... you know that slippery slope doddering old ladies with rosaries in their hands always seem to warn us about? It's real, and we're looking up from the bottom of it.
I'm a sucker for epic films. Mostly, it's because of the writing. People don't really talk the way Rick does in "Casablanca." But I wish they did. Inspired and elevated dialogue fails the reality test, but it succeeds in inspiring and elevating the hearer.
Among my most favorite movie quotes is one from the Civil War epic "Gettysburg." With battle materializing on the horizon, Union Calvary Brigadier General John Buford (played brilliantly by Sam Elliott) utters these ominous words:
"You know what's gonna happen here in the morning? The whole damn rebel army's gonna be here. They'll move through this town, occupy these hills on the other side. When our people get here, Lee'll have the high ground. There'll be the devil to pay. The high ground! Meade will come in slowly, cautiously, new to command . . . When Lee's army is all nicely entrenched behind fat rocks on the high ground, Meade'll finally attack ... Straight up the hillside, out in the open, in that gorgeous field of fire. We will charge valiantly, and be butchered valiantly! Afterwards, men in tall hats and gold watch-fobs will thump their chests and say what a brave charge it was."
These words have been rattling around in my head all week in anticipation of the Vatican's meeting on sexual abuse. I am praying that they will not apply to what happens -- or begins to happen -- there.
That, however, will depend on how honest we are willing to be. By "we," I mean all Catholics, not just those who wear zucchettos or collars. The days and months and years ahead will demand that we stop kidding ourselves about how we got to where we are today. To put it plainly, Catholics have failed to live out Church teaching on sexual morality and integrity for decades. And you know that slippery slope doddering old ladies with rosaries in their hands always seem to warn us about? It's real, and we're looking up from the bottom of it.
Excusing predation and surrendering to promiscuity, far too many of us have lost our taste for chastity and self-control. We expect that kids will just "do it" anyway, so we pump contraceptive hormones into teen daughters, hand condoms to our sons, and tell them to be careful. We refuse to address the explosion of pornography use and addiction. We are afraid of what others may think if we believe that sex and gender are the same, that our bodies actually do inform who we are, and that reducing a person to his or her sexual urges is treating him as less that who he is. In short, our Church has largely succumbed to the secular world's view of sex. And that is a profoundly selfish and impoverished view.
Sexual abuse of minors, sexually active clergy and religious, broken families, gender dysphoria, internet porn, hook-up culture, decline in marriages, decline in childbirths, an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections, infertility, abortion, loneliness, unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression, suicide, grotesque and dehumanizing sexual practices, human trafficking: all of these are fostered by a flagrant disregard of Christian sexual morality.
Some, I'm sure, will say that these evils have existed throughout history. That's true. But I still remember when I had to explain what the word "divorce" meant to my peers because my family was only the second one in the entire elementary school of over 300 students to experience one. Things were not always the way they are now, and people who say we can't turn back the clock don't really know what time it is.
This is the epic battle of our times. Whatever policies and procedures come, whatever practices are instituted to prevent sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up, whatever measures are taken to bring perpetrators to justice; none will amount to much if we do not embrace authentic Church teaching. Catholic faith and morals aren't the problem; they are the solution. Sex outside of marriage is a sin. Period. Marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. Sex does not exist for self-fulfillment, but for sacrificial self-gift. Anything else degrades human dignity and empties sex of its meaning. If we ever want to find ourselves on the high ground again, we must turn back our own hearts and live our faith according to the commandments of the God who loves us. The crisis we are experiencing now will retreat into history only when, and if, we do.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.