Tag Archives: Sexual Ethics

The Distorted Tradition of Natural Law

Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law are often trotted out by the rule-book Catholics alongside the half-dozen clobber texts as a supposed justification for denying respect and equality to sexual minorities. I have absolutely no expertise in Thomist theology, but was intrigued by this observation, in a longer article (“The Other Side of the Catholic Tradition”), at the Washington Post.
Thomas Aquinas, who followed a century after Hildegard, wrote commentaries on 10 works by the greatest scientist of his day, Aristotle, even though the pope had forbidden Christians to study Aristotle. So controversial was Aquinas in his day that the king of France had to call out his troops to surround the convent where Aquinas lived to protect him from Christians aroused by fundamentalist clergy. For Aquinas, “revelation comes in two books—the Bible and Nature” and “a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God.” Aquinas insisted that one is always responsible to one’s conscience, more than to any other authority (emphasis added).

There are clear echoes of this in the modern world, where so many religious reactionaries insist on ignoring the clear findings of science, inserting instead their own established prejudice. If we accept Aquinas’  thesis that “a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God”, the implications for Catholic sexual ethics are profound. The first of these would have to be a recognition that same-sex attraction is tu entirely natural and non-pathological dominant sexuality for a small but distinct minority of people, and  a smaller part of the sexual make-up of many more. This much is familiar, as is the knowledge that many animals (possibly even all or most mammals, but also birds, reptiles and insects) also practice degrees of homosexual activity.

No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphids. Moreover, a part of the animal kingdom is hermaphroditic, truly bisexual. For them, homosexuality is not an issue.
But even more important, and not nearly as well-known, are the findings from science that natural sexual activity, as observed in the animal kingdom, is not after all solely geared to procreation. This has been the traditional assumption, but thanks to empirical evidence, we now know better. In several animal species, an extraordinary range of non-procreative sexual activities occur.
  • In some animals, sexual intercourse begins as much as a year or two before physical maturity and the onset of fertility – and so with no prospect of procreation.
  • Some species practice anal intercourse. or conventional intercourse without ejaculation, or intercourse outside of the estrus period.
  • Many species engage in masturbation, alone, or with others of either sex. Where they lack hands they use alternative strategies.
Autoeroticism also occurs widely among animals, both male and female. A variety of creative techniques are used, including genital stimulation using the hand or front paw (primates, Lions), foot (Vampire Bats, primates), flipper (Walruses), or tail (Savanna Baboons), sometimes accompanied by stimulation of the nipples (Rhesus Macaques, Bonobos); auto-fellating or licking, sucking and/or nuzzling by a male of his own penis (Common Chimpanzees, Savanna Bonobos, Vervet Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Thinhorn Sheep, Bharal, Aovdad, Dwarf Cavies); stimulation of the penis by flipping or rubbing it against the belly or in its own sheath (White-tailed and Mule Deer, Zebras and Takhi); spontaneous ejaculations (Mountain Sheep, Warthogs, Spotted Hyenas); and stimulation of the genitals using inanimate objects (found in several primates and cetaceans)
-Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance
 
  • Dolphins engage in non-procreative sex that has no human counterpart. They use their partners’ blowholes as additional orifices available for penetration.
  • Some species practice oral sex – including oral self-pleasuring (“auto-fellatio”)

Animals of several species are documented as engaging in both autofellatio and oral sex. Auto-fellatio or oral sex in animals is documented in goats, primates, hyaenas, fruits bats and sheep


  • Remarkably, some primates even make their own sex toys, fashioning dildos out of liana vines, and masturbation aids from suitable fruits.
  • Chimpanzees and penguins have been found to engage in forms of prostitution, exchanging sexual favours for food (chimps) or pebbles used in nest-building (penguins).

The implications for sexual theology are profound.

To forestall the standard reaction to this argument, I am not arguing here that because these sexual practices are found in nature, they are therefore acceptable. Animals also engage in incest, intercourse with juveniles, and necrophilia – none of which I recommend. What I am suggesting, is that we must remove the argument from nature in deciding on sexual morality. Much of the traditional Catholic theology on sex derives from Aquinas’ concept of “natural law”, which he in turn derived ultimately from his reading of Aristotle. We now know conclusively that whatever his value as a philosopher, Aristotle has no value whatsoever as a natural scientist. By Aquinas’ own reasoning, to follow Aristotle’s mistakes about nature is to make mistakes about God. To be really true to the spirit of Aquinas, we must therefore reject his own conclusions about nature in the light of the scientific evidence, and find alternative sources on which to base our sexual ethics.
What other sources are there? Traditionally, these have been the Bible and the early Church fathers to go on. Modern Biblical scholars are finding that many of the traditional interpretations of Scripture on sexual matters are flawed, while the ascetic elevation of celibacy as a Christian ideal, and the accompanying disapproval of all sexual acts, was based on a belief in the parousia – an imminent second coming of Christ.
If the traditional sources are now shown to be flawed, what else is there? The example of Aquinas in fact, helps us here, but pointing to his commitment to studying the best scientists of his day. We too can learn (and the Vatican agrees) from the best scientists of our day, not in the field of animal behaviour, but in the modern discipline of human sexuality and related fields. The findings by these scientists are that sexuality is a fundamental part of our human make-up, that diverse orientations are entirely natural, that a healthy and active sexual life can contribute directly to both physical and mental health,  and that sexual expression serves many more purposes than simply procreation alone.
Probably the majority of Catholic theologians already accept this. It is time that the Vatican paid more than lip-service to its claim that we must take seriously the findings of natural and human sciences, and did so too.

Recommended Books

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Living the truth in love: The problem with “Courage” and “Lived Experience”

World News Report has a fascinating interview with Fr Check, representing “Courage” ministry, which works with gay and lesbian Catholics attempting to live “within the teaching of the Church”.

There are numerous problems with this intention, not least of which, is that for gay and lesbian Catholics,  living “within all the teaching of the Church” is simply impossible , it is so riddled with internal contradictions and ambiguities. Like it or not, gay and lesbians in the Church are in fact forced to become “cafeteria Catholics”. Courage sees the situation simplistically, focussing entirely on genital sex, completely ignoring

a) that sexual rules are a relatively minor part of Church teaching;

b) the core doctrine of the primacy of conscience;

c) the important principle of the sensus fidelii – which implies that just possibly,Vatican teaching on sex might be plain wrong.

More interesting in the Word News Report, is the claim by the Courage spokesman that “lived experience” supports their view. In that, he is quite simply, dead wrong.

Father Check: The first piece of advice I would give would be to listen to the voice of those people for whom this is a lived reality and who have placed their trust in Christ and in the Church. Their perspective is the one that, in my mind, has not yet been heard. It forwas not heard by the extraordinary synod, to my knowledge.

via  Catholic World Report 

Ha!

The problem with this analysis, is that the author’s understanding of “lived experience”, is severely limited by his contact only with those who subscribe to the severely disordered teaching on the subject. The simple reality of “lived experience” of real – life gay and lesbian Catholics, as abundantly demonstrated by both empirical research and anecdotal evidence, is the exact reverse. Formal church doctrine and attempts to live in conformity with it, leads to alienation from the Church, psychological trauma, and is in direct conflict with a core tenet in Genesis 2: “It is not good for man to live alone. I will make him a companion”. (Not a “wife”, note, but “a companion”). My own “lived experience” was that attempting to live within the precepts of the Catechism led to a disastrous, completely inappropriate marriage – and both my wife and I simply left the Church. It was not until I was ready to live entirely honestly and with integrity as an openly gay man, that my male partner, ironically, led me back into the Church.

The Church also teaches that it is important to pay attention to the findings of science, which show clearly, in both natural and social science, that a same – sex orientation is both entirely natural, and non – pathological. Even adherence to Aquinas’ Natural Law, based on evidence and reason, should lead to the same conclusion.

Book Review: “Covenant and Calling”.

