Did Pope Francis Need To Apologize? (And What His Apology Can Teach Us)

Dr. Gregory K Popcak


Pope Francis made the news New Years Eve for his response to a woman he met in a line of well-wishers.  The over-eager woman grabbed the Holy Father’s arm forcefully and wouldn’t let go.  The viral video shows Pope Francis wincing—some suggest in pain from his sciatica—and then turning and slapping the woman’s hand twice before breaking free and storming off.

The next day, Pope Francis issued a simple, but humble apology.  He said, “”Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”

We used this event as an opportunity to explore apologies on today’s show.  Many people think that apologizing for something means that they are accepting all the blame or admitting that they are a bad person.  For many, giving an apology means debasing themselves and so they are loathe to apologize for almost anything.

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is primarily about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with God and others.  Apologies are a big part of that process.  

But giving an apology doesn’t mean that you are accepting all the blame.  It doesn’t mean that it is all your fault.  And it doesn’t mean that you are saying that you are a bad person. Likewise, giving an apology isn’t a way of “evening the balance sheet” between people.

For the Christian, giving an apology has nothing to do with another person’s behavior or the context we’re in.  It simply means, “I have reflected on my behavior in the light of grace and my own expectations for myself.  Because of that, I believe that I should have handled that better and I am committed to handling similar situations better in the future.”

Some callers to the show today argued that Pope Francis didn’t need to apologize for his behavior because his response was a “human reaction” to being grabbed inappropriately.  Another person suggested that Pope Francis behavior was justified by every human being’s right to self-defense.

Both of these points are absolutely true.  It was a human reaction and we do have a right to self-defense.  But these points are also irrelevant.  Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong.  It means, “I believe I could and should do better in similar situations in the future.”

By apologizing, the Holy Father didn’t say, “I’m a bad person.” Or “I’m a bad Pope.” Or even, “This was all my fault.”  (And in the last instance, it clearly wasn’t all his fault.”  By apologizing, the Pope Francis simply said, “I could and should have handled that better and I am committed to doing so in the future.” 

We would all do well to follow his example in this instance.  Let’s worry less about assigning blame, finding fault, or worrying about debasing ourselves.  Let’s focus more on taking responsibility for our actions, acknowledging that there are often better ways to handling situations than our first impulses dictate, and committing to using those healthier, godlier alternatives in the future.

Stop Pressuring Me!  How to Stand Strong in Face of Manipulation

Peer pressure. We’ve all dealt with it throughout our lives, but does it still effect us as adults? Social Psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland recreated the well-known Milgram Obedience Study (Milgram Shock Experiment) and discovered that the results were astoundingly similar to the results of the original experiment in 1963.

Like the Milgram study, the participants of the current study were provided with 10 buttons. The participants were led to believe that each button caused an individual in an adjacent room to receive a higher “shock” level (although, in reality, no one was receiving any type of shock). The participants were then encouraged by the experimenter to “administer” increasingly higher levels of the supposed shock to an individual in another room. The researchers of this experiment discovered that 90% of the participants were willing to go to the highest “shock” level.

But why do we act this way under pressure?

The Theology of the Body tells us that we are, first and foremost, persons who have a God-given right to be treated with love—as well as an obligation to treat others with that same love. When others try to pressure, manipulate, control or bully us–or when we do the same to others—we turn other people into a project, a thing, or a means to an end. In those times, it’s OK to set appropriate boundaries until we can either be sure that what we are being asked to do is genuinely in our best interest or that the other person will stop treating us as a means to their end. Although self-donation requires us to be willing to prayerfully consider, with a generous heart, the things others ask of us, we should never say, “yes,” to something we aren’t certain will either help us become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people God is calling us to be or respects the relationships and obligations God has already asked us to be faithful to.

These More2Life Hacks are helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with pressure from others:

Ask, “Is It Good?”—No one ever has the right to manipulate, control, or bully us. But people are permitted to attempt to influence each other IF they genuinely believe the things they are asking us to do would help us become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were meant to be OR help us do a better job fulfilling the obligations God has asked us to be faithful to. Just because someone asks us to do something we don’t want to do, or even leans on us a bit to do it, doesn’t mean they are necessarily behaving inappropriately. When we feel pressure, the first question we need to ask ISN’T, “Do I FEEL like doing this?” But rather, “would doing this help me do a better job of being the healthy, whole, loving, well-integrated person God is calling me to be?” If the answer is yes, then I should say, “yes,” regardless of how I feel. If no, then I have an obligation to oppose whatever pressure the other person may assert. Our first obligation is never to either our feelings or other people, it is always to God’s call in our lives to grow into the saints we were created to be.

