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Catholic Theologians’ Discussion on Sexual Morality (Video)

From Catholic for Choice, an excellent 45 minute film on Catholics and Sexual Morality. Watch it at

http://catholicsforchoice.org/secrethistory.asp

Catholics for Choice

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics” features interviews with leading experts in the fields of theology, philosophy and ethics who examine Catholic traditions, teachings and beliefs on the following key issues:

Abortion & Contraception
HIV & AIDS
Sex & Sexuality
New Reproductive Health Technologies
Religion in Public Policy

Leading American Catholic theologians take part in this discussion: Mary Hunt, Dan Maguire, Anthony Padovano, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and including British-born Sheila Briggs, now working in the USA.

The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics from Catholics for Choice on Vimeo.

A “Foundational Sexual Ethic”

“Some homosexual and heterosexual acts, those that meet the requirements for holistic complementarity, just and loving sexual acts, are truly human. Whether any given sexual act, heterosexual or homosexual, is truly human is determined, as is every moral judgement in the Catholic tradition, not by the naked application of abstract moral principles but by a careful, hermeneutical analysis of how these principles apply in real, concrete human relationships.

-Salzmann and Lawler, “The Sexual Person

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“The Sexual Person”: A Reader Responds

In response to my post on the evolution of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, based on Salzmann & Lawler’s “The Sexual Person”, Mark has placed a lengthy riposte, which he previously placed at NCR on-line (where, he says, he is still waiting for someone to take his questions seriously).

I do not believe that a lengthy contribution such as this deserves to languish in a comment thread, and so have copied it here, as an independent post. I believe that this is an important book which demands to be taken seriously, and equally, so should all commentary on it.

Cover of "Kinsey"

Cover of Kinsey

 

Here’s my beef with Todd & Mike. (Previously posted at ncronline.org):

I’m still waiting for someone to take my questions seriously. As I wrote over a year ago: Submitted by Mark Andrews (not verified) on Feb. 26, 2009.

[Julie Hanlon] Rubio (in words that sound like a quote from the book jacket) says the authors, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, are “squarely in the Catholic tradition.” Its more accurate to say the book is “squarely in a Catholic tradition – that of the authors.”

Presuming the good intentions of Salzman and Lawler, their arguments raise a number of questions, if not problems. In no particular order:

1. Epistemology is not so socially and culturally conditioned that humans cannot gain real, reliable of our real existence in the real world. If “it is impossible to gain pure knowledge of nature. We can only reflect on our limited human experience of nature, acknowledging that it is always partial, evolving and in need of application” then how is possible to know enough about the world to survive within it, much less engage in an intelligible exchange of meaning-laden symbols about that world?

2. The replacement of what I’ll call “traditional” complementarity with a so-called “holistic” complementarity appears (as the authors claim) take a wider, more realistic view of actual human relational behavior, and what constitutes “human relational flourishing.” Missing from their analysis is:

a. Full incorporation of Kinsey’s landmark work of observational zoology with respect to the very wide array of human sexual behavior. To appeal to “sexual orientation” as commonly defined – heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual (which the authors do not address in their book) – fails to to see these as mere labels for what is, according to Kinsey, an exceeding wide array of stable sexual behaviors and orientations, most of which lack labels and cannot be easily collapsed into straight, gay or bi.

b. Looking at the ACTUAL wide array of ACTUAL human behavior, who is to say that some other relationship, say a “group marriage,” might or might not support “human relational flourishing?” No where do the authors make this argument – and nowhere do they rule it out. It can’t be done using the authors “flourishing” criteria.

c. Who is to decide what constitutes authentic “flourishing?” An appeal to some abstract, external notion of virtue, say the cardinal and theological virtues? Why privilege those virtues over any others humans may construct or find? If appeal to some external authority is desirable then why privilege a “theological” magisterium over the pastors of the Church? If the ultimate authority is internal, when why address the topic of virtue at all, if, in the end, I and/or my partner(s) are the final arbiters of what constitutes virtuous, flourishing behavior?

d. The hundreds, if not thousands of years of Catholic pastoral experience, in which the Church recognizes itself (or not) in the wide array of human behavior is ignored by the authors in favor something subjective. The real danger here is that people can justify any behavior, no matter how self-serving, as virtuous, flourishing, loving, just, moral, unitive and pro-creative.

