Saint John Bosco, The Virtue Of Purity
and Contemporary Sex Education

By James Likoudis

In light of today's progressive' sex education programs,
what can we learn from the way Don Bosco handled youth?


In one of the most prescient books of the 1950's the great Harvard sociologist Pitrim Sorokin stressed the inevitable impact on formal education of purely secularist and rationalistic philosophies vying for the allegiance of men after the devastation of two World Wars:

"Philosophies viewing sex as one of the two main factors of historical processes ...educational theories prescribing the teaching experimentally of the facts of life to children as early as possible...these and similar gospels have succesfully penetrated the disciplines of the social spite of the utterly unscientific nature of these theories spite of the fact that they drag into filthy sewers almost all the great values of humanity, beginning with love, marriage and parenthood, and ending with the fine arts, ethics, science and religion...Clothed usually in a garb of scientific jargon, these new beatitudes have been successfully spreading throughout our nation"

(The American Sex Revolution, Boston: Sargent, 1956; pages 42-43).

It is now commonplace to observe how popular cries for "sexual freedom," "personal self-fulfillment," "open marriage," "alternative sexual life-styles" and "sexual maturity" reveal what another critic, Max Lerner, termed the "American absorption with sex." The leering preoccupation with sex that is characteristic of what Sorokin called a "sensate culture" is evident at every hand. Sex as America's cultural deity can be seen in the increasingly suggestive fare provided viewers of films, T.V. programs and commercials, as well as in smut magazines and the outright pornographic novels, journals and pictures flooding the market which also, interestingly, increasingly sport elements of blasphemy and sacrilege. In "The Secular City", Harvey Cox rightly referred to "today's sexually rapacious society" and noted: "No aspect of human life seethes with so many unexorcised demons as does sex...and the shamans of sales do their best to nourish them."

Many Parents Protest

This latter comment appears particularly apt with reference to the manner in which professional educationists, publishers and media manipulators have conditioned parents and even some clergy to accept the fetish of "sex education" which has become entrenched in all too many public and parochial schools -- despite the stated moral norms of the Church's Magisterium prohibiting classroom sex education.(1) An impressive amount of evidence has accumulated showing how classroom sex education has become in fact one of the most important ideological vehicles for imposing an essentially secular humanist value system on those youth exposed to it.(2) Tragically, "Catholic" programs of sex education such as the Benziger' Becoming a Person program, the Paulist' Education in Love program and the New Jersey Fox program betray the same disastrous resonances of relativism and situationism in sexual ethics which inevitably characterize public-school curricula influenced by the "value-free approach" dear to the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)(3). For some years Catholic parents have protested the proliferation of sordid sex-education materials being utilized in catechesis which have threatened the purity and modesty of their children and which have scandalously deviated from the Church's teaching on masturbation, pre-marital sex, contraception, abortion, homosexuality and divorce(4). Sex-education controversies involving parochial schools have manifested the bitter resentment of parents at their offspring being inculcated with the false teaching that normative sexual morality is relative rather than absolute, and that questions of moral right and wrong are to be determined by the scientific research of sexologists and "porno-theologians" rather than by God's Natural Law and/or Christ's Revelation as communicated by the Teaching Authority (Magisterium) of the Church(5).

It is clear that the contemporary denial or neglect of the doctrine of original sin by sexologists, behavioral scientists and sex educators has resulted in their ignoring the consequences of the Fall of Adam on man's sexual nature. There is no (or little) recognition that Adam's loss of original justice and the supernatural gift of integrity has resulted in the perversion of the sexual function in his descendents, i.e., there is now a strong inclination to succumb to sexual lust or carnality. The Church has always taught that sex, originally intended for procreation and love, is now wounded in its operation, and needs to be redeemed and sanctified.

'Hard sayings' minimized

Christ's grace alone can regenerate and transform the whole of fallen man, and regain for him the divine purpose and meaning of sex. In this process of sanctification (in which the Sacrament of Matrimony has a key role), the careful cultivation of the virtue of purity is indispensable for directly controlling the power of sex in accordance with reason and Christian faith. A Russian Orthodox theologian has well written:

"The Church teaches neither that sex is naturally evil nor that it is 'beautiful beyond words.' She is committed to neither extreme. She condemns promiscuity, 'free love,' or any attitude which tends to make what is 'natural' necessary....Chastity is a moral imperative for all. Sex must be confined to the state for which it was intended, that is, the order of marriage. Outside that divinely established union sexuality is an evil, or as it is called in the Bible, 'fornication.' As Saint Paul said, 'Marriage is honorable and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge' (Heb. 13:4)...
Chastity is the permitting of God's Grace to enter our beings to transform the sexual function"

(Fr. Michael Azkoul in "St. Nectarios Educational Series", No. 56)..

The refusal, however, of contemporary sex educators to take into account the results of the Fall of Adam visiting man with sin, corruption and death — has lamentably minimized the need for man's transformation in Christ (wherein purity, self-denial, prayer and the sacraments are a necessary part of the Christian ascesis obliging both the married and unmarried).

The loss of a genuine theological perspective among those foisting classroom sex education on Catholic youngsters has resulted in the appalling introduction into the sphere of religious education of the naturalism, secularism and explicit sexuality which characterize the mores of a decadent civilization rapidly reverting to paganism. Instead of laying the foundations for that mentality among Catholic youth which is prepared to battle nature and its fallen tendencies in favor of the teachings of Christ, "Catholic" Family Life programs have engaged in watering down Christ's "hard sayings" about sex and marriage — reducing them to the level of secular humanist banalities.

It is a serious matter that much "Catholic" sex-education literature put into the hands of children and youth and produced under the aegis of questionable theories of child-developmental psychology has gone so far as to exceed the bounds of decency in their detailed information concerning the "facts of life." Their authors have obviously forgotten these wise words which Feodor Dostoyevsky placed on the lips of one of his characters in The Brothers Karamazov: "Profound as psychology is, it's a knife that cuts both ways...You can prove anything by it...I am speaking of the abuse of psychology, gentlemen." It is a matter of fact that the psychology relied upon by most Catholic and secular sex educators is saturated with anti-Christian Freudian and neo-Freudian assumptions concerning the nature of man.

Don Bosco is a model

In the opinion of many Catholic parents, nothing is more readily calculated to destroy confidence in Catholic schools than a corrupting classroom sex instruction which ignores Original Sin and its effects on human personality, assaults the personal privacy of the child and violates the spirit of purity, modesty and reverence which the Church declares must mark the moral formation of Catholic children and youth.

The contemporary classroom stress on the "psychosexual development" of the child as "part of Christian personal development" must be understood as a disreputable apologia for engaging in detailed physiological information about sex which the Church has always warned against. Such a "scientific" approach flies in the face of the Church's teaching which insists that sexual sins are not so much the result of the intellect's ignorance as of weakness of will exposed to corrupting influences and deprived of the means of grace. (Cf. Pius XI's classic "Encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth", #52-61.) This abusive pedagogy being indulged in by contemporary sex educators flagrantly contradicts the "positive and prudent sexual education" called for by the Second Vatican Council (Gravissimum Educationis #1) which on this delicate matter as on other subjects harkens to the traditional teaching of the Saints for inspiration. Indeed, the principles and methods of Christian education successfully utilized by the Saints in training youth remains an ever-fertile source of guidance for those engaged in instructing children in the virtue of purity. St. John Bosco (1815-1888) is a model "par excellence" of the kind of "sex educator" the Church wishes to see engaged in the instruction of her children. It will be evident that an abyss separates St. John Bosco as a teacher of morals from the run-of-the-mill sex educators let loose even within the Church.

The saint loved purity

The life and example of the founder of the Salesians, St. John Bosco, makes resplendent the role of Christianity in acting not so much as a simple policeman of the passions but as a truly supernatural Mater et Magistra of souls inspiring in man that love of the truth, of God, which will bring him to that moral heroism Christ demands — "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). How St. John Bosco loved the virtue of purity and encouraged his students to love and respect it is a major theme that is dwelt upon by all his biographers. Above all, it was from the positive base of personal holiness that he made his young students understand the terribleness of desacralizing and impoverishing the gift of sex received from a loving Creator. When speaking of purity, he often appeared to his listeners to be more an angel than a man.

'Safeguard morality'

As Fr. Giovanni Battista Lemoyune, the first and greatest chronicler of his life, related:

"Don Bosco's ardent love for Our Lady stemmed from his purity of heart and was, in turn, a proof of that purity. We are indeed convinced that more than anything else this was the secret of his greatness. God endowed him with extraordinary gifts and made him the instrument of wonderful works because he always kept himself pure and chaste. 'Just by looking at him', Father John Baptist Piano once declared, 'you could tell how much he loved purity.' His words and gestures, indeed his whole manner, effused such candor and virginal innocence as to charm and edify all who approached him, even reprobates. His angelic countenance had a foundation of its own. He never uttered a word that could be considered less than becoming. Nothing in his demeanor even slightly suggested worldliness. To his intimate friends the most extraordinary thing about him was his extreme care never to offend modesty in the slightest way...Any slightly off-color remark made him blush and drew an admonition from him. His writings are all veritable models of delicacy in this respect, a crystal-clear reflection of his state of soul." (6)

It is striking to read Don Bosco's exhortations to his clerics and religious to keep from his boys anything that might arouse unseemly curiosity about sex or evil thoughts:

"Keep this in mind", he once told them, "Morality! That's what really matters. Safeguard morality! Put up with everything — liveliness, impudence, thoughtlessness — but never tolerate the offense of God and especially the vice contrary to purity. Be truly on the alert in this regard. Concentrate all attention on the boys entrusted to you." (7)

Never did St. John permit himself any undue familiarities with his boys, and he was extremely reserved in his relations and contacts with women. He stressed the need for strict self-control over the senses and there are some remarkable stories of the care he took to safeguard himself from the "concupiscence of the eyes" (Cf. 1John 2:16). Like countless other Saints, he especially urged his boys to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, when tempted, and have frequent recourse to the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance for spiritual strength.

"Besides recommending the usual spiritual means, he stressed the need to keep oneself constantly occupied and to be active in games during recreation. He disliked anyone laying hands on others, linking arms or holding or tightly grasping hands. He would not tolerate the boys' horseplay or playful hugs. Rigorously, but discreetly, he repressed particular friendships, even if harmless at their start; on this point he was adamant. He not only heartily abhorred foul talk; he could not stand any vulgarity that might arouse thoughts or feelings less than chaste. 'Let such words not even be mentioned among you,' he exclaimed (Cf. Eph. 5:3)...When giving these exhortations (on purity), although Don Bosco spoke more of purity than its opposite, he alluded to it sparingly and prudently. He avoided enumerating such sins; temptations of this sort he called 'bad,' and a fall he labeled a 'misfortune.' He was not quite satisfied either with the word 'chastity'; he preferred 'purity' as being more comprehensive and less suggestive." (8)

St. John Bosco instilled such an ardent love of God and purity of soul in his young charges that his conscientious biographer was obliged to add:

"Notwithstanding their varied social backgrounds and places of origin, they so fully appreciated and treasured this virtue that its splendor shone in most of them. It was obvious in their words, looks and deportment. No one could describe the horror they had of sin. From this stemmed that sound, genuine and endearing piety that was the chief hallmark of the Oratory — a piety indeed beyond their years and incredible to outsiders. We saw those boys in church thousands of times, their faces so radiant with love as to enchant the spectator, and suffused by such innocence as to defy description. Truly, they reflected the image of Our Divine Savior, 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God' (Matt. 5:8)." (9)

St. John Bosco's pedagogical emphasis on the moral aspects of human sexuality (combining a prudent contextual reserve with careful instruction on the commandments and on virtues and vices — he did not fear, moreover, to label sin for the evil it is) — is clearly at odds with the reigning "sex-education-industry" approach which appears determined to multiply consumers via coercive classroom settings. The supernatural wisdom of the Saint, however, finds modern support in the writings of such eminent psychiatrists as the Viennese psychotherapist Dr. Viktor Frankl:

"Based on decades of clinical experience, I dare declare that ...sexuality is disturbed in the exact measure in which intending it and attention to it take over." (10)   "On this subject (instructing the young in the 'facts of life') we will say only the following: Such sex information should never be given to a group. For if that is done, the revelations will come too soon to some and only dismay them, while for others they will come too late and only seem ridiculous. To instruct each boy or girl individually is the only sensible way. Here the young person's confidence in the educator (whether he be parent or teacher, youth leader, family physician or counselor) is of supreme importance. Having that confidence, a young person troubled by a question about sex will ask the adult whom he trusts at the right time, neither too soon nor too late." (11)

In light of the aforesaid spiritual teaching, counsels and example given by such enlightened Saint-educators as St. John Bosco, it is reasonable to conclude that the force-feeding elementary and secondary "Catholic" sex-education programs currently in vogue — with all their panoply of illustrations, charts, diagrams and weighty "scientific" bibliographies — constitute a serious deformation of the "positive and prudent sexual education" of youth requested by the Second Vatican Council, and represent a monstrous caricature of the divine pedagogy of the Saints with respect to Educating for Purity.

The great French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac was not a canonized saint, but he too could write penetratingly for the benefit of modern educators:

"It is indeed true that nothing is important in this world except love. I have no trouble in agreeing, since it is love...which demands that we Christians be pure. It is the sole reason for our madness...Purity is the condition for a higher love — for a possession superior to all possessions: that of God. Yes, this is what is at stake, and nothing less." (12)

Is it not time for attention to be focused on those assassins of purity in both Church and civil society who are the horrendous counterpart of those whom another great Frenchman, the late Jean Cardinal Danielou, once called "assassins of the Faith?"



  1. See Beach, Paul Cole and Likoudis, James, " Sex Education: the New Manicheanism", Triumph magazine, October and November 1969; and the pamphlet Classroom Sex Education published by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), 222 North Ave., New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801 (15 ¢ a copy).
  2. Beach and Likoudis, Ibid.; cf. also Lentz, Gloria, Raping Our Children:the Sex Education Scandal (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1972); "A Contribution to the Dialogue on Sex Education" (Winter 1968 - and available from Child and family Reprint Dept., Box 508, Oak Park, Il. 60303); Dr. Sean O'Reilly's outstanding article "Formal Sex Education: Fact and Fancy" in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, April 1973; and K.D. Whitehead's "From Abortion to Sex Education" in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1973.
  3. Cf. Likoudis, James, Fashioning Persons for a New Age? (a critique of the Becoming a Person sex education program - and available from C.U.F., 222 North Ave., New Rochelle N.Y. 10801 - 75 ¢ a copy); and articles by the same writer published in Social Justice Review (3835 Westminster Place, St. Louis, Mo. 63108): "Sex Educationists Fight God" (SJR, December 1977; Pages 261-267) and "Education in Love?" (SJR, September 1972; Pages 162-167).
    The National Catholic Register (3-2-75) reports that a pastoral letter by John Joseph Cardinal Carberry has ruled out the use of the Becoming a Person program in the schools of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
  4. Especially criticized have been such ostensibly Catholic publications as: Bro. Hugo Hurst, C.F.X.'s Love, Sex and Marriage (St. Mary's College Press, Winona, Minn. 4th printing 1972); Mary Perkins Ryan's Love and Sexuality: A Christian Approach (New York: Holt. Rinehart and Winston, 1967); Rev. William Bausch's A Boy's Sex Life (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides Publishers, 1969); James J. DiGiacomo, S.J.'s volume "Sexuality" in Conscience and Concern series (Minneapolis, Minn.: Winston Press, 1973); William J. Kalt and Ronald J. Wilkins' various volumes in the To Live Is Christ series published by Henry Regnery Company, 1968; Rev. John F. Dedek's Contemporary Sexual Morality (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1971); Urban Steinmetz's The Sexual Christian (St. Meinrad, Ind.: Abbey Press, 1972); Mary Jan and Lawrence J. Losoncy's Sex and the Adolescent (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1971); Ronald A. Sarno, S.J.'s Achieving Sexual Maturity (New York: Paulist Press Deus Books, 1969); The above are but a few of the many works published in the last decade promoting a "New Sexual Morality" incompatible with Catholic Faith and Morals.
  5. I am indebted to Fr. Vincent P. Miceli, S.J., for the following reference to "porno-theologians" made by the erudite Padre Cornelio Fabro in his L'Avventura della Teologia Progressista (Milano, 1974; Pages 15-16); "It is not without reason that these porno-theologians' speak with excessive seriousness of the liberating function of Marxism and of the even greater liberating extremism of Freudianism. But they do not only speak. They openly join the ranks of the Philistines, the Jebusites and the Pherezites against the chosen people of the faithful...with the purpose of advocating the Sartrian liberty of the arbitrary human act. Indeed, these theologians have become the rivals of the Medieval Cathari."
    As Fr. Miceli, S.J., has commented: "The Cathari held all sexual acts to be evil; contemporary porno-theologians hold that no sexual acts are intrinsically evil."
  6. Quoted from Chapter 16, "Don Bosco and Purity", in Volume V of "The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco" by Rev. Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, S.D.B. (New Rochelle, NY: Salesiana Publishers, 1969; Page 102). Eight volumes of these remarkable Biographical Memoirs have been translated into English under the supervision of editor-in-chief Rev. Diego Borgatello, S.D.B., and they contain fascinating material for writers who may care to examine St. John Bosco's highly successful catechetical methods.
  7. Ibid., Page 108.
  8. Ibid., Page 106.
  9. Ibid., Page 110.
  10. Frankl, Victor E., "Man's Search for Meaning" (German edition, 1972; Page 19).
  11. Frankl, Viktor E., "The Doctor and the Soul" (New York: Vintage Books, 1973; Page 175).
  12. Mauriac, Francois, "What I Believe" (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Company, 1963; Pages 50-52).

This article appeared in "HOMILETIC & PASTORAL REVIEW" a fine religious periodical, Aug./Sept. 1975