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Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education




Outlines for Sex Education


November 1, 1983

Feast of All Saints




1. The harmonious development of the human person progressively reveals in each of us the image of a child of God. "True education aims at the formation of the human person with respect to his ultimate goal."(1) Treating Christian education, Vatican Council II drew attention to the

necessity of offering "a positive and prudent sex education" to children and youth.(2)

The Congregation for Catholic Education, within the sphere of its competence, considers it proper to make its contribution for the application of the Conciliar Declarations, as some Episcopal Conferences have done already.

2. This document, drawn up with the help of educational experts and submitted to wide consultation, sets itself a precise objective: to examine the pedagogic aspect of sex education, indicating appropriate guidelines for the integral formation of a Christian, according to the vocation of each. Also, though it does not make explicit citations at every turn, it always presupposes the doctrinal principles and moral norms pertaining to the matter as proposed by the Magisterium.

3. The Congregation for Catholic Education is aware of the cultural and social differences existing in different countries. These guidelines, therefore, should be adapted by the respective Episcopates to the pastoral necessities of each local Church.


Significance of Sexuality


4. Sexuality is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love. Therefore, it is an integral part of the development of the personality and of its educative process: "It is, in fact, from sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society."(3)

5. Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual levels, making its mark on each of their expressions. Such diversity, linked to the complementarily of the two sexes, allows thorough response to the design of God according to the vocation to which each one is called.

Sexual intercourse, ordained towards procreation, is the maximum expression on the physical level of the communion of love of the married. Divorced from this context of reciprocal gift-a reality which the Christian enjoys, sustained and enriched in a particular way by the grace of God-it loses its significance, exposes the selfishness of the individual, and is a moral disorder.(4)

6. Sexuality, oriented, elevated and integrated by love, acquires a truly human quality. Prepared by biological and psychological development, it grows harmoniously and is achieved in the full sense only with the realization of affective maturity, which manifests itself in unselfish love

and in the total gift of self.


The Actual Situation


7. One can see-among Christians, too-that there are notable differences with regard to sex education. In today's climate of moral disorientation a danger arises, whether of a harmful conformism or prejudice which falsifies the intimate nature of being human, brought forth whole from the hands of the Creator.

8. In order to respond to such a situation one looks for a suitable sex education from every source. But if the conviction of its necessity is fairly widely held in theory, in practice there remain uncertainties and significant differences, either with regard to the persons and institutions

who must assume the educational responsibility, or in connection with the contents and methodologies.

9. Educators and parents are often aware of not being sufficiently prepared to impart adequate sex education. The school is not always in a position to offer that integral vision of the matter which would remain incomplete with the scientific information alone.

10. Particular difficulties are found in those countries where the urgency of the problem is not recognized, or where perhaps it is thought that it resolves itself without specific education.

11. In general, there is need to recognize that one treats of a difficult undertaking by reason of the complexity of the diverse elements (physical, psychological, pedagogical, sociocultural, juridical, moral and religious) which come together in educational action.

12. Some Catholic organizations in different parts-with the approval and encouragement of the local Episcopate have begun to carry out a positive work of sex education; it is directed not only to helping children and adolescents on the way to psychological and spiritual maturity, but also, and above all, to protecting them from the dangers of ignorance and widespread degradation.

13. Also praiseworthy are the efforts of many who with scientific seriousness, dedicate themselves to studying this problem, moving from the human sciences and integrating the

results of such research in a project which conforms with human dignity, a project carried out in the

light of the Gospel.


Declarations of the Magisterium


14. The Magisterium's declarations on sex education mark out a course which satisfies the just requirements of history on the one hand and fidelity to tradition on the other.(5)

Vatican Council II in the "Declaration on Christian Education" presents the perspective in which sex education must be set,(6) affirming the right of young people to receive an education adequate to their personal requirements.

The Council states: "With the help of advances in psychology and in the art and science of teaching, children and young people should be assisted in the harmonious development of their physical, moral and intellectual endowments. Surmounting hardships with a gallant and steady heart, they should be helped to acquire gradually a more mature sense of responsibility towards ennobling their own lives through constant effort, and towards pursuing authentic freedom. As they advance in years they should be given positive and prudent sex education."(7)

15. The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, in speaking of the dignity of marriage and the family, presents the latter as the preferential place for the education of young people in chastity.(8) But since this is an aspect of education as a whole, the cooperation of teachers with parents is needed in the accomplishment of their mission.(9) Such education, therefore, must be offered within the family to children and adolescents in a gradual manner, always considering the total formation of the person.(10)

16. In the Apostolic Exhortation on the mission of the christian family in the modern world, John Paul II reserves an important place to sex education as valuable to the person. "Education to love as self-giving," says the Holy Father. "also constitutes the indispensable premise for parents called to offer their children a clear and delicate sex education. Faced with a culture which largely reduces

human sexuality to the level of something commonplace, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure, the educational service of parents in the area of sex must aim firmly at a training that is truly and fully

personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person-body, emotions and soul and manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love. "(11)

17. The Holy Father immediately goes on to speak of the school, which is responsible for this education in service of and in harmony with parents. "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of

subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents."(12)

18. In order for the value of sexuality to reach its full realization, "education for chastity is absolutely essential, for it is a virtue that develops a person's authentic maturity and makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the 'nuptial meaning' of the body."(13) It consists in self-control, in the capacity of guiding the sexual instinct in the service of love and of integrating it in the development of the person. Fruit of the grace of God and of our cooperation, chastity tends to harmonize the different components of the human person, and to overcome the frailty of human

nature, marked by sin, so that each person can follow the vocation to which God has called him or her.

In the commitment to an enlightened education in chastity, "Christian parents, discerning the signs of God's call. will devote special attention and care to education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme form of that self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality."(14)

19. In the teaching of John Paul II, the positive consideration of values, which one ought to discover and appreciate, precedes the norm which one must not violate. This norm, nevertheless, interprets and formulates the values for which people must strive.

"In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality. For this reason the Church is firmly opposed to an often widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral principles. That would merely be an introduction to the experience of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity while still in the years of innocence by opening the way to vice."(15)

20. This document, therefore, starting from the Christian vision of man and woman and appealing to the principles enunciated recently by the Magisterium, desires to present to educators some fundamental guidelines for sex education and for the conditions and mode of presenting it at the operative level.




21. Every type of education is inspired by a specific conception of man and woman. Christian education aims to promote the realization of man and woman through the development of all their being, incarnate spirits, and of the gifts of nature and of grace by which they are enriched by

God. Christian education is rooted in the faith which "throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal which God has set for man."(16)


Christian Concept of Sexuality


22. In the Christian vision of man and woman, a particular function of the body is recognized, because it contributes to the revealing of the meaning of life and of the human vocation. Corporeality is, in fact, a specific mode of existing and operating proper to the human spirit. This significance is first of all of an anthropological nature: the body reveals man,(17) "expresses the person"(18) and is therefore the first message of God to the same man and woman, almost a species of"primordial sacrament, understood as a sign which efficaciously transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from all eternity."(19)

23. There is a second significance of a theological nature: the body contributes to revealing God and His creative love, inasmuch as it manifests the creatureliness of man and woman, whose dependence bestows a fundamental gift, which is the gift of love. "This is the body: a witness

to creation as a fundamental gift, and so a witness to love as the source from which this same giving springs."(20)

24. The body, inasmuch as it is sexual, expresses the vocation of man and woman to reciprocity, which is to love and to the mutual gift of self.(21) The body, in short, calls man and woman to the constitutive vocation to fecundity as one of the fundamental meanings of their being sexual.(22)

25. The sexual distinction, which appears as a determination of human being, is diversity, but in equality of nature and dignity.(23)

The human person, through his or her intimate nature, exists in relation to others, implying a reciprocity of love. The sexes are complementary: similar and dissimilar at the same time; not identical, though the same in dignity of person; they are peers so that they may mutually understand each other, diverse in their reciprocal completion.

26. Man and woman constitute two modes of realizing, on the part of the human creature, a determined participation in the Divine Being: they are created in the "image and likeness of God"(24) and they fully accomplish such a vocation not only as single persons, but also as couples which are communities of love.(25) Oriented to unity and fecundity, the married man and woman participate in the creative love of God, living in communion with Him through the other.(26)

27. The presence of sin obscures original innocence, rendering less easy to man and woman the perception of these truths: their decipherment has become an ethical task, the object of a difficult engagement entrusted to man and woman: "After original sin the man and the woman will lose the grace of original innocence. The discovery of the nuptial meaning of the body will cease to be for them a simple reality of revelation and of grace. This meaning will remain as a commitment given to man by the ethos of the gift, inscribed in the depths of the human heart, as a distant echo of original innocence."(27)

Faced with this capacity of the body to be at the same time a sign and instrument of this ethical vocation, one can establish an analogy between the body itself and sacramental economy, which is the concrete means through which grace and salvation reach us.

28. Since men and women in their time have been inclined to reduce sexuality to genital experience alone, there have been reactions tending to devalue sex, as though by its nature men and women were defiled by it. These present guidelines intend to oppose such devaluation.

29. "It is only in the Mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear,(28) and human existence acquires its full meaning in the vocation to the divine life. Only by following Christ does man respond to this vocation and become so fully man, growing finally to

reach the perfect man in the measure approaching the full maturity of Christ.(29)

30. In the light of the Mystery of Christ, sexuality appears to us as a vocation to realize that love which the Holy Spirit instills in the hearts of the redeemed. Jesus Christ has enriched such a vocation with the Sacrament of Marriage.

31. Furthermore, Jesus has pointed out by word and example the vocation to virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.(30) Virginity is a vocation to love: it renders the heart more free to love God.(31) Free of the duties of conjugal love, the virgin heart can feel, therefore more disposed to the gratuitous love of one's brothers and sisters.

In consequence, virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven better expresses the gift of Christ to the Father on behalf of us and prefigures with greater precision the reality of eternal life, all substantiated in charity.(32)

Virginity, certainly, is a renunciation of the form of love which typifies marriage, but is committed to undertaking in greater profundity the dynamism. inherent in sexuality, of self-giving openness to others. It seeks to obtain its strengthening and transfiguring by the presence of the Spirit, who teaches us to love the Father and the brethren, after the example of the Lord Jesus.

32. In synthesis, sexuality is called to express different values to which specific moral exigencies correspond. Oriented towards interpersonal dialogue, it contributes to the integral maturation of people, opening them to the gift of self in love; furthermore, tied to the order of creation, to

fecundity and to the transmission of life, it is called to be faithful to this inner purpose also. Love and fecundity are meanings and values of sexuality which include and summon each other in turn, and cannot therefore be considered as either alternatives or opposites.

33. The affective life, proper to each sex, expresses itself in a characteristic mode in the different states of life: conjugal union, consecrated celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom, the condition of the Christian who has not yet reached marriage, or who remains celibate, or who has

chosen to remain such. In all these cases the affective life must be gathered and integrated in the human person.


Nature, Purpose and Means of Sex Education


34. A fundamental objective of this education is an adequate knowledge of the nature and importance of sexuality and of the harmonious and integral development of the person towards psychological maturity, with full spiritual maturity in view, to which all believers are called.(33)

To this end, the Christian educator will remember the principles of faith and the different methods of educational aid, taking account of the positive evaluation which actual pedagogy makes of sexuality.

35. In the Christian anthropological perspective, affective-sex education must consider the totality of the person and insist, therefore, on the integration of the biological, psycho-affective, social and spiritual elements. This integration has become more difficult because the believer also bears the consequences of sin from the beginning.

A true "formation" is not limited to the informing of the intellect, but must pay particular attention to the will, to feelings and emotions. In fact, in order to move to maturation in affective-sexual life, self-control is necessary, which presupposes such virtues as modesty, temperance,

respect for self and for others, openness to one's neighbor. None of this is possible except in the power of the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ.

36. Also, if the modes are diverse which sexuality assumes in single people, education must first of all promote that maturity which "entails not only accepting sex as part of the totality of human values, but also seeing it as giving a possibility for 'offering,' that is, a capacity for giving pure love, altruistic love. When such a capacity is sufficiently acquired, an individual becomes capable of spontaneous contacts, emotional self-control and commitment of his free will."(34)

37. Contemporary pedagogy of Christian inspiration sees in the person being educated, considered in all his or her totality and complexity, the principal subject of education. He or she must be helped to develop capacities for good, above all in a trustworthy relationship. This is very

easily forgotten when excessive weight is given to simple information, at the expense of other dimensions of sex education. In education, in fact, a knowledge of new notions is of utmost importance, but enlivened by the assimilation of corresponding values and by a lively awareness of the personal responsibilities associated with entry into adulthood.

38. Given the repercussions which sexuality has in the whole person, it is necessary that multiple aspects be kept in mind: conditions of health, the influence of the family and the social environment, impressions received and the reactions of the pupil, education of the will, and

the degree of development of spiritual life sustained with the help of grace.

39. All that has been stated so far serves educators in helping and guiding the formation of personality in the young. They must stimulate them to a critical reflection on received impressions, and, while they propose values, must give testimony of an authentic spiritual life, both personal and communal.

40. Having seen the close links existing between morality and sexuality, it is necessary that the knowledge of moral norms be accompanied by clear motivation, so as to

bring a sincere personal adherence to maturity.

41. Contemporary pedagogy has full consciousness of the fact that human life is characterized by a constant evolution and that personal formation is a permanent process. This is also true for sexuality, which expresses itself with particular characteristics in the different phases of life. It evidently brings riches and notable difficulties at every stage of maturation.

42. Educators will have to bear in mind the fundamental stages of such evolution: the primitive instinct, which in the beginning is manifested in a rudimentary state, meets in its turn the ambivalence of good and evil. Men with the help of education, the feelings are stabilized and at the same time augment the sense of responsibility. Gradually selfishness is eliminated, a certain asceticism is stabilized, others are accepted and loved for themselves, the elements of sexuality are integrated: genitality, eroticism, love and charity. Even if the result is not always fully attained. Those who come near the goal to which they aspire are more numerous than may be thought.

43. Christian educators are persuaded that sex education is realized in full in the context of faith. Incorporated by Baptism into the Risen Christ, the Christian knows that his or her body, too, has been vivified and purified by the Spirit which Jesus communicates.(35)

Faith in the mystery of the Risen Christ, which through His Spirit actualizes and prolongs in the faithful the paschal mystery, uncovers in the believer the vocation to the resurrection of the flesh, already begun thanks to the Spirit who dwells in the just as pledge and seed of the total

and definitive resurrection.

44. The disorder provoked by sin, present and operating in the individual as well as in the culture which characterizes society, exercises a strong pressure to conceive and live sexuality in a

manner opposed to the law of Christ, according to that which St. Paul called the law of sin.(36) At times, economic structures, state laws, mass media and systems of life in the great cities are factors

which negatively impinge on people. Christian education takes note of this and indicates guidelines for responsibly opposing such influences.

45. This constant endeavor is sustained and rendered possible by divine grace through the Word of God received in faith, through prayer and through participation in the sacraments. In the first place is the Eucharist, communion with Christ in the very act of His sacrifice, where effectively the young believer finds the bread of life as viaticum in order to face and overcome the obstacles on his

or her earthly pilgrimage. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, through the grace that is proper to it and with the help of spiritual direction, not only reinforces the capacity for resistance to evil but also gives the courage to pick oneself up after a fall.

These sacraments are offered and celebrated in the ecclesial community. Those who are vitally involved in such a community draw from the sacraments the strength to realize a chaste life, according to their state.

46. Personal and community prayer is the indispensable means for obtaining from God the necessary strength to keep faith with one's baptismal obligations, for resisting the impulses of human nature wounded by sin, and for balancing the emotions provoked by negative influences in

the environment.

The spirit of prayer helps us to live coherently the practice of the evangelical virtues of faithfulness and sincerity of heart, of poverty and humility in the daily effort of work and of commitment to one's neighbor. The interior life gives rise to Christian joy which wins the battle against evil, beyond every moralism and psychological aid.

From frequent and intimate contact with the Lord, everyone, especially the young, will derive the strength and enthusiasm for a pure life and they will realize their human and Christian vocation in peaceful self-control and in generous giving to others.

The importance of these considerations can escape no one. Today, in fact, many people, implicitly or explicitly, hold a pessimistic interpretation of the capacity of human nature to accomplish a lifelong commitment, especially in marriage. Christian education should raise the confidence of the young so that their understanding of and preparation for lifelong commitment will be secured with the certainty that God will help them with His grace to accomplish His purposes.

47. Imitation of and union with Christ, lived and handed on by the saints, are the most profound motivations for our hope of realizing the highest ideal of a chaste life, unattainable by human effort alone.

The Virgin Mary is the eminent example of Christian life. The Church, through centuries of experience, is convinced that the faithful, especially the young, by devotion to her, have known how to realize this ideal.




Function of the Family


48. Education, in the first place, is the duty of the family, which "is the school of richest humanity."(37) It is, in fact, the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life. The family has an affective dignity which is suited to making acceptable

without trauma the most delicate realities and to integrating them harmoniously in a balanced and rich personality.

49. The affection and reciprocal trust which exist in the family are necessary for the harmonious and balanced development of the child right from birth. So that the affective natural bonds which unite parents to children be positive in the highest degree, parents are in pride of place in realizing a peaceful sexual balance, and in establishing a relationship of trust and of dialogue with their children in a manner appropriate to their age and development

50. In order to be able to give efficacious guidance- which is necessary for resolving the problems which arise-prior to any theoretical knowledge, adults are to be exemplary in their conduct. Christian parents must know that their example represents the most valid contribution

in the education of their children. These, in their turn, can come to the certainty that the Christian ideal is a reality experienced within the family itself.

51. Openness and collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation will positively influence the maturation of young people. The theoretical preparation and the experience of parents will help their children to understand the value and specific role of the reality of man and woman.

52. The full realization of conjugal life and, in consequence, the sanctity and stability of the family, depend on the formation of conscience and on values assimilated during the whole formative cycle of the parents themselves. Moral values seen in the family are transmitted to the children more easily.(38) Among these moral values, respect for life in the womb and, in general, respect for people of every age and condition have great importance. The young must be helped to understand, appreciate and respect these fundamental values of existence.

In view of the importance of these elements for Christian life, and also in the perspective of a divine call of the children to the priesthood or consecrated life, sex education acquires an ecclesial dimension.


The Ecclesial Community


53. The Church-mother of the faithful whom she brings forth to the faith in Baptism-has an educative mission entrusted by Christ, which is realized especially through proclamation, full communion with God and one's fellows, conscientious and active participation in the Eucharistic

Liturgy and through apostolic activity.(39) By being open to life the ecclesial community constitutes an environment adequate to the assimilation of the Christian ethic in which the faithful learn to witness to the Good News.

54. The difficulties which sex education often encounters within the bosom of the family solicit a major commitment on the part of the Christian community and, in particular, of priests to collaborate in the education of the baptized. In this field, the Catholic school, the parish and other ecclesial institutions are called to collaborate with the family.

55. From the ecclesial character of the faith derives the co-responsibility of the Christian community in helping the baptized to live coherently and knowledgeably the obligations taken on with Baptism. It is the responsibility of the Bishops to establish norms and guidelines adapted to the necessities of the individual churches.


Catechesis and Sex Education


56. Catechesis is called to be the fertile field for the renewal of all the ecclesial community. Therefore, in order to lead the faithful to maturity of faith, it must illustrate the positive values of sexuality, integrating them with those of virginity and marriage, in the light of the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

This catechesis should bring into relief that the first vocation of the Christian is to love, and that the vocation to love is realized in two diverse ways: in marriage, or in a life of celibacy for love of the kingdom.(40) "Marriage and virginity are the two modes of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with His people."(41)

57. So that families may be certain that catechesis is by no means apart from the Magisterium, pastors are to be involved both in the selection and preparation of responsible personnel and in the determination of content and method.

58. From what has been said above in no. 48, the fact remains ever valid that with regard to the more intimate aspects, whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family.

59. It being understood that catechesis realized in the family constitutes a privileged form, if parents do not feel able to perform this duty, they may have recourse to others who enjoy their confidence. A wise initiative, prudent and adapted to age and environment, can avoid traumas for children and render the solution of sexual problems easier for them.


Pre-Marriage Catechesis


60. A fundamental aspect of the preparation of the young for marriage consists in giving them an exact vision of the Christian ethic regarding sexuality. Catechesis offers the advantage of facing sexuality in the immediate prospect of marriage. But for its full success, this catechesis must be conveniently continued by developing a true and proper catechumenate. It aspires therefore to sustain and strengthen the chastity proper to the engaged in preparation for conjugal life viewed in a Christian manner, and to the specific mission which the married have among the People of God.

61. Future spouses must know the profound significance of marriage, understood as a union of love for the realization of the couple and for procreation. The stability of marriage and of conjugal love requires as indispensable conditions: chastity and self-control, the formation of character and the spirit of sacrifice. With regard to certain difficulties of married life, rendered more acute by the conditions of our time, chastity during one's youth as an adequate preparation for marital chastity will be a decisive help to the married. They will need therefore to be informed about the divine law, declared by the ecclesiastical Magisterium, necessary for the formation of their consciences.(42)

62. Instructed in the value and greatness of the Sacrament of Matrimony, which specifies for them the grace and vocation of Baptism, Christian spouses will know how to live conscientiously the values and specific obligations of their moral lives as requirements and fruits of the grace and action of the Spirit, "fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament."(43)

Therefore, in order to live their sexuality and to carry out their responsibilities in accord with God's plan,(44) it is important that spouses have knowledge of the natural methods of regulating their fertility. As John Paul II has said, "every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts."(45) Evidently, contraception, insistently propagated today, contrasts with these Christian ideals and these moral norms of which the Church is teacher. This fact renders still more urgent the necessity of transmitting to the young at an appropriate age the teaching of the Church on artificial means of contraception, and the reasons for such teaching, so that the young may be prepared for responsible marriage, full of love and open to life.


Guidelines for Adults


63. A solid catechetical preparation of adults on human love establishes the foundations for the sex education of children. Thus the possession of human maturity illumined by faith is secured, which will be decisive in the dialogue which adults are called to establish with the new generations. Further to indications concerning methods to be used, such catechesis will favor an appropriate exchange of ideas on particular problems, will make the teaching aids for use better known, and will permit eventual encounters with experts, whose collaboration could be particularly useful in difficult cases.


Task of Civil Society


64. The person should find in society existing expressions and experiences of values which exercise an influence not secondary on the formative process. Therefore, it will be the task of civil society, inasmuch as it treats the common good,(46) to be watchful so that a wise physical and moral environment be secured in schools, and conditions which respond to the positive requests of parents, or receive their free support, be promoted.

65. It is the task of the State to safeguard its citizens against injustices and moral disorders, such as the abuse of minors and every form of sexual violence, degrading dress, permissiveness and pornography, and the improper use of demographic information.


Responsibility in Education in the Use of the Instruments of Social Communication


66. In the actual world, the instruments of social communication, by their intrusiveness and suggestion, display to youth and the very young-also and above all in the field of sex education a continuous and conditioning stream of information and training, which is very much more influential than that of one's own family.

John Paul II has indicated the situation in which children find themselves confronted by the instruments of social communication: "Fascinated and devoid of defense before the world and adults, children are naturally ready to accept whatever is offered to them, whether good or bad.... They are attracted by the 'small screen'; they follow each gesture which is portrayed, and they perceive, before and better than every other person, the emotions and feelings which result."(47)

67. It is therefore to be noted that by the same technological evolution, the necessary control is rendered less easy and opportune. There is an urgency for proper sex education, too-that "those who are at the receiving end of the media, and especially the young, should learn moderation and discipline in their use of them. They should aim to understand fully what they see, hear and read. They should discuss them with their teachers and with experts in such matters and should learn to reach correct judgments."(48)

68. In defense of the rights of the child in this area, John Paul II stimulates the consciences of all responsible Christians, especially parents and operators of the instruments of social communication, so that they do not hide behind the pretext of neutrality and respect for the spontaneous development of the child, since in reality this is a behavior of preoccupying indifference.(49)

Particular duties "in this matter are incumbent on civil authority in view of the common good,"(50) which requires the juridical regulation of the instruments of social communication to protect public morality, in particular the world of youth, especially with regard to magazines, films, radio and television programs, exhibitions, shows and publicity.


Task of the School with Regard to Sex Education


69. It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of "sexuality as value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God."(51)

70. Interpersonal dialogue required by sex education tends to kindle in the pupil an interior disposition suited to motivating and guiding personal behavior. Such a point of view is strictly connected with the values inspired by the concept of life. Sex education is not reducible to simple teaching material, nor to theoretical knowledge alone, nor does it consist of a program to be carried out progressively, but it has a specific objective in view: that effective maturation of the pupil, or self-control, and of correct behavior in social relationships.

71. The school can contribute to the realization of this objective in various ways. All matters can offer an opportunity to treat themes in their relation to sexuality; the teacher will do so always in a positive key and with great delicacy, concretely evaluating the opportunity and the methods.

Individual sex education always retains primary value and cannot be entrusted indiscriminately to just any member of the school community. In fact, as will be specified in what follows, as well as right judgment, sense of responsibility, professional competence, affective and decent maturity, this education requires from the teacher outstanding sensitivity in initiating the child and adolescent in the problems of love and life without disturbing their psychological development.

72. Also, though the teacher possess the necessary qualities for sex education in groups, it is necessary always to consider the concrete situation of such groups. This applies above all in mixed groups, since these require special precautions. In each case, the responsible authorities must examine with parents the propriety of proceeding in such a manner. Given the complexity of the problem, it is good to reserve for the pupil a time for personal dialogue in order to accommodate the seeking of advice or clarification-which a natural sense of decency would not allow to arise in front of others. Only a strict collaboration between the school and the family will be able to guarantee an advantageous exchange of experience between parents and teachers for the good of the pupils.(52) It is the responsibility of Bishops, taking account of school legislation and local circumstances, to establish guidelines for sex education in groups, above all if they are mixed.

73. It can sometimes happen that particular events in the life of the school render a timely intervention necessary. In such cases, the school authorities, in accordance with the principle of collaboration, will contact parents interested in finding an appropriate solution.

74. Persons particularly suited by competence and balance, and who enjoy the trust of parents, can be invited to hold private conversations with pupils to help them to develop their affective maturity and to give the right balance in their social relationships. Such interventions in personal guidance belong in particular to the more difficult cases, at least when the gravity of the situation necessitates recourse to a specialist in the matter.

75. The formation and development of a harmonious personality require a peaceful atmosphere, fruitful understanding, reciprocal trust and collaboration between persons in charge. It is obtained with mutual respect for the specific competence of the various members of the educational staff, their responsibilities and the choice of the differentiated means at their disposal.


Appropriate Teaching Materials


76. In order to offer correct sex education, appropriate teaching materials can be of assistance. The elaboration of such materials requires the contribution of specialists in moral and pastoral theology, of catechists, of educationists and Catholic psychologists. Particular attention is to be paid to the materials to be used by the pupils themselves.

Some school textbooks on sexuality, by reason of their naturalist character, are harmful to the child and the adolescent. Graphic and audio-visual materials are more harmful when they crudely present sexual realities for which the pupil is not prepared, and thus create traumatic impressions or raise an unhealthy curiosity which leads to evil. Let teachers think seriously of the grave harm that an irresponsible attitude in such delicate matters can cause in pupils.


Youth Groups


77. There exists in education a not negligible factor which goes side by side with the action of the family and the school and which frequently has an even greater influence in the formation of the person: these are youth groups, constituted in leisure time, which impinge intensely on the life of the adolescent and young adult. The human sciences hold that "groups" are a positive condition for formation, because the maturation of the personality is not possible without efficacious personal relationships.




78. The complexity and delicacy of the task require accurate preparation of teachers, specific qualities in the way the matter is treated and particular attention to precise objectives.


Preparation of Teachers


79. The mature personality of the teachers, their training and psychological balance strongly influence their pupils. An exact and complete vision of the meaning and value of sexuality and a peaceful integration within the personality itself are indispensable or teachers in constructive education. Their training takes shape according to environment. Their ability is not so much the fruit of theoretical knowledge but rather the result of their affective maturity. This, however, does not dispense with the acquisition of scientific knowledge suited to their educational work, which is particularly arduous these days. Meetings with parents can be of great help.

80. The dispositions which must characterize the teacher are the result of a general formation, founded on a positive and constructive concept of life, and of a constant effort in realizing it. Such a formation goes beyond the purely necessary professional training and addresses the more intimate aspects of the personality, including the religious and the spiritual. This latter will be the guarantee of a recourse to Christian principles, which, by supernatural means, must sustain the educational enterprise.

81. The teacher who carries out his or her task outside the family context needs a suitable and serious psycho-pedagogic training which allows the seizing of particular situations which require a special solicitude. A high degree of this is needed when, in consultation with the parents, a boy or girl needs a psychologist.

82. Beyond the normal topics and pathological cases, there is a whole range of individuals with problems more or less acute and persistent, which risk being little cured, yet are truly in need of help. In these cases, in addition to therapy at the medical level, constant support and guidance on the part of teachers is needed.


Quality of Teaching Methods


83. A clear vision of the situation is required because the method adopted not only gradually conditions the success of this delicate education, but also conditions cooperation between the various people in responsibility. In reality, the criticisms normally raised refer more to the methods used by some teachers than to the enterprise itself. These methods must have definite qualities both in the teachers themselves and in the end to which such education is proposed.


Needs of the Pupil and Educational Assistance


84. Affective-sex education, being more conditioned than others by the degree of physical and psychological development of the pupil, must always be adapted to the individual. In certain cases it is necessary to advise the pupil in preparation for particularly difficult situations, when it is foreseen that the pupil will have to encounter them, or forewarn him or her of imminent or permanent dangers.

85. It is necessary therefore to respect the progressive character of this education. A proper gradual progress of initiatives must be attentive to the stages of physical and psychological growth, which require a more careful preparation and a prolonged period of maturation. One needs to be assured that the pupil has assimilated the values, the knowledge and the motivation which has been proposed, or the changes and the evolution which he or she could observe in himself or herself and of which the teacher opportunely indicates the causes, the connections and the purpose.


Quality of the Teacher


86. In order to make a valid contribution to the harmonious and balanced development of the young, teachers must regulate their teaching according to the particular role which falls to them. The pupil neither perceives nor receives in the same manner from different teachers the information and motivation which they give, because different teachers affect his or her intimacy in a different way. Objectivity and prudence must characterize such teaching.

87. Progressive information requires a partial explanation, but always according to truth. Explanations must not be distorted by reticence or by lack of frankness. Prudence therefore requires of the teacher not only an appropriate adaptation of the matter to the expectations of the pupil, but also an appropriate choice of language, mode and time in which the teaching is to be carried out. This requires that the child's sense of decency be taken into account. The teacher, moreover, remembers the influence of parents: their preoccupation with this dimension of education, the particular character of family education, their concept of life, and their degree of openness to other educational spheres.

