideration, I’m sure they will assist in properly arming you for your mission and defense of truth.




      Go get ’em tiger!

    3. It is quite unfortunate that this type of sweeping statement/claim can be made. I do not see Enrique as a Catholic, but if he is then he has a very poor foundation making it very, very easy for protestants to take away from him an invaluable tool – the Rosary. It is therefore pointless to write to convince him. It is like telling some how sweet an orange tastes without the person leaking the orange himself/herself. I will only pray for him for true conversion and advice that he reads more of the Catholic teachings to appreciate the beauty of the Catholic faith. This is not saying that he has no point in his comments for there are numerous Catholics who are Catholics and are still Catholic for the simple reason that they were born Catholics. I was like that until my final years in the higher institution in 1989, when God opened by eyes.

  4. Catholics pray the rosary and dismiss the bible. Protestants do the opposite. There you have it. But why have Catholics dismissed the bible? Why do they put the Rosary before the bible, the very Word of God? Yes, of course, Catholics claim to meditate on the mysteries between each decade of the Rosary, but for how long, 1.5 seconds? In any case, the mysteries don’t talk about marriage. If a catholic has 20-30 minutes per day to pray, ask him/her where it should go, and almost all will point to Mary, not the bible.

    Almost half of US Catholics reportedly don’t believe Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist (like the protestants) and one hardly hears Catholics praying to Jesus Christ. But show me a Catholic who doesn’t pray to Mary who it is claimed leads us to Christ. as if Christ was not accessible.

    I am a Catholic because unlike the protestants I believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist. But I don’t think that Catholics have been consistently and correctly guided to Christ above all. Many don’t even kneel (or only partially) before the most Holy Eucharist, God Himself.

    Therefore, many don’t believe Christ is accessible except through Mary and not even in the Eucharist. Further, they don’t even comprehensively read the most important primary source for their faith and until very recently were hardly encouraged or expected to.

    How is it no Catholic is talking about where the Catholic faith has been misdirected all these years, even though it is so obvious?

    1. Enrique,

      Sweeping statements that “Catholics dismiss the Bible” are unprovable; you aren’t at Mass very often if you truthfully believe that! Where do you think the readings at Mass come from?

      Alas, the rosary is more honored than prayed today. Yes, many wear rosaries around their neck, convicted criminal fashion, even several (one for each imprisonment), but don’t pray the primarily Bible-based Mysteries.

      In fact, last week on the subway I was appalled by the extremely foul-mouthed language of some teenagers in Catholic high school uniforms. I took out my rosary to pray in reparation for their language, and 3 of them literally ran in panic, screeching that was some kind of vudu. A fourth broke out in laughter, and yelled, “It’s just what those guys do, ya’ know, them beads, them Catholics.” None of the youths was Catholic, though all were in a Catholic school and scandalized others by their appalling language.

  5. i don’t think its our job to try to figure out as much as we should try to be part of the solution. being aware of the problem of miseducation is important, but what am i going to do about it? we can teach religious classes, educatre ourselves more and more so as to dispel myths when we encounter them, pray fervently such as the Rosary, like you said you are praying. i think dwelling too much on someone’s sins can be problematic (such as past sins of church) i think you may be dwelling too much, but I know i don’t know you well enough to tell. God bless you

  6. I’ve heard from some that the Baltimore Catechism was a great teaching tool. Perhaps this teaching tool could be revised and updated. I’ve read parts of it and learned a lot. Make sure the doctrine is up to date, rewrite any passages that need to be rewritten (I think there may be some), maybe add some photos of the great Vatican art that is so easily done now with digital images, and publish a really great teaching tool. I bet the whole thing could be done in about a three year time frame. No need to re-invent the wheel, just refinish the old one and add some paint! Even if it is not reproduced in its entirety, there is still much good substance that could be derived from it.

    1. I’ve heard from some that the Baltimore Catechism was a great teaching tool

      So great that countless numbers catechized with the BC started divorcing their spouses, running to the pharmacy to get on the Pill, and not bothering to catechize their own kids when they weren’t aborting them. And when people were confronted with some issue that wasn’t already written in the BC’s questions-and-answers, they were unable to make the leap off the page and reason their own way to an answer.

  7. As a recent convert, 2005, I was given the opportunity to teach a Confirmation class. I stressed that ALL sexual activity outside the protective boundries of marriage is sin. I was told that the parents didn’t want me talking about sex with their kids. What should I expect? In this rather conservative rural parish the majority of parents are mixed faiths, contracept, and let their daughters dress like prostitutes. These are the rather faithful Catholics that attend Mass and actually attempt to practice their faith as it is taught from a faithful priest that doesn’t openly reject Church teaching. At least we don’t have active homosexuals running everything. It won’t change until people are denied communion who openly defy Church teaching. So if you didn’t deny someone communion last Sunday you are probably part of the problem. I’m sure the majority wherever you attend in DC is full of abortion supporters, homosexual promoting, cohabitating, contracepting, haven’t been to confession in many years parishioners. So if priests know it and don’t do anything they are like the parent that doesn’t discipline. The Bible says the father hates his son he doesn’t discipline. Lord have mercy. We are all unworthy to receive, but those who actively make themselves unworthy and receive, lead little ones astray. I know this sounds harsh but as the numbers show SOMETHING has to change. Real souls are dying and going to hell. This is unbelievably sad. Real love corrects others. We need to stop the indult of receiving in the hand and make it clear who should not receive for the sake of their souls. St. Paul says those who don’t recognize the body and blood of Christ eat and drink damnation on themselves not salvation. I Cor. 11:29 This is serious Msgr.

    1. @David Ulmer “…if you (Msgr. Pope) didn’t deny someone communion last Sunday you are probably part of the problem.”

      That remark is harsh for it speaks harsh truth.

      One need not interrogate anyone who comes before the bodily presence of Our Lord Jesus to realize that one person or another may well be risking receiving His Precious Body and Blood unworthily. For example, that logo t-shirt, sports team jacket, or blouse showing cleavage which the person would never think to wear to meet the President (or even to a job interview) but is wearing in the communion line at God’s house strongly suggests that this person doesn’t think much of the Real Presence. Once someone discovers that one can get away with profaning the Holy Sacrament in a visible, public way then doing so while practicing mortal sin beyond public view becomes easier to make excuses for to oneself.

  8. Regarding “porneia”: I would add that in early Greek monastic literature, an obvious example being the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (or Apophthegmata Patrum), “porneia” often means the kind of premarital sex one does by oneself. I.e., the kind that solitary monks are likely to fall into. To be sure, there are stories in the Sayings about monks who fall into porneia with women (or nuns with men, or monks with nuns), but I can think of some off the top of my head when the monk is all by himself when he commits porneia.

    I think this belongs in the conversation about purity and the compromise of purity, sex and the use of sex.

    Thank you for your witness, Monsignor.

    1. e.g. A woman from Rome comes all the way to Egypt to visit the Abba Arsenius, and she says to him, “Remember me in your prayers, Abba!”

      His response: “I pray God takes remembrance of you from my heart!”

      This seems like a cold and uncharitable thing to say, but of course the last thing a solitary celibate man wants to remember while he’s praying is the image of a finely appareled, noble lady from the City!

      Benedict, in a contemporary hagiography, was being described, undergoing precisely this temptation, as throwing himself naked on a thornbush wen all else failed!

