Over the last several decades, the decay in our society has flowed almost exclusively from the rotten state of the family, confusion over proper approaches to human sexuality, gender, and more, all of which is the result of the sexual revolution. The roots of this poison can be traced all the way back to the Enlightenment in the 18th century, and its infection can be seen around every corner.
What were origins of the sexual revolution? Who were the main proponents? What are the goals?
Bishop Peter J. Elliott is auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Melbourne, Australia. His latest book is The Sexual Revolution: History, Ideology, Power (Ignatius Press, 2023). His education and pastoral experience have given him a great deal of insight into issues related to marriage and family, human sexuality, and the sexual revolution, allowing him to expertly diagnose many of the problems facing our society, and to give a roadmap for what we can do to heal these wounds.
He holds a doctorate from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome, and from 1987 to 1997 he served in the Vatican’s Pontification Council for the Family. Following that, he was the last Director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.
Bishop Elliott recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his new book, the impact of the sexual revolution on society, and his hope for the future.
Catholic World Report: How did the book come about?
Bishop Peter Elliott: When I was Director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, I gave some lectures on the history of the sexual revolution. These lectures form the basis of this book, written to circulate information on a pervasive social revolution that emerged and grew in “developed” countries over the past 300 years.
People have a right to be informed about the origins, projects, and goals of the sexual revolution. My book responds to that right. We cannot understand this revolution without delving into its sleazy history.
CWR: Some people say that celibate priests and bishops can’t have anything helpful to say about sexuality, marriage, and family life. How do you respond to such a complaint?
Bishop Elliott: The absurd “experiential fallacy”: hens lay eggs, so can only hens discuss eggs? As far as we know, hens cannot talk, so must we remain silent about eggs?
Obviously married people know more about marriage than most priests, so they are more involved in marriage counseling and teaching natural methods of spacing childbirths. But there is another factor. The celibate priest or religious is usually impartial in marriage disputes. Priests do not necessarily side with the husband, indeed they tend to favor the wife. My book shows my own bias towards women, because they are the first victims of the sexual revolution.
Family breakdown, cohabitation, domestic violence, prostitution, pornography, gender ideology all impact on women. Their children are victims of the sexual revolution, especially now that their cell phones show pornography and are used by predators. This is why the book is sympathetic to victims, including some who are being manipulated, even weaponized.
CWR: What is the root of the problems that have flowed from the sexual revolution?
Bishop Elliott: In practical terms it can be summed up in two words: the Pill and abortion. But these major causes came out of the ideas and projects of the key thinkers and activists who shaped this revolution.
What comes up, again and again, is a false understanding of the nature of the human person, largely derived from the Enlightenment. For Jean Jacques Rousseau, God does not exist, at least the personal God who is involved in our actions and choices on earth. There is no original sin, so sins, no final judgement, no accountability. “Fornicate and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Pleasure is freedom. I can do as I like “if I do not harm anybody” – without their consent.
CWR: Why has the “sexual revolution” gone so far, tearing down the very fabric of marriage, the family, sexuality, personhood, etc.?
Bishop Elliott: Rather than building up society, an aggressive social revolution destroys existing institutions and structures. Since early last century, the driving force has been a revolutionary Marxist hatred of religion and the family, linked to radical feminism, then abortion “rights”, LGBTIQ and “gender” ideology.
At the same time, libertarians demand total freedom through legislation in favor of the revolution, even punishing those who resist. Anyone who opposes abortion or gender ideology must be gagged or erased.
This is “politically correct” and observable, so I do not call it a “conspiracy”. Whatever forces are at work, they can be identified and named, and this book helps the reader to do that.
CWR: At this point, when every day seems to bring new battles in the fight against the sexual revolution, do you see any reason to hope?
Bishop Elliott: Yes, the virtue of hope often finds its natural base in optimism. There are signs that the revolution is running out of energy, such as the rediscovery of the family, of Judeo-Christian moral virtue and particularly the rise of classical religion. Some pet causes are foundering, such as gender transition among the young. The truth about heroes of the revolution is coming to light, such as Hugh Hefner and Margaret Sanger. Financial profit in the sex industry and the exploitation of people of all ages is being challenged.
CWR: What are some practical things we can do to build the Civilization of Love as you say, quoting John Paul II?
Bishop Elliott: Start with yourself. To what extent have I given in to this revolution? Has it corrupted my mind, how I live, how I relate to others?
Move on to your family. Have I let the revolution into our family? Do I know where the children are right now, how they use social media and who their friends are? Can I secure a happy family that is loving but also protected and resilient?
Look at our neighborhood. Do I work with individuals or groups fighting to keep out sex shops, brothels, sex bars and contraceptives for children? Do we meet as families supporting one another socially and spiritually?
The last chapters of The Sexual Revolution offer this kind of practical guidance to resist and overcome an evil force.
CWR: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Bishop Elliott: Being aware of what has happened. Knowing what is happening now, such as muzzling all opposition to the revolution. Anticipating what may happen next, even the legalization of pedophilia.
At the same time, readers should resolve to get up and do something, inspired by those who stand for something better than this sleazy slide into darkness. But we do not judge people, especially the many victims of the revolution. They need sympathy, encouragement and help so they can break free and get out of this foul swamp.
CWR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Bishop Elliott: Do not be afraid! God is with us and our cause is good, true and beautiful.
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