Tag Archives: Sexual Ethics

Why the Catholic Church needs Margaret Farley

The Vatican has once again sharply criticized a nun, this time for writing on sexual ethics.

The Vatican has accused Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and professor emerita of Yale Divinity School, of publishing a book that posed “grave harm” to the faithful.

The book title? “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.”

View Photo Gallery: In light of the Vatican’s action, a list of nuns who have become known in the broader world. Two of the Americans listed have been canonized.

“Just Love” is a work that sets out to find “ethical guidelines and moral wisdom for our sexual lives” taking on the task of discerning issues of “character and virtue” in relationship not just to behaviors but also to the “large questions” of what human embodiment and sexual desire mean in a moral sense. (p. 15) Our sexual relations, Margaret Farley ultimately concludes, after a cross-cultural and historical exploration, must be founded on both love and justice in an integral sense. “I propose, finally, a framework that is not justice and love, but justice in loving and in the actions that flow from that love.” She seeks to help us all define a sexual ethics that is not abstract, but “morally good and just” in reality, in actual relationships. (p. 207)

If ever there were a method of moral reasoning on sexual ethics that is desperately needed in the Catholic Church today, it is the one proposed by Margaret Farley.

-full reflection by  at Washington Post

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Bishops’ Hypocrisy on Religious Freedom and Contraception.

A headline at the National Catholic Reporter, to an article on thecurrent contraception controversy, states unambiguously,  “Catholics unite in opposition to contraception mandate“. This is patently untrue. The bishops may have united, and may have the backing of several Catholic agencies and health providers – but the evidence once again, is that ordinary Catholics disagree. The findings of two separate surveys this week show clearly that Catholics back Obama’s proposals, and are more likely (not less) to vote for him as a result.

I have no intention of getting into the details of US health care, but the principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience are important to us all, so I do want to share two pertinent observations by others, both Americans. The first is a short snippet, placed as a comment to a later NCR editorial on the subject:

Here in the San Antonio Archdiocese, insurance to cover contraceptives is available for an additional fee. This allows those who are not Catholic or for whatever reason need to obtain those services, to pay the additional coverage on their own. It is not denied, but neither is it supplied.

To me, the matter is simple: if in conscience you are opposed to contraception – don’t use it. But that does not give you the right to impose your will on others whose conscience differs from yours. This archdiocese clearly recognizes that, making provision for such persons to obtain contraception coverage – for a fee. How does that differ, in moral terms, from providing coverage directly, for those who are not bound by the bishops’ sense of conscience? What provision do bishops and Catholic health authorities make for the “religious freedom” of those in their employ? What, in particular, of those who believe that they are duty – bound to practice contraception for the sake of the planet? On what grounds can the bishops deny them the right to practice their own freedom of conscience?

More extensive is am analysis, also posted in response to the editorial  at NCR, which points to the repeated hypocrisy of Catholic bishops in their arguments from “religious freedom”.

Now, the main analysis, posted by Richard C. Placone, which he has already sent to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, as head of the USCCB, and to his own bishop. It deserves to be widely disseminated:

Richard C. Placone
Palo Alto, California
February 8. 2012

This pertains to the campaign being conduct by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) re the current controversy about the application of the government’s Affordable Patient Care Act (Act). Policy implementing the Act requires all employers to provide health insurance for their employees, said insurance to offer, at no additional cost to the employee, access to contraceptives, voluntary sterilization and the so called “morning after pill”. The bishops oppose this part of the policy on grounds that it denies religious freedom of conscience, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, and is contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching which considers birth control an immoral and therefore sinful act.

The objection by the USCCB to the government policy is seriously flawed, is misleading in its interpretation of the policy and seems to be designed to create hysteria, not just in the minds of Catholics, but in the minds of the body politic in general. This essay addresses the objections of the USCCB and offers alternative consideration on three grounds:

1) The incredible hypocrisy of the RCC in adopting this position as regards “religious freedom”;
2) The continued insistence on the part of the hierarchy regarding the sinfulness of birth control and related matters, without any proven scriptural support and in spite of the near universal rejection of the “teaching” by the people of the church;
3) The inaccurate, slanted and incomplete analysis of the heath care policy designed to force the narrow view of the bishops on the entire country.

The following amplifies these three positions.

1) Hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church

During the last 1500 years at a minimum, one of the strongest organizations that has opposed universal religious freedom and freedom to follow one’s conscience has been the Roman Catholic Church. For a period of several centuries the official church not just encouraged but in some cases sponsored and supplied the armies, to carry out crusades against what the church defined as non-believers, the infidel, enemies of the faith and so on. Under the guise of “defending the one true faith”, popes declared that crusades against these people rendered those who died in the crusade armies martyrs who would be welcomed into heaven as such. Thus rape, pillage and destruction of entire towns if not countries, whose inhabitants were the infidel Muslims or unbelieving Jews, was sanctioned. Then there was the inquisition (which continues to this day as The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) which over the centuries caused the state to capture, charge and try individuals whom the church identified as heretics, because they denied one or more of the teachings of the church at that time. Poor Galileo came under this program but was spared the stake, but was under house arrest and not permitted to publish his beliefs (based on science), which were not even related to church doctrine. On the other hand, Joan de Arc., posthumously canonized, was not so lucky; she was burned at the stake. Burning at the stake, alive if one did not recant before the match was struck, or toward the end, being dunked in a kettle of boiling oil, was the worst of the punishments for not believing as the hierarchy wished. Perhaps the most egregious example of church denial of religious freedom was carried out by the late Pope Pius IX, recently canonized, in spite of the fact that he required the Inquisition to kidnap an eleven year old Jewish boy, isolating him from his parents for the remainder of his childhood, under the assumption that a housemaid had secretly baptized the boy a Catholic when he was baby. This child grew up under the wing of the pope and was ordained as a priest. His father spent his life fighting the Vatican to regain his child to no avail. The boy’s last act toward his parents, when he was in his early 20s, and by then an ordained priest, was to denounce them for trying to keep him in a false faith, and praising the pope for having rescued him from such a fate.

In spite of this sordid history, and in spite of the fact that to this very day the Vatican routinely silences theologians and others for speaking their minds, for postulating more advanced interpretations of scripture based on rigid academic study, denying them the freedom of thought and conscience, the USCCB dares to proclaim that the application of the health care policy is a denial of religious freedom, is a frontal attack on Catholicism, is a plan of the Obama administration to discredit the Catholic Church, and as one observer stated, and example of President Obama’s crass attempt to appeal to his liberal sectarian base in attempt to win them over in November, thereby turning his back on the Catholics who supported him in 2008.

These claims border on idiocy and a denial of the basic right of every human being to be allowed to think and act freely according to his/her conscience as long as this brings no harm to other members of the society.

2) Birth Control and related matters

One of the strong points made in the USCCB’s position is that the policy of the government requires most employers to offer health insurance to their employees, and that these insurance programs must offer uniform coverage to those covered under the insurance plan which includes availability of contraceptives and related prescription medications, voluntary sterilization and so on. The bishops further claim that these features of the policy violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, individual conscience and religious freedom itself, for which the first immigrants to this land fought and died in the formation of what has become the United States. The Act is designed to provide insurance coverage for most Americans and included, where needed, are government subsidies for employers who need such help. But what the bishops are doing is insisting that the rather narrow and absolute position the Church takes on these matters be forced on the entire country, if not the world. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve what they see as a denial of the Church’s right to freedom of conscience, they would force others to abide by their version of that freedom. The bishops cannot have it both ways. The Obama administration makes a somewhat oblique point which is this: If the Catholic Church cannot convince the majority of its own followers of the necessity of avoiding birth control, not using contraceptives for any reason, then why should the government make exceptions for the church. He has a point: study after study, in country after county, show that 80 to 95% of practicing Catholics use or have used birth control at some point in their lives, and do not accept the Church’s teaching on this subject. Even the papal commission appointed by Pope John XXIII and continued by Pope Paul VI, with all but one or two of the members, declared there was no basis for the Church’s teaching on the subject. Paul VI, in consultation with one or two of his close Curia advisors, was asked if he intended to negate the position of all his predecessors. In response, he issued Humanae Vitae thereby retaining unchanged the church’s view on the subject of birth control, a view that was rejected by most theologians and even bishops at the time, and certainly by the Catholic people of the church.

