More Isn’t Always Better

Parents are finding out what their kids are learning in “comprehensive” sex education. And they’re not happy about it.

So “comprehensive” is usually a good thing, right?

Comprehensive insurance gives the most coverage. A comprehensive physical gives the most information about your health. Comprehensive exams give the most complete overview of what you’re learned in graduate school.

So “comprehensive sex education” would be a good thing too, wouldn’t it?

That’s certainly what the sex education establishment has been saying. 

Comprehensive is better. Our children deserve all the information we can give them. The illustrious Jane Fonda, receiving an award from Planned Parenthood, praised such “comprehensive” programs, and said she believes that non-“comprehensive” (i.e. abstinence) programs are treating teenagers “like people that need to be scared, chaste and ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of pleasure -- and left in the dark as though somehow that was going to prevent them from having sex." Nice, huh?

And, what’s more, the sex education establishment claims that parents want comprehensive sex education for their children. For years, they’ve been touting statistics “proving” this. A majority of parents, when polled, say they prefer “comprehensive” sex education to any other kind.

It’s true. Most parents, when polled, have generally reported that they want their children to receive “comprehensive” sex education. Why wouldn’t they? After all, comprehensive is good, right?

But, there was a problem with those polls. They didn’t specify what, exactly, is so comprehensive about “comprehensive” sex education. They didn’t tell parents what comprehensive sex education actually teaches their children. 

Until now. A recent Zogby poll asked parents about various “comprehensive” sex education programs, but told parents what is taught in these programs. In fact, they used actual quotes from the program curricula. 

Here are some of those quotes (from the Sex Information and Information Council of the United States), and the ages at which they are presented:

“Vaginal intercourse occurs when the man and the woman place the penis inside the vagina.” (ages 5-8)

“Touching and rubbing ones own genitals to feel good is called masturbation.” (ages 5-8)

“Homosexual love relationships can be as fulfilling as heterosexual relationships. (ages 9-12)

“A few boys engage in a very dangerous and sometimes fatal form of masturbation that involves limiting their air supply.” (ages 12-15)

In addition, this particular program teaches children that homosexuality cannot be changed by therapy, that “coming out” means gaining pride as a gay or lesbian person, and that gay and lesbian people can adopt or have children of their own. And the program provides children with the phone number to their local gay and lesbian community center.

Guess what? Parents were overwhelmingly opposed to these programs. 75% of parents objected to the Centers for Disease Control’s program, with only 14% approving. The SIECUS program quoted above didn’t do much better. More than six in ten parents disapproved. Meanwhile, 73% of parents approved of an abstinence-based curriculum.

Other findings were equally interesting. Parents by a 4-1 margin disapproved of teaching children that “homosexual love relationships can be as satisfying as heterosexual relationships.” Opposition to “comprehensive” programs was strong among all parents, but strongest among non-white (Hispanic and Asian) parents. 
Here’s my favorite part. Nearly half (46%) of parents disapproved of allowing teenagers to obtain contraception without parental approval. But, when asked if their children should receive contraception without parental permission, the figure shot up to 70%.

This, I believe, is part of the problem. We view these discussions in the abstract. Sure, “comprehensive” is good. Sure, kids should get a lot of information. But substitute “kids” with “my kid” – or any living, breathing, flesh-and-blood child, and the reaction changes. We just read about what 5-8 year olds are supposed to learn. Look a sweet, innocent 6 year old in the face, and then tell me you want to teach this child about masturbation and homosexual acts. 

Parents believe that these “comprehensive” programs are designed to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They are not. Nowhere in the any of these programs will you see that goal listed. SIECUS is very clear on that point. “The primary goal of sexuality education is the promotion of sexual health.” The “sexually healthy” person, to them, is someone who, among other things, possesses accurate information about all areas of sexuality, has had the opportunity to “question, explore, and assess their sexual attitudes in order to understand their family’s values, develop their own values,” and has “the ability to create satisfying relationships.” The fourth and last section of these goals states that the sexually healthy person exercises responsibility through the use of contraception. But nowhere is it claimed that these measures will prevent pregnancy or disease – only that they will “reduce risk.”

Is that what you want for your kids?

The people promoting “comprehensive” sex education have an agenda – and that agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with your kids’ well being. It’s about promoting a particular philosophy of sex by influencing – and sexualizing – children.

Take a good look at what your children are learning at school. If it’s “comprehensive,” I’d consider switching schools.

Because “comprehensive” isn’t always good.

