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 »

“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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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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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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Queer Gods, Demigods and Their Priests: The Middle East

(For a proper understanding of the place of homeroticism in Jewish and Christian history, it is instructive to contrast it with its place in other religions. I have described previously how many religions not only accept a recognized and important place for same sex love, but even identify specific patrons of homosexual love. I now propose to consider the many other gods and goddesses who either took same sex lovers themselves, or were served by sexually or gender non-conforming priests  and priestesses. I begin, as any account of the development of civilization must do, in the Middle East.)

Same sex love is a common theme in world religion and its literature, and is even present at the very beginning of literary history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s oldest work of literature – and includes a central theme of love between two men. The hero Giligamesh was the king of Uruk, described as two thirds god and one third man, and a giant in size and strength, with a prodigious sexual appetite. He routinely used his strength and royal power to take advantage of both young men, taking them from their fathers, and young women, taking them from their husbands. To protect their sons and wives from the kings lust, the people turn to their gods, and in particular the creator goddess Aruru, pleading with her to send Gilgamesh a companion on whom he can expend his energies. Aruru responds, and sends to Gilgamesh a man, Enkidu, who is massive in size, inspiring in physique, hairy like an animal, and with luxuriant tresses of hair “like a woman”.

 

Gilgamesh's Grief at Enkidu's Death

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Gay priests: Coming Out, Discovering Love – 2

Bart, a gay priest, continues his weekly series of reflections on the challenges and difficulties of coming out for a priest. In this week’s reflection, he begins to tackle the thorny issue of sexual activity:

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

I take it to be axiomatic when I say that we are sexed beings. By this I mean that humans are not simply spirits. We are embodied beings, we occupy space, and one of the major characteristics of this body is that it presents certain features that we commonly refer to as gender characteristics, male or female, or (more rarely) both. Clearly we are not asexual beings, just as much as we are not disembodied spirits. It is most unfortunate that in two thousand years of Christianity we have not wholly succeeded in coming to terms with both our corporeality and our sexuality. I suspect that the Catholic priesthood is the symbolic locus of this neurosis. Cue the film “Priest” (1994).

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“So be it! Let’s talk about sex”.

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

The words above are those of my colleague Bart, who uses them to introduce the next post in his series on the challenges facing a gay priest. Following the three initial reflections that have already appeared, the next post (which will appear on Monday) begins to get into the really sensitive, crunch issues. Look out for it, read it, and respond in the comments. I do not propose to anticipate Bart’s own writing, but I do want to stress that Bart’s series here is a serious exercise, an honest and courageous extension of his spiritual journaling, and so part of a process of his discernment, as he continues his journey of honesty and integrity. I feel privileged to be hosting such personal thoughts here – as you are to be able to read them. It is my hope that by responding in the comments, you will be able to give Bart some encouragement, and possible some food for thought.

“Let’s talk about sex”, Bart says – quite rightly.  This is crucial, and needs to be done by people who are speaking with some knowledge from personal experience, or from sound empirical research among others with that experience.   The extraordinary thing about the Catholic Church today is that at a time when people are leaving the church in droves, overwhelmingly for reasons related to the gravely disordered teaching on sexuality, there is remarkably little talk about sexual ethics. There is hectoring and lecturing from the clerical oligarchy to the rest of us, but of serious talk, discussion between adults – what? Read the rest of this entry »

Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 6): Liberating our theology of sexual relationships from the Church

In some recent posts, I have responded to a reader who pointed to the sixth commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, by pointing out that so much of orthodox sexual teaching has nothing to do with adultery. This commandment has been extended to prohibit much that was never originally included. Fr O’Sullivan makes the same point, but adds to it the contrast with the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, which has been so frequently qualified to permit killing in certain circumstances.

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"Coming Out" as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

 

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix

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The Real Mamma Grizzlies: Lesbian Moms!

Sarah Palin’s understanding of wildlife appears to be no better than her tenuous grasp of social history.  Mrs Palin has been very much in the news over her enthusiastic promotion of a band of crazies  thoughtful, conservative candidates who agree with her own views on education and “traditional family values”.   The women in this band she likes to describe as “mamma grizzlies”, most recntly Christina O’Donnell in Delaware.

Sarah Palin, With Bear

The problem with the conservative view of the “traditional” family and its values is that has little relation to history, and is in fact a relatively modern invention. The problem with her adoption of mamma grizzlies as her model is that they too scarcely embody the “family values” she claims to support.  Real life mamma grizzlies do not live or mate in the nuclear families she so admires. Rather, they mate in promiscuous, polygamous groups, then raise their young as single mothers – or in collaboration with other females, as family units headed by two women.  The closest human counterparts to real-life “mamma grizzlies” are lesbian couples, with kids – not exactly Christian O’Donnell. Read the rest of this entry »