Always Propose, Never Impose—St. John Paul used to offer this rule of thumb, “Always propose, never impose.” Even if others are genuinely trying to work for our good, or we are trying to work for theirs, we always have to be careful about turning people into projects. It is possible to pursue the right course of action in the absolutely wrong way. When someone is asking us to make a change we don’t care to make—even when it IS in our best interest—or if we are asking someone else to do the same, a good question to ask ourselves is, “Is this request becoming the entire focus of our relationship?” If it is, chances are we are either being treated as a project instead of a person OR that we are treating the other as a project instead of a person. In those instances, we have an obligation to set some boundaries and say something like, “I appreciate that this is important to you, and even that this is a good thing, but I need to know that there is more to our relationship than this one thing.” Then figure out how to reclaim the connection that’s been lost even while finding ways to keep growing in necessary ways.

Stand Firm—Once you have prayerfully determined that the thing someone is asking you to do is either helping you become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God wants you to be, stand firm. As Jesus said, let your “yes be yes and your no be no.” If you believe that the thing someone is asking you to do is really in your best interest, keep doing it even though it is hard.  And if you genuinely believe the thing you have been asked to do is NOT in your best interest, then say “no” and stand firm no matter how they try to pressure you. As we mentioned earlier,  our first obligation is to grow into the people God is calling us to be, not to make our feelings or other people a false god. Discern the best response to a request, and stick with your answer unless you are given new information that doesn’t just make you relent, but really helps you see that this is a truly good change to make.

For more on how to handle pressure from others check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life, Monday-Friday at 10am E/9am C, on EWTN/SiriusXM 139.

A Crisis of Authority: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin.  Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the Pope to lift the prohibition.  Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban.  Certainly some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept.  Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican:  in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.

The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times.  The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInery’s What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology”;  2) the Pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions and that his function was to go with the vote—the “witnesses”; and 3) for the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.

Crisis of Authority

Since the Council and Humanae Vitae, there has been a mass exodus of priests, religious, and laity from the Church, continuing today with 76% of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly.  The Council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen—so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” (p. 13). He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the Pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving…the dissenting theologians have… whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.” (pp. 145-6)

In short, the dissenting theologians have set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.

Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion amongst Catholic laity on many matters of faith.  In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86% of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic¼.” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76%), priests should be allowed to marry (64%), and women should be allowed to be priests (59%).  The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.

Did Anyone Read The Documents of Vatican II?

It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read!  What the bishops finally voted on and the Pope promulgated did not, in fact, set up a democratic Church!  Even if they could, church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display.  Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not!

The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority:  “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff….For the Roman Pontiff,…has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen Gentium, no. 22).


Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks ex cathedra (infallibly) is also clearly refuted by Lumen Gentium (25): the submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”

It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching.  In the end, the laity suffers the most.

The Vatican’s Response to the Dissent

The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system.  Almost every Papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized, and marginalized.  And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.


“Since Catholicism is something we receive rather than invent, authority is absolutely essential to it.”  (p. 147)  It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the Pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic.  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  In my opinion, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium function as the immune system of the Body of Christ—and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.

In the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system.  But confusion has reigned long enough! Don’t be illiterate!  Men, read McInery’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II, or better, Humanae Vitae and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old-Christ-instituted authority!


New Study: Extravagant Affection in Infancy Leads to Healthier, Happier, More Relational & Moral Adults


From new study accepted for publication in the journal, Applied Developmental Science.

Notre Dame professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez and two colleagues surveyed more than 600 adults. They asked about their childhood experiences. Darvaez was interested in things like how much affectionate touch did the adult receive as a child, how much free play, and what was family togetherness was like. What she found was, the adults who had positive childhood experiences evolved into adults with less anxiety and better mental health.

“These things independently, but also added up together, predicted the adults’ mental health, so they were less depressed, less anxious, and their social capacities — they were more able to take other people’s perspective. They were better at getting along with others and being open-hearted,” says Narvaez.

So, what does this mean for today’s parents?

Narvaez says parents should hold, touch and rock their babies and children and be responsive to their needs.

