Yesterday, I riffed on James Taranto’s post regarding whether the sexual revolution bell can be un-rung. I don’t think we can go back to the way things were before — time does, after all, run forward, not backwards — but I do think we are still in a position to moderate its worst excesses. With that in mind, I looked to the way the staid, even repressive, Victorian era followed upon, and was a reaction to the licentious rapacity of the Georgian period.
Taranto provided more food for thought, because he published an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who spoke not only about ObamaCare but also about the sexual revolution. I think Dolan’s thoughts are a nice complement to my ideas about re-elevating sexual morality to a public virtue (emphasis mine):
What about the argument that vast numbers of Catholics ignore the church’s teachings about sexuality? Doesn’t the church have a problem conveying its moral principles to its own flock? “Do we ever!” the archbishop replies with a hearty laugh. “I’m not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge—a towering one—in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. That’s a biggie.”
For this he faults the church leadership. “We have gotten gun-shy . . . in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality.” He dates this diffidence to “the mid- and late ’60s, when the whole world seemed to be caving in, and where Catholics in general got the impression that what the Second Vatican Council taught, first and foremost, is that we should be chums with the world, and that the best thing the church can do is become more and more like everybody else.”
The “flash point,” the archbishop says, was “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reasserting the church’s teachings on sex, marriage and reproduction, including its opposition to artificial contraception. It “brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the church, that I think most of us—and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself—kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle.’ We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.”
Without my having raised the subject, he adds that the church’s sex-abuse scandal “intensified our laryngitis over speaking about issues of chastity and sexual morality, because we almost thought, ‘I’ll blush if I do. . . . After what some priests and some bishops, albeit a tiny minority, have done, how will I have any credibility in speaking on that?’”
Yet the archbishop says he sees a hunger, especially among young adults, for a more authoritative church voice on sexuality. “They will be quick to say, ‘By the way, we want you to know that we might not be able to obey it. . . . But we want to hear it. And in justice, you as our pastors need to tell us, and you need to challenge us.’”
That hunger is the beginning of the Victorian revival.