I really would have liked to be able to recommend this book, but sadly, I simply cannot. In fact, When I was offered a review copy for Quest, I accepted gladly, looking forward to what seemed to be a worthwhile endeavour. Song’s aims are laudable, he’s a reputable academic in a good university with good credentials in both religion and queer studies (including queer theology). The reading list he provides as an appendix is good, with reliable texts by a balanced range of authors, and the book comes with warm endorsements from people I respect. Unfortunately, on first reading I was so repulsed that I could not even finish it, resulting in constant nagging from the Quest Bulletin editor, waiting for the promised review. On eventually picking it up again, my view had softened a little (I did at least complete a full, careful reading), but my core objections remain.

Covenant and calling

Song’s intention is to steer a calm, thoughtful middle course between the two hostile positions in the polemical struggles over gay marriage, and to come up with a proposal that will be acceptable to all but the extremists on both sides. The solution he comes up with has some merit, and is worth serious consideration: to restrict “marriage” to its traditional use with opposite – sex couples “for the purpose of procreation”, but to accept that same – sex couples also deserve recognition, albeit under a different name. This has been tried before, for example as “civil partnerships / civil unions” in secular law, but has been found wanting. Separate can never be equal, is the objection, and opposite – sex couples who cannot or do not want to procreate, are not excluded from marriage.

What makes this suggestion novel and not inherently discriminatory, is that unusually, he wants to restrict marriage, reserving it exclusively for those couples who do intend to have children. The important distinction, he argues, should not be based on the sex of the partners, but on their willingness and ability to bear children. It’s not a solution that I find particularly viable, but it is certainly one worth serious discussion.

What I found disappointing was not his proposal, but his reasoning, which is completely unconvincing. I was constantly left with the impression that he had reached a conclusion, and then looked for arguments to back it up. For instance, his central proposition is that in Christian tradition, marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman, for the purposes of procreation, depending heavily on Aquinas, who was clear that this is one of three goods of marriage. Yet he also acknowledges that there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that marriage is about babies. It’s a little strange, to say the least, that procreation is central to the Christian tradition, when there is no evidence at all that it mattered one iota to the key figure in that tradition, after whom it is named.

Far more serious, is the total absence of any consideration of the real history of marriage. The “Christian tradition” as he describes it, dates back to Augustine. That’s a major part of the full Christian history – but what he overlooks, is the distinction between theological theory, and actual marriage in practice. It was not until late in the first millenium, five centuries after Augustine, that the Church placed any importance on marriage in church – except for priests. For long after that, marriage was still not to have babies, but to protect the legal status and inheritance rights of those that resulted. The result was, that for ordinary people with no property to bequeath to their children, most simply did not bother with marriage, at all. That was reserved for the rich and powerful.

It is also disturbing that while claiming that tradition that doesn’t really exist, he ignores the fact that tradition and practice can change. An absolute prohibition on divorce for example, was a firm part of that tradition, with much stronger scriptural support, but his own Anglican church has been able to accommodate a change there. For same – sex couples, the traditional objection to same – sex relationships was not simply to marriage, but that they should not exist at all. Yet, he is able to accept a change in that tradition too, acknowledging that for people with a natural homosexual orientation, a committed, faithful sexual partnership with another may well be a valid calling, equal in value to either marriage or celibacy. If long – standing Christian tradition is able to adapt on those counts, why not on his core argument (resting on unsound foundations) that Christian tradition has “always” been between one man and one woman, for life – for the purposes of procreation?

Most damningly, for someone proposing what he thinks is a novel solution of “covenanted partnership”, there is not even a single word about a similar practice that was a fixture of Christian rites for many centuries in the early church. John Boswell has produced extensive evidence for the existence of formal liturgical rites in the Eastern church for blessing same – sex couples, and Alan Bray has found similar evidence in the Western church, where they were known as “sworn brothers” – or even, “wedded brothers”. Scholars disagree about the exact significance of these partnerships, and there are undoubtedly significant differences between this practice and the solution proposed by Spong. It is however, remarkable that he does not even attempt to acknowledge their existence, let alone discuss their relevance (or otherwise).