  9. Mary, everyone failed. No one needed the church to tell them fornication is wrong. Everyone who bought into the permissive attitude of the 60s and 70s was simply being human. We behave as we’re allowed to. Its all our fault

  10. “the majority of parents are mixed faiths, contracept, and let their daughters dress like prostitutes.”
    “I’m sure the majority wherever you attend in DC is full of abortion supporters, homosexual promoting, cohabitating, contracepting, haven’t been to confession in many years parishioners. ”
    It does indeed sound harsh. It sounds like you are claiming to know (and to judge) the hearts of people, as well as their personal sexual practices. I’m going to guess that you don’t really know who contracepts, or who is engaging in homosexual activity, or who has not been to confession. As for those things which are actually observable, like the way girls dress, your hyperbole is uncharitable.
    Perhaps the fervor of your recent conversion is still ablaze, but may I suggest moderation– the life of Catholic faith is one lived in community, where people need to be compassionate, supportive, and lovingly corrective where appropriate; and it doesn’t hurt to presume the best intentions in others rather than being quick to condemn. Our faith is about Good News–not something to hit others over the head with. Welcome to the fold…

  11. Msgr Pope:

    The problem is that you can’t catechize people who aren’t there.

    The underlying issue is that the vast majority of Gen Xers and Millennials are missing in action altogether. Only 15% of Gen Xers and 17% of Millennial Catholics are in Mass on a given weekend and the CARA folks told me that that figure has been consistant for years.

    The change in generations is the reason why marriages have dropped 38% since 1995 and the number of adults entering the Church through RCIA has dropped 30% since 2000. Because both are young adult territory and the young adults are AWOL. Yes, maybe 75% of those young adults who do attend regularly are JPII Catholics but no ones talking about the fact that the vast majority of their generation simply aren’t crossing the threshold at all.

    I roll my eyes when I hear 20 something Catholics talk about looking forward to the day when the boomers die off. They’d do much better to spent the time that the boomers have left evangelizing their own generation. And as Cardinal George pointed out, you can never evangelize what you do not love. When I start to see young adult Catholics seriously reaching out to and evangelizing their peers, – and it is going to mean they have to leave the sanctuary to do so – then I’ll know they are serious.

    The situation is way beyond depending upon attractional strategies like a reformed liturgy to lure the vast majority back. 32% of those raised Catholic are already gone – most by age 23 – and 30% of those who retain the identity don’t believe in a personal God of any kind. Which is one of the major reasons that 38% of those who still call themselves Catholic seldom or never attend Mass.

    Attendance at Mass, across the generations, goes up and down in direct relationship to the number of people who are certain you can have a personal relationship with God. Post modern people attend church because it is personal in some way. But only 40% of millennial Catholics are certain you can have a personal relationship with God.

    This isn’t an universal experience. Evangelical millennials are much more likely to be certain one can have a personal relationship with God and they attend church in much larger numbers than their Catholic peers. As the Pew Forum put it stunningly: the best guarantee that someone raised Catholic will attend church on a regular basis as an adult is for them to become Protestant.

    When the much despised boomers – who are currently running and paying for the American Catholic church – are gone, our institutions are going to collapse with a bang. Because we are on the edge of demographic precipice that we have so far refused to acknowledge. And there will be plenty of blame to go about across the generations.

    The Church will be smaller, all right. But we won’t recognize it.

  12. Great post, Msgr. I think your suggestion to teach “right out of God’s Word” is sound. However, I believe this type of teaching will not bear fruit until parents also wage battle against a culture glorifies all things sexual. Mom & Dad can (and should) turn to Scripture. But the seed they are trying to plant and nurture will not find fertile soil if the children are – at the same time – allowed to watch sitcoms, movies and music videos or listen to music or read magazines that portray sex as recreational and without physical, emotional, or spiritual consequences. Culture seems to win every time. One more thing: parents should form the habit of praying to their children’s guardian angels for assistance.

  13. It’s as simple as this. Little will change until we hear plain, honest, authentic Church teaching from the pulpit.

    1. I will never forget that during my Confirmation Mass, the archbishop preached with a loud, “emphatic” voice during his homily (like the good preachers of old), “DON’T HAVE PREMARITAL SEX!!!!!!” I don’t know how you could be more clear than that!

      1. Here’s how that Bishop could be “more clear” – make sure the priests and deacons in the diocese he leads are repeating his message, following up his message, and by what they are doing in their parishes visibly supports his message.

        Otherwise, what’s happening is too similar to those corporate management slogans of the week that folks in the working world have learned to ignore.

  14. There is hope! Our parish school begins human sexuality and chastity education in kindergarten and it continues through high school. It is based on the Theology of the Body and parents are fully involved. It can be done.

  15. Until we have the courage (like David U.) to not mince words but to ‘tell it like it is’, the problem will only get worse. How worse? I think that the next question will be: ‘ do you think it is always wrong to have causual sexual relation with someone you don’t even consider marrieable? The survey question could have been interpreted that the two people had a serious relationship so the answer reflected that. I think that all of us have been brought up with the greatest commandment: thou shall not judge any behavior to be bad (as long as it doesn’t hurt someone). I also think that each of us have to look at how we accept fornication in our entertainment, books, movies, etc. For years we all have chuckled at Married with Children, Three and a Half Men(whateverrrr….), Grey’s Anatomy, (was it ‘August Rush’ that the plot was premised on two people having intercourse on the night they met?) and on and on…..

  16. One of the best tools we have to reinforce Church teaching on why premarital sex is always wrong is the Bible (which could explain why the Protestants are better about this) and by extension (for Catholics) JPII’s theology of the body. I think that if Catholic church’s can afford it and make it work they should try to implement programs that are built and centered on Theo. of the Body; ascension press has a lot of materials that would help there. Otherwise I think it’s clear from the facts- and I think we need to be reminded of how scary they are- that these numbers will continue to decline (at least, in the Catholic Church). At least, a Bible Study that touches on theo. of the body would be in order (especially at the High School and College level).

    Also, we need to eliminate or re-instruct theo. teachers (and I have been taught by at least one) who believe that the Bible supports protected, premarital sex (as long as there is consent on both ends). Seriously, these people are out there and need to be dealt with as well.

    And actually, I believe that the Rosary could be used as well to prayerfully meditate on what is learned through theo of the body, ex. when meditating on the mystery of the annunciation we ask God that we may we all may be open to life and the blessings and responsibilities that come with it as she was!

    I think it was Fr. Groeschel who said that the Rosary is the Bible translated into prayer. Definitely worth keeping and practicing then (if you ask me) if we want to have a lived reading of Scripture.

  17. Hmmm, the sex issue.
    Ever notice that 1 Cor 6: 9 is only in the weekday lectionary only one time every other year? That is, it is never in the Sunday lectionary.
    @Enrique: brother, very few Catholics under the age of 60 pray the rosary, this includes HIspanics. I have been doing HIspanic ministry and WWII ministry for 8 years. Once the old timers are gone, who will pray the rosary. Mexicans may wear the rosary, but most do not know how to pray it.

    @David: “In this rather conservative rural parish the majority of parents are mixed faiths, contracept, and let their daughters dress like prostitutes.” Everyone needs to understand that David does not exaggerate. David can say this because of the complete emasculation of men who then fail to be husbands and fathers.

    @Kim: you are correct, Pope Paul VI was a prophet. 40% of all babies in USA are born out of wedlock. Women have become, often through their own permissiveness, tools or objects. The family is being destroyed.

    Anytime a man and a woman cohabit, (living together without sacramental marriage so they can have sex), the woman lives in denial as she thinks she “has her man.” The man knows he has never given his word and can bail out anytime but will get it as much as he can.

    JP II’s Theology of the Body needs to form our dialogue, evangelization, and preaching.

    1. Fr. Ric — How do you explain the significantly higher compliance with Christian moral doctrine on sexual behavior among protestants, if not by their devotion to bible study?

