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Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, warned in a recent interview against emphasizing only the sexual dimension of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body when deployed as a catechetical resource.

The problem, Laffitte explained, is that an exclusive focus on sexuality outside the context of the rest of Creation makes it much more difficult to see other human goods clearly.

The problem is that if you focus only on sexuality, you cannot develop beyond that level, that such beauty is a gift, something given to mankind by the Creator but within a much broader context. Attraction to the beauty of human sexuality and the human body is normal because it is true and real. What can become a problem, however, would be to regard human sexuality in a kind of mystical way.

Predictably superficial headlines proclaiming “bishop de-emphasizes importance of sex” are no doubt forthcoming, but it seems Laffitte has nonetheless taken a clever tack in his defense of John Paul II’s work. By warning Christians against de-contextualizing the pontiff’s sexual morality from its larger place within a comprehensive understanding of human and divine love, he is warning the faithful against unconsciously ratifying a thesis of contemporary culture which compartmentalizes sex and elevates it to a greater stature than can be justified.

Noting that even the title of the widely-recognized document has been somewhat mistranslated into English (our present “Theology of the Body” does not convey quite the same fullness as “The Catechesis on Human Love”), Bishop Laffitte repeats the pope’s reminder that a true understanding of human sexuality in Catholic teaching does not arise simply as a reaction against increasing societal vulgarization. If that is how it comes about, it will fail to transcend the terms society has already set for the debate. Christians must instead look to divine eros and agape if they wish to reframe the argument, growing a culture away from its single-minded fixation.

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