Among gay and lesbian Catholics, there is significant divergence of opinion concerning church response to same – sex couples. Even among those who support full legal equality in marriage, there are some gay Catholics who do not want their own unions called marriage, and certainly not in church. There are strong arguments from those quarters, for a revival of this tradition of blessing same – sex couples, without conferring the word “marriage”. On the other side of the debate, there are others who hold to the traditional teaching demanding celibacy for gay people, who also see value in reviving this tradition, on the basis that these unions were not necessarily sexual, but made provision for mutual companionship and support.

This is a discussion deserving serious attention. It is tragic that a writer proposing a “solution” along similar lines, has simply ignored the historical evidence, blithely accepting and basing his argument instead on the falsehood that Christian marriage has “always” between one man and one woman.

Masturbation: Advice to a Catholic Teenager.

I was touched by a letter from a young man, struggling with the issue of masturbation and Catholic teaching. The letter gives no indication of his sexual orientation, and there is no reason to think that he is gay (or that he is not). His concerns however, are applicable to all Catholics, especially when young and vulnerable.

With his permission, I publish below his full letter, leaving out his name and geographic location, followed by my full reply. Continue reading Masturbation: Advice to a Catholic Teenager.

Catholic Moral Theologian, on How Existing Teaching Could Support Same – Sex Couples.

What is particularly interesting about Professor Alain Thomasett’s recent paper on narrative theology, in that he shows how existing teaching could accommodate support for same – sex couples, without any change in core sexual doctrines. It is also important that he made his argument to an important gathering of German, French and Swiss bishops, as part of a study day to prepare for the forthcoming Rome synod on marriage and family.

Thomasett

Calling for a change in sexual doctrine, or for respect for same – sex couples, are no longer particularly new in the Catholic Church, at least not in Europe. It’s been claimed that probably a majority of moral theologians now agree that fundamental change in needed, and in recent years, many of them have gone on the record with formal calls for just such a change. Also, there are now many senior bishops and cardinals who have said publicly that the Church should be able to recognize the value of civil unions.

The problem is that the synod has not been called to consider any change in teaching, which would be fiercely resisted by a solid block of more conservative bishops. The key to seeing the significance of Thomasett’s argument, is that he is not calling for any change in teaching, but simply the application of all the teaching in appropriate context, and not a reflex reaction to abstract sexual acts.

He notes, for example, that while homicide is clearly regarded as unacceptable in formal Catholic doctrine, the context makes all the difference: killing in self – defence is not the same as premeditated murder. He also draws attention to the overriding importance of personal conscience, and of attention to the sensus fidelium (or “sense of the faithful”). And so, while doctrine continues to assert the teaching in Humanae Vitae that artificial contraception is not acceptable, in practice, pastoral tolerance for contraception by particular couples is widely accepted. In the same way, an extension in pastoral practice to recognition and acceptance of particular same – sex couples, including civil unions or possibly even church blessings, is not all that far – fetched.

There is certainly no prospect of any change in Church teaching at the October synod. However, the bishops of Germany, France and Switzerland in attendance will be well – briefed on how the interpretation and application of existing teaching could well be accommodated. We can expect that these ideas will also be well received by many of their colleagues, especially those from elsewhere in Europe – and also by Pope Francis himself, who will ultimately sign the final assessment of the synod’s conclusions.

After the synod, we should expect that some bishops at least, again especially in some European countries, will return to their dioceses with an enhanced understanding of how acceptance of same – sex couples in pastoral practice, is not after all, necessarily in conflict with Church teaching.

From the start of his papacy, Pope Francis has frequently noted that Catholic teaching not only can change, but must constantly evolve. This idea of the need for evolution in teaching has been widely taken up also by others, and was a common thread running through all the papers presented to the Rome study day. Francis has also expressed a desire for many decisions in Church governance to be taken lower down the hierarchical chain, for example by national bishops, without referring everything to the Curia. Such decisions at national level would certainly include the application of pastoral practice.

Could this include blessing same – sex unions? Possibly, yes. When Germany’s association of lay Catholics recently called several changes in the Church, including the blessing of these unions, the response of Cardinal Marx was that these could not be accepted “unreservedly”.  The implication is that they could be acceptable, with some reservations. He did not specify quite what these reservations would be.