  18. I think that one thing that needs to be addressed is the culture shift in the age of marriage and concupiscence. Sins against chastity are one of the greatest temptations for many people and if not the greatest, it is often present. Fifty years ago people got married at a younger age- a significantly younger age. Now it is more common for someone to wait until they are done with all their formal education, be settled with a good job, and somewhat financially secure before marriage. This pushes the age of marriage to maybe five or ten long years for some people where they then have to put of sexual relations even longer. It is much harder to ask someone to do that than to ask them to wait only a couple years. I am not saying that this is the only problem nor even the largest, nor am I trying to say that waiting is an impossible task (for with God’s grace, all is possible). But I do think this is something that should be addressed. For it is often the case that immoral sexual actions form one’s thoughts about sexuality more than one’s thoughts about sexuality forming their moral actions.

  19. The shocking thing is the difference between the change in the Catholic population and the protestant. This suggests a HUGE problem in teaching. Those responsible for teaching in the Catholic Church (which is all of us, but in a special way rolls up to our bishops) have fallen down on the job. This is the result of no teaching. There is no way around it. This is hugely diagnostic of a problem for Catholicism in America.

    The question is, what is going to be done. Bishops? Priests? Catechists? Parents? What are you (we) going to DO?

  20. The Bible is our guide to our lives now … and I am surprised at how lax the teaching can be at church. Even during RCIA when I asked about contraception, I was told that it was up to the couple to decide what is right for them. Father, if the priest will not guide us poor souls, who will? I have taken it upon myself to read and study and teach however I can, but I am too new and often afraid that I’ll say the wrong thing. But I do know that any sexual activity outisde of marriage is wrong, no matter how much you love the other person.

    By the way, I have known many Mormons and Pentecostals and Baptists and Muslims and I admire how well they teach their children.

  21. Catholics, as you may well know, are often not *really* Catholic — and often not from a lack of teaching. They don’t necessarily agree with Church teaching, but feel pressured (by family) to remain Catholic and attend mass.

    And, speaking from personal experience, my Protestant friends seem to have felt less pressure to remain than my Catholic friends felt to remain Catholic. Most of my “Catholic” friends growing up weren’t Catholic at all — just attending mass to appease their parents.

    I would be interested to see how the percentages from the graphs above correlate with some kind of “real versus fake” Catholic study. I’m not sure 100% sure you’d determine that — maybe by comparing % of core beliefs held versus taught? From what I understand, the studies above aren’t showing the results form a question like, “Are you aware that the Church teaches that … “, but more of a question like, “Do YOU believe that … ”

    Know what I mean?

  22. “And the great paradox is that unless the West recognizes humbly its own need of re-Christianization, the East will not be Christianized so easily.” — John C.H. Wu from Beyond East And West.

  23. The Smoke of Satan has entered the Catholic Church. I fear for my salvation. I am afraid, however, that many of the cardinals, bishops, priests, brothers, sisters and laity that dissent from what the Church teaches by fully embracing the Spirit of Vatican II, and are largerly responsible for the disaster to which these statistics point to, don’t. I would not like to be in their shoes the day they die, and if not repentant, are judged by our Lord Jesus Christ for the damage to the People of God they have done.

    1. You understand, don’t you Rene! So many have been taught that wrong is right and right is wrong. It’s not about someone who has been properly catechized choosing to do wrong; it’s about so, so many who never had their consciences formed correctly making very poor choices through ignorance.

  24. Troubling findings. Why aren’t preachers stressing the virtue of purity as much? It cures or prevents most of the prevalent ills in the sex crazed societies nowadays – from porn addiction, self-abuse, fornication, adultery and abortion. Purity not only prepares to marraige it also encourages religious and priestly vocations – as taught and lived in St. John Bosco’s Salesian spirituality (cfr. http://www.divine-ripples.blogspot.com/ and do a search on Salesian Spirituality or St. John Bosco).

