Tag Archives: moral theology

Cardinal Schönborn, on Conscience 

For LGBT Catholics struggling with formal Catholic teaching on sex and gender, conscience is a lifeline. In this regard, it’s worth paying attention to the thoughts on the subject by Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn, who is perhaps the most influential theologian guiding the Catholic church on lgbt issues.

One the one hand, Schonborn is highly respected by both our living popes. Pope Francis invited him to present the formal launch of Amoris Laetitia to the press. He’s also close to Pope Benedict XVI as a former student, a close friend, and a regular participant in the theological “Ratzinger Schulerkreis” Benedict used to hold every summer at Castelgandolfo. He was also the general editor 25 years ago of the Catholic Catechism. His judgement matters.

Continue reading Cardinal Schönborn, on Conscience 

The Evolution of Catholic Teaching on Sex and Marriage.

In “The Sexual Person“, the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler give a useful historical review of the substantial shifts in the orthodox doctrine on sex and marriage – while also illustrating how much of that teaching is stuck in the fourth century thought of Augustine, and that of Aquinas from the thirteenth century. (Is there any other field of human thought that is so rooted in those two distant periods?) This is an important book that I will be discussing regularly in small bites. For now, I simply want to point to the briefest summary of the main argument, in preparation for a specific extract referring to Pope Paul VI and Humane Vitae.

Two things strike me in this account. As I have frequently noted before, it is completely untrue that the Catholic Church has a “constant and unchanging tradition” on sexual ethics.  Rather, the tradition has been constantly evolving. Just consider the complete transformation of the view on sexual pleasure – from one that it is to be avoided at all costs, even while begetting children or in nocturnal involuntary emissions, to one where it can contribute to the sacramental value of marriage. What has evolved in the past, will surely continue to evolve. That evolution will surely be aided by the capacity of theologians and popes to retrieve, when required, obscure and forgotten pieces from history – and proclaim them of fundamental importance. In two thousand years of theological writing, there will surely be a plethora of documents now obscure, which contradict some current thinking. Some of these will no doubt be retrieved by scholars – and being rehabilitated, will influence further adjustments in the changing tradition of the Church.

St Augustine – 6th cent fresco, Lateran

Here follows my summary of the outline in “The Sexual Person”

Continue reading The Evolution of Catholic Teaching on Sex and Marriage.

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.


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) 


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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WHY Our Stories Matter

I wrote yesterday about the new attention some theologians are paying to “narrative theology”, which draws on people’s life experience in their real world situations as a source for theological reflection. The importance of this was highlighted in the Rome study day for selected bishops from Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, when a third of the programme (and two of the six papers) were devoted to it.

One of these papers, by Prof Dr Alain Thomasett SJ of the University of Paris, had the title Taking into account of the history and biographical developments of the moral life and the pastoral care of the family”.  In this paper, Thomasett tackles head on the challenge presented by what Catholic doctrine  describe as “intrinsically evil” sexual acts, and the difficulties this doctrine presents for many Catholics in real life situation. This difficulty certainly troubles gay and lesbian Catholics, but not only them. (Thomasett also refers directly to those who have divorced and remarried, who will be a central focus of the Synod, and to married couples practicing contraception). The key to resolving the problem, he argues, lies in making a firm distinction between objective judgement of the acts, and the moral culpability of the people, which can only be assessed in the context of their particular situations and purpose. Continue reading WHY Our Stories Matter

“What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” (VIDEO – John Corvino)

Dr. John Corvino is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, specialising in ethics and the philosophy of religion. He is the co-author (with Maggie Gallagher) of Debating Same-Sex Marriage and the author of What’s Wrong with Homosexuality?    

John Corvino Responds to “New Natural Law” (Book, and Video)

Central to the orthodox Catholic rejection of homoerotic relationships, and all sexual intercourse not open to procreation, is the natural law theory of the medieval theologian and great doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas. However, there’s a great deal that needs to be said about the distortions of Aquinas’ understanding of natural law to support “traditional” marriage, while suppressing what he wrote about the naturalness of same – sex relationships for those whom modern terminology would describe as having a same – sex orientation.

