Tag Archives: Sexual Ethics

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”

For the early fathers of the Church, sex within marriage was seen as good, for the purpose of procreation only. However, virginity was praised as better – even within marriage. Where sex was undertaken for the purpose of procreation, it was acceptable, but undertaken for pleasure, it was sinful. From Augustine onward, there was some grudging recognition that there was more to it than just procreation, with some value also recognised for conjugal love, which would later be described as the “unitive” value.  Nevertheless, sexual activity for pleasure, even in marriage, was for centuries considered sinful.

The Catholic aversion to sexual pleasure reached its high point when Pope Gregory the Great banned from access to church anyone who had just had pleasurable sexual intercourse. We accept as accurate Brandage’s judgement of the effect of that patristic history: “The Christian horror of sex has for centuries placed enormous strain on individual consciences and self-esteem in the Western world.”

The medieval penitentials went even further, condemning as sinful even involuntary emissions during sleep, and placing tight restrictions on when intercourse with one’s spouse was legitimate – even without taking that dreaded pleasure in the act. One such prescribed continence during three forty day periods: during Lent, preceding Christmas, and following Pentecost. Excluding these one hundred and twenty days, that left a maximum of two hundred and forty five remaining.  But four days in every week were also proscribed – Saturday and Sunday (night and day), and Wednesday and Friday (daytime). This effectively leaves a maximum of one hundred and forty days available for legitimate relations with one’s spouse – but excluding further the entire menstrual period, and the period after conception.

The impact of these penitentials and their harsh judgements on sex was profound. They helped shape a moral focus on individual acts, turning moral reflection into an analysis of sin. They also shaped a focus on genitalia.




That focus and the act-centred morality it generated were perpetuated in the numerous manuals published in the wake of the Council of Trent. These manuals controlled seminary education well into the twentieth century and continued to propagate both an act-centred morality and Catholic ambivalence toward both sexuality and marriage.

Aquinas later expanded the “purpose” of marriage by recognizing both a primary purpose (which remained procreation) and a secondary purpose – not pleasure itself, but mutual support and faithfulness between the spouses. For believers, there is also a third end – a sacramental one. Aquinas also begins to modify the total aversion to pleasure, recognizing that “within the ends of marriage”, sexual desire and pleasure are not sinful.

By the twentieth century, the 1917 Code of Canon Law codified three notions of marriage: as a contract between spouses, in which the partners exchanged rights to their sexual acts, and whose primary purpose is procreation. That renewed emphasis on procreation was substantially revised later in the century, especially by the Second Vatican Council, but also before it.

In 1936, in response to the Anglican church’s approval of artificial contraception, Pope Pius XI publishedCasta Connubii“. This firmly rejected contraception and emphasized procreation – but it did more.

He retrieved and gave a prominent place to a long-ignored item from the Catechism of the Council of Trent: marriage as a union of conjugal love and intimacy.  If we consider only the juridical definition of marriage, we could reasonably conclude that marriage has nothing to do with mutual love, that a man and a woman who hated each other could could be married as long as each gave to the other the right over her or his body for procreation.  By emphasising the essential place of mutual love in a marriage, Pius firmly rejected such nonsense and placed the Catholic view of marriage on the track to a more personal definition.

In this document, Pius XI quite explicitly describes the “chief reason and purpose” of marriage as the mutual love and interior formation of the spouses. This renewed emphasis on conjugal love was reaffirmed by Vatican II. The council clearly stated that marriage is “ordered” to the procreation and education of children, but also stressed that this does not imply any hierarchy of ends. The importance of the generation and education of children

“does not make the other ends of marriage of less account”, and marriage “is not instituted solely for procreation”.




Does Pope Francis Support Civil Unions?

At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo makes an intriguing claim about Pope Francis – that he has made ” a declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”. He bases this on an extract from a conversation between the pope and a French sociologist, one of a series of 12 which will soon be published in book form.

Extracts from these conversations, including the one referring to civil unions, have been published at Crux:

“Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman… we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.’ Lets not play with the truth. It’s true that behind it there is a gender ideology. In books also, children are learning that they can choose their own sex. Why is sex, being a woman or a man, a choice and not a fact of nature? This favors this mistake. But let’s say things as they are: Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term. Lets call unions between the same sex ‘civil unions’.”