For more information on the Zogby sex education poll, go to

Reality (TV) Stinks.

But are “outdated gender roles” really the problem?

As usual, the feminists and I are upset about the same thing. And, as usual, it’s for completely different reasons.

This time, the issue is the latest round of dating-related “reality shows” – like “Joe Millionaire,” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” I have to confess; I haven’t actually watched any of these shows. This is surprising, actually, because I seemed to have been blessed with some kind of mutated curiosity gene that, after five nanoseconds of exposure to any TV show, causes an overwhelming need to see the rest of it. (My sister suffers from the same anomaly. Saved by the Bell reruns can hold us both captive for hours.) But the reality shows are different. There is something about watching real people being cruel and manipulative that just makes my stomach turn. I can’t stand to watch.

And so I know enough about the shows in question to know I don’t like them. I don’t like the idea of lying to women about a man’s occupation or income. I don’t like seeing human beings treated as commodities to compete over. I don’t like treating the sacrament of marriage as the “grand prize” in some twisted game. I don’t like associating any of this with “love” or “romance.” It is nothing of the sort. These shows are about exploiting people’s vulnerabilities for the sake of ratings. And I don’t like that at all.

The feminists have a slightly different take. Oh, yeah, they’re upset about the whole “women as commodities” thing. We agree on that. But, according to a recent article in my local paper, that’s not where their real beef lies. 
They don’t like these shows because they’re too “retro.”

Or, to quote Josh Gamson, who teaches a course called “Sociology of TV” at my own alma mater, the University of San Francisco, “There’s something creakily retrograde about what is being presented.” (Note to parents of college-age offspring: The tens of thousands of dollars you’re forking out for tuition every year is certainly money well spent, as your children are undoubtedly learning so very much in classes like “Sociology of TV.”)
They don’t like that these shows reinforce what they consider outdated gender roles.
Apparently, according to the “TV Women Winners and Losers” sidebar to the article, women on TV had made tremendous strides in the past few decades. The “Leave It To Beaver” era was, to their minds, a disaster. Barbara Billingsley (of “Leave It To Beaver”) and Jane Wyatt (of “Father Knows Best”) were “losers; they were the poster children for oppressed womanhood of the 1950’s. Jane Wyatt’s character, in particular, “catered to Jim Anderson, all but fetching his cardigan sweater and slippers in her mouth and wagging her tail.” 

But then women were “liberated” from those domestic shackles. Mary Richards went on the Pill. Maude had her abortion. And our ideas about women changed. So, among the “winners” list we find Roseanne, who was “four things women aren’t supposed to be: working-class, loud-mouthed, overweight and a feminist.” And we find Jennifer Garner of “Alias,” who is actually – I am not making this up -- praised as being “part of the new pack of increasingly violent heroines.”

This is what women are aspiring to today?

Apparently, the fact that these current reality shows feature women who want to get married and settle down drives feminists crazy. The fact that, on most of them, the man does the “choosing” makes them even crazier. And as for the show where the woman does the choosing -- well, that doesn’t please them either. Why? Because “[r]egardless of who’s doing the picking, the women on these shows seek security, a provider, maybe even babies.”

Horrors! What has become of women today?

The real bee in the feminist bonnet lies in the fact that young women – the same young women who are rejecting feminism in droves – are watching these shows.
Apparently, even in an era when women can “do it all,” many of these young women are intrigued by courtship and marriage. They want security. They want a provider so that they can stay at home and do the most important work on earth – raising children.

Let’s look at the “winners and losers” again. Which TV character’s life looks more attractive, June Cleaver’s or Roseanne Conner’s? June had a loving husband, a nice home, a couple of kids. Her day was her own. She seemed content, happy. And, while Roseanne Conner could be described a lot of different ways, neither “content” nor “happy” would likely appear anywhere on the list.

The poor feminists. They worked their tails off for decades to get rid of those pesky gender-roles, but they just keep popping right back up again with every new generation of young women. Could it be because those roles run a lot deeper than mere social conditioning?

Nobody wants to go back to a system wherein women are expected to marry by an “expiration date” like their 25th birthdays. But neither, apparently, do we want a system were gender differences are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. Men and women are different. God made us that way. It’s a good thing.

It’s just a shame that we need tacky “reality TV” to remind us of that.

His Cheatin’ Heart

Men who aren’t chaste before marriage won’t necessarily improve after the wedding.

I love Dr. Phil.