Aquinas and the Middle Ages were an awfully long time ago, and it’s not surprising that it is now generally acknowledged, by traditional and revisionist moral theologians alike, that there are some problems with his conclusions (for example, that masturbation, which is not open to procreation, is more offensive to God than rape, which is). So some modern day conservative theologians who respect the core of Aquinas’ Natural Law theory have developed what is known as “New Natural Law Theory”.

I’m delighted to have found, via a short post at “Letters to the Catholic Right”, a link to a video series by John Corvino dealing with his book, “What’s Wrong with Homosexuality”.

As a professor of philosophy specialising in ethics and the philosophy of religion, Corvino is well equipped to tackle the problems with natural law theory, and of New Natural Law Theory, as they are regularly applied to debates about marriage equality.

In the Youtube video above, Corvino, introduces his argument.

This is what Amazon has to say about his book:

For the last twenty years, John Corvino–widely known as the author of the weekly column “The Gay Moralist”–has traversed the country responding to moral and religious arguments against same-sex relationships. In this timely book, he shares that experience–addressing the standard objections to homosexuality and offering insight into the culture wars more generally.

Is homosexuality unnatural? Does the Bible condemn it? Are people born gay (and should it matter either way)? Corvino approaches such questions with precision, sensitivity, and good humor. In the process, he makes a fresh case for moral engagement, forcefully rejecting the idea that morality is a “private matter.” This book appears at a time when same-sex marriage is being hotly debated across the U.S. Many people object to such marriage on the grounds that same-sex relationships are immoral, or at least, that they do not deserve the same social recognition as heterosexual relationships. Unfortunately, the traditional rhetoric of gay-rights advocates–which emphasizes privacy and tolerance–fails to meet this objection. Legally speaking, when it comes to marriage, “tolerance” might be enough, Corvino concedes, but socially speaking, marriage requires more. Marriage is more than just a relationship between two individuals, recognized by the state. It is also a relationship between those individuals and a larger community. The fight for same-sex marriage, ultimately, is a fight for full inclusion in the moral fabric. What is needed is a positive case for moral approval–which is what Corvino unabashedly offers here.

Corvino blends a philosopher’s precision with a light touch that is full of humanity and wit. This volume captures the voice of one of the most rational participants in a national debate noted for generating more heat than light.

Books by John Corvino:

What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? 
Debating Same-Sex Marriage  (with Maggie Gallagher)


Also related and recommended:

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay 

Alison, James: On Being Liked 

Alison, James:  Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-In

Alison, James: Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century  (University of Chicago Press, 1980) 424 pages

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage 

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out as Sacrament

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage

McNeill, John: The Church and the Homosexual

McNeill, John: Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else 

McNeill, John: Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families,  and Friends 

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended  

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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“Theological Endorsements of Masturbation”

As an adolescent boy in a Catholic High School staffed by priests, where daily Mass was on offer and regular confession a clear expectation, a continuing source of anguish was having to deal with confessing the “sins of impurity” which (we believed) were the particular bane of teenaged boys. The difficulties included the challenge of finding suitable words that could make my meaning plain, without actually spitting out precise wording, and also that of getting over my embarrassment (shame?) at patently having failed in my earnest promises at the last confession, to do my best to avoid that particular sin in future. In my innocence, I fondly believed that the curtain separating me from one of my teacher – priests protected my anonymity. In fact, in a particularly small school, and with a distinctive accent, it’s likely that any one of the priests would have instantly recognized and identified me. – but thoughtfully avoided addressing me by name. Invariably, these encounters ended with variations on a familiar penance – and an exhortation to pray to the Virgin Mary for the “gift of purity”. This coupling of Mary with sexual repression, I suspect, is partly responsible for my continuing ambivalence to Marian devotion. Later in life, growing wary of the continuing need to deal endlessly with the difficulties of the confessional led me first to abandon its trials altogether, and then (necessarily, in Catholic logic), to stop taking communion, and eventually to cease Mass attendance or any other practice of the faith.