3) The USCCB are giving an inaccurate and deliberately slanted analysis of the policy

I have given some study to the Act and to the policy implications currently under attack by the Bishops. I have shown in 1 and 2 above that it is hypocritical of the Church to insist on its own religions freedom as it pertains to these issues, when in the face of history it hasn’t a leg to stand on, and that in the matter of the sinfulness or not of birth control and related matters, the world jury is out on these subjects. The Catholic majority is definitely rejecting the Church’s teaching when it comes to birth control. The Church is fighting an uphill battle in forming the argument as it is doing.

We live in a pluralistic society, where individuals are guaranteed the right to think and believe what they wish about every matter under the sun, including denying such scientifically proven matters as evolution and climate change. One is only not allowed to force others to their beliefs, or to force the government to support one set of beliefs that are contrary to another set of beliefs. In the present situation, the Act and the policy are attempting, however imperfectly, to provide as many people as the present political climate will allow, full health care coverage. If the government is using tax dollars to support these programs, and it is, then the programs must be designed such that no individuals are denied the opportunity to avail themselves of these benefits. Even so, the government recognizes special circumstances where individual conscience may become group conscience, and so has provided exceptions for these cases. Examples are, churches, church offices, church liturgies and such , that employ only believers, and whose appeal is strictly to believers, need not follow the government’s plan. If they provide insurance coverage at all, these organizations may exclude any benefit they wish (assuming they can find or design a plan to fit their individual preferences.) So the Diocese of San Jose, for example, no doubt comes under this exception, as does the Catholic Schools and parishes it operates. But an organization that serves the broad public and takes all comers regardless of race, religion etc., and whose employees also come from the broad spectrum of the public mix, then that organization must provided the insurance, and the insurance must include the full range of benefits. O’Conner Hospital and Santa Clara University come to mind as such Catholic organizations in the San Jose diocese.

Moreover, adding contraceptives to the menu of benefits is not likely to cause the insurance premium to be any more expensive for the employer. In fact, a customized plan that must be written to exclude what are otherwise universal benefits may in fact cost more to write. Employees of conscience working at such an organization are not required to take advantage of these “forbidden” benefits.

Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities and similar organizations that serve the broad public and employ from the same broad public, fall under the new government plans. Most, if not all of these organizations receive government and therefore tax payer money. Hospitals accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, universities accept government grants and student loans under government programs, and so on. All of these are government/taxpayer funded programs, and so must be open to all comers who qualify for admission. The Catholic Church and all of its subsidiaries are beneficiaries of one of the biggest government taxpayer giveaways there is: it is called tax exemption – from income, property and other taxes at the state and national levels. This has always seemed strange to me, when I see the multimillion dollar churches and rectories and such, and bishops and priests more and more preaching politics and supporting or not supporting candidates from the pulpit. These are direct violations of the tax exemption regulations, yet the IRS, due to the undue influence the Church has on the government, more often than not refuses to pursue what are clear violations.

What I see happening now, is once again the USCCB using undue influence to formulate government policy to support its own often narrow point of view on matters it claims to be strictly spiritual and moral, when in fact they may be scientific and medical in nature. I see the USCCB taking on the mantle of the far right and mimicking Fox News by generating an atmosphere of fear and hysteria amongst the Catholic as well as the non-Catholic population of this country. My advice to the bishops is this: See to the log in your own eyes before you tend to the splinter in the eye of the body politic.

