Tag Archives: Sexual Ethics

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!

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

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

– NYTimes.com.

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

For Queer Catholics, Conscience is Key!

For lgbt Catholics, and many other Christians, one of the most pressing and agonising dilemmas they face, is that of reconciling what they know to be the truth of their sexuality or gender identity, and church teaching. For Catholics in particular, the top – line response should be easy – “Follow your conscience”. The primacy of conscience is firmly established in Church teaching. Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.  Following one’s own conscience is not a blanket get – out of jail free card, allowing us to simply decide according to our own impulses how to make up our mind on ethical issues: Church teaching is clear on the primacy of conscience – but also insists on a rider, that conscience must be fully formed. Some Catholic archconservatives would argue that a conscience can only be fully formed, if it leads to straightforward compliance with the rules of the Catechism, but that is also simply not so. The essence of the dilemma, really, is not about how to reconcile sexuality and Church teaching, but how to find a balance between these two views.

An excellent starting point in that exploration is in an article in America magazine, “Following Faithfully: The Catholic way to choose the good“, by the lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler is worth not just reading, but careful study. (So is their influential book on sexual ethics, “The Sexual Person”).

We hope to reprint the full article in the next Quest Bulletin, but meanwhile, here are just a few extracts:

On the primacy of conscience:

From the great doctor of the church, Thomas Aquinas:

“Anyone upon whom the ecclesiastical authorities, in ignorance of the true facts, impose a demand that offends against his clear conscience should perish in excommunication rather than violate his conscience.” For any Catholic in search of truth, no stronger statement on the authority and inviolability of personal conscience could be found, but Aquinas goes further. He insists that even the dictate of an erroneous conscience must be followed and that to act against such a dictate is immoral.

From Fr Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI):

“Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church.”

From Vatican II’s “Decree on Religious Freedom”, which, note Salzmann and Lawler, embraced Aquinas’s judgment on the inviolability of conscience:

“In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God, for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious”

On balancing the two views of conscience

Salzmann and Lawler contrast the positions of two eminent modern theologians, Germain Grisez and Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R.

Germain Grisez holds that the only way to form one’s conscience is to conform it to the teaching of the church. …… For Professor Grisez and theologians who agree with him, including St. John Paul II, conscience is ultimately about obedience to church teaching.

and

Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R., is diametrically opposed to that stance. …. Church doctrine is at the service of women and men as they use conscience in their search for goodness, truth and Christian wholeness; conscience is not at the service of doctrine. “It staggers the imagination,” Häring writes, “to think that an earthly authority or an ecclesiastical magisterium could take away from man his own decision of conscience.”

Noted Theologians Lawler and Salzmann, on Marriage.

“Fortunate Families” Newsletter reports the welcome news that the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler (together with theologian Ellen Burke – Sullivan) have just published a new book, “The Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes – Then and Now”, with a notable chapter dealing specifically with marriage.

This is important news. Their previous book, “The Sexual Person”, provided a superb, penetrating analysis of Catholic sexual theology in all its aspects. and included abundant examples of just why the allegedly “traditional” teaching is not all it is said to be, why it must change – and  how it is in fact constantly changing. For LGBT Catholics with a serious interest in the subject, “The Sexual Person” should be required reading.

With the Family Synod now bringing marriage, divorce and same – sex relationships so much more  into mainstream Catholic discussion, it is likely that this book, with its chapter on marriage, will be equally valuable for LGBT Catholics. Continue reading Noted Theologians Lawler and Salzmann, on Marriage.

Marriage teaching ‘disconnected’, say Dublin Catholics

I think we already knew this – but it’s good to have it acknowledged by a respected Archbishop.

Catholic teaching on contraception, cohabitation, same sex relationships, the divorced and remarried is “disconnected from real life experience of families – and not by just younger people”, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin last night.

In general, church teaching in those areas was found to be “poorly understood . . . poorly accepted” by Catholics in Dublin, he said at a meeting in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. He was commenting on findings of a consultation in the diocese.

Similar consultations took place all over Ireland at the urging of Pope Francis, in advance of the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome next October.

Archbishop Martin is the only Irish bishop to disclose findings in his diocese.

viaThe Irish Times, Fri, Feb 28, 2014.

 

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Worldwide, Catholics Disagree with Vatican Sexual Doctrines.

There is an abundance of research evidence to show that US Catholics reject Vatican doctrines on almost all elements of sexual doctrines, from contraception through masturbation and cohabitation, to gay marriage. Conservative Catholics often respond to this evidence with the claim that outside North America and Europe, things are different. From a global perspective, they claim, most Catholics support church teaching. Findings of a new global survey show they are wrong.

Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine, global poll of Catholics finds

Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception and are split on whether women and married men should become priests, according to a large new poll released Sunday and commissioned by the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision.

Catholics worldwide approve of contraception (graphic - Washington Post)
Catholics worldwide approve of contraception (graphic – Washington Post)

On the topic of gay marriage, two-thirds of Catholics polled agree with church leaders.

Overall, however, the poll of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries reveals a church dramatically divided: Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral.

The widespread disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis’s year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.

 – The Washington Post.

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