Well, okay, I don’t love everything about Dr. Phil. His morality differs somewhat from mine, and I don’t think he’d be my first choice as a spiritual director. But it terms of examining human behavior and dishing out plain ole Texas common sense, he’s the best.

Today’s episode was particularly interesting. The topic was “why husbands cheat.” Like most talk shows, the format was to interview men who have cheated and the wives who have suffered as a result. The men, of course, all seemed very contrite. (Of course they did. What else is a guy going to say on national television? “Yeah, that’s my wife crying over there. And I don’t care, because I’m getting mine.”) 

Now, before you all start screaming “But women cheat, too,” let me reassure you that Dr. Phil and I both know that. But this show was about men for one particular reason – because men and women tend to cheat for different reasons. This show was about men’s reasons, and that was the part I found so fascinating.

Apparently, men cheat for one reason – sex. This, I suppose, would seem obvious, since that’s what cheating is. But he quoted a statistic that really struck me. Apparently, men who cheat are, overwhelmingly, men who feel “entitled” to take advantage of every sexual opportunity presented to them.

This made me think.

I’ve always been a firm believer that the best way to prevent infidelity is to avoid marrying someone who would be likely to cheat. Again, this seems obvious. (Or, as Dr. Phil would say, “That sounds like the cover story for Duh magazine.”) But nobody says “Well, if things get bad, I’m gonna climb into another woman’s bed.” Most men – and women – enter marriage fully intending to be faithful. But apparently a significant percentage wind up cheating. Why?

Think about it. Cheaters are men who feel entitled to take advantage of every sexual opportunity. What do we expect of unmarried men? What do single guys on television shows (both scripted and “reality”) do? They take advantage of every sexual opportunity. They call it “getting lucky.” They look forward to it. They seek it out. I read recently that “men are embarrassingly easy to seduce.” We, as a society, don’t expect men to refuse sex.

Until they get married.

How much sense does this make? From what I understand, it’s more difficult for men to resist certain sexual “opportunities” than it is for women. (Why, oh why, did God find it necessary to wire us so differently?) And yet, we expect men to indulge those opportunities throughout their bachelorhood, and then suddenly “turn it off” and embrace monogamy once they’re married. It probably seems easy enough during the honeymoon phase, when everything about marriage seems rosy and wonderful. But when boredom sets in, when babies come and leave sagging breasts and bellies in their wake, when sleepless nights and runny noses replace candlelight and romance, other “sexual opportunities” can start to look pretty good. And a guy who hasn’t already learned to resist them, probably won’t start resisting now.

How can a woman prevent infidelity? Marry a man likely to be faithful. They won’t advertise their likeliness to cheat, so it’s important to look for the signs. 

Infidelity is about immaturity, low self-esteem and lack of self-control. A man whose interest revolves around getting his needs and desires met, instead of meeting the needs and desires of his partner, is a bad bet. So is a man who seems to crave the constant attention and affirmation of women. Men who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions should also be avoided.

And, if a woman wants a man who will be faithful to her after marriage, she should look for one who has been faithful to her before marriage – one who understands the importance of chastity, and has developed the mature self-control necessary to live it.

I think it’s also important to look at a man’s emotional make-up. Men who struggle with intimacy – those who are afraid of it as well as those who just don’t “get it” -- are also a poor risk. It’s intimacy, and the total self-gift inherent in that intimacy, that differentiates marital lovemaking from mere “having sex.” A man who is incapable of abandoning himself in that way is less likely to find marital sexual union fulfilling, and less likely to see the difference between sex with his wife and sex with a stranger or a mistress. 

All married women, on some level, fear the aging process because they know there will be younger, more attractive women available to their visually oriented male husbands. But the best, most centered men don’t remain faithful because their wives remain the most objectively, physically beautiful women on the planet. They do so because what they share with their wives -- the emotional intimacy, the caring, the support, the history – shine through in their lovemaking. And that makes the thought of any other encounter – no matter how beautiful the woman – seem shallow, cheap and ugly by comparison.

That’s the kind of guy – and the kind of marriage -- I’m holding out for. I suggest the rest of you single women do the same.

The “Dignity” of Abortion

The “pro-choice” movement pits women against their own bodies.

I liked listening to the radio on January 22nd. I couldn’t be at the rally in Washington D.C., but at least I knew it was happening. Every newsbreak I heard featured a live spot from the event. Of course, the facts were a bit blurred. I kept hearing that there were “tens of thousands of protesters on both sides of the abortion issue” but no mention of the fact that out of that number, some 50,000 to 100,000 were pro-lifers, with the pro-abortion counter protesters numbering somewhere around 150. Since every newscast featured interviews from “both sides,” I figure every one of those 150 counter protesters must have been interviewed at least ten times.