  25. How can anyone be surprized by the low scores and downward trend?

    American society, just like most Western ones, prioritizes individualism over everything else. The individual controls his/her body and does with it what s/he likes. As long as you remain within the law, anything goes; there is no larger moral framework to guide behavior. Sex is viewed primarily as a recreational activity, increasingly divorced from procreation and marriage; people do not want to hear about the negative consequences. Those consequences – massive abortion, broken relationships, emotional damage, isolation – are all acceptable “collateral damage” of our free society.

    I do not see a feasible way to buck the trend. Increased focus on Biblical teachings, etc will preach to the choir (more or less). We have to get used to the fact that Catholic teaching, and its Biblical foundations, are no longer the norm – and never will be again. Sorry to be pessamistic, but I think that is reality.

  26. If you ask me, what we need to do is get away from the negative teaching — don’t do this, don’t do that, this is wrong, that is a sin, no, no, no, no, no.

    What we in the Church need to do, not only with other Catholics, but with the world at large, is to promote the Good News. We need to present postitive teaching — do this, do that, yes, yes, yes. We need to offer the world something that is sorely lacking — authentic love and authentic hope.

    If you were to ask those caught up in our hyper-sexualized world, few would say that they are really happy hopping into bed. It doesn’t fulfill them, but leaves them empty. What people want — what they REALLY want, is not the ten-minute thrill of sex, but LOVE. In our world, there is an appalling deficit of love. And when you have no love, when you are removed entirely from love, you can see what Hell really looks like.

    The Church is — or at least it should be — an expert in love. That is what we have to offer the world and that is what we should be teaching — love. With the prospect of real love — not the counterfeit love of recreational sex — comes hope, the world doesn’t look as dreary as it did before. There is the prospect of true happiness. And with love and hope, the door is opened to faith, which in turn reinforces love and hope.

    But to do this, we must get away from the constant emphasis on the negative.

    Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: “You shall not kill!”. We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother’s womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
    Interview of Pope Benedict in Preparation to his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria
    August 5, 2006

    1. “The Church is — or at least it should be — an expert in love. That is what we have to offer the world and that is what we should be teaching — love. With the prospect of real love — not the counterfeit love of recreational sex — comes hope, the world doesn’t look as dreary as it did before. There is the prospect of true happiness. And with love and hope, the door is opened to faith, which in turn reinforces love and hope.”

      I like the way you think. My hope is that people can learn by example … So many have commented that we have a beautiful family and we are blessed indeed. And it is richer for having Christ at its center. So we bring friends into our home and then invite them to a parish picnic, then to Mass. We hope and pray for transformation, one heart at a time.

  27. I think that rather than trying to evangelize those outside the Church, there should first be a major effort to educate adult Catholics about the essentials of their faith. Many have never heard what the Church really teaches, for example, on sexuality – and the “whys” of what is taught. Many think the Church is about “no’s and do not’s” rather than understanding the beauty of the Theology of the Body.

    Somehow, adult Catholics should be exposed to the Catholic position on key moral issues like abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, just war theory, etc. There should be video’s, CD’s, small groups, the “theology on tap” program, lectures by professors of moral theology, blogs like this one, books, pamphlets, etc. that can aim at different target audiences.

    Sexuality is not an isolated issue – the education needs to be addressed to “Life Issues”. Testimonials from people who have gone from one position to another (like the book, “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist”) can help. And, people need to understand the power of prayer and the Sacraments in helping them to live as we were meant to live the abundant life.

  28. Msgr. and all the 41 responses have said it all. There definitely is a lost generation and a half and that is hard to straighten out. We must all, each in his own way, pray and lead by good examples.
    Thank you for addressing this pressing issue.

  29. Don’t forget that the Church in general needs to preach this to ALL people no matter of age. So many older adults will throw biblical fidelity out the window when they reach a certian age and feel they are missing out on life. Example; people in their 40’s who have saved themselves for marriage but marriage doesn’t seem to be coming.

