Teen Vogue’s anti-theology of the body

If your daughter has a subscription to Teen Vogue, I would strongly urge you to cancel it. Immediately.

The magazine recently featured a how-to article about a particular sexual act that I will leave unnamed. (Let’s just say that, aside from its myriad other risks, it would leave these girls particularly prone to hemorrhoids.)

I initially didn’t read the article, to avoid giving them clicks, and also not particularly wanting that information in my head. But writing about it, I thought I should know what it said. So I skimmed it.

And now I want to throw up.

Lest you wonder if this was merely a cautionary piece — well, it was not. It was, in fact, a full-fledged endorsement. The phrase “feels awesome” appeared at least three times. Throw in a few “delightfuls,” some “perfectly normal” and the reassurance that people have been doing this since the beginning of time, and you’ll start to get the idea.

These people are not interested in what is best for your daughters.

I brought it up on Facebook, and naturally my timeline is exploding with concerned mothers. Panicked mothers.

I don’t blame them.

What’s a parent supposed to do in a situation like this — in world like this? Do you really need to sit your kid down and have a long talk about each and every sexual variant that crosses their path? Do you have to research the risks, explain in great detail why it isn’t “awesome”?

Do we have to inflict all of this darkness onto our kids?

In a word, no.

In the 30 years I have been speaking on chastity, I have found that leading with warnings — about diseases, risks, pregnancy, even sin — is not particularly effective. It’s negative. It’s dark. And teens, whose neurological capacity to assess risk isn’t even fully developed, tend not to believe us anyway.

So what do we do instead?

We inspire them.

When I was a senior in college, I heard a series of talks on the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, based in the Theology of the Body. I was completely blown away. It was beautiful. It was about real love — the deepest desire of my heart. It was about the God who loves me, and about the incredible plan He designed for our bodies and our relationships. It uplifted me. It inspired me. It made me want beauty and goodness and truth in my life.

And it helped me to see all of these other counterfeits for exactly what they were. Abuses. The misuse and distortion of something profoundly good.

I am a big fan of crowding out the ugly with the beautiful.

Once teens have a context — once they appreciate the beauty of God’s plan for sex and love — the other discussions get a lot easier. Sin? Easy to understand — taking his plan out of context does damage to ourselves and others, so of course God doesn’t want us to do it. Physical and emotional risks? Same thing.

Most importantly, if they fully understand that sex speaks the language of marriage, they will won’t be so inclined to “experiment.”

Obviously I can’t give you that entire teaching in the 600 words I have here. But I wrote a book that does that. It’s called Real Love, and you can find it on Amazon.

Even if your kids aren’t reading Teen Vogue, kids around them probably are. You need to be proactive.

Get lots of good information into their brains and their hearts. So that when they see the dark stuff, they will recognize it for what it is.

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA