On being fruitful


(“Bart” continues his series of reflections on sexual ethics, from the perspective of a gay priest):

parents

Image by nerdcoregirl via Flickr

In their instructive work The Sexual Person, authors Todd A Salzman and Michael G Lawler offer their readers the following definition:

We define a natural, reasonable, and moral sexual act as a just and loving act in accord with a person’s innate sexual orientation that facilitates a deeper appreciation, integration, and sharing of a person’s embodied self with another embodied self. Biological-genital complementarity is always a dimension of the natural, reasonable, and moral sexual act, and reproductive complementarity may be a dimension of it in the case of fertile, heterosexual couples who choose to reproduce. Reproductive complementarity will not be a possibility in the case of homosexual couples, but genital complementarity—understood in an orientation, personal, and integrated sense, and not just in a biological, physical sense—will be. (page 67)

The above quote serves me as an introduction to the knotty topic of procreation (the authors use the word “reproductive”) and same-sex marriage. Knotty because procreation is probably the single issue of any relevance that distinguishes between hetero and homosexual couples. We need to realise that there are two parts to the “procreation” argument against extending marriage to same-sex couples. The first part of the argument links procreation to marriage: if the couple cannot as a couple procreate, then they are not entitled to call their relationship marriage. Is this argument reasonable and correct? Read the rest of this entry »

New York Catholics Support Gay Marriage

Barbara Bush’s public support for gay marriage has garnered a lot of press attention over the past week. Reporting on this the Washington Post has drawn my attention to another finding that should have drawn more attention. Alongside the number of Republican politicians and Evangelical Christians who are breaking ranks with their traditional opposition and starting to support equality, the majority of US (and European) Catholics have already parted company with their bishops on the matter. This has been demonstrated in several polls in recent years, at national level, and in state level polls, as in Rhode Island.

When I read and reported on the recent finding of the Quinnipiac poll that a majority of New Yorkers now support full legal recognition of same sex marriages, I neglected to follow through on my usual practice of checking the cross-tabs for a breakdown by religion. This was a mistake. (In mitigation, I plead that I was under intense pressure  for time last week). As the Washington Post has now observed, the national pattern is found in New York, too.  An absolute majority of New York Catholics support full marriage (not simply civil unions). As the paper’s report notes in its concluding remark, “Republican and Catholic leaders may find themselves increasingly out of touch with the rhythm and blues that are moving their constituents and congregants on these issues”.

For how much longer can bishops, in the US or elsewhere, get away with claiming to speak for “Catholics” on such matters (or, in the Philippines), it is patently obvious that they are not speaking of the real beliefs or real Catholics, but only for Vatican doctrine and the rule book Catholics who would prefer to get their ideas from a moral manual, without personal thought or reflection?

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Sexual Ethics, Social Statistics, and the Sensus Fideii

Formal Catholic teaching is clear: in developing moral norms, it is right that we consider  the findings from social science and social statistics. On moral norms around sexuality, however, the Vatican simply ignores its own guidelines.

Whenever I refer to the evidence from social statistics on real – world Catholic belief, and the challenge they present to the sensus fideii on Vatican doctrine,  I know that someone will immediately object, either in a comment to my post, or in an outraged blog post of their own at one of the rule-book Catholic sites. (No, I never have claimed that these polls disprove the SF – just that the present a challenge, a prima facie case that the SF might not exist).

Aphrodite, Goddess of Love

 

Salzmann and Lawler (“The Sexual Person“) put it like this: Read the rest of this entry »

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

Responsible love: digging deeper

Gay priest “Bart” continues his weekly series of posts on the challenges of sexual honesty faced by gay priests:

Rummaging through a pile of books waiting to be read, I picked up Sex Camp (Brian McNaught) and took a cursory look at the contents. I thought: Well, this is just what I need to read right now! The book details the workings of a week-long programme on sexuality. The manner in which the events are narrated make it a thoroughly absorbing book, a blend of fun and seriousness, but informative nonetheless. More or less midway through the story, Brian and the rest of the team discuss in greater detail the importance of achieving and maintaining sexual health. Two particularly interesting definitions resonated with me, and helped me to understand that there is a common denominator to sexual health and responsible love. I would like to reproduce the definitions here [emphases in bold print are mine]:

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (World Health Organisation, 2002. The original definition together with a report was made in 1975, and was subsequently refined)