DeBenardo’s response at Bondings 2.0 is to read this as an endorsement of civil unions:

For the most part, this section is not surprising.  On many occasions, Pope Francis has stated his opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay people.   And he is also on the record for being negative towards new understandings of gender identity, though positive about welcoming transgender people.

What’s new here, however, is his declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples. Although many church leaders have suggested supporting such an arrangement in recent years, Pope Francis has never, as pontiff, stated his endorsement of civil unions so flatly.

Is this really a ” declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”? I’d love to think so, but I’m not convinced. As I read the passage quoted in Crux, all he has done is make a statement about language. As a simple statement of fact, he obviously recognises that that these same-sex legal partnerships exist. He does not want them to be described as marriage, and would prefer them to be called civil unions. That does not imply that he supports them.

It is of course possible that he does support civil unions. DeBenardo notes that “He did support civil unions as a compromise to his opposition towards marriage equality when he was an archbishop in Argentina.”  This is true. As pontiff, there have also been numerous hints  that he supports greater acceptance of same-sex unions, possibly including legal recognition and fuller participation for same-sex couples in the life of the church. It is quite possible that he does indeed support civil unions – but this is not spelled out in the text quoted. Sadly, all that is clear in the passage directly concerning the pope’s attitude to same-sex unions, is once again clear opposition to same-sex marriage.

And yet, it’s not all bad news. As in “Amoris Laetitia”, there are encouraging thoughts which are relevant for LGBT Catholics, while not referring to us exclusively or by name. First, there is an admission of value in the lay state.

“The lay state is a healthy thing. There is a healthy laicism. Jesus said: We must render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. We are the same before God.

This could well imply at least, respect for civil unions as a matter of law.  Then there’s also an important observation about the place of the laity, in the church:

“But the Church is not bishops, popes, and priests. The Church is the people. And Vatican II said: ‘The people of God, as a whole, do not err.’ If you want to know the Church go to a village where the life of the Church is lived. Go to a hospital where there are many Christians that come to help, laymen, sisters… Go to Africa, where there are many missionaries. They burn their life there. And they make real revolutions. Not to convert, it was another time when we spoke of conversion, but to serve.”

All the available evidence is that ‘The people of God, as a whole” t do not agree with the Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, taken as a package.  The absolute prohibitions on contraception, on sex before marriage, and on masturbation are widely rejected and ignored, not only in the West, but world-wide. Support for same-sex relationships is now widespread in many regions, and growing elsewhere. Many theologians and an increasing number of bishops understand the implication: the traditional doctrines on sex have not been “received” by the faithful. They must be refined – and surely will be, in time.

Krzysztof Charamsa, on masturbation

According to Dr Dick’s Sex Advice, May is “Masturbation Month”. (Who decides these things?). With that in mind, I was intrigued by the brief interchange below, in the Berliner Zeitung interview with Msgt Krzysztof Charamsa.

To put it into context, recall that the official position of the Catholic Church remains steadfastly opposed to the practice, even though there is no clear biblical or medical evidence against it, and the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of people do so, at least occasionally. For Catholic priests attempting to live within their promise of celibacy, masturbation may be their only possible form of sexual release – yet, in theory at least, this too is forbidden.

Yet, when the interviewer raised the question, it is not in terms of “Do you masturbate?”, or “Would you masturbate?”, but an automatic assumption that, yes – he does: “When you did….” In response, Charamsa does not attempt to avoid or deflect the question, but in his simple reply of “yes”, he is in effect acknowledging that yes, he did  masturbate.

Would that other priests would be  so frank and honest, about a subject that is too often simply avoided.

When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?

Yes.

That was not nice?

I was anxious. I spent my puberty in communist Poland, in the Catholic Church. Both hyper-homophobic facilities! With whom could I have spoken? How? I had no words for it. I had feelings of guilt. I would have had them, even if I had been heterosexual. But my gay fantasies increased my insecurity.

The Trouble with “Courage”

In his response to Martin Pendergast on the “Courage” apostolate, Fr Philip Bochanski of Courage USA grievously confuses celibacy and chastity, referring to both in the same sentence as if they were the same thing, which they are not. He is correct that “The demand of the Gospel is chastity for everyone”. That is also the instruction of the Catholic Catechism:

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another…..”

That sexual integration in a relationship cannot be equated with celibacy, which is sexual abstinence.

I am surprised (but delighted) that Fr states that “Courage does not demand or impose “mandatory celibacy” on persons who experience same-sex attractions”. That is not a demand of the Gospel – although it is one made by the Catholic Catechism. The question is, is this Catechism teaching true? Does it lead one to God?