It was one of those interviews that caught my attention. A woman was extolling the virtues of Roe vs. Wade, and she said the most amazing thing. She said that abortion is very important “to our dignity as women.”

Our dignity?

I would love to hear someone explain to me how abortion enhances our “dignity as women.” Tens of million of women have had abortions since 1973. Many regret that decision, while others believe the abortion was somehow justified. But I doubt there is one woman among them who believes, in her heart of hearts, that her abortion was one of her more dignified moments.

What exactly is “dignified” about violating our deepest instincts, invading our bodies and killing our children? How exactly have women benefited from this? Sure, we’re “free to choose when and if we will become mothers.” But we’ve always had that freedom. In times past we exercised that freedom by respecting our bodies and abstaining from sex until we were ready to become parents. Now we’re “free” to reject parenthood and fool around at the same time.

Are we better off?

Sure, women hold more elected offices, more places in public life. And that’s a good thing. But no woman needed abortion to achieve that, unless of course she slept her way to the top. 

Are we held in higher esteem as women? Is our sexuality respected in today’s society? Hardly. A woman is expected to “perform” sexually in a dating relationship (by the fifth date, according to one popular book). Women are, in the larger culture, portrayed more and more often as sexual objects. Billboards, magazine covers and web sites all invite men to see our bodies as mere “pleasure palaces” designed for their personal satisfaction. Rape and other sex crimes against women have reached all-time highs. High school girls are assaulted at school. Junior high girls are expected to perform oral sex to keep their “boyfriends.” And, in the midst of it all, Planned Parenthood employees in several states have been recorded on the telephone instructing girls as young as 13 to conceal their boyfriends’ age when coming in for an abortion, to avoid prosecution for statutory rape.

Sociologists say that abortion was a “technology shock,” reducing the expectations of men and women about male responsibility in the event of pregnancy. In that situation, her partner will more often than not offer to “step up to the plate” and pony up the $400 she needs to have their child sucked into a sink. But that’s all. If a single woman decides against aborting her children, she is more often than not forced to “go it alone.” Thus the “feminization of poverty.” The poorest people in America are single mothers and their children.

And how’s this for “dignity” in the abortion culture? A doctor in Florida recently went on trial for raping a patient while she was under anesthesia. Later, when she was found to be pregnant, the same doctor performed an abortion on her. This is, unfortunately, not an isolated event. Stories like this are cropping up with alarming frequency.

Abortion hasn’t been a godsend for women. It’s been a disaster. It hasn’t enhanced our dignity. It has stripped us of our true dignity, and replaced it with a social “dignity” based on a lie – the lie that we don’t get pregnant, that our sexual activity is consequence-free, that our value is determined by our usefulness rather than by our very existence as image and likeness of God. We aren’t truly “dignified” in this society until we’re doing battle with the very deepest part of ourselves – our capacity to create and nurture new life.

The pro-abortion movement has pitted women against their bodies, and against their children. The result has that one in four of our babies dies before seeing the light of day, while their mothers carry an unacknowledged burden too heavy to imagine.

Women don’t have dignity despite our bodies. We hold our dignity within our bodies, within the image and likeness of God they possess. 

I don’t think we’ll be truly happy until we recognize that.

Of Babies and Bodies

A new niece leads to new ponderings on the wonder of women.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I am almost certain, however, that it wasn’t as wonderful as mine.

This year, the Bonacci family had our own Christmas child. On Christmas Eve at 1:30 in the afternoon, my sister Julie gave birth to a beautiful, precious baby girl named Anna. She is my first niece, and the first child I’ve ever watched come into the world. How that for bringing the joy of the baby Jesus home for Christmas?
And, as if that weren’t enough, I left three days later for a vacation in Cancun. Yes, it was tough to leave the baby. But nine days on a sunny Mexican beach made the sacrifice a little more bearable.

So what did these holiday experiences have in common? I saw a lot of bodies. Over the past nine months, I watched my sister’s body grow in ways I could hardly believe a human body could grow. Obviously I’ve seen pregnant women before, but watching my own svelte sister put on 50-plus pounds was a shock nonetheless. I remember looking at her, a few days before she gave birth, and thinking “There’s no way that body is ever going back to normal.”