  30. Monsignor-

    Thank you for the post on a topic we all need to hear more of. Regarding daughters and purity, I recommend to all your readers a book by Dr. Meg Meeker, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. As the video above notes, a strong father-daughter relationship is key to a girl remaining pure. Dr. Meeker outlines how men today–who may not have had strong father figures–can become that presence in their daughters’ lives. It’s a fantastic book and one that every father of a girl should own and read again and again.

  31. I’m not Catholic, but a conservative evangelical. I’m not here to agitate. I wouldn’t suggest that the preaching in all evangelical churches is of the same quality (delivery, relevance, etc.) but it has been my experience that the sermon is the focus of the service, usually a sermon 30-50 minutes in length. In many churches, this preaching is expository, working passage by passage through a book of the Bible. It isn’t impossible for a Christian in such a church to have heard preaching that covered every text in the N.T. (One example is Grace Church in Sun Valley, CA.) My guess is that this exposure to the Word of God is part of the reason there is a difference in the results.

    The question I want to ask is: What is this part of the service like in the typical Catholic church? How much time is given to the sermon? Does the church work through a book of the Bible or is preaching more or less topical?

  32. Let me clarify:

    I’m wondering if the weekly dosage of preaching is small and the Bible isn’t being preached systematically, but topically, Christians might, even after years, not really know the Bible.

    1. Jonathan Charles,
      Your question is such a refreshing, genuine inquiry. It deserves a sincere response. I hope you get one….just kidding :o)

      Think about the Scribes and Pharisees for a moment. They knew the scripture (the Word of God) inside and out, likely huge portions by memory. Yet, many didn’t know the WORD in flesh right before their very eyes. Yet, He was God in the flesh, the Word of God in its definitive form regardless of their failure to recognize the Truth even with all their knowledge.

      Catholics have the greatest of gifts of all Christians, the fullness of graces intended by Christ for His Bride. We have the Word made flesh in the Eucharist; really present in time and place, in body, blood, soul, and divinity every Mass. We also have the Holy Scripture fed to us in large doses every Mass. It is true that most priests today give poor homilies, but what we have is HUGE.

      Conservative Evangelicals typically have great preaching and even with that it is infinitely less than what Catholics have in the Mass. So why do Protestants get it more than Catholics as evidenced by this survey?

      I would suggest it is emphasis. It is that Protestants have kept the “altar call” even after forsaking the real altar, with the sacrifice of the Mass, while Catholics have profaned and made futile the altar and the sacrifice by making no demands, even denying them. Evidence demands a verdict, truth demands a response, real faith is shown in loving obedience. The message from every ambo should be REPENT: the same message that JTB preached and the same message that Simon Peter preached. Repent and be baptized, which is an act of obedience demonstrating a genuine conversion. Repent and renew your baptismal vows. In fact, don’t you dare come forward until you have gone to confession and got your heart right before God.

      Evangelical Protestants that have Holy Spirit filled ministries still give the call in response to the truth: repent, believe, receive, accept, come, follow, trust, and obey. Catholics, particularly in the last 40 years have not only embraced the spirit of death in contraception, but have gone much further and castrated themselves. The majority of Catholics have embraced sin, denied its existence, and abandoned repentance. Therefore the altar is profaned because the “Amen” is a lie and made futile because no one admits sin and the need for forgiveness.

      Our Bishops and priests are emasculate wimps that won’t defend Christ at the altar unless someone goes so far as to dress in drag and try to take the Host. Even then, it is their limp-wristed, passivity that led to such unabashed atrocities. I hope this is loud and clear to those like Msgr. Pope that if no one in our relativistic unrepentant day is denied Christ in communion then no one need receive Him. We have committed the worst of all sins making irrelevant that which is infinitely relevant and blasphemed God Almighty.

      1. I guess to be a bit more sensitive I should say a large number of Bishops and priests even though the ones who aren’t wimps know who they are and don’t take it personally. Also, dear Msgr Pope, I am not trying to impune you either, but rouse you to action. I appreciate a great deal of what you have to say and your efforts to bring serious issues to the forefront.

