Sooner or later, it had to happen. Ordinary Catholics living in the real world have known it for decades, moral theologians know it, priests in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Ireland have been demanding it, and an unknown number of bishops recognize it privately. Now, at least on bishop is saying it publicly: the officially authorized doctrine on human sexuality, in all its aspects, is fundamentally and intrinsically disordered, and has to change.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson will not be the last bishop to make this call – expect many more to follow. It will take time, but this will become the mainstream view. The only questions in my mind, are how long will it take, and how will they manage the admission.
At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called Friday for “a new study of everything to do with sexuality” — a kind of study that he predicted “would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.”
“If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,” he said.
Robinson, a priest since 1960 and auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement for health reasons in 2004, told the Baltimore symposium, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, that “because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious.”
That view, espoused by the church, stands in contrast to the general perception of modern society, which “appears to be saying more and more that sex is not in itself serious,” he said.
For the church to deal with sex seriously, however, does not in itself mean that the church must continue to accept uncritically its traditional understandings of sexual morality, he said.
There are of course, several rebuttals to my confident prediction above. Many will be made, including some by my readers here/
Bishop Robinson is retired, and so no longer in the mainstream. His opinions, the sceptics will say, no longer count.
Yes, and that’s precisely the point. Because he is retired, he has more freedom to speak his mind, without fear of losing his job and home. We can be pretty certain that what he is saying publicly, many others are thinking or saying privately.
New Ways is not officially recognised
He was speaking at the New Ways Ministry conference in Baltimore, and New Ways has been routinely criticized by the oligarchs as not a “Catholic” organization – by which they mean, not one formally approved and sanctioned by themselves. Again, that’s precisely the point. Free from having to watch their words for fear of offending the oligarchs, the people of New Ways, and those who speak to them, are able to speak openly and honestly.
He is only one among thousands of bishops.
Yes, but see again the response above: what one is saying publicly, many others are thinking or saying privately. Besides, he is not the only one – just the first (that I know of) to address his call to all elements of sexual teaching. Others have said the same thing about specific parts of teaching. On homosexuality, Cardinal Schonborn said nearly two years ago that it is time to shift the emphasis from genital acts, to the quality of our relationships. In the many months since, he has still not been rebutted for the statement, and instead, a number of other bishops followed, saying much the same thing. In Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols acknowledged that there is value in legal protections in civil unions or partnerships.
On contraception, it is well known not only that the majority of Catholics reject the teaching, but also that in many cases they do so with the support and sometimes encouragement of their priests, confessors or spiritual directors – many of whom are privately backed by their bishops.
It is not possible to separate the separate strands of sexual teaching into independent elements. Underpinning them all, is a demonstrably unsound claim that every sexual act must be open to procreation. Remove that assumption from one element, and you remove it from all. The whole house of cards collapses at a stroke.
There’s much, much more to say on this, and more evidence to produce to justify my conclusion. I will return to it later.
For now, I will simply repeat, that this statement by Bishop Robinson is not the end of the story. More bishops will follow, this discussion will be moving inexorably into more public debate.
- Bishop urges change in all church teaching on sexual relationships
- Robinson 1: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together
- Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments
- Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”