The question of why so few young Catholics show a vibrant faith life once they leave school is rooted in an overwhelming focus on individual rather than collective morality.
Dr Neil Vaney sm who teaches moral theology at the National Theological College in Auckland, suggested to the colloquium that many young people meet such huge resistance to Catholic sexual norms that they give up trying to defend or observe them.
Vaney claimed that the sexual story of the contemporary world was one of individual pleasure and fulfilment while the church’s story was of God’s plan for the individual writ in nature’s design.
He argued that there was a need for dialogue between the two stories. This would only be possible if both stories embraced a wider perspective in which ‘a vision of human sexuality is treasured as a unique power to preserve a planet fit for humankind and all other sorts of life.’
Vaney suggested that Catholic sexual ethics lost much of its vision and focus over the last 40 years by being diverted into a battle about what makes a particular action right or wrong.
Some people believe that if pursuing a particular act effects more good than evil then it is moral; if we bring about more evil than good the act is wrong and to be avoided. On the other hand some people believe there are some goods so basic to human life and flourishing, eg, marital fidelity, that to act directly against such a good is always wrong, no matter the circumstances or intention.
An individualist view
Vaney argued that both approaches are flawed because they embrace a vision of the human person profoundly shaped by individualism.
Using the science of environmental epidemiology which draws links between apparently random deaths and the environments of particular cities and industries, Vaney suggested a parallel between physical and moral pollution and their effects.
He believes that there is now sufficient data from the sexual revolution beginning in the 1960s and 1970s to demonstrate moral sickness throughout our global society.
Therefore it seems to make much more sense to search for morality not in the weighing of goods and evils that beset the individual but rather to approach this task the way epidemiologists search for the sources of an outbreak of infection.
They strive to track down the almost invisible pollution or low level toxins that gradually accumulate in the air or waters till a heart attack or aggressive cancer finally kills an individual.
Similarly the moralist should survey the common ailments that afflict human relationships and happiness, the failures to trust and love that end up destroying the moral fabric of society and subsequently our global networks.
‘If we were able to focus more on these social and global levels, we might be able to point to the Catholic vision of sexuality as a sharing in God’s self-giving and a call to self-transcendence as a far truer, deeper and more life-giving hope for our global health and survival,’ he said.