Masturbation, along with any other genital activity not open to procreation, remains firmly prohibited in the Church documents (in the Catechism, for example). But as I have grown older, I have gained an impression that at the level of pastoral practice, at least, priests are far more sensible (and sensitive) on the subject that when I was at school or than the Catechism would suggest. I have also learned that far from being a vice especially affecting adolescent boys, it is widely practiced by people of all ages, men and women,  alone or with others, and is an entirely natural impulse. Even in the animal kingdom, non – primate species lacking hands for manual stimulation can get remarkably inventive in finding alternative means of self – stimulation. But still, the documents are explicit: this is a practice that is not just frowned on, but is described as a “grave evil”. Really?

I’ve been reading two college text books on theology and sexuality, by Susannah Cornwall and by Elizabeth Stuart and Adrian Thatcher. Reading in parallel their chapters on masturbation, it’s refreshing to find that both books present verdicts of respected Catholic theologians that differ sharply from the orthodox presentation of the CDF. Cornwall, always scrupulously even – handed and neutral in her presentation, first presents the orthodox Catholic view, and then goes on to present the contrasting view of other theologians:

…some people argue that masturbation, even if it is not the fullest expression of sexuality possible, is still preferable either to extramarital sex (if the masturbator is unmarried) or to adultery (if the masturbator does not have his sexual desires met within their marriage). Masturbation has been figured either as a harmless, pleasurable form of self-exploration, or as “the lesser of two evils”. Masturbation may provide a safe way for people to satiate their sexual urges without engaging in a sexual relationship for which they are not emotionally ready and which exposed them to the risks of sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancies. Masturbation may promote the integration of self-esteem and body – esteem, re-inforcing confidence in one’s personal identity, “which in the long run can enhance the quality of one’s attachments and commitments. (Louw 2011). Masturbation may also be a healthy way for young people to learn what feels pleasurable to them so that they are later able to  communicate this better to a sexual partner – and may be an important way for girls, in particular, to explore their bodies and their sexual anatomies as sites of joy, not shame (Jung 2000).

Patricia Beattie Jung, a Roman Catholic ethicist, suggests that masturbation should not be figured as inherently selfish or self-indulgent. Rather, she says, “Arousal draws us toward others, and ignites their attraction to us; sexual desire sustains relationships. Even the delights of solitary sex can enliven in us our sense of connection to life. Sexual pleasure inclines those who enjoy it not toward a sense of selfish isolation but toward the world”. Along similar lines, Margaret Farley notes that although masturbation might seem contrary to a central tenet of just sexual activity, namely that it promote relationality, in actual fact many women, in particular, may through masturbation learn things about their own bodies’ capacity for pleasure which then enrich their sexual relationships with their partners (Farley 2006 ),  In other words, masturbation does not inherently or inevitably make people selfish or inward – focused. Rather, sexual pleasure in itself, even outside a relational context, disposes people to relationality.

Stuart and Thatcher do not attempt to retain the same degree of neutrality. They too first present the orthodox view, quoting some choice extracts, but respond with undisguised incredulity:

“Does one assume that clerical embarrassment precludes any acknowledgement of it?”

These conclusions must be considered amazing, whether considered theologically or pastorally.

Does anyone believe them? Other approaches to ethics do not arrive at this extreme position. Biblical ethics, for instance, is noncommittal on the subject, since masturbation is not mentioned in the Bible. The Church of England makes no mention of the subject in their influential “Issues in Human Sexuality”. The strong influence of natural law, the strong imposition of authority, a strong fear of the body and sexual pleasure, a strong feeling of guilt all combine here with bad biology to produce pastoral chaos.

They then continue by describing alternative Catholic approaches which are more useful and pastorally sensitive.

