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Let’s talk sex: Bridging the disconnect with young Hispanic Catholics

Entre Amigos 2012-02

Entre Amigos-Opinion/Commentary

By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

February 22, 2012

In recent weeks I had to respond to numerous requests for comment from media about the controversial mandate from HHS forcing religiously affiliated institutions to cover in their insurance plans drugs which may induce abortion, procedures of sterilization and contraceptives. The government rule brought a strong reaction from the U.S. Catholic bishops and many others against the mandate.

At issue is not whether the bishops and the Administration agree or disagree on those matters, but an extremely narrow definition of who is considered a religious employer and thus able to receive a religious exemption.

Though this is not the main topic of my column today, I bring it up because in all of these exchanges, people kept bringing up numbers and statistics as if the Church should have to adapt her ages-old teachings and beliefs to the latest opinion poll. Statistics are easy to manipulate, but some of those numbers do show a serious "disconnect" between a large number of Catholics and their faith in matter of morals.

At the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Arturo Chávez, president of the Mexican American Catholic College, also pointed to this reality and made an urgent call to figure out how to bridge the gap. The issue is particularly alarming among young Latinas, who have an elevated rate of teen pregnancy.

As a young adult, I was an advisor to Hispanic Catholic youth leaders in Colorado. I experienced the reality he was talking about time and again. I remember vividly a young Latina. She had gotten pregnant. The father had since moved on. Apparently he was famous in the barrio. She had fallen for his game, knowing he probably didn't love her, but was seemingly proud that she "at least" was going to have his child. After all, many of her friends were also single moms….

I was young and inexperienced, but the whole line of thought baffled me. I saw children used as pawns in a game, and beautiful young women whose main aspiration was to get pregnant by the latest Don Juan. I met young men who usually would take responsibility for their actions, yet sought careless relationships with young women just to prove their "manhood," and who thought it was the women's responsibility to not get pregnant. At least in most cases, abortion was out of the question. In that sense, the culture still revered life.

Experiences like this broke my heart. These kids and their families, though Catholic, were far from knowing or even understanding, much less practicing the Church's teaching in matters of morals and sexual relationships.

It wasn't totally their fault. Many of them grew up in a culture where speaking about sex with your parents, or even at the youth group, is taboo—hence peers, sex-ed schoolbooks and other "advisors" fill in the void; a culture that often teaches one thing about sexual relationships to men and a different thing to women; that publicly condemns certain behaviors but privately encourages them; and a culture where many could tell right from wrong, but few could offer a coherent explanation of why it is so.

Our youth and young adult groups, our schools, our homes, need to have serious conversations and catechesis about these matters. When kids come to understand sexual relationships in light of God's plan— as an affirmative and not a negative thing— many of them come to embrace the teaching even when the environment may not be supportive.

However, we cannot expect them to act differently or to bring a different message to their peers unless they first understand and are sold on it. If we continue avoiding the topic, others will continue to fill in the void, and the Church's voice will be rendered irrelevant on the matter.

It has been said that, in this day and age, Hispanic ministry is youth ministry. Are we missing the boat?


Mar Muñoz-Visoso was recently appointed executive director of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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