Then there was the birth itself. It was nothing like I expected. First of all, thanks to the miracles of modern epidural medicine, there was no screaming in pain. Julie was very calm, very focused, and actually had to be told when she was having a contraction. (My mother, who had four babies the old-fashioned way, was particularly impressed by that.) But what I remember most about the delivery was the first glimpses I got of Anna’s head. I always thought the head would look like – well, a head. But what I saw peeking out with each contraction was a small mass of wavy, rippled skin with little tufts of hair on it. I knew it must be her head, given the hair and all. But isn’t scalp supposed to be smooth? Where was her skull?

I got my answer on the last push, when that wavy scalp suddenly “inflated” and Anna showed her beautiful face to the world for the first time. Apparently, a baby’s skull (still in two pieces – thus the “soft spot”) “collapses” during labor so that the head will fit through the birth canal. Amazing.

Of course, my first thought at that point was “Oh my gosh, there’s a person in there! Get her out where she can breathe!” 

Honestly, didn’t God come up with the wackiest system for bringing new life out into the world?

And can you imagine anything more amazing? My sister, whose own babyhood I remember distinctly, has grown into a woman and has cooperated with God in creating and nurturing this new baby. Anna lived inside Julie’s body, where everything she needed to live and grow and mature was miraculously provided for her. And now that Anna is out here in the world, Julie’s body is still providing all of the nutrients she needs to grow and to stay healthy.

The female body is truly amazing.

All of this wonder came with me to Cancun, where I had a slightly different experience of human bodies. I saw a lot of them, both in terms of number of bodies and in terms of – well, mass of exposed flesh per body. I saw really nice, tasteful bathing suits, and I saw “exposing just a little too much” bathing suits. And, although I was not a direct witness, I am told that at least one woman on the beach opted to forgo the top half of her bathing suit altogether. 

In light of what I had just witnessed back home, I found it all a little bit sad. Women wear revealing bathing suits for one reason – to attract sexual attention from men. They use their precious, beautiful, amazing, miraculous bodies – bodies capable of participating in the deepest of human intimacies and of consequently creating and nurturing human life itself – as mere instruments to boost their self-esteem with strange men on a beach. It doesn’t work, of course. That kind of attention is fleeting. It doesn’t respect the person contained within that body. It just seeks its own gratification.

When I came home, I saw a brief article quoting the Pope’s preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, on the importance of averting our gaze from pornography and images that present people only as objects of sexual desire. They used to call this “custody of the eyes,” and it was particularly emphasized in the moral development of men, who are more visually oriented than women. Quite simply, it means that if you find something (or someone) in your field of vision that stimulates you sexually, tempting you to see a human person as merely a means to sexual satisfaction outside of the total self-gift of marriage, you are expected to look away. That means images in magazines and on billboards. It means sex scenes in movies. It means provocatively dressed people on the beach (or the street).

I always knew that was important. But I’m not sure I fully appreciated why until now.

Catholic and Feminist?

John Paul II has some amazing things to say about women.

I went to a fascinating meeting last night.

Mary Ann Glendon was here in Denver to give a talk. Mrs. Glendon, for those of you unfamiliar with her work, is a Harvard law professor, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. She is also an active Catholic who headed the Holy See Delegation to the 4th U.N. Women's Conference in 1995. 

The night before her talk, a group of women (myself included) was invited to meet with her. The topic of the evening was the “new feminism.”
It was some fascinating stuff.

“New feminism” is a term coined by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which he said, “In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.” (Evangelium Vitae, 99)

As Mary Ann Glendon pointed out, there have been many “feminisms” throughout history. The women’s suffrage movement was a “feminist” movement, as was the temperance movement. All of these movements have had two common goals: to encourage the participation of women in all areas of public and private life, and to oppose all forms of unjust discrimination and violence against women.

The “feminism” most familiar to our generation is that which began with the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s. I don’t think there is any question that some form of feminism was needed at that particular point in history. Women and men’s jobs were listed in separate categories in the newspapers. In many states, single women were unable to buy property alone, and were even kept from inheriting money without supervision. (Remember Lucille Ball’s 1960’s sitcom The Lucy Show? The whole premise was that Lucy Carmichael was a widow, and Mr. Mooney was the banker charged with overseeing her inheritance.)
But the problem with modern feminism is that it swung from one extreme to the other. In the early part of the century, women were seen in many ways as being subservient to men. The women’s liberation movement continued to define women’s roles in relation to (or reaction to) men’s roles, but instead of making women subservient, proclaimed them superior. Ironically, at that same time, women were encouraged to become more and more like men. They were to find their fulfillment in jobs rather than in motherhood. They were to suppress their fertility by any means possible, which essentially made their bodies like men’s bodies, and ostensibly allowed them to adopt male patterns of promiscuity.