 Another Roman Catholic approach to masturbation, unofficial yet deeply devout, acknowledges the goodness and value of what is called “self – pleasuring”, whether for women discovering the mysteries of their own bodies and the pleasure available to them; for adolescents anticipating full sexual experience; for married couples whose “mutual caresses” sometimes “lead to orgasm without intercourse”; for married people whose partners are temporarily unavailable; for lonely people acknowledging their sexual needs; even women who have been abused, and who “re-learn the loveliness of their bodies, the goodness of sexual pleasure” with a loving female partner. Only when a positive account of self-pleasuring has been given is there then a very proper warning given about “the possibility of disorder in the solitary exercise of sexual arousal”.  The contrast between these two evaluations in striking, and the pastoral sensitivity of the second is only one of the grounds for preferring it.

It’s important to recognise here, that warning about “the possibility of disorder”. The rigidity and complete lack of understanding of human sexuality displayed by the orthodox Catholic teaching makes it gravely flawed, as widely recognized by a substantial proportion of Catholic ethicists – especially by those who are themselves married and so with some real – world experience of loving sexual relationships. But to dismiss the gravely disordered and destructive orthodox view should not lead to an embrace of “anything goes” sexual licence. The challenge for all Catholics is to steer a sound and healthy middle course between the twin dangers of a rigid sexual repression, and complete lack of self  discipline. The really important question should be not, “Is self – pleasuring good or bad?”, but “When, under what circumstances, is it healthy and good – and when is it harmful and bad?”

The sources quoted above are all those of eminent, respected academic theologians, mostly from the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in senior academic posts at top universities. Sister Margaret Farley is a Mercy Sister, and (now retired) professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University. Professor Adrian Thatcher is a Professorial Research Fellow in Applied Theology at Exeter University. Professor Elizabeth Stuart is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and  Professor of Christian Theology at the University of Winchester. Dr Susannah Cornwall is a post-doctoral research associate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester.

But it can be helpful to listen not only to the voices of learned academics, but also to reflections on simple human experience. Here’s the openly Catholic, openly gay journalist, and educated layman, Andrew Sullivan:

It’s worth recalling that the formal, theological case against masturbation is identical to that against contraception and gay marriage. It is sodomy, as defined in the early modern period, i.e. ejaculation outside the vagina of a married female. So, as I argued at length a decade ago, we are all sodomites now. Men, anyway. Has any priest now living not masturbated?

For the record, I could never grasp why this was so wrong. My instinctual reaction to my first teenage orgasm was total wonderment. Of course, I had been taught nothing about this strange liquid coming out of my dick. It happened while I was reading – of all things – one of the Don Camillo short stories by Giovannino Guareschi. Not the most predictable erotic trigger – but when you’re fourteen, it could be the ceiling and you’d hit yourself in the eye if you weren’t careful.

To me, having this amazing thing suddenly come alive in my body was so obviously marvelous, so instantly ecstatic, it never occurred to me that God forbade me to forsake it. Why give me this 24-hour, unlosable instrument of blind, transcendent pleasure – and then bid me not to touch it? I had never experienced anything so simply pleasurable in my whole life until then. If we’re talking natural law, all I can say is that masturbation was the single most natural thing I had ever done at the moment in my life. More natural than watching television or riding a bus. If I felt guilt, it required some excruciating effort – until I realized that the most effective thing to trigger the constantly loaded rifle was thinking of another man. Usually naked. I had no porn or access to it. So I drew the men I wanted (and they all looked scarily like my husband). It was only then that the culture began to bear down on my nature.

But as I’ve grown older, and mercifully less driven by my dick, I can see the point of self-denial. In your teens, you have a constant unstoppable production of more sperm than could ever merely reproduce (another natural refutation of natural law). By your forties (unless I’ve just had my testosterone shot), not so much. So a little self-restraint definitely increases the pleasure and intensity of the orgasm you eventually get. And no, I feel no guilt about it whatever. It’s so psychically natural, so obviously intuitive, it was the first step for me toward dismantling the strange doctrines of natural law on human sexuality, devised in the early middle ages by men who knew a lot at the time – but tiny shards of truth compared to what we know now.