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"The Sexual Person"

I have just completed a first reading of “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)
“, by the Catholic theologians Todd A. Salzmann and Michael G. Lawler.  I stress here, “a first reading”, as I have no doubt that this will be for me one of those foundational texts that I return to again and again.  After just an introductory acquaintance, I have no intention of attempting here any kind of formal assessment or review, but I do want to share some preliminary thoughts, some of which I propose to expand into full posts a little later.
The constantly evolving, ever-changing  Catholic tradition.
Whatever it is that Vatican spokesmen mean when they refer to the Church’s “constant and unchanging tradition”, it cannot be what the plain English words appear to mean. Across the full range  of sexual ethics, Catholic tradition has changed constantly. This is not only an historical fact, it is also inevitable and in fact demanded by the Magisterium itself. I particularly like the words of a certain Joseph Ratzinger, which highlight the importance of identifying and correcting the “distorting tradition” in the Church:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

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The Distorted Modern Teaching on Marriage and Procreation

The often repeated claim that marriage and sexual intercourse exist primarily for the purposes of procreation, is simply fallacious. It is clear from the Magisterium itself that there are several purposes to both. The additional claim by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” that every sexual act must be open to the production of new life, is in fact a distortion of clear earlier statements that the requirement is for the marriage to be open to procreation – not every single sexual act.

The bizarre parallel claim in Humanae Vitae that marriages which are sterile, or which deliberately avoid pregnancy by “Natural” Family Planning, raise serious doubts about the validity of the simultaneous insistence that homosexual activities are necessarily prohibited as not open to procreation.

The Distortions of Natural Law

“Natural law” is widely used as a pretext for the condemnation of homosexual acts, but the concept itself is poorly understood.  Salzmann and Lawler present extensive evidence that a more accurate reading of the concept is in fact supportive of sexual activities between men or between women, in specific circumstances, for people who have a homosexual orientation.

The Distortions of Scripture

It is by now well established that numerous scholars have shown that the traditional use of a half dozen verses from the Bible as clobber texts to condemn all homoerotic acts is based on distortion, relying on misinterpretation, mistranslation, or plain misrepresentation. “The Sexual Person” summarizes these familiar critiques, concluding that the most important feature of the very limited Biblical references to homoerotic acts is that they simply do not take account of the existence of a homosexual orientation as we know it to exist. Recognizing such an attraction, the authors submit, leads to the conclusion that the references to “unnatural acts” in Romans must imply that for people with a natural homosexual orientation, sexual activities with others of the same sex are entirely natural, and so not condemned by Paul.
On the other hand, attempts to force us into heterosexual marriage are indeed attempts to enforce what for us are “unnatural acts” – and so condemned by Paul.

(I would go further, and add that by extension, even enforced celibacy is unnatural, and so condemned by Paul, and also a contravention of natural law, properly understood).

The Distorted Teaching on Cohabitation

Perhaps the most eye-opening chapter of the book for me, was that on cohabitation.  I grew up with the clear understanding from my Catholic education, which I often heard repeated, that all sexual activity before our outside of marriage was expressly forbidden – and that marriage in effect commenced with the marriage ceremony, as solemnized in a Catholic Church, by a Catholic priest, in front of witnesses.  More recently, I have recognized that this idea of marriage as an obligatory sacrament, required before legitimate sexual intercourse, was a relatively modern one.
Until reading “The Sexual Person”, I did not realize quite how modern an idea it is, or how far it is flatly contradicted by the practice of the church for at least three quarters of Christian history, right up to the Council of Trent and even beyond.  Previously, the church wedding (if it took place at all) was not an event that began the process of marriage and legitimized husband and wife living together in a sexual relationship, but merely a public acknowledgement of a partnership that may have begun long before, with mutual consent consummated by immediate sexual intercourse. What today we would call “cohabitation” did not precede the marriage – it initiated it. It did precede the public wedding – but that was of no importance to the sacramentality of the marriage itself, or to the legality of the sexual relationshipthat accompanied it.
For most of Catholic tradition, it is then clear that any conception of sin in cohabitation before marriage was impossible – as soon as cohabitation began, the marriage commenced. Applying this reasoning to the modern situation, where (for good reasons) we accept the importance of a public commitment in a wedding ceremony, we should also recognize that marriage is a process, not a one-day event. The process begins with the private commitment to each other. As long as the cohabitation is part of a nuptial process leading up to marriage, and not a simple shacking up, Catholic tradition suggests that we should recognize and accept cohabitation prior to the wedding as part of the marriage, and so fully valid.
Gay marriage and Catholic Tradition.
Here I move on to more treacherous ground, but as I read in this book so many extracts from Church documents on our sexual lives and on marriage and family, I was struck by how little amendment is needed to extend church endorsement of the value of marriage, as sacrament and as an institution furthering both private and public good, to include same sex couples alongside all others.
The Theological Ferment Under Way.
“The Sexual Person” has made waves in the press, largely as a result of the US Bishops’ criticism of it. However, it is far from unique in highlighting the contradictions and failings of current orthodoxy on sexual ethics. It now becomes clearer than ever to me that there is a fundamental rethink under way. This has not yet broken through into major papal pronouncements or Vatican documents – but I am certain that they will soon start to do so. When they do, they will no doubt be accompanied once again by the comforting assurances that these new, more human and sympathetic understandings of human sexuality have been around for decades (as they have), and so form part of the “constant and unchanging Catholic tradition”.

