Most would agree that young people are staying away from church in droves. None has been more affected by this phenomenon than the Catholic church.

What is the problem? It would seem there is an almost total disconnect between what the septuagarian celibates in the church leadership teach and the lived experience of young people especially in sexual matters. Rules and regulations from the top are simply irrelevant to the church’s youthful constituency.

Fortunately, every once in a while a church leader emerges who gets it. One such is the Jesuit Cardinal, Maria Martini, now a respected biblical scholar and theologian based in Jerusalem. It is reported that the Cardinal came second to Cardinal Ratzinger in the last papal conclave. (What a great pope, Martini would have made). The Cardinal says that instead of condemning sex before marriage, the Church needs to listen patiently to young people.

Cardinal Martini writes in a book of essays that outright bans on sex before marriage are alienating young people from the Church. He adds that many young people « no longer take the Church as a dialogue partner or its teachings seriously. »

« No bishop or priest can fail to notice the physical closeness between people before marriage. We must change our attitude on this (Italics mine) if we want to protect the family and promote marital faithfulness. Illusions and prohibitions will achieve nothing. »

Cardinal Martini adds that most parents have come to accept that their children cohabit before marriage, and that acknowledgement had brought the generations closer together, nurturing « a new tenderness. »

Do you agree with Cardinal Martini that the Church must change its attitude toward premarital sex?

Or do you continue to think that premarital sex is wrong?

Will outright bans on premarital sex help the situation?

Or would it be more helpful to rescind the prohibitions and listen to young people?



  1. 1
    SUZANNE Says:

    Neil, it’s not a « ban ». It’s Divine Revelation. You believe it or you don’t. You think the soul functions a certain way, and pre-marital sex is bad for you, or you don’t.

    I think the Church should be more clear on sexual matters, actually.

    I think that youth are leaving the Church because they instinctively know that there’s no point in being Catholic if you’re just going to end up believing and acting like everyone else.

  2. 2


    There is not a single word about premarital sex (or most other sexual matters) in Divine Revelation, as Cardinal Martini pointed out.

  3. 3
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all!
    « Divine Revelation » is somewhat second-hand inspiration, wouldn’t one say? After all, somebody had to be told, in order to write it down somewhere, in order to have someone else read it, and then have someone else altogether believe it. Having said that, would someone please point out exactly WHERE it is written?
    Faithfulness to another person, whatever the nature of the relationship, must come from within, not be imposed from without. Such faithfulness must be in one’s best interest, in order to have any moral weight. It must both feel right, and make sense.
    Premarital sex is the triumph of hormonal drive over mature, responsible thinking. On the other hand, the more you think about it, the more you want to do it, because you know it will feel good — for a little while, anyway. It’s that good feeling that is intended to nurture the intimate bond between people, and it is that good feeling that makes the relationship personally enriching. Once your survival and security are more or less ensured, everything else is the pursuit of happiness. Last time I looked, that was the entire purpose of all human endeavour — to be happy.
    Some people will tell you that you can only enjoy a rich and rewarding sexual life within the bonds of matrimony. These people are usually those who don’t, even though they may be married. Envy is so unbecoming.
    So, how DO we know what God intends? It might help to turn off that TV, unplug the phone, close that Bible, and listen to that still and silent voice that told you, once upon a time, « This is real. This is good. This is right. » After all, one of the ancient prophets heard the Voice of God, not in the hurricane, not in the earthquake, not in the thunderstorm, but in the quiet, summer breeze.
    Does that make sense? CTZen

  4. 4
    Joe Agnost Says:

    « I think that youth are leaving the Church because they instinctively know that there’s no point in being Catholic if you’re just going to end up believing and acting like everyone else. »

    I agree… it used to be important (socially) to be a member of the church, and so even though they « act(ed) like everyone else » they ignored their hypocracy and remained in the church. Ask a catholic their views on birth control (for instance) and you’ll likely get an answer which does NOT line up with RCC teaching!

    The kids don’t have the sociatal pressure to belong to a church and thus don’t need to be hypocritical – they just leave the church.

    « Last time I looked, that was the entire purpose of all human endeavour — to be happy. »

    Amen to that! I feel EXACTLY the same way! The meaning of life is to ENJOY life.

    « Do you agree with Cardinal Martini that the Church must change its attitude toward premarital sex? »

    If the church wants to survive it does! But I’m hoping it continues to be pig-headed and refuses to change! 🙂

  5. 5
    littlepatti Says:

    When I was a teenager, a very wise Catholic priest explained to me that  » premarital sex is not a sin, the consequences are a sin, an unwanted pregnancy, low self esteem, disease, etc. »
    That made sense to me.
    Today, children are engaging in premarital sex without the maturity to realize that there are consequences, to their bodies and/or minds.
    Slightly off-topic: Years later, married, I left the Catholic church when a priest told me that I would be going to hell for using the birth control pill.(circa 1962)
    I thought that he would go to hell for saying that to me!
    With the scandals in the Catholic church finally revealed, I am much less concerned about my own salvation. How can that church EVER regain credibility?

  6. 6
    Chimera Says:

    I wonder if Martini got his red hat because J2P2 was secretly hoping he’d actually succeed to the throne and be able to institute a few liberal reforms. Too bad he was born too early to be able to accomplish that. He does have some interestingly progressive ideas about contraception, the roles for women within the church, abortion, and when life begins (not at fertilization). Oh, well.

    « The Church » needs to change a whole lot more than just its attitude toward premarital sex, but that would be a start. When faced with the reality of human free will, why do the PTB insist that everyone live a life of fantasy, following rules that make no sense in relation to the human condition?

    « Will outright bans on premarital sex help the situation? »

    I have to ask: just how does anyone think an outright ban would be greeted? I predict it would be with hoots of derision and many flippings of la bird…

  7. 7
    Joe Agnost Says:

    Isn’t premarital sex already « outright ban(ned) » in the RCC? Am I missing something here?

    It’s like everything else that the RCC bans… most catholics ignore the rule (ban) and continue on with business as usual. Some might go to confession over it – but the results are the same: the rule (ban) is ignored.

  8. 8
    Chimera Says:

    Joe, I’ve been under the impression that the rule against premarital sex was more of a caution than a ban.

    I’ve always interpretted a ban as a law-type prohibition, the breaking of which cannot be forgiven. It’s stronger than a mere cautionary rule, the breaking of which can always be forgiven under the right circumstances.

  9. 9
    Joe Agnost Says:

    « I’ve always interpretted a ban as a law-type prohibition, the breaking of which cannot be forgiven. »

    But I didn’t think there was any such thing in the RCC. For instance, if you murder someone you can still confess this « sin » and be forgiven and still go to heaven. Literally EVERYTHING is forgivable…. well except for…. read on:

    The only thing that is not a forgivable sin in the RCC is dying while still rejecting JC as god. This is a ticket to hell for sure… but other than that – anything goes!

    Am I right? (what prize does the atheist get??) 🙂

  10. 10

    Joe and Chimera:

    My understanding is that premarital sex is prohibited absolutely by the Catholic church and is a mortal sin so that if you indulged in this practice and were killed by a bus shortly after leaving the sinful bed you would go straight to hell for all eternity.

    My point in quoting Cardinal Martini was to show how a heavy hitter among the cardinals thinks this prohibition is ridiculous. And I believe the good cardinal is just the tip of the iceberg among enlightened churchmen. (Eventually we’ll be able to say churchwomen).

    As CTZen would say, does that make sense?

  11. 11
    Peter LeBlanc Says:

    Premarital sex when it occurrs within a committment to someone whom you plan on marrying is a personal decision between the couple. I dont think there is any sin and most priests in their pastoral counsel would agree. There are some couples who prefer to wait until they marry to have sexual intercourse.

    Sexual intercourse between people who dont plan to get married or have no committment can be sinful, when injustice occurrs. This a phenomenum that is widespread in western society. Just watch programs like Gerry Springer and see how peer groups of people in the audience condemn the actions of people cheating on each other.

  12. 12
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Pre-marital sex, in my mind, imply some type of committement between two persons. In my book it is very different than just plain having sex at random with multiple partners. I do not consider the first to be a sin. The second is a health risk for all partners and that would be a sin against the perpetrators.
    As far as RCC teachings are concerned I guess they should be updated. However, the last update, Vatican II, emptied the pews. I know I stopped feeling at home in the Church and at church when the rites were emptied of their meanings and copied on everybody else.

  13. 13

    It does steel that romantic wonder from the wedding night!

  14. 14

    Meant « steal. »

    For an act to be a mortal sin, the act must be a grave matter and be committed with full knowledge and full consent of the will. So from the Church’s standpoint, pre-marital sin could be a mortal sin, but only if the latter two conditions were met.

  15. 15
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Kyle, an old Oblate Father, once said: » Brothers, considering the conditions required to commit a mortal sin, rest in peace, no human is bright enough to commit one »
    By the way, you forgot a last condition: the act has to be made with the conscious intention of offending God, on top of what you wrote.

  16. 16
    jim Says:

    Most of the clergy is boring. They should all be sent to public speaking classes.
    I’ve noticed that the teens have evolved by preferring oral sex as the safest way to show their « love ». More teens have probably joined in the adventure, but ar least it looks safer. In my opinion the job of the priests is to show us right from wrong, and then butt out. Kyle I think you were right in the first instance, « steel » is the operative word.

  17. 17
    dez Says:

    I believe that if more couples had a chance to « test drive » their relationship before making a legal commitment, there would be fewer divorces overall.

    Having said that, however, I think the Church should ban as many things as possible. Being repressive and totalitarian has certainly not hurt the Islamic faith, and the Catholic Church has not seen much benefit in being relaxed and understanding in recent years. For those people who like « structure » and thus a framework around which to build their lives (i.e.: being told how to think so they don’t have to think for themselves), the more rules the better.

    Some of the most successful religions in history were also the most repressive and totalitarian. Their examples could be studied to gain some insight in which direction the Church should take.

  18. 18
    Chimera Says:

    « Some of the most successful religions in history were also the most repressive and totalitarian. »

    And there’s a reason for that. People trip over their own feet in their haste to please the religious authorities and punish others in order not to suffer punishment themselves. The abused become the abusers.

    But I’ve got a question for anyone who thinks he can answer it: Why do the various religions that have regulations about such things (and not all religions do) try to regulate and condemn the practise of something so completely natural and necessary as sex when it comes to people, when they can see for themselves that it’s freely available and unregulated to other animals? Why are religious authorities afraid of sex? Why do they react to it as if it were a hot stove on which they will burn themselves, but they know they need to use it to cook with, and yet they invent rules that prevent themselves from wearing oven mitts while doing so.

    Okay…so that’s more than one question. The core question, though, is WHY? Why invent the rules and why follow them? What does it prove?

  19. 19


    I’m going to attempt an answer to your questions, but if my answer is found wanting, I ask that you hold that against me and not against religion, for I may simply be a poor defender of it.

    As I understand you, a central premise to your inquiry is that the rules concerning human sexual behavior proclaimed by some religions are made up by the religious authorities and do not really correspond to the reality of the human condition. Inapplicable fictions, one might call them. Your premise comes as no surprise, as you don’t buy into religion itself. (Is this a fair representation? If not, I’ll gladly stand to be corrected).

    Followers of religion see the matter differently, of course. Perhaps the best way to answer your core question of “WHY” is to seek to understand religious believers as they understand themselves. This is not to say that you should agree with them; only that understanding religious believers as they understand themselves is a perquisite for understanding why they teach and follow certain rules concerning human behavior.

    For subscribers to religion, religion may be defined as a response to a God who reveals. Religious believers see their faith not as a fictional making up of and following of teachings and rules, but as an appropriate response to an event of divine revelation. As a Catholic, I believe that God exists, created the universe from nothing, made creatures capable of participating in his divinity, and revealed himself to said creatures—human beings—through various men and women in history, and most importantly, by becoming man. (Why I believe this is the subject of another comment). I believe that God, in revealing himself to us, also reveals to us the meaning of creation, and more to the point, what it means to be a human being.

    The Catholic Church teaches on human sexuality because human sexuality is a big part of human life and human nature. The Church teaches that there is meaning to human sexuality, a meaning rooted in our biological meaning and also our sociological meaning. Moreover, the Church teaches that God raised human sexuality to the level of a sacrament, i.e., a means of sharing in God’s divine life. It also views the sexual act as a personal gift, and draws conclusions based upon that premise. Put another way, the Church teaches on human sexuality in order to direct human sexuality towards its proper end and the fullness of its meaning.

    That is the reason why it teaches rules and insists human beings follow them. A premise here is that acting in accordance with what it means to be human brings fulfillment and wholeness, whereas acting against what it means to be human ultimately brings misery.

    I don’t expect you to concede the teachings of the Catholic Church on human sexuality, but I hope my answer helps to answer why religion (at least Catholicism) has something to say on the matter of human sexuality.

  20. 20

    Clarification: By “religious believers” I meant those who agree with the teachings of faith and morals of their particular religion, not religious believers, such as the “church’s youthful constituency” that Neil mentions, who agree in part with their religion’s beliefs. I should have qualified that with the adjective “some.”

  21. 21
    Chimera Says:

    Kyle, when it comes to explaining the basis of Catholic belief as you see it, the clarity of your answer is superb. You should write textbooks. I bet you’d be wonderful at it.

    But…it’s not exactly what I was looking for. And it’s very likely my own fault for not really knowing how to ask a question that I’ve never asked before. I’ll get better with practise. I’ll simply have to be awkward for awhile. Bear with me, okay?

    Where does the idea come from in the first place? Or, to put it yet another way, what is the provenance of such belief? It didn’t just spring fully-formed from the forehead of the pope, like Athena from Zeus.

    And, for the main, your core assumptions about my not buying into most religions is correct, although it’s only the repressive parts of religions that I refuse to buy, and I don’t do anyone else’s shopping for them.

    « …understanding religious believers as they understand themselves… »

    And that’s right at the heart of the matter, isn’t it? How does one understand people who believe things that are totally opposite to what one knows for oneself?

    Follow-up question (and mostly rhetorical, at that): When it comes to explanations of why things are the way they are, why is it that « revealed » religions are the most secretive, and « occult » religions are the most open? A topic for another time, maybe.

  22. 22
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all!
    A US politician once summarized Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on Human Sexuality (which reinforced the ban on contraception of ANY description): « He no play-a da game, he no make-a da rules. »
    The Church views the consequences of any non-marital sex as punishment for the act. (as if children, in or out of wedlock, were not trial enough) Since we are not allowed to club out the brains of anybody casting covetous eyes on our chosen mate, we have socially sanctioned marriage. As nature would have it: It’s Mama’s baby and Daddy’s maybe. Patrimony and ownership, and not necessarily in that order, must be established, to maintain cordial social behaviour patterns.
    So why the religious hangups on sex? It keeps things simple, for simple folks. Simon says: keep it in thy pants. The sex drive of young people must be controlled, otherwise, they just might get away with…whatever. It’s getting away with it, going unpunished, reducing or eliminating the risks and consequences of any non-marital sex, that frightens the « Powers That Be. » After all, for the most part, they’re supposed to do without. Why should the rest of us be any less miserable than they are? Does that make sense? CTZen.

  23. 23
    Lucius Says:

    Cardinal Martini is way off on this. You don’t formulate moral teaching on majority rule, what people are doing, othewise decadent periods would make decadence moral. Martini is wrong and so are you about premarital sex. The Bible especially the New Testament clearly rejects fornication which is what premarital sex is. Martini has to know this. See for example Rudolph SCHNACKENBURG, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament. Church teaching is also clear on the point following this and it doesn’t blow with the wind.

  24. 24
    christianpremaritalsex Says:

    The word « fornication » means prostitution. It has nothing to do with premarital sex between two consenting Christian adults. I go through the bible and show how premarital sex is not a sin on Christian Premarital Sex Ministry’s blog. . Please visit my ministry blog by clicking the icon.

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