This, of course, couldn’t work for long. Women aren’t men. We’re women. We couldn’t expect to go on denying their very nature generation after generation, and expect to find fulfillment. And so, not surprisingly, young American women overwhelmingly reject the feminism of their mothers. Women taught to find fulfillment in their careers long for the love and warmth of family. Women raised in day care centers want to stay at home with their children. 

Enter the “new feminism.”

The Catholic Church’s teaching – her real teaching, not the distortions that have been presented as her teaching in so many quarters – is the perfect antidote to the current situation. John Paul II in particular has given the Church an inspiring, beautiful synthesis called the Theology of the Body. In it, he reaffirms that woman was created for her own sake, not for the sake of man. She was created with her own unique attributes and gifts. JPII says that women’s greatest gifts are those that flow from motherhood. In saying this he is not saying that all women will physically become mothers, but that our capacity to create and nurture life extends through everything we do as women.

Nor does this mean that women’s role in society is to be limited to the “private” sphere of the household. Obviously, raising and nurturing children is the most important work on earth, and no work women do should be done at the expense of children. But the Pope is has made it clear, many times, that the public sphere needs women’s gifts as well, and that cultures should recognize and make room for women’s role in public life.

The other women listening to Mary Ann Glendon last night were as enthused as I was. We’ve all concluded that this culture is ready to hear what that Catholic Church and John Paul II have to say about women. We noted the charge given us in Evangelium Vitae that women are supposed to be the ones promoting the new feminism. We want to do what we can to help spread the word. And so we’re going to work.

So keep an eye on Denver. I think that more good things are going to be happening here.

Is It Really “Fashion” If They’re Not Wearing Clothes?

Victoria’s Secret has parents tossing the tube.

Oh, darn. I missed the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Actually, I “missed” it on purpose. I’m really appalled that their little “special” made it onto the airwaves at all. 

Ironically, I was traveling the day this year’s show aired, giving talks on chastity. (Trying, I suppose, to put a dent in all of the damage that stupid “fashion show” was inflicting.) That particular day, I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, speaking at Notre Dame High School. (A school, incidentally, which impressed me very much. The students listened attentively and – more important – laughed in all of the right places. I could tell they were great kids.) Over the lunch hour, I met with a group of mothers. And, of course, the discussion turned to TV. With nearly naked women strutting across the catwalk in prime time, how can parents possibly protect their children’s innocence?

It’s not just Victoria’s Secret. On Friends, a single mom lives with her baby’s father while each of them dates other people. On Will and Grace both gay Will and straight Grace sleep with virtually every person they date. Flipping channels in a hotel room the other night, I saw two nearly naked women groping each other. This wasn’t on the “pay-for-porn” channel. It was on the “Starz” movie channel.

Then there’s the violence. And, of course, let’s not forget the commercials. It’s easy for me, as an adult, to start believing that owning all of that “stuff” will make me happy. What do all of those Saturday morning toy commercials do to our kids? And then there are the beer commercials, where men learn that drinking Coors Light will automatically bring beautiful, buxom twins into their lives.
Which all brings us back to Victoria’s Secret.

Some parents just throw out the TV. I think that’s a good idea. They can’t be exposed to what they don’t see. It really is amazing, the difference I see in children who don’t watch television. I have friends who are TV-less. A few years ago, they asked their kids to write letters to Santa. Their seven year old couldn’t think of anything he wanted. He wound up asking for a desk. 

But believe it or not, just throwing out the TV doesn’t solve the problem. After all, the chain is only as strong as the weakest parent. When they’re at other kids’ houses, it’s hard to control what they see. I know that because I was a kid once. We had a TV in those more innocent times, but I wasn’t allowed to watch Love, American Style. (Okay, I’m showing my age. Does anyone else remember that show?) But I had friends who were allowed to watch it. So, when I was at their houses, guess what I watched?

So what’s a parent to do? 

I told those moms in Green Bay that I divide bad media messages into two categories. The first is where people talk about bad, immoral or unethical things. The second is where actual images – violent or sexual – are shown. The first category would include most of today’s TV sitcoms and dramas, where they it is made clear that people are having sex, but the sexual activity itself isn’t shown. The second would include actually seeing sexually stimulating images – partial or full nudity, sexual activity, teenaged girls groping each other on “Starz”, etc. 