The pro-creative aspect is particularly important, as the actual actions of an actual woman and man to bring an actual human living human being into actual existence – in and of themselves without reference to any form of assisted reproduction – trumps any abstract notions of virtuous, flourishing, loving, justice, unity and pro-creativity. Secular marriage and the Christian sacrament are merely recognition of this fundamental cell of human society, within which human beings love their children into being and create an environment in which those children flourish.

I challenge anyone to deny or doubt this. Look yourself in the mirror and ask how you got here. Last time I checked, no amount of non-reproductive sex, no matter how virtuous, flourishing, loving, just or moral, ever brought new life into this world. Its no stretch to use the involuntarily infertile marriage of a man and a woman as an icon for and of the fertile variety. For Christians to say otherwise renders all the nuptial imagery of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures powerless and only loosely metaphorical.

A final thought is the attempt to Catholicize the decoupling of biological sex, gender identification, marriage, reproduction, children and the family seems to have more in common with a transhumanist agenda than a Catholic one. Beware.

 

Marriage, Procreation, and “The Broad Book of Nature”

At the British Catholic publication “The Tablet”, there is an important column by Clifford Longley, reflecting on Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ recent BBC radio interview, and in particular on some of his remarks about homosexuality. The full article is behind a paywall, so I am unable to supply a link. I would urge you though, if you can to try to arrange sight of the original. Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage has already written at length about some of the implications of this. I want to pick up on some other aspects.

This is the only part of Longley’s column that quotes the Archbishop directly:

“When it comes to understanding what human sexuality is for, there is a lot that we have to explore.. Because I think what is at one level in the broad perspective clear, is that there is an intrinsic link between procreation and human sexuality. Now how do we start from that principle, not lose it, and have an open, ongoing conversation with those who say, well, that’s not my experience? How do we bring together some principles that if you like are written into the broad book of nature, and individual experiences? That’s the area that we have to be sensitive and open to, and genuinely wanting to explore.”


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So, Let’s Talk About – Condoms and AIDS Prevention

Is it really true that Pope Benedict’s approval of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS is backed by very traditional teaching of Augustine and Aquinas? James Heffernan, writing at Huffington Post, seems to think so. First, he refers to Aquinas on the validity of self-defence, and  asks, does this imply that condoms are justifiable in AIDS prevention, as self-defence against infection?

In the 13th-century Summa Theologica, perhaps the greatest of all treatises on Roman Catholic doctrine, Saint Thomas Aquinas says that one may lawfully kill an assailant in self-defense. In such cases, says Aquinas, one’s action has a double effect: killing another and saving one’s own life. “Therefore, this act” he says, “since one’s intention is to save one’s own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being as far as possible” (ST II-II, Qu. 64, Art 7).

If Aquinas says it is “NOT unlawful” to kill in self-defense, could he possibly say it IS unlawful to use a condom in self-defense, as a means of protecting oneself against fatal infection, or one’s partner from such infection?

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St Thomas Aquinas (Fra Angelico)

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A Masturbation Conversation

We continue to live in the late Soviet period of Catholicism. They pretend to make sense; we pretend to believe them.

-Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish

When I suggested yesterday that we should be talking seriously about masturbation, I was not aware that Andrew Sullivan had done exactly that in a post at The Daily Dish back in January (“How Natural Is Masturbation?”), with a couple of follow-up posts to report on reader comments.

Here are some pertinent extracts:

Now there’s a topic for some interesting dialogue. The Catholic church proclaims that wanking is as serious a sin as gay sex because all sexuality is designed to be exclusively procreative – both as a matter of divine will but also, critically, because this is readily apparent to anyone by reason alone.

(This claim of justification by “reason alone” is a favourite in Church documents and of church spokesmen – but frequently signals that there is no justification whatever outside the closed reasoning of the Vatican mind, not apparent to outsiders.)