88. One must insist first of all on the human and Christian values of sexuality, so that pupils can appreciate them, and so that the desire to realize them in one's personal life and relationships may be roused. Without disregarding the difficulties which sexual development involves, but without creating an obsessive state, the teacher may have confidence in the educational enterprise and rely on the resonance which true values strike in the young, when they are presented with conviction and are confirmed by the testimony of life.

89. Given the importance of sex education in the integral formation of the person, teachers, taking account of the various aspects of sexuality and of their incidence in the global personality, are urged in particular not to separate knowledge from corresponding values, which give a sense and orientation to biological, psychological and social information. Consequently, when they present moral norms, it is necessary that they show how to find their raison d'etre and value.


Education for Modesty and Friendship


90. Modesty, a fundamental component of the personality, may be considered-on the ethical level-as the vigilant knowledge which defends the dignity of man, woman and authentic love. It tends to react to certain attitudes and to curb behavior which stains the dignity of the person. It is a necessary and effective means of controlling the instincts, making authentic love flower, integrating the affective-sexual life in the harmonious picture of the person. Modesty has great pedagogic weight and must therefore be respected. Children and young people will thus learn to respect the body itself as a gift from God, a member of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit; they will learn to resist the evil which surrounds them and to have a vision and clear imagination to seek to express a truly human love with all its spiritual components when they meet people in friendship.

91. To such an end, concrete and attractive models of virtue are to be presented and the aesthetic sense developed, inspiring a taste for the beauty present in nature, in art and in moral life; the young are to be educated to assimilate a system of sensible and spiritual values in an unselfish impetus of faith and love.

92. Friendship is the height of affective maturation and differs from mere camaraderie by its interior dimension, by communication which allows and fosters true communion, by its reciprocal generosity and its stability.

Education for friendship can become a factor of extraordinary importance in the making of the personality in its individual and social dimensions.

93. The bonds of friendship which unite the young of both sexes contribute both to understanding and to reciprocal respect when they are maintained within the limits of normal affective expression. If however they become or tend to become manifestations of a genital character, they lose the authentic meaning of mature friendship, prejudice the relationships involved and the future prospects with regard to an eventual marriage, and render the individuals concerned less attentive to a possible call to the consecrated life.






The teacher may find that in carrying out his or her mission, he or she may be confronted by several particular problems, which we treat here.

94. Sex education must lead the young to take cognizance of the different expressions and dynamisms of sexuality and of the human values which must be respected. True love is the capacity to open oneself to one's neighbor in generosity, and in devotion to the other for the other's good; it knows how to respect the personality and the freedom of the others, it is self-giving, not possessive. The sex instinct, on the other hand, if abandoned to itself, is reduced to the merely genital, and tends to take possession of the other, immediately seeking personal gratification.

95. Relationships of sexual intimacy are reserved to marriage, because only then is the inseparable connection secured-which God wants between the unitive and the procreative meaning of such matters, which are ordained to maintain, confirm and express a definitive communion of life-"one flesh"(54) mediating the realization of a love that is "human," "total," "faithful," "creative,"(55) which is marital love. Therefore, sexual relations outside the context of marriage constitute a grave disorder, because they are reserved to a reality which does not yet exist(56); they are a language which is not found in the objective reality of the life of the two persons, not yet constituted in definitive community with the necessary recognition and guarantee of civil and, for Catholic spouses, religious society.

96. It seems that there is an increase among adolescents and young adults of certain manifestations of a sexual kind which of themselves tend to complete encounter, though without reaching its realization: manifestations of the merely genital which are a moral disorder because they are outside the matrimonial context of authentic love.

97. Sex education will help adolescents to discover the profound values of love, and to understand the harm which such manifestations do to their affective maturation, inasmuch as they lead to an encounter which is not personal, but instinctive, often weakened by reservations and egoistic calculations, without therefore the character of true personal relationship and so much less definitive. An authentic education will lead the young towards maturity and self-control, the fruit of conscientious choice and personal effort.

98. It is the task of sex education to promote a continuous progress in the control of the impulses to effect an opening, in due course, to true and self-giving love. A particularly complex and delicate problem which can be present is that of masturbation and of its repercussions on the integral growth of the person. Masturbation, according to Catholic doctrine, constitutes a grave moral disorder,(57) principally because it is the use of the sexual faculty in a way which essentially contradicts its finality, not being at the service of love and life according to the design of God.(58)

99. A teacher and perspicacious counselor must endeavor to identify the causes of the deviation in order to help the adolescent to overcome the immaturity underlying this habit. From an educative point of view, it is necessary to consider masturbation and other forms of autoeroticism as symptoms of problems much more profound, which provoke sexual tension which the individual seeks to resolve by recourse to such behavior. Pedagogic action, therefore, should be directed more to the causes than to the direct repression of the phenomenon.(59)

While taking account of the objective gravity of masturbation, it is necessary to be cautious in evaluating the subjective responsibility of the person.(60)

100. In order that the adolescent be helped to feel accepted in a communion of charity and freed from self-enclosure, the teacher "should undramatize masturbation and not reduce his or her esteem and benevolence for the pupil."(61) The teacher will help the pupil towards social integration, to be open and interested in others, to be able to be free from this form of autoeroticism, advancing towards self-giving love, proper to mature affectivity; at the same time, the teacher will encourage the pupil to have recourse to the recommended means of Christian asceticism, such as prayer and the sacraments, and to be involved in works of justice and charity.

101. Homosexuality, which impedes the person's acquisition of sexual maturity, whether from the individual point of view, or the interpersonal, is a problem which must be faced in all objectivity by the pupil and the educator when the case presents itself.

"Pastorally, these homosexuals must be received with understanding and supported in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their social maladaptation. Their culpability will be judged with prudence; but no pastoral method can be used which, holding that these acts conform to the condition of these persons, accord them a moral justification.

"According to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts deprived of their essential and indispensable rule."(62)

102. It will be the duty of the family and the teacher to seek first of all to identify the factors which drive towards homosexuality: to see if it is a question of physiological or psychological factors; if it be the result of a false education Dr of the lack of normal sexual evolution; if it comes from a contracted habit or from bad example(63); or from other factors. More particularly, in seeking the causes of this disorder, the family and the teacher will have to take account of the elements of judgment proposed by the ecclesiastical Magisterium, and be served by the contribution which various disciplines can offer. One must, in fact, investigate elements of diverse order: lack of affection, immaturity, obsessive impulses, seduction, social isolation and other types of frustration, depravity in dress, license in shows and publications. In greater profundity lies the innate frailty of man and woman, the consequence of original sin; it can run to the loss of the sense of God and of man and woman, and have its repercussions in the sphere of sexuality.(64)

103. The causes having been sought and understood, the family and the teacher will offer an efficacious help in the process of integral growth: welcoming with understanding, creating a climate of hope, encouraging the emancipation of the individual and his or her growth in self-control, promoting an authentic moral force towards conversion to the love of God and neighbor, suggesting-if necessary-medical-psychological assistance from persons attentive to and respectful of the teaching of the Church.

104. A permissive society which does not offer valid values on which to found one's life promotes alienating escapism, to which the young are subject in a particular way. Their idealism encounters the harshness of life, causing a tension which can provoke, because of the frailty of the will, a destructive escape in drugs.

This is one of the problems which is getting worse and which assumes dramatic tones for the teacher. Some psychotropic substances raise the sensibility for sexual pleasure and in general diminish the capacity for self-control and thereby for defense. The prolonged abuse of drugs leads to physical and psychological destruction. Drugs, mistaken autonomy and sexual disorders are often found together. The psychological situation and the human context of isolation being such, many people give up-addicts living in rebellion, creating conditions which easily lead into sexual abuses.