“What parents do in those early months and years are really affecting the way the brain is going to grow the rest of their lives,” explains Narvaez, “so lots of holding, touching and rocking. that is what babies expect. They grow better that way. And keep them calm, because all sorts of systems are establishing the way they are going to work. If you let them cry a lot, those systems are going to be easily triggered into stress. We can see that in adult hood — that people that are not cared for well, tend to be more stress reactive and they have a hard time self calming.”

Narvaez say free play inside and outside is important. It is also important that children have a positive, warm environment inside the home.

“That they feel like they belong — they are part of the family unit or the neighborhood community and part of that is to have a lot of activities that you do together,” says Narvaez, who recommends going to the park or playing a game rather than spending time on a smartphone or in front of a TV.

And for those parents that need a break, Narvaez says a community of caregivers is important. That means grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends should play an active role.

“We need to, as a community support families so they can give children what they need,” says Narvaez, “we really didn’t evolve to parent alone. Our history is to have a community of caregivers to help — the village, so that when mom or dad needs a break, there is someone there who is ready to step in.”

The research also showed that when children weren’t given things like affection, free play and a warm home environment, they turned into adults with decreased social and moral capacities.

Narvaez says humans, have evolved to need these important things from birth. Which is why, she recommends parents follow their instincts.  READ MORE

But Why Does This Matter?

OK. Let’ s take this apart. What could affection (or, nursing, for that matter, as I mentioned in a blog last week) possibly have to with moral development?  As I explain in Beyond the Birds and the Bees, my book for parents on raising moral kids, brain research shows that affection facilitates moral development and overall relationship in four ways;

1) stimulating the “social brain”
2) facilitating the development of mirror neurons
3) facilitating self-regulation
4) facilitating communication between the higher and lower brain.

Before you learn any moral lessons OR before you can competently and consistently act on the moral lessons you’ve learned, these four functions have to be as fully developed as possible. Otherwise, we end up fighting against ourselves when it comes to putting other people first and making good (but hard) moral choices.  Here’s what each of these functions has to with both  good relational and moral reasoning and how affection, nursing and other high-touch parenting practices facilitate the development of these functions.

1. Stimulating the Social Brain

High touch parenting practices like baby-wearing, nursing, and responding promptly to fussing, help stimulate the so-called, “social brain”; that is, structures in the brain that help us pick up on other’s emotional cues and adjust our behavior based upon how we perceive our actions are coming across. The more the baby can be close to mom (especially) the more that the baby learns to read more and more subtle facial and body cues, understand their meaning, and adapt to them accordingly. The more attuned to other’s responses I am, the better I am able to make choices that foster relationship, express care, and avoid giving offense–all important skills for both good relational and moral decision making.

2.  Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons are structures in the social brain that allow us to get a “taste” of what other people are feeling.  If I walk into a coffee table, you might wince because your mirror neurons let you feel a little bit of my pain so that you can empathize with me and be motivated to attend to my injury.  High-touch, hands on parenting practices seem to stimulate the development of mirror neurons.  This aids moral development by fostering empathy–the ability to literally feel the impact one’s actions have on another.

3.  Self-Regulation

In order to make healthy relationship choices, delay gratification, or avoid lashing out impulsively when I have strong emotions, I need good self-regulation.  Self-regulation is actually “taught” one body to another.  High touch parenting practices help stimulate the young child’s parasympathetic (i.e., “calm-down”) nervous system.  When an infant or toddler is overwrought, they don’t have an easy time getting themselves back under control because their calm-down nervous system isn’t fully developed.  Picking the baby up and holding her close allows your calmer body to communicate with the baby’s stressed-out body.  The baby’s “calm-down” systems automatically start to synch the baby’s heart rate, respiration, temperature and other stress signs to the parent’s calmer heart rate, respiration, temperature, etc.  Just like parents teach baby’s to walk by holding her hand while she does it, parents teach baby’s and toddler’s body the steps of calming down by letting the child’s body learn regulation from the parents’ more mature calm-down systems.  The more a child is left to cry it out, the harder it is for the child’s parasympathetic nervous system to master the art of self-regulation because it does not have a consistent model to lean on and follow.

4.  Communication between higher and lower brain.

Finally, making good moral and relationship choices requires me to have the fastest possible communication between my lower brain (the seat of my impulses) and my higher brain (the seat of decision making). The impulse to do something actually occurs before our higher brain even becomes aware of it.  Unless my higher brain can “catch up” with the impulse that shoots up from my lower brain and redirect it,  I will simply do what my lower brain tells me to do (e.g. make a selfish choice, yell at you, cheat) before I am even aware of it. High touch parenting practices facilitate communication between the higher and lower brain by stimulating the production of the waxy, myelin sheath around nerve cells that allow electrical impulses to “slide” faster down the neuron. The “slipperier” our nerves are (i.e., the more well-myelinated they are) the faster they are able to send messages around the brain (like a child whooshing down a well-waxed sliding board).  Affection facilitates good moral and relational decision making by stimulating the production of the very substance that allows our brains to “think fast”,  harness inappropriate impulses and transform them into more appropriate actions.


Is the research saying that if you let your kids cry it out and you don’t nurse them that they will grow up to be axe murderers? Of course not.  What the research does say is that the more hands-on and high touch you can be as a parent, the more you are actively growing your infant’s and toddler’s social and moral brain. This gives your child a neurological leg-up on using all the good moral and relational lessons you will teach him later on.  God created our bodies to cooperate with making good, moral choices.  Of course he did. This is what it means to speak of the theology of our bodies. The more we can give our child’s brain the things it needs to cooperate with grace and make good moral/relationship choices the happier everyone will be. For more ideas about how you can cooperate with God’s plan for helping parents raise healthy, happy, moral kids, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees , Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids ,  Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood, and Discovering God Together:  The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.


Filters Don’t Keep Kids Safe Online–New Study Finds.


Michigan State criminal justice professor Thomas J. Holt, found that about one in four children said they were pressured by their friends online to talk about sex when they didn’t want to. The study included 439 middle- and high-school students aged 12 to 16.

“This is not to downplay the danger of pedophiles acting online, but it does draw attention to the potential threat of child sexual victimization by the people our kids are closest to, the people they spend the greatest amount of time with online,” explains Holt.

The study is important as it is one of the first to examine the factors of online child sexual victimization. The review appears online in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.

Researchers found that girls and kids with low self-control, were more likely to be sexually harassed online. But the biggest surprise was the finding that 24 percent of study participants were sexually harassed over the Internet.

Parental-filtering software or keeping the computer in an open space such as the family living room did not seem to reduce the problem

We address this issue in Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Whole and Holy Kids.  Parents who use internet filters tend to be overconfident in what they can do.  The only antidote is fostering a discipleship relationship with your children that enables you to provide the ongoing guidance and character formation that helps them stay strong even when mom and dad aren’t standing over them.  It’s a tough job, but YOU CAN DO IT!  For step-by-step guidance on how you can raise moral kids in an immoral world, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees.

Raising Moral Kids in an Immoral World

Beyond the Birds and Bees

An Ascension Press Webinar with Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

On June 26th, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. This decision makes it more important than ever to be able to confidently convey the Catholic vision of love, life, and morality to our children.

The good news is that it’s possible to raise kids who can joyfully and willingly witness to Catholic values in every part of their lives—even when you aren’t breathing down their necks.

Join Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, authors of Beyond the Birds and the Bees, for a live webinar on August 3rd, as they reveal the secrets of raising moral kids in an increasingly immoral world!

Join Us on Monday, August 3 at 1 PM EDT!


Torture As Ineffective as It is Unethical, New Study Says.

A lot of my fellow Catholic patheosi have been engaging the torture debate in light of the recent report from congress.  I will leave the moral dimensions of the debate to more able hands–it is sufficient for me to know that our faith deems torture an offense against the dignity of the person (c.f., Evangelium Vitae and Splendor of the Truth).  As the Patheos Catholic Channel’s resident shrink, I figured shutterstock_218562028I’d limit myself to reporting on some recent research that examined the efficacy of torture.

According to an article in Applied Cognitive Psychology, building rapport with “high-level detainees” (i.e., terrorists) is a much more effective method of gaining valid, actionable intelligence than so-called enhanced methods of interrogation (i.e., torture).  Here is the summary from the British Psychological Society Blog, BPS Research Digest.

The advantage of rapport-building interrogation strategies (including respect, friendliness and empathy towards suspects) over more coercive techniques is highlighted once again in a new study that involved interviews with law enforcement interrogators and detainees.

The research involved 34 interrogators (1 woman) from several international jurisdictions including Australia, Indonesia and Norway. And there were 30 international detainees (1 woman), most of whom had been held on suspicion of terrorism, including people suspected of involvement with the Tamil Tigers or the Islamist group Ansar al Ismal based in Norway. One in five of the detainees reported being subjected to practices that constitute torture. Note, these were separate groups – the interrogators had not dealt professionally with the participating detainees.

The research team led by Jane Goodman-Delahunty asked the interrogators and detainees to recall a specific interrogation session, to describe the interrogation practices used, and the outcomes in terms of information shared, cooperation and confessions. The results were striking – disclosure was 14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable physical settings. More surprising, cooperation reduced five-fold when detainees were presented with explicit evidence. It’s possible this is because interrogators were more likely to resort to presenting evidence to uncooperative detainees.

The researchers said their results “augment the accumulating cross-national consensus about effective noncoercive best practices in investigative interviewing.” Their hope is that this will “reduce practitioner skepticism about reliance on noncoercive interview strategies with high value detainees.”  Go here for more information including links to the original study.

No, She Can’t Play That Game Either

The NYTimes has an article about the effect of the college hook-up culture on young women and their potential for happiness in life and relationships.  It is a poignant and painful look at what happens to a culture when it defines itself by its ability to produce instead of the quality of its character and depth of its relationships.

The title of the article is, “Sex on Campus:  She Can Play That Game Too.”  The implication, of course, is that men have been having casual sex for centuries and its worked out OK for them, certainly women can succeed at the same game.  The problem is, it never really worked for men and it isn’t working for women either.  The incidence of casual sex is inversely proportional to the strength of attachment you experienced in childhood.  The less attachment you had as a kid to your parents, the more likely it is that you will exhibit promiscuous behavior in adolescence.  The reverse is also true.  The stronger and more secure attachment you had to your parents the more likely it is that you will avoid promiscuity in adolescence (as well as many other high-risk behavior).  We can now predict the level of life and relationship satisfaction toddlers will have in adulthood based upon the amount of affection they received as toddlers.  Extravagant affection in toddlerhood predicts healthier life and relationship skills in adulthood.

As I argue in Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Children, the reason men have historically been more sexually promiscuous was that, traditionally, parents were afraid that attachment would sissify boys.  Girl and boy babies would receive about the same amount of affection, cuddling and coddling, until toddlerhood, after which girls continued to receive about the same amount of care and boys would be weaned from much of that for fear of impairing their masculinity.  The effect, of course, was to cause men to repress those touch needs until they reached adolescence when they could get all their touch needs met–as long as they met them through manly displays of sexual promiscuity.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the nursery.   Suddenly, moms started going back to work at the same rate as dads.  Girl and boy babies both found themselves in daycare as early as 6 weeks.  Girl and boy toddlers found themselves both struggling to maintain attachment with parents who were too busy, or too absent, or just divorced and not present.  Flash forward to young adulthood, and the narrative of the male pursuer and the virginal female no longer holds.  Femininity doesn’t favor virginity.  Attachment does.  As girl and boy children became similarly detached, they both became similarly inclined to meaningless sexual relationships and the pursuit of accomplishment over actualization.  For years, men have paid the price of this inheritance with a poor ability to connect with others and early death.  Now women get to share the joy too.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Read the article. As you do, see if you can’t hear  Jesus’ words on the road to Calvary.  “Weep not for me, but for your children.”

If you would like to discover how to raise children who have the strength to resist the cultural tide, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Whole and Holy Kids.


Can You Teach the Theology of the Body to a 10yo? Should you?

Catholic Patheosi, Elizabeth Husted Duffy, posts her suggestions on what a “true” sexual education out to look like.  I like and agree with all of her recommendations and I encourage you to check them out forthwith.

One point I thought could benefit from a little more reflection, though, is Elizabeth’s initial reaction to a call she received during a recent radio interview.  She says….

One mother called into the show wondering about how to present the Theology of the Body to her ten-year-old daughter.  My answer, or rather, my non-answer was that Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was developed over a series of audiences during the seventies and eighties. It makes for complex and sometimes difficult reading, and many intelligent minds disagree on its practical application.  I think it might be a mistake to use Theology of the Body as a starting point for thinking about or talking to our kids about sex.

I would both agree and disagree with her point.   For example;  if you see TOB as a series of philosophical reflections on the nature of the person broken up into 130-ish segments and delivered over 5 years and intended for a largely academic audience, well, yeah.  TOB would be a terrible place to start talking to kids about sex–or anything for that matter.

This view of TOB is certainly correct as far as it goes, but I would respectfully suggest that it misses the larger point, and this would be where I have my limited disagreement with Elizabeth’s otherwise terrific post.

What Does it all Mean?

Pope John Paul II said that he developed TOB in an attempt to provide people with an “adequate anthropology.”  What does that mean?   Well, you’ve probably noticed that lots of people have lots of different opinions about what it means to be a healthy person, what it means to be in a healthy relationship, what it means to be authentically Christian, and even what it means to be authentically Catholic.  When Pope John Paul II said he wanted to present an “adequate anthropology” he meant he was presenting his answer to those questions.

If we accept that he knew what he was talking about, then I think that makes the case for why it is completely appropriate to ask the question, “How do I teach TOB to a 10yo?”  Or a 7yo, or a 4yo, or a baby for that matter.


Well, again, if TOB is just a phenomenological reflection on both the Book of Genesis and the nature of embodied love, then TOB would be a tremendously stupid place to start the sexual formation of any child.  BUT, if the TOB simply uses this academic reflection as a launching off point to answer the rather profound but straightforward questions I mentioned above, then its exactly the place to start.  What parent doesn’t want their child to know what it means to be a healthy person, to be in a healthy relationship, and what it means to be an authentically Catholic Christian person?

TOB proposes to help parents answer exactly these questions.

TOB:  A Lesson Plan

Another reason the TOB is exactly the place to start the sexual education of our children is that it gives a parent the lens through which to apply all the other recommendations Elizabeth makes.  She is absolutely right to recommend teaching children the bible, the catechism, the rules, and being a good model of love in marriage.   But there are lots of different ways to do these things.  

For instance, there are many ways to read the Bible (a book of stories?  a book of commands?  a book that proclaims an angry God?  a book that proclaims a cuddly God? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to read the bible (e.g., a book that reveals the evolving love story between God and his people; a story that begins and ends in nuptial union with God).

Likewise, there are many different ways one could view the Catechism (a book of rules?  a book of answers? a doorstop? etc.).  TOB gives Catholics a very specific lens through which to view the Catechism (e.g., a book the reveals the basics of our quest to understand the heart of God and his plan for humankind).

Similarly, there are many ways we could teach morality (a list of don’ts?, a list of reasons “God’s gonna getcha”?, a list of ways to be impure? etc.).   TOB gives us a very specific way of talking about morality (e.g., a call to love ourselves and others as persons instead of viewing ourselves and others as things).

Finally, lots of couples think they are presenting a healthy model of love in their homes (be strict? be indulgent? put kids first?  put marriage first? put work first?  use contraception? be providentialist? etc.).  TOB provides a very specific model of what love looks like (e.g., it is embodied,  dedicated to meeting the needs of the “unique and unrepeatable” other, and always images the intimate and extravagant nature of God’s love for us).

Teaching a 10yo TOB

Teaching TOB to a 10yo, or a 5yo or a baby doesn’t mean sitting them down and saying, “Repeat after me, child.  ‘The body and it alone makes visible that which is invisible…’ “)

Oy, vey.  I can’t imagine something more stupid or horrible.  Elizabeth and anyone else would be absolutely right to be allergic to that idea.  Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what teaching TOB to kids really means.

I would suggest that teaching TOB to kids means presenting the Bible as the love story between God and his people that begins and ends in union with him.   It means discussing the Catechism in a manner that conveys that it reveals the basics of our quest to understand the intimate heart of God and his loving plan for his people.  It means discussing morality, not in terms of rules and punishments and lines we may tiptoe up to but never cross, but as a guide to what it means to be truly loving to ourselves and others.  And it means presenting a model of love that is openly physically affectionate, ordered to meeting the unique needs of every family member, is extravagantly generous (and expects extravagant generosity in return), and is rooted in a life of both communal and individual prayer.

Anytime  parents do these things, they are teaching TOB to their kids.  TOB isn’t supposed to be a subject we study.  If that’s all it is, then it is useless even as an intellectual exercise.   As an “adequate anthropology”  TOB was always intended to be a message we live; the internal structure that guides our thinking, relating, and decision making as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and labor to build his Kingdom (aka the “Civilization of Love.”)

TOB Not an Idea.  A Way of Life.

TOB’s power is not as an intellectual property.  It’s power is as a lifestyle that takes our narcissistic, disposable culture by the collar and shocks it into reality through both a stunning display of what real, self-donative love looks like and by bearing witness to the amazing ability self-donative love has to facilitate the flourishing of the human person.

And I do happen to think those are lessons that are worth conveying to a child of any age.

If you’re interested in how to make these lessons a reality in your family, I’d invite you to check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids and for a look at what it means to build a family around the principles of the TOB, pick up a copy of Parenting with Grace:  A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.