  33. Catholics treat their faith for the most part like a good luck charm. They don’t live by the Bible because they make their own rules. If we sin we can just ask for penance. Protestants for the most part believe completely in the Bible thus it affects their beliefs. A good example of some Catholics who their faith does not translate to their beliefs is the late Edward Kennedy

  34. If Protestants are so much more better for hearing long sermons and reading the Bible more then why don’t they divorce less than Catholics?

    I think the issue, speaking as a convert last Easter after being a Protestant for 37 years, is that people who “loose their religion” and used to be Protestant say “no affiliation” whereas those who used to be Catholic still claim to be “Catholic”–it is more of a cultural thing I suppose–and it skews these polls. It also depends on what sort of Protestant one is speaking of–some of the main-line denominations are pretty much denying that anything (other than intolerance) is a sin these days.

    The issue, in my opinion, in the Catholic church is that there is maybe 10% – 25% of the typical parish that actually does believe. They have at their disposal an array of ways of learning all they need to know of what is right and wrong, including the compendium of the catechisim, etc. They are the ones going to the NFP classes, the ones who go to the Bible studies, pray the rosary on the way home from work at night, etc. That 10 – 25% is where one should strive to be, and they are the ones these polls ought to be talking to. The other 75 – 90%? Maybe they’ll change their ways, maybe they really are doing the best they have with what they have–as long as they show up at least they are doing something right.

    1. The results were of those who regularly attended church, not of nominal people.

  35. I almost felt depressed while reading this beautiful write up. Why? you may ask me. It was not because of the level of moral decadence prevalent in the US for I am writing from Nigeria. The reason was in anger to what the importation of foreign culture had done to my people. Before the advent of Christianity in my country, chasstity was a thing of pride and celebrated. Christianity came to reinforce it. So religious teachings especially on morals came to us naturally because of our background. Besides what you are taught whenever you attend the CCD, your parents would always come in handy to re-emphasize same. But my people were misled by misguided people who saw immoralities being practiced by the West as “civilization.” It brutalized our culture. This “civilization” came from the West. Today, some girls dress almost nude to the church, especially in Proestant Churches. This is being imported to my dearest Catholic Church and put to show even by married women. Many dress like prostitutes to the Church of God, throwing decency to the marines. Now, abortion is being promoted seriously here. Only God in his infinite mercy can save us from this. I might be writing like this, perhaps as I am writing from a different clime to yours. Please do not get me wrong. I am not trying to say we are saints before the advent of western civilization. No. But what I saw while growing up in the 1970s and what is happening now as a result of the so called sexual revolution can make one break down. Now, fornication is seen as someting normal that young men and women no longer show respect to their parents. The morally sound parents have almost lost the battle. It requires the prayers of all and not what I am reading here, people trying to justify their “churches” when in fact the Bibile makes it clear that we have one Faith and one Church. Can somebody help me, please.

  36. I have a niece who is marrying a Catholic and had to convert in order to be married by the priest in the local Catholic church. The thing that perplexed is that the church insisted on her becoming a Catholic, but the priest did not insist that she and her fiance stop cohabitating and cease having sex until marriage. Many evangelical churches I know of will not marry a couple that is living together. Why does the Catholic church do this?

  37. I would like to show you PRAY, a free and open source application to: * learn to pray The Holy Rosary, The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy; * meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary listening to Bible readings; * meditate with beautiful depictions of the mysteries; * count the prayers using an on-screen virtual Rosary; At SourceForge: http://pray.sourceforge.net/

  38. What garbage. Why even have a religious adherence then? Fear of death? Fear of punishment for your sins?

    If there is a Heaven, and there is a god, I sure as HELL hope you Christians never make it there — and get what you hypocrites truly deserve — sulfur and brimstone for this and countless other ‘sins.’

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