Wank on, my brothers and sisters. Wank on.

-Andrew Sullivan, the Dish

Cornwall, Susannah SCM Core Text: Theology and Sexuality

Stuart, Elizabeth and Adrian ThatcherPeople of Passion: What the Churches Teach About Sex

Church of England House of Bishops, “Issues in Human Sexuality: A Statement by the House of Bishops

Farley, MargaretJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics

Jung, Patricia Beattie, “Sexual Pleasure: A Roman Catholic Women’s Perspective on Women’s Delight“, in Theology and Sexuality 12, pp 26 – 27.

Louw, Daniel J, The Beauty of Human Sexuality Within the HIV and AIDS Discourse: The Quest for Human Dignity Within the Realm of Promiscuity”

Whitehead, Evelyn Eaton and James D. WhiteheadA Sense Of Sexuality: Christian Love & Intimacy


Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

When the German theologians last week released their declaration calling for far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church culture, structures and teaching on sexual morality, it had been signed by 143 leading theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The publication of the declaration on Friday coincided with the resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in the culmination of sustained popular protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Since then, Arab street protests have spread to other countries of the Middle East, notably including Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Algeria.
The theologians’ revolt has similarly been spreading beyond the original 143 German signatories.
A note by Bill Lindsey in the Open Tabernacle comments thread drew my attention to the current list of signatories, which as of yesterday (February 18th) had grown to 245 German theologians. Simple calculations demonstrate that if the original 143 represented about a third of the total, then 245 are more than half – an absolute majority. (There will still be others who agree with all or most of the points, but have withheld their signatures). Even more interesting to me, was an observation at the bottom of the German list, confirming what I suspected when I first wrote about this; theologians in other parts of the world are now adding their names.


Das internationale Interesse am Memorandum ist groß. Immer mehr Theologieprofessorinnen und -professoren aus den nicht-deutschsprachigen Ländern bekunden uns ihre Unterstützung.

(International interest in the Memorandum is huge. An increasing number of theology professors in the non-German countries are telling us of their support).

The site lists 22 foreign names – not yet many, but this will surely grow, once the word spreads that this is no longer an exclusively German development. Academics thrive on extensive personal international connections (several of the theologians are listed as associated with two distinct institutions, in different countries) International attention will spread rapidly.

Continue reading Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth

When I quoted Charles Curran last week with his statement that “the majority” of moral theologians want to see some revisions to Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, I could not have anticipated how quickly I would be seeing some evidence that Curran may even have understated the problem. At the end of the week, coinciding beautifully with the Egyptian”Day of Departure”, the German press published a statement by 143 theologians, titled “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure”, which called for fundamental, far-reaching reforms in the structure and moral theology of the Catholic Church.  In doing so, they dramatically demolished an important Catholic myth: that Vatican doctrine and disciplinary rules dictate the beliefs and conduct of the Church.

They do not. It has long been clear that Vatican pronouncements on sexual ethics and on the requirements for admission to the priesthood do not reflect the views of ordinary lay Catholics. It is now obvious that they also do not reflect the views of their own professional theologians. I suspect, indeed, that the Vatican oligarchs no longer believe their own pronouncements themselves. True Catholic belief, as reflected in the real life beliefs of real people, and not abstract words in a rule book, has been substantially reformed. All that is now required is an admission of the fact. What is now becoming clear is that, just like the Emperor’s New Clothes, the idea that the Vatican controls Catholic minds and speaks for their belief, is – a myth.

The revolt of the German theologians has attracted remarkably little attention in the Mainstream English press, which has largely been content simply to headline the calls for the ordination of married men and women, and some cursory references to the other reforms which were specified. This is a mistake: the document is far more important than  just a few academics making yet another call for changing the rules on ordination. It is, instead, a  demand for a wholesale restructuring of the entire culture and structure of the church, in which the specific reforms asked for are just some particular consequences, not the main thrust at all.

Continue reading Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth