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Cohabitation, and the Church’s Redefinition of Marriage

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe has written a strongly worded pastoral letter about Catholics who are living together in cohabitation, those who are married, but only by civil law, and those who have remarried after divorce. He writes:

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Archdiocese of Santa Fe

There two totally extraordinary things hidden in this statement. The first, as Jamie L. Manson has observed at National Catholic Reporter, is that this is emphatically not the message of the Gospels.

In fact, there is only one passage in one of the gospels on marriage, in Matthew 19: 1-12. Sadly, the rest of Jesus’ teachings in the four gospels seem lost on Sheehan.

National Catholic Reporter

That one passage from a single Gospel may be taken as a condemnation of divorce, but there is definitely nothing, anywhere, to suggest a prohibition on any state other than full marriage or total chastity. Our bishops, sadly, are remarkably fond of claiming authority from “the Gospels” for views which are in fact rooted in nothing other than their own tradition.  (In this case, he is not even being true to the full tradition- as I will return to later). Continue reading

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

One of the key points in Salzman & 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?

Continue reading