By Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, Ph.D. (Ad Veritatem July 2007)
QUESTION: A home-schooling mom told me that “American-style” steady dating between young persons who are not yet able to marry is actually “sinful and against Catholic moral teaching.” Is this so? I've never heard this.
ANSWER: In days gone by, priests used an old Latin rhyme: “Solus cum sola non dicunt Ave Maria.” It means: “When he and she are alone, they’re not saying ‘Hail Mary.’” It's a good way to remind ourselves of the moral danger young men and women put themselves into when they don't follow the Church's wisdom on love and courtship.
Catholic moral teaching is clear that we are never allowed to place ourselves
deliberately in a "proximate occasion of sin," meaning a circumstance where we're likely or almost certain to sin. If steady dating is an occasion for sins against purity, then it is sinful. Human nature being what it is, and the sex drive being as powerful as it is, if a young dating couple see each other constantly and without supervision, they're likely to fall into some sin against purity. It's reasonable to say that dating as it is generally practiced in this country is morally unacceptable. Dating should take place in a context where there is a clearly established time for getting home, supervision by parents or chaperones. The couple should try to be part of a larger group and only go on dates in public places, where there is no likelihood of becoming secluded and falling into illicit sexual actions. Young people who are not old enough to marry should have a wide circle of friends of their own and of the opposite sex; steady dating places an unreasonable emotional demand for exclusivity on both the boy and the girl at a time when they most need to develop greater social skills and virtues. Usually steady dating ends in the emotional trauma of being "dumped" for someone else; more often than not the girl is the wounded party, and the boy can develop a cavalier attitude toward relationships - a very unhealthy attitude for a future husband to adopt. Clubs, sports teams, chaperoned dances, and youth groups, are all good places for young people to meet and make friends. They should be encouraged to socialize without having to pair off.
When the young man and woman are old enough and mature enough, and marriage becomes a possibility, then steady dating leading up to engagement is reasonable. Yet even here, the couple should avoid prolonged physical contact (e.g., unchaste, intimate kissing and hugging), and should always avoid situations where they are completely alone. The more the couple grow to love each other, the more difficult it will become for them to resist their natural impulse for physical union. That's why vigilance in chastity is crucial.
Parents have a grave obligation to protect the virtue of their children as much as they can. They will be responsible before God for the sins of their children, if they have not taken reasonable, consistent measures to keep their children out of occasions of sin. Fear of provoking a child's anger over dating rules is hardly a reason to put his or her soul at risk. As Christ said, “Perfect love casts out fear.”