By PAUL THIGPEN, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 16, 2019
KENNESAW—More than 500 Catholics from as far as Colorado gathered on Saturday, March 31, at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw. They filled the sanctuary for the “Faith and Love Conference: Understanding and Explaining the Church’s Teaching on Marriage and Human Sexuality.”
“Catholic teaching on these matters has often been obscured, misunderstood, and challenged,” said Father Neil Dhabliwala, pastor. “Those who attended were eager to hear these topics addressed with clarity and charity.”
Kevin Shannon and Meredith Pennison came to the conference from the Cathedral of Christ the King, where they are active in that parish’s LifeTeen and young adult ministries. They were recently engaged to be married.
“We were drawn to the conference,” Shannon said, “because it addressed topics which are difficult and relevant to young people in our culture today. It helped prepare us for the next step in our relationship, and we feel armed with the knowledge and resources we will need to live out our vocations as leaders of a faithful Catholic family.”
The day before the conference, a bill had passed the Georgia state legislature banning the abortion of a child once the baby’s heartbeat can be detected. Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), the author of the bill, made a visit to address the conference when it first opened and thanked attendees for prayers and support.
The first speaker was Dr. Janet Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Known for her carefully-reasoned defense of Catholic teaching about contraception, she spoke about “Humanae Vitae and Conscience.” Humanae Vitae is the 1968 encyclical of Pope St. Paul VI on contraception.
Smith clarified that in consulting our conscience, we “have a prior moral obligation to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known,” and we must be “guided by the authoritative teaching of the church.”
“Our church has beautiful and intelligible teachings” about this subject that aren’t arbitrary, said Smith.
She concluded by reviewing the devastating effects of contraception on a woman’s physical and psychological health, her relationships with God and with others and on society in general.
Dr. Theresa Farnan, author and professor at St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh, provided “A Catholic Approach to Transgenderism.”
Farnan focused on challenges presented to the church’s faith and practice by gender ideology emerging in our culture, saying, “it’s an understanding of the person where you’re in charge, you’re self-creating … rather than accepting the givenness of creation, and looking at human nature as a magnificent gift from God.”
Matt Fradd, who speaks to thousands every year about the dangers of pornography, provided practical advice about how parents can raise children in an internet generation and give them an internal filter for an unfiltered world.
Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, was also a speaker. The apostolate welcomes those experiencing same-sex attractions and accompanies them in their desires to live chastely and grow in virtue, following the church’s teachings.
Father Bochanski presented “Pastoral Care for Persons with Same-Sex Attraction.”
He said that if we help those we love to “expand their understanding of love beyond sex, their understanding of their own worth beyond sexual relationships … if we help them to see how much God loves them, how much he has planned for them, then we do them a great service.”
Dr. Paul Thigpen, author and director of adult faith formation and evangelization for St. Catherine, concluded with remarks on how the current social and political struggles over marriage and sexuality reflect a deeper spiritual battle we must fight for the soul of our culture and the future of the family.
Conference-goers were enthusiastic as they reflected on the day. Scott Mackie, the Respect Life ministry head for St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming, attended with his wife, Cheryl.
“It was a beautiful, powerful presentation of Catholic truth,” he said. “All the subjects presented represented challenges to the God-given sanctity of life. Every speaker answered that challenge with compassion, love, and rock-solid Catholic theology. We left there inspired to defend our faith at all costs.”
“From the conference, we gained a deeper understanding of God’s ultimate intentions for human love and for the family,” said Kevin Shannon. “We left with a deep sense of joy and peace from learning the beautiful plan for human love that God has designed for us.”
Editor’s Note: Paul Thigpen, the writer of this article, was a presenter at the conference.