To me, category two is the “hill you die on.” Sexual images stay with us in a way very few other images do. Our brains are wired to “hang on” to those images, to keep them and play them back when we least need them. (Like when we’re trying to be chaste, or trying to live loving marital sexuality.) Those images foster a sex drive intent on selfish satisfaction instead of self-donating love. They create unrealistic expectations for men, and unrealistic role models for women. (My sister told me that a European man, commenting on the first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, said that the women looked like “ironing boards with bowling balls attached.”) You don’t want sexual images in your kids’ heads.

Which is not to say that you want your kids to have a steady diet of attractive TV characters talking about sex, either. Filter that as much as possible. But also know that your kids are going to see it sometimes. They need to know how to watch it critically, how to process what they’re hearing instead of just soaking it in. So, every once in a while, you might want to watch one of those shows with your kids. Talk about it. Discuss why Ross and Rachel’s arrangement on Friends wouldn’t work, why it would be hurtful to both of them, and to the baby. Show them why TV characters who have sex with everyone they date probably won’t find real love in the end.

Just make sure everybody keeps their clothes on.


Ms. Bonacci Goes to Washington

Ask me what I did last week. Go ahead, ask me.

Okay, if you insist. I went to the White House. I was, in fact, invited to the White House. No, I didn’t have tea with George and Laura. But I did receive a message from the President. And I think I got one from God, as well.

Background: several weeks ago, my office received a call from someone asking me to attend a “Catholic Leadership Conference” in Washington DC, which I turned it down. The next week, a friend told me he was going to the White House for the Catholic Leadership Conference. He asked if I’d been invited. “No. Maybe.” The White House? I turned down an invitation from the White House? 

So I picked up the phone. “Oh, yes, we’ve been waiting for your RSVP. And were you aware that a local couple have offered their private jet to anyone attending the conference from Denver?”

And so I went to Washington – in the loveliest private jet you’ve ever seen.

“Now tell me one more time -- why am I going to the White House?” No one seemed to know exactly, except that we’d be attending some kind of high-level briefing on Iraq. “It’s about time,” I thought. “We girls who talk to teenagers about chastity need to be kept in the loop about these things.” The President probably wouldn’t be there. Maybe Condi Rice would be there. Maybe not. Nobody really seemed to know.

Whatever. I just wanted to see the Lincoln Bedroom.

We stayed at the loveliest of hotels. The Hay-Adams. It’s in this month’s Architectural Digest. Page 202, I believe. Check it out. I didn’t want to go to sleep. I just wanted to sit up and stare at my beautiful room.

Walking through the metal detectors, any concerns I may have had about White House security vanished. The woman manning the line did her job very well. I was actually afraid of her. I did my very best “Soup Nazi” side step, and made it through without causing any commotion.

We were ushered into a very small auditorium-style room. It had a little stage, a small podium with the presidential seal, and about 100 or so seats. After a brief introduction, Condoleezza Rice’s chief of staff addressed us. He spoke for a half hour or so, on the administration’s national security policy. Then we took a break.
At the end of the break, a lady’s voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!”

And there he was.

Right there --three rows away from me. This might be an everyday occurrence for some inside-the-beltway types, but for me, it was amazing.

And he didn’t just “pop his head in.” He spoke to us for over a half hour. No speech, no notes – he just talked to us. The gist of his message was this – the he desperately wants a peaceful solution in Iraq, that he’s working very hard for a peaceful solution in Iraq, that he’s praying for a peaceful solution in Iraq. But he also believes that time is running out, and that Iraq must be dealt with soon, before Saddam Hussein has the opportunity to do harm to the United States.
Honestly, I was very impressed.

After the President left, some poor administration guy had to follow him and give another talk – the details of which of course I don’t remember. And then we had a nice lunch and we were back on the jet.

Which is where the message from God came in. Landing in Denver, I changed into my sweats, climbed into my car, and drove to Denver International Airport. I parked in the remote lot, flung my suitcase onto the shuttle bus, endured a security “wanding”, boarded my flight and took my center seat in the back of the economy section. After transferring to a puddle-jumper in Minneapolis, I landed in Grand Forks, South Dakota at midnight. I rented a car, drove an hour in the dark cold, and claimed my room at a motel in Crookston, Minnesota.