Already, there are individual priests in many countries who are willing, under the radar, to conduct blessing ceremonies for particular same – sex couples, especially where these and the quality of their relationships are personally known to them. It is likely that after the synod, an improved tone in pastoral practice would encourage more to do so – and encourage some bishops to turn a blind eye to the practice. As the number of same – sex couples in legally recognized unions continues to increase, and as the Protestant churches increasing accept both gay clergy and gay marriage, in church, we should expect that in practice, Catholic blessings of same – sex couples will likewise increase – both in number, and in visibility, just as the use of contraception, and cohabitation before marriage, are now widely accepted in practice.

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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Moral Judgements and “Intrinsically Evil”: The Subjective Perspective

Professor Alain Thomasett SJ of Paris University began his paper to the German French and Swiss bishops’ study day for the 2015 family synod, with a reflection on the concept of “intrinsically disordered” acts, and  the difficulties which it raises for many Catholics in making moral judgements.

This is the section on the importance of taking into account the subjective context of the person and her/his story, in my own translation from the original French text

The issue of intrinsically evil acts

The interpretation of the doctrine of acts known as “intrinsically evil” seems to be one of the fundamental sources of the current difficulties in the pastoral care of families, as it largely determines the condemnation of artificial contraception, the sexual acts of remarried divorcees and of couples in stable same-sex relationships. It appears to many to be incomprehensible and seems pastorally counter productive. If it rightly insists on objective benchmarks necessary for moral life, it neglects precisely the biographical dimension of existence, and the specific conditions of each personal journey, elements to which our contemporaries are very sensitive and which contribute to the current conditions for the reception of Church doctrine. Several arguments point in the direction of greater integration of the history of the people.

The subjective side, the need for discernment of the situation and the place of conscience

a) The final report of the Extraordinary Synod itself acknowledges this difficulty (no. 52), because it poses a “distinction between the objective situation of sin and mitigating circumstances, as ‘the accountability and responsibility for an action can be reduced or even eliminated’ by various ‘psychological or social factors’ (Catholic Catechism No. 1735).” According to this doctrine, although the objective evil remains, it can be mitigated (Veritatis Splendor, No. 81.2), subjective responsibility can be reduced or even eliminated. An objective disorder does not necessarily produce subjective guilt. To state it more clearly, the intent and the circumstances can influence the objective qualification of the act, and secondly, they are necessary to determine the moral responsibility of the subject who must decide and act according to conscience.  All Catholic moral tradition calls for discernment that takes into account these different elements for a moral judgement that is  left in the last resort to the conscience of the people. Vatican II recalled the primacy of conscience which must be the judge of last resort (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n ° 16.50). (Note 1)

b) Individuals and couples often face conflicts of obligations which force them, when it is impossible to satisfy all values ​​at once, to choose after deliberation to prioritize the most important duty.

In practical situations, discernment is needed: for example if openness to life and the preservation of marital and familial equilibrium conflict with each other. The pastoral notes of nine episcopates after Humanae Vitae (including those of the French , German and Swiss  Bishops for 1968), also go in this direction; in cases of conflicts they refer to the judgment of conscience and responsible parenthood, repeating the arguments of the Council. Must this not restore to its place the conscience of the people? This in no way removes the need to form the conscience,  but demands that conscience not be replaced.

c) A biographical perspective and narrative forces us to think that moral evaluation is not about isolated acts, but about human actions inserted into a history.

A single act, isolated from its context and the history of the subject who may be responsible (which the term intrinsically means) is not yet a human act but an element of assessment which must be completed to be judged. A homicide is a gesture, a physical act. To make a human action involves determining who is the author and to understand the reasons and circumstances that led to this action. Is it self-defence, an accident, a crime of passion, a murder, premeditated or otherwise. Likewise, do not be too quick to call a sexual act of contraception ‘intrinsically evil! Paul Ricoeur and the contemporary philosophy of action remind us that an act can be assigned to an author who can be held accountable solely through the medium of narrative.

This is the set of elements of the story that can give meaning to action, and therefore qualify to evaluate it (Note.2). This is the judgement of conscience that ultimately can carry it. Moral standards describe acts. Conscience must judge an action. The objectives ethical guidelines given by the Church are only one element (admittedly essential but not unique) of moral discernment which must take place in conscience. We must give a fair place to moral standards and conscience to avoid giving the impression that conscience is reduced to blind obedience to rules that are imposed on it from outside. To omit this would reduce Christian ethics to a pure moralism, which Christians moreover reject overwhelmingly and justifiably. (Note 3) 

Notes:

1 “Only the conscience of the subject can provide the immediate norm for  action (…) Natural law can not be presented as an already established set of rules imposed a priori on the moral subject, but it is an objective source of inspiration for his eminently personal, approach to decision making.” International Theological Commission, “In search of a universal. ethic A New Look at Natural Law, Rome, 2008, No. 59. See also GS 50.2: “This judgement  is ultimately that of the couple themselves who must decide it before God

2 See, among others, Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as another, Seuil, 1990, especially Chapter 5 and 6.

3 For further details, see Alain Thomasset, “In fidelity to the Second Vatican Council: the hermeneutic dimension of moral theology”, Journal of Ethics and Moral Theology, No. 263, March 2011, p. 31-61 and No. 264, June 2011, p. 9-27

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The Trouble With “Catholic Teaching” on LGBT Issues

I am often accused by orthotoxic Catholics of being a “heretic”, because I supposedly challenge and publicly dissent from “Church teaching”. I dispute this: there are most certainly certain, isolated elements of the teaching that I dispute – but this dispute arises from a deeply Catholic starting point, and placed firmly within Catholic tradition.

The difficulty with what my accusers describe as “Catholic teaching” as it affects lesbian and gay people, is that what is popularly presented and widely known, is extremely selective, and viewed solely in the context of genital acts. The full teaching however, is more complex. It is well known that it is dangerous to quote isolated biblical verses out of context, and the same principle applies to single paragraphs of the Catholic Catechism.

For example, I have written previously about some of the inherent contradictions within teaching specifically about homosexuality, (On transgender issues, there is useful information at The Catholic Transgender, especially how the position of the Church is sometimes misrepresented). But even without grappling with the complexities of inherent contradictions and misrepresentations, there is much helpful material in the Magisterium that deserves to be better known.

To help Quest members understand some of the more helpful elements in the formal Catholic teaching that affects our lives, we have for some time wanted to put together a compilation of “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)” about that teaching. At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo has a report on just such a list of FAQ’s that appeared for a time on the website of the Archdiocese of Louisiana, before mysteriously disappearing, when the archdiocese concluded that it was somehow “unauthorized”. The oddity is that the bulk of the material comprises extracts from standard documents of the Catholic Church, or accurate summaries of the material, put together in what DeBenardo describes as a “masterly” and pastorally sensitive manner.

It is unfortunate that Louisiana has now removed such a valuable resource. However, New Ways Ministry have reproduced the content at their own site – and we at Quest can take advantage. The material deleted from the Louisiana website now forms the foundation of our own page of FAQ’s, which in time will be updated with more up to date material – especially with the guidance from Pope Francis, and the results of the 2015 Family Synod in Rome.

( A version of this post has been cross-posted at the website of Quest, the British association for Lesbian and Gay Catholic).

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Catholic Responses to Homosexuality: Hatred, or Simple Disagreement?

At Religion News Service, there’s an article about Fr James Martin’s viral facebook post, which, the report notes, has received

140,000 shares, almost 400,000 “likes,” and about 28 million — yes, million — views — and climbing.

fr-martin_037

RNS follows up by quoting a response by Phil Lawler, who writes that where Martin sees “hatred”, he sees only “profound disagreement”.

Which is it?
Continue reading Catholic Responses to Homosexuality: Hatred, or Simple Disagreement?

"Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex" – Notre Dame Professor Gary Gutting

More generally, the church needs to undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.

– NYTimes.com.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone. The paragraph above concludes an opinion piece for the New York Times