The Church’s Sexual Ethics Should Be INTO Diapers

A better expression of Christian sexual ethics starts with teaching them unapologetically

Among the ambiguities of his Disney appearance, Pope Francis remarked that the Church’s “catechesis on sex is still in diapers.” Various commentators have voiced disappointment or even outrage over that phrase. I take it as a compliment.

The Church’s sexual ethics is still in — more accurately, into — diapers. Alas, it’s the only major sexual ethics that still is.

The Church still teaches — and arguably has taught as part of its ordinary and infallible magisterium — that the nexus between the procreative and unitive meanings of sex is morally inseparable by human decision. Any sexual ethics that divorces the connection between sex and procreation is anti-human. The Church still sees sex connected with diapers.

A lot of the world doesn’t. And that’s why a lot of the world has problems.

Much of the modern “developed” sexual ethics decided that sex can be separated from procreation. Secularists affirmed the pleasure principle, arguing implicitly or even explicitly that the purpose of sex was the perfect orgasm. Various religious bodies did not want to go quite so far out on a limb, but neither did they want to remain attached to the Roman ethical trunk. So they all started out, as the Anglicans did in 1930, with the notion that contraception was “generally” wrong (hard to deny given that this was the universal Christian consensus prior to the 20th century) but we can “mercifully” and “pastorally” carve an exception here and there.

Those “limited” exceptions were dishonest temporizing, because no sexual ethic that admitted in principle that procreation and unity could sometimes be separated has yet also found a sure footing on the slippery slope to prevent that separation whenever people want. Sure, there’s a lot of handwringing about “discernment” and “conscience” (somebody’s got to pay those theologians for rationalizing what people’s consciences deep down know is wrong) but, in the end, it’s amazing how those “informed consciences” somehow almost always come down in favor of what somebody wants to do knowing better than 20 centuries of prior Christian witness.

It’s also interesting, especially in the post-Roe era, how none of the votaries of modern sexual ethics can explain the paradox of the relationship of contraception to abortion. According to the illuminati, the Church’s infantile sexual ethics, banning contraception, is responsible for promoting abortion. If only people had broad access to contraception, abortion wouldn’t be so “necessary.” We should even make celibate nuns pay for it!

None of those illuminati ever explains why, in the real world, there is no instance of any society accepting contraception which did not, within two generations, also accept abortion-on-demand. The fantasies of progressives notwithstanding, contraception and abortion have always stood in direct, not inverse ratio, because — as Pope St. John Paul II observed — they are both poisoned “fruits of the same tree,” a tree which regards children as having no rights to live if they impinge on somebody’s wants, desires, “choices,” or agendas.

The Church’s sexual ethics is still attached to diapers. Thanks be to God.

After almost 60 years of the quest for sex without babies, societies have reached a stage where children are abandoned, almost 70,000,000 abortions occur annually worldwide, people are deferring marriage, and fertility rates are collapsing. There are countries literally on the path to national extinction because their fertility levels are far below their replacement levels.

What normal country in the past ever thought that the way to national political and economic survival is importing populations to work?

In the confusion of sex without babies, we are now on track to babies without sex. Children are increasingly seen not as “gifts” but as “rights,” as commodities to be designed according to what former Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit called “parental projects,” biological capstones to check on one’s life resumé. With the disconnects of sex from marriage and of marriage from sexual differentiation, we stand on the threshold of a new era, devoid of biological (and, therefore, scientific) foundation where “having children” will be simply a “technique,” with many “techniques” on offer. Want to do it “the old fashioned way?” Okay. Want to buy somebody’s sperm and/or eggs? Why not? Too busy at this career stage to spend nine months with a kid, lack the biological accoutrements, or had them excised when you “discovered” your “gender?” Hire a womb! (Discounts available for offshore contracting). Prefer the lab tech deciding which of your children is “most likely to succeed” when allowed to implant? Well, that’s just recognizing “medical expertise”!

Disapprove of this vision of a brave new world? Consider it the subjugation of real children’s interests to adult’s desiderata? How dare you! How dare you question how babies come into the world? (The next thing, you’ll be asking epistemologically invalid questions like “when does life begin?”)

Yes, the Church disapproves — because of its attachment to “diapers.” Because it believes sex and children are connected, and not just when somebody thinks it might be nice for them to be. Because it believes that children have rights. Because it believes that children have rights someday to have children and, therefore, should not be chemically castrated or physically mutilated, which will prevent them from having children one day.

I think I know (it’s often confusing with Francis) this is not what the Pope means. That he just thinks we need to catechize people better.

Well, he could start by telling priests to lift the veil of omertà and start talking publicly about the morally obligatory character of Humanae vitae. He could follow the counsels Pope St. John Paul II laid out in Familiaris consortio (no. 66) about “remote preparation” for marriage by teaching young people what the Church teaches about sexual ethics and the sacrament of matrimony before there is a concrete other in the picture. He could be asking Catholic sex-education programs to teach young people how to chart their fertility when they start becoming fertile. He could tell bishops to get their dioceses actively offering natural family planning and make it an obligatory part of all pre-Cana preparation. (I proposed this to a bishop in 1988 who, after his initial surprise, thought it might be “controversial” enough that he needed to “consult” with other priests in the diocese. I reserve comment on why, then, he was a bishop. In any event, I never heard from him again).

Let’s start with those four proposals.

Can the Church better express her sexual ethics? Yes. She can start by teaching them unapologetically.

If that’s what Francis meant, great. But Francis’s remarks seem rather to kneecap those sexual ethics, suggesting there is something awry with them that the Church might “fix” by listening to the Zeitgeist — Zeitgeist that is dying because it has gotten “beyond diapers.”

I’ll stick with my Church’s sexual ethics in diapers.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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