Shaw was certainly right in saying that 99 percent of men masturbate and 1 percent are liars. I once caused a little stir at Notre Dame by pointing out that every priest in the audience was masturbator, as of course they all were.

(One could reasonably dispute Sullivan’s precise figures here – but I am certain they are in the right ball-park).

From a reader:

Recently scientists have determined that, at least in a man’s older years, masturbation seems to have some preventative properties in relation to prostate cancer. Indeed, some doctors are now prescribing “masturbation therapy” to men over fifty. If further research sufficiently determines the health benefits of masturbation, will the Catholic Church endorse it on that basis? Even more importantly, can I get a return on the several hours of Hail Marys I said in penance in my teenage years?

And an observation which is relevant to so much of the orthodox sexual ethics:

Nature is an elastic concept. The Church’s grasp of it remains umbilically linked to the biology of the thirteenth century. And its allegedly celibate clerisy is the only group allowed to examine it. Hence what most adult, intelligent human beings regard as the hilarity of the hierarchy’s claptrap.

At least one reader was appalled.

I think your beliefs about masturbation are largely at odds with traditional Christian teaching. I’m surprised someone as smart as you are would not think more critically about this issue, especially since you are a self-described Christian.

Sullivan’s reply is that his argument is in fact deeply rooted in orhodox theology:

My reader misses the focus of my posts, which was on the arguments of the new natural law. This …..posits, after Aquinas and Aristotle, that nature, as observed by reason alone, tells us something about the purpose of human behavior and life. When something is as ubiquitous as masturbation, when we now understand that massive over-production of sperm is in fact an evolutionary strategy to maximize chances of reproduction, and when we also notice that even in a marital, procreative relationship, a wife’s nine months of pregnancy renders all that spousal sperm incapable of producing children … then one wonders why rubbing one out from time to time is so unnatural.

From another reader, an important danger in the doctrine:

Telling teenagers in particular that both premarital sex and masturbation are sin, while providing no outlet for their proverbial raging hormones other than the delayed gratification of an ill-prepared prepared rush into marriage in their early twenties, sets an impossible and unhealthy standard.

Is the doctrine thereby contributing to disastrous marriages? And from one more reader, some thoughts based on real experience, not mere cerebral speculation:

The real objection the Church has isn’t that you are indulging in a lie. It is that you are indulging. The pleasure of any sexual activity, solo or otherwise, is a very inconvenient reality for the Church. One that priests are no better at denying themselves of than the rest of us. As much as the rational side of us might want to define sex as a utilitarian function, used only for procreation, no amount of scholarship can change the fact that it’s fun, that it feels good. That, at its best, it is ecstatic. Certainly not the kind of thing you want people engaging in if you’re trying to get them to forget about this world and focus on the next one.

On a personal note, my first wife, raised Catholic, had a great deal of guilt and anxiety about sex, and we had a truly awful sex life. Masturbation, although at times something of an indulgent vice, was also an activity I credit with keeping me somewhat sane through a highly frustrating time of my life, sexually speaking.

I can think of some Irish priests that maybe should have done a little more fantasizing and masturbating. Maybe not a long term answer, and certainly less fulfilling on so many levels than good sex mutually shared. But surely better that than preying on acolytes.

The Catholic Church originally instituted its policy of compulsory clerical celibacy in part as a means of control. It thereby created a two-tier caste system, whereby the supposedly celibate clergy were thereby perceived as morally superior – and the rest of the population, living sexual lives, were constantly faced with the prospect of falling into states of sin, which had perforce to be confessed to a priest for absolution.

Condoms and the “Marital Act”.

I got home late last night to find the news sites ablaze with reports that Pope Benedict has conceded that there could be some justification for the use of condoms “in certain cases”. Most reports see this (very slight) shift as significant: the Daily Telegraph headline calls it “historic”. Others are less convinced, noting that the example he gives is very specific, that of a male (homosexual) prostitute, for whom contraception is clearly a non- starter in the first place. This  does not seem to leave much for female prostitutes, for whom the same concern for avoiding the spread of infection would simultaneously prevent the transmission of life.

Condom Permitted?

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