And:

“Sexuality is an integral part of human life. It carries the awesome potential to create new life. It can foster intimacy and bonding as well as shared pleasure in our relationships. It fulfills a number of personal and social needs, and we value the sexual part of our being for the pleasures and benefits it affords us. Yet when exercised irresponsibly it can also have negative aspects such as sexually transmitted diseases – including HIV/AIDS – unintended pregnancy, and coercive or violent behavior. To enjoy the important benefits of sexuality, while avoiding negative consequences, some of which may have long term or even life time implications, it is necessary for individuals to be sexually healthy, to behave responsibly, and to have a supportive environment – to protect their own sexual health, as well as that of others.

Sexual health is inextricably bound to both physical and mental health. Just as physical and mental health problems can contribute to sexual dysfunction and diseases, those dysfunctions and diseases can contribute to physical and mental health problems. Sexual health is not limited to the absence of disease or dysfunction, nor is its importance confined to just the reproductive years. It includes the ability to understand and weigh the risks, responsibilities, outcomes and impacts of sexual actions and to practice abstinence when appropriate. It includes freedom from sexual abuse and discrimination and the ability of individuals to integrate their sexuality into their lives, derive pleasure from it, and to reproduce if they so choose.” (Office of the [US] Surgeon General, 2001)

 

 

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True Catholic Belief, UK Edition.

I really do not know why I failed to write about this at the time of release – I can only imagine that it was because there was so much information coming out around the papal visit, that I simply could not keep up. The findings of this survey however are valuable still, confirming similar research findings from other parts of the world: what Catholics in fact believe, does not coincide with what the Vatican claims we believe. In a survey for ITV of 1,636 Catholic adults in Britain prior to last September’s papal visit, these were the key findings:

Broadly Orthodox

Not Supportive
Artificial contraception:

4% agree  it should not be used

Artificial contraception:

71% believe should be used more often, to avoid pregnancy and STD infection

Abortion

11% agree “only as indirect consequence of life-saving treatment”

6% – should never be permitted

Abortion

44% believe termination should be permitted for rape, incest, sever disability to child;

30% should always be allowed

Homosexuality

11% agree homosexual acts are wrong

Homosexuality

41% said homosexual relationships should be celebrated along with heterosexual ones.

Clerical Celibacy

Just one third supported compulsory celibacy for priests

Clerical Celibacy

65% believed priests should be allowed to marry

 

The sensus fidelium requires that to be valid, a teaching must have the assent of the Church as a whole. Now I confirm once again that the SF is not determined by a simple matter of opinion polls, but the evidence of such extensive disagreement does at least prompt the obvious question: what grounds exist for believing the opposite, that these teachings on sexual ethics do in fact have the assent of the Church as a whole?

These results also demonstrate the importance of constantly challenging the bishops, drawing their attention to the obvious disjunction between abstract Vatican orthodoxy and the views of those Catholics with real-world sexual experience, so as to fashion sexual teaching with some foundation in reality.

This was the response to the results by the UK reform group, Catholic Voices for Reform

What the survey confirms very strongly is that Catholic Voices for Reform is correct in its claim that the Church has reached a stage where an open discussion about how the Church can best fulfil its sacred mission in the modern world is the only way forward.

Concerns and needs should always be brought to the Bishops and shared among others of the laity as is perfectly legal in Church law. (Can. 212 (3))  Those who ask for dialogue and reform are demonstrating loyalty in their commitment to the Roman Catholic Church.

We now call upon our all of our bishops to initiate a full and open dialogue involving the whole Church in England and Wales, laity, priests and bishops, to cover all of these issues which are already being discussed by Catholics all over the country after Sunday Mass and on other occasions when they meet.

Such a discussion should include:

  1. Governance of the Church in England and Wales and the role of the laity, with a view to introducing fully inclusive governance through collaboration at parish, diocesan and national level.
  2. The requirement for compulsory celibacy for priests.
  3. The treatment of people of a different sexual orientation and others who feel separated and excluded from the Church.
  4. The role of women in Church ministry.
  5. The imposition of the new translation of the liturgy.

We believe that, in the true spirit of collegiality and subsidiarity, as indicated in outcomes of the Second Vatican Council, it is appropriate for the Church in England and Wales to make a genuine effort to listen to lay Catholics and consult with them in the most collaborative way.

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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