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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The Evolution of Catholic Teaching on Sex and Marriage.

In “The Sexual Person“, the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler give a useful historical review of the substantial shifts in the orthodox doctrine on sex and marriage – while also illustrating how much of that teaching is stuck in the fourth century thought of Augustine, and that of Aquinas from the thirteenth century. (Is there any other field of human thought that is so rooted in those two distant periods?) This is an important book that I will be discussing regularly in small bites. For now, I simply want to point to the briefest summary of the main argument, in preparation for a specific extract referring to Pope Paul VI and Humane Vitae.

Two things strike me in this account. As I have frequently noted before, it is completely untrue that the Catholic Church has a “constant and unchanging tradition” on sexual ethics.  Rather, the tradition has been constantly evolving. Just consider the complete transformation of the view on sexual pleasure – from one that it is to be avoided at all costs, even while begetting children or in nocturnal involuntary emissions, to one where it can contribute to the sacramental value of marriage. What has evolved in the past, will surely continue to evolve. That evolution will surely be aided by the capacity of theologians and popes to retrieve, when required, obscure and forgotten pieces from history – and proclaim them of fundamental importance. In two thousand years of theological writing, there will surely be a plethora of documents now obscure, which contradict some current thinking. Some of these will no doubt be retrieved by scholars – and being rehabilitated, will influence further adjustments in the changing tradition of the Church.

 

St Augustine - 6th cent fresco, Lateran

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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 7): We will be judged on how we have loved

Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

With this observation, Fr O’Sullivan makes the important point that above all, God is a god of love. “God is love”, I was firmly taught in Catholic school, and the Gospel tells us that love is the most important commandment.

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 5): The Trouble With “Do Your Best”

Continuing his reflection on lgbt inclusion, Fr Owen O’Sullivan asks (and answers) an important question:

“What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”? What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?”.

The problem, of course, is that the statement rests on the same mistaken and offensive assumption that homosexual activities are in themselves necessarily sinful. This is the basis of orthodox Catholic teaching, and is often assumed to be true (but bear in mind that most ordinary Catholics in fact disagree). O’Sullivan addresses this by showing that the assumption is not supported by anything in the Gospels.

Jesus – who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality – went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Hiding our sexuality by not acting on it, he reminds us, is to live in half-truths. Worse, it is a rejection of a gift from God. The parable of the ten talents shows us how negatively Jesus viewed the man who wrapped and buried his talents, fearful of using them. As a gift from God, our sexuality which must not be wasted, but must be exercised, as a gift.

Parable of ten talents

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Building Sexual Theology From the Ground Up

We are all familiar with the established, restrictive views on human sexuality espoused by the Vatican. In my writing on queer faith, I have often expressed views that some find controversial – but my regular readers generally find more helpful.

Some gay Catholics, and some priests, have been led to conclusions even more provocative than my own. One such is “Paul Robert”, who describes himself at his site Enhanced Masculinity as a Catholic “priest trying to put together a new theology of male homosexuality”.  His tone and style are markedly different to mine, but there is a fundamental point of theological agreement here: in the absence of any realistic sexual ethics taught by the nominally celibate men of the Vatican , we have no choice but to find our own path, and build a meaningful framework for sexual ethics from the ground up.

 

From "Enhanced Masculinity" Front Page

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 1): Is Homosexuality Unnatural?

Extracts from Fr Owen Sullivan’s Furrow article on gay inclusion may be read at “Boundless Salvation”, where they have been reproduced by Jason Davies-Kildea, a Salvation Army officer serving as Social Program Secretary of the Melbourne Central Division. He has divided the series into eight parts, under the headings

Here at QTC, I shall be attempting to add some commentary of my own, keeping to the same eight -part division.

So, is homosexuality “unnatural”? I have already published numerous posts showing clearly that it is not, at least not in the sense of “found in nature”. Abundant evidence shows conclusively that same sex erotic activity is found throughout human history, in multiple cultural contexts, and in all branches of the animal kingdom.  I am not going to haul out this evidence yet again. Regular readers will be familiar with it, new readers can follow the links. But, I have been told,”natural” does not mean “moral”. Of course it doesn’t – but it also doesn’t mean immoral. In any case,I am told further, that is not what the theologians mean by “unnatural”. What then, do they mean?

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