La plus ça change…..

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Pope Benedict, on "Homosexuals".

When I wrote earlier about Benedict and gay priests, I was responding to some commentary by Andrew Brown, without access to the complete book from which he was quoting. Now that I have my own copy, I have found that my post inappropriately combined two independent responses by the pope to two different questions by his interviewer: one question on homosexuality, and one on gay priests.
I now revisit my original post to disentangle them into the two separate issues that they are, and expand on my original thoughts.
(The complete question and answer I reproduce at the end of this post. Later, I will revisit the section specifically on gay priests).

On homosexuality, Seewald’s question referred to the Catechism statement on “compassion, respect and sensitivity“, and its counterpart on “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered“. Seewald asked if these statements were contradictory.
I responded yesterday to Brown’s extracts from the pope’s response, noting in particular his complete misrepresentation of evolution as ordered to heterosexuality, and his entirely mistaken belief that “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” are a trial. I will say no more on these. Instead, I want to pick up on some other themes, identified in the French Jonathan & David press release:

Proclaiming himself the interpreter of God, he claims that homosexuality “is opposed to the essence of what God originally intended,” without knowing whether it is innate or acquired (p. 200). If by any chance, homosexuality was innate, how could God create some of his creatures in a condition so contrary to his will?

Indeed. It’s time for Benedict and his advisors to leave their theological ivory towers and enter the real world of human experience.

My own life, like that of the testimony of countless people I have spoken to or read, and the conclusions of professional psychotherapists and spiritual directors, is that when we who have what he persists in calling these “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” cease the attempt to bury them and come out to ourselves, and then to others, the experience is of an extraordinary feeling of honesty and truth, of having found who we truly are – as God made us. Benedict insists on the importance of the intrinsic truth of sexuality at the core of our being – but he is badly mistaken as to the nature of that truth. The fundamental problem with Benedict’s thinking here is that he shows absolutely no sign of ever having listened to the truth as spoken by real people in their real lives.
As I was re-reading the question and response today, I was struck by a new observation. In the often repeated Catechism command for “compassion, dignity and sensitivity”, Church spokesmen frequently talk around the first two – as Benedict does here, expanding on our right to respect. What tends to get overlooked is the third word, “sensitivity”. It is impossible to be sensitive to another’s concerns without having taken the trouble to understand them, to listen to them. Our priests and bishops may have all the good intentions in the world to offer compassion and respect, but how many of them have ever taken the trouble to listen to us, and our sexual experiences, outside the one-sided environment of the confessional? If they ever did, they would discover that the “trial” of a homosexual orientation is not the condition itself, as Benedict so arrogantly and mistakenly proclaims.
Rather, one part of the trial comes from the frequent experience of bigotry, discrimination and violence in the world at large, but also from the absence of dignity and compassion we so often experience in the Church. Most startling to me, is the realization that precisely while claiming to affirm the Catechism’s insistence on compassion, respect and sensitivity, he displays a flagrant disregard for the last of the three. As my reader Mark observed,

I think the Pope Benedict really needs some instruction on this topic. This is somewhat depressing. God give me strength.