There’s a problem here, because the Catechism also tells us that

2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.

In Amoris Laetitiae, has written extensively and movingly about the joy and value of love, including carnal, physical love in a committed, self-giving relationship. How are gay men and lesbians are keep to both parts of the Catholic teaching, on accepting their sexual identity, and experiencing chastity “integrated into the relationship of one person to another” – while simultaneously keeping to the Catechism demand of sexual abstinence.

This is why, based on their real-world experience, so many gay and lesbian Catholics have found that it is impossible  to resolve this contradiction, and based on the core principle of the primacy of conscience, have concluded that in the area of sexual doctrines, the Catechism is simply wrong. It is also why the experience of the full range of apostolates to lgbt Catholics, those who respect this conclusion in conscience, like Quest nationally, and the lgbt group meeting at Farm Street parish in London, have a track record of attracting people and helping them to find God – and Courage , which has a long-established group in London, notably does not.

What is the “Formation of Conscience?”

Papal theologian: “”Conscience is the act of practical reason”

Gay and lesbian Catholics who disagree with Church teaching on sexuality know that the  best defence against our critics is the primacy of conscience, which is well established in Catholic doctrine. It’s also a theme which had renewed attention during the recent Synod of Bishops’ assembly on marriage and family, where the “inviolability of conscience” and the closely related “interior forum” received much attention.

Against this, orthotoxic rule book Catholics often retort that conscience is not simply giving way to personal feelings, but must be properly “formed”, implying that a well-formed conscience must be in accordance with the Catechism. The truth, however, is that accordance with conscience is neither a simple matter of licence, nor one of blind adherence to external rules.

So what is it? How are we to find a sound balance between these two extremes? Pope Francis’ personal theologian, Father Wojciech Giertych, put some important guidelines in a recent interview with Lifesite News. Continue reading What is the “Formation of Conscience?”

US Bishop Calls for Vatican III !

The Californian Bishop Francis Quinn has used the occasion of Pope Francis’ US visit, and the World Meeting of Families, to call in an op-ed opinion piece for the New York Times, for extensive reform of the Catholic Church on three core issues bitterly dividing the Church:   communion for the divorced and remarried, an end to compulsory celibacy for Catholic priests, and the ordination of women.

Bishop Francis Quinn

To achieve this, he proposes a third Vatican Council:

Pope Francis prefers the simple title “bishop of Rome.” So I ask my brother bishop: Should we not convene a third Vatican Council just as ethical and paradigm-shifting as Vatican Council II of the 1960s?

In addition to the three issues dividing the church, this council and future councils would explore the morality of world economies, spiritual life, human sexuality, peace and war, and the poor and suffering.

He does not specifically call for any change in teaching on same – sex relationships, but he has done in the past: he was one of the first to follow Cardinal Schonborn a few years ago, when he said that it was high time that the Church considered the quality of gay relationships, putting aside the obsession with genital acts. Besides, this is implicit in his reference to “human sexuality” as a topic for discussion.

It is of course, significant that Bishop Quin is retired. On the one hand, this means that his opinions will carry little weight among the rest of the hierarchy. On the other, we should remember that it is precisely because he is no retired, that like Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and several others, he is able to speak freely without fear of losing his job – he has none, to lose.  What these men are saying publicly now that they are able to do so safely, many others will be thinking privately, holding their tongues – for now.

But Cardinal Schoborn’s off – the – cuff remarks back then about respect for gay couples, and a rethink on those divorced and remarried, have since achieved much wider currency, and were widely discussed at the last family synod, in the intervening year since, and will be again in October.

Change will not come without extensive exploratory debate. What is now clear, is that under Pope Francis, there is now far wider, freer debate about reform to Church practice, disciplines and even doctrines, than at any time under the previous three pontiffs – perhaps even since Vatican II.

Let’s Talk About – Contraception!

…no papal teaching document has ever caused such an earthquake in the Church as the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae.’  – Catholic theologian, Fr Bernard Haring

The feature of the 2014 Family Synod that most surprised me, was the near absence of any discussion about contraception – except for repeated confirmation of support for “Humanae Vitae”. As Peter Steinfels puts it at the Washington Post,

At last October’sExtraordinary Synod on the Family, bishops grabbed headlines by debating controversial topics such as admitting remarried Catholics to Communion and acknowledging the upsides of same-sex relationships. But the discussion of contraception was perfunctory. The bishops simply called on the church to do a better job of propagating “the message of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.” In other words, the widespread rejection of the birth-control ban is simply a messaging problem.

That’s not true. The church’s unwillingness to grapple with a deep and highly visible gap between official teaching and actual practice undermines Catholic vigor and unity at every level. It encourages Catholics to disregard all manner of other teachings, including those on marriage and abortion. If the church wants to restore its moral authority, it must address this gnawing question.

Continue reading Let’s Talk About – Contraception!

Human Sexuality:What Catholics Believe

A formal research investigation by a Münster University research group in 42 countries worldwide, has shown that an overwhelming majority of German Catholics disagree fundamentally with Vatican doctrines on sexuality. This will not surprise anyone: the German bishops are far ahead of their international colleagues on many of these issues, professional German theologians have taken the lead in calling for a fundamental rethink on all issues of sexual teaching, and the culture of clericalism in the Church, and the largest lay organisation recently called for the Church to begin offering formal church blessings for same – sex couples in committed, permanent relationships (such as civil unions). Continue reading Human Sexuality:What Catholics Believe

Irony of Ironies: Vatican Doctrine Confused With “The Lord’s Teaching”

A conservative Catholic blogger is gleefully reporting that “This cardinal sees no reason to expect the Family Synod to be outside Church teaching”.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. There’s never been any serious suggestion, from any side, that changing teaching was even up for discussion. (Change in teaching must and will come, later – but not yet). For now, a change in teaching is just not what the Synod is about. What it is about, is a more sensitive pastoral application of that teaching, a different matter entirely.

But there’s a more serious problem with this report, and Cardinal    Raúl Vela Chiriboga’s words. I quote:

“The Church is the depository of the faith, and that faith is the teaching of Jesus: we can’t go against his commandment,” the emeritus Archbishop of Quito explained Aug. 14 to CNA in Piura, where he was participating in Peru’s Tenth National Eucharistic and Marian Congress as an envoy of the Holy Father.

“There are fundamental truths” that will not change, Cardinal Vela said, even “by more news outlets stirring things up by saying things contrary to, or wanting to misinterpret, what the Lord commands.”

Do you see the problem? He’s assuming that because “the Church” is the depository of the faith, then it’s teaching is the teaching of Jesus. However – the “Church” is much, much more than the Vatican bureaucrats who define Church doctrine. It should be patently obvious to anybody who cares to look, that what the Vatican pronounces, on masturbation, on sex before marriage, on remarriage after divorce, or on loving and committed same – sex relationships, is simply NOT what ordinary, faithful and practicing Catholics believe. To claim Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics as what “the Church” teaches, is an unjustified leap.

He is right, though, in his insistence that we cannot change fundamental truths, as taught by Jesus. The problem for him and his ilk, is that what they are fighting so hard to protect at the Synod, have nothing at all to do with what Jesus taught.

The most contentious matter before the synod, is that of communion for people who have remarried after divorce. The conservative argument is that marriage is forever, that Jesus was against divorce, and so on. Agreed.

However – even the Vatican accepts that there are circumstances in which marriages may end – which it terms “annullment”, not  divorce. That’s a matter of semantics. But the argument is not whether divorce / annulment is legitimate or acceptable. All sides agree on that. The dispute is about communion after divorce and remarriage – and on that, Jesus said nothing whatever. The Catholic rule preventing communion for those who have remarried after divorce, is a matter of pastoral practice, which can be changed – not one of doctrine, and still less the teaching of Jesus Christ. When he said at the Last Supper, “Do this, in commemoration of me”, he did NOT add the rider, “as long as you’ve not divorced and remarried”.

The second controversial matter before the synod, is the one that most concerns us – a welcome for LGBT Catholics. Again, nobody is yet suggesting that the Synod is about to change it’s own doctrines on same – sex relationships – even though it is now abundantly evident that it should. That will happen, but later. All that is being asked, is that the leaders of the Church take seriously the message of Jesus Christ (and indeed, of Pope Francis), that  “all are welcome”, and that the Church should be a “field hospital for the wounded”. On lesbian and gay people, Jesus had not a single word in opposition, and quite a lot that could be read as supportive.

The cardinal is absolutely correct that we cannot change the teaching of Jesus. The problem for him, is that it is he and his sympathisers, not those seeking more sensitive pastoral care, who are trying to do that.

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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.