“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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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.

Pope Benedict, on Divorce, Contraception

Pope Benedict’s views on condoms and HIV/AIDS prevention as expressed in “Light of the World” have been widely quoted, misquoted, celebrated and condemned. However, they form only a few line in a wider discussion on sexuality. This broader context is also relevant for its suggestion of some welcome flexibility in his thinking, which is important for a proper perspective on hos views of homosexuality. In an earlier post, I have quoted verbatim the relevant specific questions that Peter Seewald put to him on homosexuality and on the priesthood, and his responses.In this posting, I do the same with his responses on divorce and contraception. The questions are lightly edited, to remove some of Seewald’s less relevant remarks, or those which are specific to Germany. Benedict’s responses I have quoted in full.  (My own reflection on these responses will follow shortly).

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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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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.

Condom Permitted?

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“Adultery”, and the Problem of Heterosexuality, Revisited

My recent post, “The Problem Of Heterosexuality“, has drawn a comment from my reader David, who refers to the desire of the pope and bishops to protect the sanctity of sacramental marriage. In his response, he raises two important questions. The first, I think goes right to the heart of the matter:

“..how can the beauty and sacredness of the sexual relationship within the context of marriage, and the ability to produce children be promoted, and sex outside of a sacramental relationship be promoted without appearing to judge those outside of the relationship?”

How, indeed? Orthodox Catholic doctrine simply avoids this challenge entirely by falling into the binary trap of insisting that “sacramental marriage+ children = good” implies that “any other erotic relationships = bad”, which is a complete logical fallacy. The problem is that this simplistic thinking is not based on Scripture, which in fact contradicts it, as does the practice and teaching of the Church in history.

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Conscience & Legislation: Sanity From the Catholic Church in Malta.

In the US and Mexico, some bishops are working themselves into a froth over the possible introduction of legal recognition for same-sex unions. In the Philippines, the issue that has them excited. In Malta, it is the possibility of legal divorce. Unlike the other two regions, though, the Maltese church has allowed some sanity into the official discourse, recognizing the possibility of an informed conscience reaching a conclusion that differs from Church teaching, and so acknowledging that parliamentarians could in principle vote in favour of divorce legislation.

 

The Awakening Conscience, (Holman Hunt)

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