Why Pope Francis calls sexual abstinence before marriage a true sign of love
In new guide on premarital counseling, the pope says chastity before marriage is key to a union’s long-term success
Chastity before marriage is key to a union’s long-term success, according to the preface Pope Francis wrote to a new Vatican guide on marriage.
While the pope has previously said that sex outside of marriage is not the greatest sin, he said in the new guide that abstinence from sex outside of marriage strengthens the bond between a couple and helps their married life be both fulfilling and enduring.
The just-published 97-page document, “The Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life,” was created for priests and dioceses that will work with engaged couples prior to marriage. In it, the pope writes that “chastity teaches the timing and the method of true love.”
The Daily Mail quoted the pope as saying the guideline is both “a gift” and “a task.”
Because divorce rates are high and fewer people are marrying, Pope Francis wrote about a need for “renewed pastoral commitment” to help marriages and family life flourish. And he said that many of the challenges that couples face within their marriage begin with “the hedonistic mentality that distorts the beauty and depth of human sexuality.”
According to the guide, “It is worth helping young spouses to be able to find the time to deepen their friendship and to accept God’s grace. Premarital chastity certainly favors this course.”
Also, per the document: “The church should never lack courage to propose the precious virtue of chastity, even though it is by now in direct contrast with common mentality.”
Out of step?
The remarks by the pontiff have been criticized by some, including some theologians, as not in step with the times in which young couples are making the decision to marry or not marry.
The Daily Mail noted that theologian Alberto Maggi told La Repubblica newspaper that “documents like this ... are a step backward.” Maggi said church leaders should instead “listen more to the reality of young people today, of how they live, before reissuing the doctrine they have always proposed.”
Others have noted that the pope has been more liberal on issues like divorce and same-sex marriage than his predecessors.
Austen Ivereigh, a British expert on Catholicism, said the pope’s preface in the guidelines doesn’t set new policy or guidance. “This is not a prohibition or a new rule,” he told the Daily Mail. “They are inviting people to follow this path. They know it goes against the grain of society. The church understands that nowadays most people cohabit and have sex before getting married.”
Ivereigh said he agreed that abstaining from sex prior to marriage could indeed reduce the rate of divorce.
Faith and family
The pope’s guidance on sexual abstinence outside of marriage is certainly not his most controversial remark. As the India-based Times Now reported, earlier this year the pope, who is 85, got viral online pushback for remarks he made about people who prefer to have pets, rather than children. He called that a “selfish” choice that “takes away our humanity.”
Speaking from the Vatican, he said that potential parents shouldn’t fear having kids. Rather, “having a child is always a risk, but there is more risk in not having a child.”
In December, while calling sex outside of marriage a sin, Pope Francis told reporters that “sins of the flesh are not the most serious.” Instead, according to The Independent, he said pride and hatred were the most serious sins.
The pope wrote in the preface to the just-released guidance on premarital counseling that many couples are not well prepared for marriage and said the church can help them build their marriage foundation on the solid footing of faith.
According to Vatican News, he noted that “just as no mother plays favorites among her children, neither does the church treat her children differently. Therefore, the church must devote considerable time and energy to accompanying engaged couples toward marriage, as she does men who seek to become priests or women and men who enter religious life.”
Pope Francis wrote, “Marriage failures bring with them great suffering and leave deep wounds in people. They become disillusioned, bitter and in the most painful cases even end up no longer believing in the vocation of love inscribed by God himself in the heart of the human being.”
He called married couples “truly guardians of life,” because they have and raise children, care for their elderly relatives and “devote themselves to the service of people with disabilities and frequently to people living in poverty with whom they come into contact.”
When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, he called family “a factory of hope.”
The theme of the international meeting, which was organized by the Catholic Church, heralded family as a vehicle for improving the world and when family thrives, so does society.
The reverse is also true. When family breaks down, society breaks down, too, as the Deseret News reported then.