It is fundamental to scripture, to the Catechism, and to Benedict’s own theology, that we must live and proclaim the truth. It really is important that we as gay men and lesbians should speak the truth to Benedict and to others: for some of us, the attempt to live within Catholic orthodoxy is to deny the truth. The deliberate decision in conscience to deny that orthodoxy is not a sign of weakness, or sin, or of caving in to modern fads – but a basic act of honesty.

If they really want to display the sensitivity to which they pay lip-service, they need to find ways to listen.


The complete question was:

Homosexual practice has the status of a widely accepted form of life in the West today. Modernists even publicize its approval as a measure of a given society’s degree of progress. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated under your responsibility as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we read that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…. They must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s in their lives.” And yet the same Catechism contains the following statement:” Basing itself on the Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. Doesn’t this second statement somehow contradict the respect for homosexuals expressed in the first one?
Benedict’s full response on homosexuality, outside the context of the priesthood :
No. It is one thing to say that they are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.
At the same time, though, sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.
The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.

Recommended Books:
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

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A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 6: “Our sexual relationships”

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the sixth extract:

Our theology of sexual relationships

We have the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but have developed an elaborate theology around self-defence, just war, capital punishment, and indirect killing. But, where the sixth commandment is concerned, a blanket disapproval covers everything outside the marital bed, and much within it. Some theological language around sexuality is so spiritualized and out-of-the-body that it becomes a way of avoiding the truth that God created people sexual. Is there not much in our tradition that is anti- the human body, despite the Incarnation and Resurrection? We are not far from thinking, if not actually saying, that people should have as little sex as possible, and ideally – as in celibacy – none at all.

We wish that eros be safely tucked away and put to sleep in the bed of monogamous heterosexual marriage. But re-awakening it could help us to see our relationship with God as a love affair, with emotion. All our theology, not only of sexuality, is so deeply pervaded by exclusivism, by either-or instead of both-and, that we are probably not capable even of imagining such an awakening. In the Septuagint Song of Songs, the word used for love is agapein; this includes the sexual. Yet the church is afraid of sex; it’s our Pandora’s box, better kept locked. Why is the church so afraid of erring on the side of love? Jesus had no such fear. The difference between being open, or not, to questioning your prejudices is what Christian tradition calls conversion.

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 5: “What’s wrong with saying ‘Do your best’ ?”

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the fifth extract:

What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”?

What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?

What’s wrong with it is that it ignores the full truth, and nothing worthwhile in human relationships can be founded on half-truths. There’s an analogy here with Humanae Vitae. That document states, in effect, that a man should love a woman in her totality, and not implicitly say to her, ‘I love you – but not your fertility; I don’t want that.’ The church says to homosexuals, ‘We love you – but not your homosexuality; we don’t want that.’ In effect we say, ‘What a pity you’re not normal!’ We ‘respect and love’ them – except for what is a most precious and important part of what they are. All the talk in the world about loving the sinner while hating the sin rings hollow: how can you respect or love a person while repudiating something they see as central to their self-understanding? Sexual orientation is central to that.

Jesus – who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality – went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Think, too, of the Gospel parable of the ten talents: one man, motivated by fear, wrapped up his talent, buried it, and then handed it back intact. Jesus had strong words for him. (Matthew 25.14-30; Luke 19.12-27) For homosexuals, is the gift of their sexuality meant to be wrapped up, buried, and returned unused? Why did God make people sexual, if not for them to give expression to it?