105. Remedial intervention, which calls for a profound transformation of the individual from within and without, is laborious and long, because it must help to reconstruct the personality and relationships with the world of people and values. Preventative action is more efficacious. It secures the avoidance of deep affective decline. It is love and care which educate towards value dignity, respect for life, for the body, for sex, for health. The civil and Christian community must know how to welcome on time the young who are abandoned, alone, insecure; helping them to be included in study and in work, to occupy their free time; offering them healthy places for meeting, happiness, activity; furnishing them with occasions for affective relationships and for solidarity.

In particular, sports, which are at the service of man and woman, possess a great educative value, not only as bodily discipline, but also as healthy relaxation in which young people are encouraged to renounce their egotism and to meet other people. Only a freedom which is authentic, educated, aided and promoted offers protection from the quest for the illusory liberty of drugs and sex.




106. From these reflections one can conclude that in the actual sociocultural situation there is urgent need to give positive and gradual effective-sex education to children, adolescents and young adults, paying attention to the dispositions of Vatican Council II. Silence is not a valid norm of conduct in this matter, above all when one thinks of the "hidden persuaders" which use insinuating language. Their influence today is undeniable: it is up to parents, therefore, to be alert not only to repair the harm caused by inappropriate and injurious interventions, but above all to opportunely inform their own children, offering them a positive and convincing education.

107. The defense of the fundamental rights of the child and the adolescent for the harmonious and complete development of the personality conforms to the dignity of the children of God, and belongs in first place to parents. Personal maturation requires, in fact, a continuity in the educative process, protected by love and trust, proper to the family environment.

108. In accomplishing her mission the Church has the duty and the right to take care of the moral education of the baptized. The contribution of the school in all education, and particularly in these matters which are so delicate, must be carried out in agreement with the family. This presupposes in teachers and in others involved whether implicitly or explicitly, a correct criterion about the motive of their contribution, and training in order to be able to treat these matters with delicacy and in a climate of serene trust.

109. So that information and affective-sex education may be efficacious, it must be carried out with timely prudence, with adequate expression, and preferably in an individual form. The outcome of this education will depend largely on the human and Christian vision in which the educator presents the values of life and love.

110. The Christian educator, whether father or mother of the family, teacher, priest or whoever bears responsibility in this regard, can be tempted, today above all, to demand from others this task which needs such delicacy, principle, patience and courage, and which requires committed generosity in the pupil. It is necessary, therefore, before concluding, to reaffirm that this aspect of education is firstly a work of faith for the Christian, and of faithful recourse to grace: each aspect of sex education, in fact, is inspired by faith, and draws indispensable strength from it and from grace. The Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians puts self-control and temperance within the ambit which the Holy Spirit, and He alone, can establish in the believer. It is God who bestows light, it is God who grants sufficient strength.(65)

111. The Congregation for Catholic Education turns to Episcopal Conferences so that they will promote the union of parents, of Christian communities, and of educators for convergent action in such an important sector for the future of young people and the good of society. The Congregation makes this invitation to assume this educational commitment in reciprocal trust and with the highest regard for rights and specific competences, with a complete Christian formation in view.

Rome, November 1st, Feast of All Saints





Titular Archbishop of Meta



1. Vatican Council II: Declaration Gravissimum educationis, no. 1.

2. Ibid.

3. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, The Human Person, December 29, 1975, AAS 68 (1976) p. 77, no. 1.

4. Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, November 22, 1981, AAS 74 (1982) p. 128, no. 37: cf. infra no. 16.

5. Pius XI, in his Encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, of December 31, 1929, declared erroneous the sex education which was presented at that time, which was information of a naturalist character, precociously and indiscriminately imparted (AAS 22 [1930] pp. 49- 86). The Decree of the Holy Office of March 21, 1931 (AAS 23 [1931] pp. 118-119) must be read in this perspective. However, Pius XI considered the possibility of an individual, positive sex education "on the part of those who have received from God the educational mission and the grace of state" (AAS 22 [1930] p. 71). This positive value of sex education indicated by Pius XI has been gradually developed by successive Pontiffs. Pius XII, in his discourse to the Fifth International Congress of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, April 13, 1953 (AAS 45 [1953] pp. 278-286) and in his allocution to Italian Women of "Azione Cattolica, October 26, 1941 (AAS 33 [1941] pp. 450 458) defines how sex education should be conducted within the ambit of the family (cf. also, Pius XII; to the Carmelites AAS 43 [1951] pp. 734-738; to French Parents AAS 43 [1951] pp. 730-734). The Teaching of Pius XII prepared the way to the Conciliar Declaration Gravissimum educationis.

6. Cf. Gravissimum educationis, no. I.

7. Ibid.

8. Cf. Vatican II: Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 49.

9. Cf. Gravissimum educationis, no. 5.

10. Ibid., no. 3; cf. Gaudium et spes, no. 52.

11. Familiaris consortio, no. 37.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Gaudium et spes, no. 11.

17. John Paul II: General Audience, November 14, 1979, Teaching of John Paul II, II-2, I979, p. 1156, no. 4.

18. John Paul II: General Audience, January 9, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-I, 1980, p. 90, no. 4.

19. John Paul II: General Audience, February 20, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-1, 1980, p. 430, no. 4.

20. Iohn Paul II: General Audience, January 9, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-1, 1980, p. 90, no. 4.

21. "Precisely by traversing the depth of that original solitude, man now emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift, the expression of which and for that very reason the expression of his existence as a person-is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity. The body, which expresses masculinity 'for' femininity and, vice versa, femininity 'for' masculinity, manifests the reciprocity and communion of persons. It expresses by means of the gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence" (Ibid.).

22. Cf. John Paul II: General Audience, March 26, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-1, 1980, pp. 737-741.

23. Gaudium et spes, no. 49.

24. Ibid., no. 12.

25. Ibid., in which comment is made on the social sense of Gn. 1:27.

26. Ibid., nos. 47-52.

27. John Paul II: General Audience, February 20, 1980, Teaching of John Paul II, III-1, 1980, p. 429, no. 2.

28. Gaudium et spes, no. 22.

29. Cf. Eph. 4:13.

30. Cf. Mt. 19:3-12.

31. Cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34.

32. Cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8; cf. Familiaris consortio, no. 16.

33. Cf. Vatican II: Constitution Lumen gentium, no. 39.

34. Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education: A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, April 11, 1974, no. 22.

35. Cf. 1 Cor. 6:15, 19-20.

36. Cf. Rom. 7:18-23.

37. Gaudium et spes, no. 52; cf. Familiaris consortio, no. 37.

38. Cf. Familiaris consortio, no. 37.

39. Cf. Gravissimum educationis, nos. 3-4; cf. Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, no. 1. c., pp. 53f, 56f.

40. Cf. Familiaris consortio, no. 11.

41. Ibid., no. 16.

42. Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, July 25, 1968, AAS 60 (1968), pp. 493ff., nos. 17ff.

43. Gaudium et spes, no. 48.

44. Cf. Humanae vitae, no. 10.

45. Familiaris consortio, no. 33. On actual contraceptive propaganda widely diffused, cf. Humanae vitae, no. 23.

46. Cf. Gaudium et spes, no. 26; cf. Humanae vitae, nos. 14-17.

47. John Paul II, Message for the XIII World Communications Day, May 23, 1979, AAS 71 (1979-II), p. 930.

48. Vatican II: Decree Inter mirtftca, no. 10; cf. Pontifical Commission for Social Communications: Pastoral Instruction Communio et progressio, AAS 63 (1971), p. 619, no. 68.

49. Cf. John Paul II: Message for the XIII World Communications Day, May 23, 1979, AAS 71 (1979-II), pp. 930-933.

50. Inter mirifica, no. 12.

51. Familiaris consortio, no. 32.

52. Cf. above, no. 58.

53. Cf. 1 Cor. 13:5.

54. Mt. 19:5.

55. Humanae vitae, no. 9.

56. Cf. The Human Person, no. 7.

57. Cf. above, no. 9.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, no. 63.

62. The Human Person, no. 8.

63. Ibid.

64. Cf. Rom. 1:26-28; cf. per analogia, The Human Person, no. 9.

65. Cf. Gal. 5:22-24.


Presented by the Holy See to all persons, institutions and authorities concerned with the mission of the family in today's world

October 22, 1983


The "Charter of the Rights of the Family" has its origins in the request formulated by the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1980 on the theme "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (cf. propositio, no. 42). His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (no. 46), acceded to the Synod's request and committed the Holy See to prepare a Charter of the Rights of the Family to be presented to the quarters and authorities concerned.

It is important to understand correctly the nature and style of the Charter as it is now presented. The document is not an exposition of the dogmatic or moral theology of marriage and the family, although it reflects the Church's thinking in the matter. Nor is it a code of conduct for persons or institutions concerned with the question. The Charter is also different from a simple declaration of theoretical principles concerning the family. It aims, rather, at presenting to all our contemporaries, be they Christian or not, a formulation as complete and ordered as possible the fundamental rights that are inherent in that natural and universal society which is the family.

The rights enunciated in the Charter are expressed in the conscience of the human being and in the common values of all humanity. The Christian vision is present in this Charter as the light of divine revelation which enlightens the natural reality of the family. These rights arise, in the ultimate analysis, from that law which is inscribed by the Creator in the heart of every human being. Society is called to defend these rights against all violations and to respect and promote them in the entirety of their content.

The rights that are proposed must be understood according to the specific character of a "Charter." In some cases they recall true and proper juridically binding norms; in other eases, they express fundamental postulates and principles for legislation to be implemented and for the development of family policy. In all eases they are a prophetic call in favor of the family institution, which must be respected and defended against all usurpation.

Almost all of these rights are already to be found in other documents of both the Church and the international community. The present Charter attempts to elaborate them further, to define them with greater clarity and to bring them together in an organic, ordered and systematic presentation. Annexed to the text are indications of "Sources and References" from which some of the formulations have been drawn.

The Charter of the Rights of the Family is now presented by the Holy See, the central and supreme organ of government of the Catholic Church. The document is enriched by a wealth of observations and insights received in response to a wide consultation of the Bishops' Conferences of the entire Church as well as of experts in the matter from various cultures.

The Charter is addressed principally to governments. In reaffirming, for the good of society, the common awareness of the essential rights of the family, the Charter offers to all who share responsibility for the common good a model and a point of reference for the drawing up of legislation and family policy, and guidance for action programs.

At the same time the Holy See confidently proposes this document to the attention of intergovernmental, international organizations which, in their competence and care for the defense and promotion of human rights, cannot ignore or permit violations of the fundamental rights of the family.

The Charter is of course also directed to the families themselves: it aims at reinforcing among families an awareness of the irreplaceable role and position of the family; it wishes to inspire families to unite in the defense and promotion of their rights; it encourages families to fulfill their duties in such a way that the role of the family will become more clearly appreciated and recognized in today's world.

The Charter is directed, finally, to all men and women, and especially to Christians, that they will commit themselves to do everything possible to ensure that the rights of the family are protected and that the family institution is strengthened for the good of all mankind, today and in the future.

The Holy See, in presenting this Charter, desired by the representatives of the World Episcopate, makes a special appeal to all the Church's members and institutions to bear clear witness to Christian convictions concerning the irreplaceable mission of the family, and to see that families and parents receive the necessary support and encouragement to carry out their God-given task.




Considering that;

A. the rights of the person, even though they are expressed as rights of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and vital expression in the family;

B. the family is based on marriage, that intimate union of life in complementarily between a man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond of matrimony and is open to the transmission of life;

C. marriage is the natural institution to which the mission of transmitting life is exclusively entrusted;

D. the family, a natural society, exists prior to the State or any other community, and possesses inherent rights which are inalienable;

E. the family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society;

F. the family is the place where different generations come together and help one another to grow in human wisdom and to harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life;

G. the family and society, which are mutually linked by vital and organic bonds, have a complementary function in the defense and advancement of the good of every person and of humanity;

H. the experience of different cultures throughout history has shown the need for society to recognize and defend the institution of the family;

I. society, and in a particular manner the State and International Organizations, must protect the family through measures of a political, economic, social and juridical character, which aim at consolidating the unity and stability of the family so that it can exercise its specific function;

J. the rights, the fundamental needs, the well-being and the values of the family, even though they are progressively safeguarded in some cases, are often ignored and not rarely undermined by laws, institutions and socio-economic programs;

K. many families are forced to live in situations of poverty which prevent them from carrying out their role with dignity;

L. the Catholic Church, aware that the good of the person, of society and of the Church herself passes by way of the family, has always held it part of her mission to proclaim to all the plan of God instilled in human nature concerning marriage and the family, to promote these two institutions and to defend them against all those who attack them;

M. the Synod of Bishops celebrated in 1980 explicitly recommended that a Charter of the Rights of the Family be drawn up and circulated to all concerned; the Holy See, having consulted the Bishops' Conferences, now presents this Charter of the Rights of the Family and urges all States, International Organizations, and all interested Institutions and persons to promote respect for these rights, and to secure their effective recognition and observance.


All persons have the right to the free choice of their state of life and thus to marry and establish a family or to remain single.

a) Every man and every woman, having reached marriageable age and having the necessary capacity, has the right to marry and establish a family without any discrimination whatsoever; legal restrictions to the exercise of this right, whether they be of a permanent or temporary nature, can be introduced only when they are required by grave and objective demands of the institution of marriage itself and its social and public significance; they must respect in all cases the dignity and the fundamental rights of the person.

b) Those who wish to marry and establish a family have the right to expect from society the moral, educational, social and economic conditions, which will enable them to exercise their right to marry in all maturity and responsibility.

c) The public authorities should uphold the institutional value of marriage; the situation of non-married couples must not be placed on the same level as marriage duly contracted.


Marriage cannot be contracted except by free and full consent duly expressed by the spouses.

a) With due respect for the traditional role of the families in certain cultures in guiding the decision of their children, all pressure which would impede the choice of a specific person as spouse is to be avoided.

b) The future spouses have the right to their religious liberty. Therefore to impose as a prior condition for marriage a denial of faith or a profession of faith which is contrary to conscience, constitutes a violation of this right.

c) The spouses, in the natural complementarily which exists between man and woman, enjoy the same dignity and equal rights regarding the marriage.


The spouses have the inalienable right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society, in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with the objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization and abortion.

a) The activities of public authorities and private organizations which attempt in any way to limit the freedom of couples in deciding about their children constitute a grave offense against human dignity and justice.

b) In international relations, economic aid for the advancement of peoples must not be conditioned on acceptance of programs of contraception, sterilization or abortion.

c) The family has a right to assistance by society in the bearing and rearing of children. Those married couples who have a large family have a right to adequate aid and should not be subjected to discrimination.


Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.

a) Abortion is a direct violation of the fundamental right to life of the human being.

b) Respect of the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo.

c) All interventions on the genetic heritage of the human person that are not aimed at correcting anomalies constitute a violation of the right to bodily integrity and contradict the good of the family.

d) Children, both before and after birth, have the right to special protection and assistance, as do their mothers during pregnancy and for a reasonable period of time after childbirth.

e) All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, enjoy the same right to social protection, with a view to their integral personal development.

f) Orphans or children who are deprived of the assistance of their parents or guardians must receive particular protection on the part of society. The State, with regard to foster-care or adoption, must provide legislation which assists suitable families to welcome into their homes children who are in need of permanent or temporary care. This legislation must, at the same time, respect the natural rights of the parents.

g) Children who are handicapped have the right to find in the home and the school an environment suitable to their human development.


Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.

a) Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions, taking into account the cultural traditions of the family which favor the good and the dignity of the child; they should also receive from society the necessary aid and assistance to perform their educational role properly.

b) Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions. Public authorities must ensure that public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens. Parents should not have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny or unjustly limit the exercise of this freedom.

c) Parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions. In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must always be carried out under their close supervision, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them.

d) The rights of parents are violated when a compulsory system of education is imposed by the State from which all religious formation is excluded.

e) The primary right of parents to educate their children must be upheld in all forms of collaboration between parents, teachers and school authorities, and particularly in forms of participation designed to give citizens a voice in the functioning of schools and in the formulation and implementation of educational policies.

f) The family has the right to expect that the means of social communication will be positive instruments for the building up of society, and will reinforce the fundamental values of the family. At the same time the family has the right to be adequately protected, especially with regard to its youngest members, from the negative effects and misuse of the mass media.


The family has the right to exist and to progress as a family.

a) Public authorities must respect and foster the dignity, lawful independence, privacy, integrity and stability of every family.

b) Divorce attacks the very institution of marriage and of the family.

c) The extended family system, where it exists, should be held in esteem and helped to carry out better its traditional role of solidarity and mutual assistance, while at the same time respecting the rights of the nuclear family and the personal dignity of each member.


Every family has the right to live freely its own domestic religious life under the guidance of the parents, as well as the right to profess publicly and to propagate the faith, to take part in public worship and in freely chosen programs of religious instruction, without suffering discrimination.


The family has the right to exercise its social and political function in the construction of society.

a) Families have the right to form associations with other families and institutions, in order to fulfill the family's role suitably and effectively, as well as to protect the rights, foster the good and represent the interests of the family.

b) On the economic, social, juridical and cultural levels, the rightful role of families and family associations must be recognized in the planning and development of programs which touch on family life.


Families have the right to be able to rely on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains, without any discrimination whatsoever.

a) Families have the right to economic conditions which assure them a standard of living appropriate to their dignity and full development. They should not be impeded from acquiring and maintaining private possessions which would favor stable family life; the laws concerning inheritance or transmission of property must respect the needs and rights of family members.

b) Families have the right to measures in the social domain which take into account their needs, especially in the event of the premature death of one or both parents, of the abandonment of one of the spouses, of accident, or sickness or invalidity, in the case of unemployment, or whenever the family has to bear extra burdens on behalf of its members for reasons of old age, physical or mental handicaps or the education of children.

c) The elderly have the right to find within their own family or, when this is not possible, in suitable institutions, an environment which will enable them to live their later years of life in serenity while pursuing those activities which are compatible with their age and which enable them to participate in social life.

d) The Tights and necessities of the family, and especially the value of family unity, must be taken into consideration in penal legislation and policy, in such a way that a detainee remains in contact with his or her family and that the family is adequately sustained during the period of detention.


Families have a right to a social and economic order in which the organization of work permits the members to live together, and does not hinder the unity, well-being, health and the stability of the family, while offering also the possibility of wholesome recreation.

a) Remuneration for work must be sufficient for establishing and maintaining a family with dignity, either through a suitable salary, called a "family wage," or through other social measures such as family allowances or the remuneration of the work in the home of one of the parents; it should be such that mothers will not be obliged to work outside the home to the detriment of family life and especially of the education of the children.

b) The work of the mother in the home must be recognized and respected because of its value for the family and for society.


The family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community.


The families of migrants have the right to the same protection as that accorded other families.

a) The families of immigrants have the right to respect for their own culture and to receive support and assistance towards their integration into the community to which they contribute.

b) Emigrant workers have the right to see their family united as soon as possible.

c) Refugees have the right to the assistance of public authorities and International Organizations in facilitating the reunion of their families.


A. Rerum novarum, no. 9; Gaudium et spes, no. 24.

B. Pacem in terris, Part 1; Gaudium et spes, nos. 48 and 50; Familiaris consortio, no 19: Codex luris Canonici, no. 1056.

C. Gaudium et spes, no. 50; Humanae vitae, no. 12; Familiaris consortio, no. 28.

D. Rerum novarum, nos. 9 and 10; Familiaris consortio, no. 45.

E. Familiaris consortio, no. 43.

F. Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Familiaris consortio, no. 21.

G. Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Familiaris consortio, nos. 42 and 45.

I. Familiaris consortio, no. 45.

J. Familiaris consortio, no. 46.

K. Familiaris consortio, nos. 6 and 77.

L. Familiaris consortio, nos. 3 and 46.

M. Familiaris consortio, no. 46.


Rerum novarum, no. 9; Pacem in terris, Part 1; Gaudium et spes, no. 26; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no. 16, 1.

a) Codex luris Canonici, nos. 1058 and 1077; Universal Declaration, no. 16, 1.

b) Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Familiaris consortio, no. 81.

c) Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Familiaris consortio, nos. 81 and 82.


Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Codex luris Canonici, no. 1057; Universal Declaration, nos. 16, 2.

a) Gaudium et spes, no. 52.

b) Dignitatis humanae, no. 6.

c) Gaudium et spes, no. 49; Familiaris consortio, nos. 19 and 22;

Codex luris Canonici, no. 1135; Universal Declaration, no. 16, 1.


Populorum progressio, no. 37; Gaudium et spes, nos. 50 and 87; Humanae vitae, no. 10; Familiaris consortio, nos. 30 and 46.

a) Familiaris consortio, no. 30.

b) Familiaris consortio, no. 30.

c) Gaudium et spes, no. 50.


Gaudium et spes, no. 51; Familiaris consortio, no. 26.

a) Humanae vitae, no. 14; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974; Familiaris consortio, no. 30.

b) Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 23, 1982.

d) Universal Declaration, no. 25, 2; Convention on the Rights of the Child Preamble and no. 4.

e) Universal Declaration, no. 25, 2.

f) Familiaris consortio, no. 41.

g) Familiaris consortio, no. 77.


Divini Illius Magistri, nos. 27-34; Gravissimum educationis, no. 3; Familiaris consortio, no. 36; Codex luris Canonici, nos. 793 and 1136.

a) Familiaris consortio, no. 46.

b) Gravissimum educationis, no. 7; Dignitatis humanae, no. 5; Pope John Paul II, Religious Freedom and the Helsinki Final Act (Letter to the Heads of State of the nations which signed the Helsinki Final Act), 4b; Familiaris consortio, no. 40; Codex luris Canonici, no. 797.

c) Dignitatis humanae, no. 5; Familiaris consortio, nos. 37 and 40.

d) Dignitatis humanae, no. 5; Familiaris consortio, no. 40.

e) Familiaris consortio, no. 40; Codex luris Canonici, no. 796.

f) Pope Paul VI, Message for the Third World Communications Day, 1969; Familiaris consortio, no. 76.


Familiaris consortio, no. 46.

a) Rerum novarum, no. 10; Familiaris consortio, no. 46; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no. 17.

b) Gaudium et spes, nos. 48 and 50.


Dignitatis humanae, no. 5; Religious Freedom and the Helsinki Final Act, 4b; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no. 18.


Familiaris consortio, nos. 44 and 48.

a) Apostolicam actuositatem, no. 11; Familiaris consortio, nos. 46 and 72.

b) Familiaris consortio, nos. 44 and 45.


Laborem exercens, nos. 10 and 19; Familiaris consortio, no. 45; Universal Declaration, nos. 16, 3 and 22; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nos. 10, 1.

a) Mater et magistra, Part II; Laborem exerccns, no. 10; Familiaris consortio, no. 45, Uniuersal Declaration, nos. 22 and 25; International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 7, a, ii.

b) Familiaris consortio, nos. 45 and 46; Universal Declaration, no. 25, 1; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nos. 9, 10, 1 and 10, a.

c) Gaudium et spes, no. 52; Familiaris consortio, no. 27.


Laborem exercens, no. 19; Familiaris consortio, no. 77; Universal Declaration, no. 23, 3.

a) Laborem exercens, no. 19; Familiaris consortio, nos. 23 and 81.

b) Familiaris consortio, no. 23.


Apostolicam actuositatem, no. 8; Familiaris consortio, no. 81, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nos. 11, 1.


Familiaris consortio, no. 77; European Social Charter, 19.