I had to laugh. I really did. I thought about the previous Sunday’s reading. “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I also know how to live with abundance.” (Phil 2:12) It’s as if God was telling me “It was a nice treat, but don’t get used to it. This is your real life.”

But it was more than that. He wanted me in Crookston, Minnesota. He wanted to use me to reach teens and youth ministers at an absolutely fabulous youth rally there. He also, for reasons I still don’t fully comprehend, wanted me at the White House. And so He made both happen.

It’s not up to me to finagle important invitations. It’s not up to me to seek luxurious accommodations. My job is to ascertain where He wants me to be, and to be there.

Sometimes it’s elegant. Sometimes it’s simple. But it’s always good.

An Open Letter to an Outraged Reader

I rarely do this – respond publicly to a letter to the editor written about one of my columns. But you raised issues that need to be addressed -- publicly, and in all of the papers that carry my column, because I want to reach everyone who thinks the way you do.

Quite frankly, your attitude scares the hell out of me.

The article was about homosexuality and the current clerical scandals. You said that I neglected to address the heart of the issue, and instead “squandered half or more” of the article discussing whether or not homosexually oriented men alone pose a threat to children. Well, yeah, I did. Only I wouldn’t call it “squandering.” That’s what the article was about -- to challenge the notion people seem to have that all, or most, people with a homosexual orientation are also child abusers.

You seemed to have a real problem with the fact that I find blanket accusations that all homosexuals are likely to abuse children unfair to those Catholics – and former Catholics – who self-identify as “gay” and yet are horrified by the abuse of children. You responded only by reminding me that these people are in a state of mortal sin. 

Yeah, I know that. And your point is? The only conclusion I can imagine is that you believe we have no obligation to act in fairness to those in mortal sin. Could you really, possibly believe that? 

But the part that nearly made me lose my lunch was when you blithely declared those who are away from the Catholic Church, as well as homosexuals, to be “hell-worthy.” Hell-worthy? Hell-worthy? Do you have any idea of the gravity of such a statement? Please, please tell me what has lead you to believe that you, or anyone this side of Divinity, are in a position to determine who is and is not “hell-worthy.” The mere thought makes my blood run cold. Yes, every mortal sin does tremendous damage, and places an eternal salvation at risk. But while understanding which acts constitute mortal sins is relatively straightforward, the parameters of what constitutes culpability in the individual soul are far more complicated. The Church teaches that feelings and passions can diminish individual culpability for a sin, as can external pressures and pathological disorders. (cf CCC 1860) You can’t, in your limited human understanding, possibly begin to understand the workings of an individual human heart, and thus determine who is or is not deserving of eternal damnation.

Look, the disagreement here isn’t over whether or not homosexual activity is sinful. We both agree that it is, and that those engaging in it are at the very least putting their souls in tremendous jeopardy. The problem, from my perspective, is that you don’t seem to care. Our attitude towards these people should be one of Christ-like love. A vast majority of them are involved in this “lifestyle” because they’re looking for love. We need to demonstrate to them that real love isn’t found in immoral sexual activity, but rather at the foot of the cross. How do you think that is accomplished? By looking down your nose at them, judging them and proclaiming them “hell-worthy”? Think again. That will most likely drive them further away. And you’ll have to answer for it on Judgment Day.

We, as Christians, are supposed to love. That’s the heart of all of the commandments? We’re supposed to be Christ to others – including those with a homosexual orientation. Christ loves them and desires their salvation. We’re called to help, by extending His love to them. Whether or not they return to Christ will be partly determined by the love they see in us. 

Loving doesn’t mean condoning actions. In fact, real love demands that we point out sinful behavior. But we need to do that in the context of loving charity – to show that it’s because we love them that we hate their sin – because the sin hurts them. And we need to mean it.

And, based on your letter, I’m not seeing that love in you.

I’m honestly concerned about you, and others like you. You’re on a very dangerous path. I would strongly encourage you to take a close look at the attitude I saw reflected in your “hell-worthy” statement. It doesn’t reflect the teaching of the Church in its fullness. It’s a sinful attitude. If you don’t believe me, just look at scripture. Look at what Christ said about judging. (You can start with Matthew 7:2) Look at the way He treated sexual sinners. And then look at the way he treated the self-righteous and the proud. All of this should give us a little hint as to what we can expect on Judgment Day. 

I think that, in the end, you will find that many of those you have so blithely declared “hell-worthy” will be entering the Kingdom ahead of you -- and of me, and of the many others of us who consider ourselves to be so very, very righteous.