Catholic Sexual Ethics, Social Ethics, and Reality-Based Theology

One of the key points in Salzmann & Lawler’s exposition of Catholic sexual ethics (“The Sexual Person”) is the importance of  considering theology in the context of history. Explaining this idea, they describe two approaches to theology,a “classical” view, which sees all moral standards as static and fixed   for all time, and an “empirical” view, in which we recognize that circumstances and human understanding (for  example,of science), is constantly changing, and which implies that we must be constantly ready to refine our expression of those standards.
In its classicist mode, theology is a static, permanent achievement… In its empirical mode, it is a dynamic, ongoing process……. The classical understanding sees the human person as a series of created, static and definitively ordered temporal facts. The empirical understanding sees the person as a subject in the process of “self-realization in accordance with a project that develops in God-given autonomy, carried out in the present with a view to the future”.  Classical theology sees moral norms coming from the Magisterium as once and for all definitive; sexual norms enunciated in the fifth or sixteenth century continue to apply absolutely in the twenty-first. Empirical theology sees the moral norms of the past not as facts for uncritical and passive acceptance but as partial insights that are the bases for critical attention, understanding, evaluation, judgement and decisions in the present sociohistorical situation. What Augustine and his medieval sources knew about sexuality cannot be the exclusive basis for a moral judgement about sexuality today.
The empirical approach, they say, was endorsed by by Vatican II. Later, this view was clearly articulated by Pope John Paul II, in Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987).
Pope John Paul II, Progressive Theologian?

Yes, JP II, that arch- nemesis of gay and other progressive Catholics hoping for a rational basis for Catholic sexual ethics. How can this be? Well, the problem is that there is a double standard applied here.  In practice, the Church applies the empirical approach to theology (which strikes me as similar in its import to what I call “reality-based” theology) only to social ethics – and a generally good job it does, too.

This introduces a model of personal responsibility. JP II accentuates this by teaching that in its social doctrine, the Church seeks to “guide people to respond, with the help of rational reflection and of the human sciences”, to their vocation as responsible builders of earthly society.” The relationship of Magisterium and individual believer in this teaching merits close attention. The Church guides; responsible persons, drawing on the Church’s guidance, their own intellectual abilities, and the findings of the human sciences, respond accordingly.
– Salman  & Lawler
When it comes to sexual ethics, the Vatican simply falls back on the static, “classical” model of theology. Why then, does the double standard exist?  Salzman and Lawler do not go into this, but I would suggest two possible, related  reasons: the insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy, and an entirely unjustified assumption that unlike social conditions, human sexuality is fixed.
The problem with compulsory celibacy is that it had its origins in ideas of the early Church that assumed virginity somehow had a higher moral value than sexual lives, even within marriage. When the ideal was later imposed as a fixed rule on all (Western) clergy, mostly for financial reasons, it created a two-tier power moral caste system within the church which reinforced the negative view of all sexuality.  The horror of sex meant that until forced to  adapt very recently by the sexual abuse scandals, priests in training were denied even the  most basic sexual education, along with all practical experience. Is it any wonder that the senior theologians within the Church, who received their own theological grounding in seminaries several decades ago, are woefully ignorant of the now abundant research-based evidence?
It is true that at the level of simple plumbing, the biology of human sex is fixed. However, human understanding and expression of the basic biology, just like the rest of human social conditions, has  varied enormously across cultures and through the centuries. We now know, for instance, that the basic biology does not fit the simple binary model assumed by the early theologians (“God created male and female” – but also intersex). We also know that while it is undoubtedly true that procreation is a major purpose of sexual intercourse, it is most certainly not the only purpose. We know too that when seen from the perspective of  all human cultures and historical periods, the traditional Judaic / Christian insistence on exclusively heterosexual intercourse within marriage is a decidedly minority perspective.  Most societies have accepted, even celebrated, a place for same – sex intercourse as well, and for heterosexual relations that are not solely for making babies.
I  welcome the insistence of Salzman and Lawler, and of other theologians, that the study of sexual ethics must take seriously the contributions from research in secular science and history. Sexual ethics, just as much as social ethics, needs to be grounded in an empirically based theology.

Recommended Books:

Sexual Ethics
Farley, Margaret: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
Molvaer, Reidulf: Two Making One : Amor and Eros in Tandem
Salzman, Todd A. and Lawler, Michael G: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)

Sexual History

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
Greenberg, David F: The Construction of Homosexuality

Norton, Rictor: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries
Ridely, Matt: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature
Ryan, Christopher:Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

At Queering the Church