LINCOLN (SNR) – Several diocesan offices including the Education, Religious Education, Family Life, and Youth Offices conducted a survey recently, to investigate how young people in the diocese understand and view Church teachings, particularly those related to human sexuality.
More than 900 young people – high school seniors at diocesan schools and Catholic college students at the Newman Center – participated in the survey.
Father Andrew Heaslip, director of religious education, said the response was “about three times what I expected, so special thanks to Sister Mary Catherine, C.K., and our high school principals, teachers and the Newman Center for helping conduct it.”
“This response,” he said, “shows how important the discussion of human love and sexuality is to young people.”
The survey showed a variety of positive responses, revealing “a large majority of our young people generally understand and agree with Catholic teaching on human sexuality,” a point Father Heaslip said “reflects the faithfulness and good work of parents, teachers, and pastors.”
But some stats showed a weakening in students’ understanding of same-sex attraction.
“In many ways this was no surprise,” Father Heaslip said, “since students are often inundated with a message that seeks to give absolute approval to a homosexual lifestyle.”
For example, while many students correctly understood that the Church teaches only homosexual acts are sinful, some respondents believed the Church condemns those who feel same-sex attraction which Father Heaslip said, “is simply not true.
“This is perhaps the first and most important distinction in the discussion about morality and same-sex attraction, that is, an inclination is different than an act. For example, if one is inclined to hurt himself because of depression, this is essentially different from actually planning or doing it. The inclination, though a real problem that can lead to moral and physical harm, and that needs to be worked through, is not a sin. Sin occurs only with the free action of our will.”
Some students with close friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction similarly misunderstood or disagreed with the Church’s objection to same-sex unions.
Father Sean Kilcawley, director of family life, observed “though it is very telling, I was not surprised by this statistic because we love our family members and friends. For many young people, and others in the Church, the concept of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ is too abstract. My biggest concern with the acceptance of same-sex unions for the sake of ‘love’ is that simple acceptance does not leave enough space for conversion. There can be no love without truth, and when we truly proclaim the truth in love it leads to conversion.”
“This shows we all have a lot of work to do….”
The survey explored a number of other areas, such as how well parents prepared their children to learn about human sexuality, and how a culture so affected by pornography seeps into their lives. The survey revealed that diocesan children fall into the range revealed by national statistics. The average age of exposure to pornography for a young person is 11. Among high school seniors, some even reported being exposed before 8. This should be a grave concern for the Church and for parents.
An even more concerning statistic was that of the students who reported pornography exposure, more than 70% reported that their parents never found out. Father Kilcawley, who started a freedom from pornography apostolate in the diocese two years ago said he “hopes that the year of mercy will be a time for all parents to approach this topic with their children. Many resources are available to parents at www.lincolndiocese.org/protectmykids.”
An area of particular concern for everyone in these offices was the number of students who expressed uneasiness about bringing sexual sins to the sacrament of Confession.
Father Heaslip responded, “we all, myself included, need to remember that confession is a sacrament of mercy and healing. My hope is that in this upcoming Year of Mercy our young people, indeed everyone, will approach this sacrament with confidence, transparency, and peace and not give into the temptation to conceal what Jesus wants to heal.”
Father Kilcawley likewise said, “The sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing, and of mercy. When we approach this sacrament with an open heart, we have the opportunity to encounter Christ just as the Samaritan woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery did. They had committed grave sins and were met with the face of Jesus who reveals the Fathers mercy. The experience of encountering the love of Christ at a time they felt most shameful about themselves brought about their conversions. It can bring about ours as well.”
Though there were other areas of note, Father Heaslip said that information is still being unpacked for future use in hopes to further help families, parishes, and schools.
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