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 »

On Dialogue, Disagreements and Dissent in Church

I frequently come across Catholic writers and commenters (the rule-book Catholics) complaining in horror on-line at the existence of Catholic “dissenters” who insist on calling themselves Catholic, even while flouting the teaching of the church.

As I am one of those who publicly disagree with the teaching on some issues (by no means all) but refuse to deny my Catholic identity, I am directly affected. In my own mind, the position is simple. I am in agreement here with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who made clear a few months ago that Catholicism is not in fact about blind obedience to authority, but rather it is a commitment to a search for truth (and with it, in consequence, to service, and justice and the rest). I have stated before that I accept the teaching authority of the Church, but “teaching” does not mean legislating, and any good teacher will fully expect and encourage students to argue a case where they disagree.

A useful article at America magazine by Nicholas Lash makes much the same point, but does so much more effectively than I could hope to do.

When the Second Vatican Council ended, several of the bishops who took part told me that the most important lesson they had learned through the conciliar process had been a renewed recognition that the church exists to be, for all its members, a lifelong school of holiness and wisdom, a lifelong school of friendship (a better rendering of caritas than “charity” would be). It follows that the most fundamental truth about the structure of Christian teaching cannot lie in distinctions between teachers and pupils—although such distinctions are not unimportant—but in the recognition that all Christians are called to lifelong learning in the Spirit, and all of us are called to embody, communicate and protect what we have learned. Much of what is said about the office of “teachership” or magisterium seems dangerously forgetful of this fact.

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Sexual Person”: Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics

In 2008 two Catholic academic theologians at a reputable Jesuit university published a book, “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)“,  on the Church’s sexual theology which represented a fundamental critique of its entire foundations. The United States Catholic Bishops have now launched a strong counter-attack, concentrating their fire especially on the authors’ section on homosexuality.

I am grateful to the Bishops for this attack: it has brought to my close attention a book that I was previously aware of, but had not considered too seriously. After reading some reviews and the extracts available at Google Books, I will now most certainly read it in full – and will later discuss its conclusions with my readers. As I have not yet had this opportunity to read the book for myself, I will not attempt in this post  to evaluate the content or conclusions. However, I have read the authors’ intent and methods as presented in the prologue, and can contrast these with the bishops’ disappointing response, which I have read and re-read in full. Read the rest of this entry »

Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...

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David Ludescher, a regular reader at The Open Tabernacle, has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box, which I have reproduced in an independent post for easy reference. Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response: Read the rest of this entry »

Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)

Yes, really – in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means – the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance.  But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.

There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican’s mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For “coming Out Day”, I want to look instead at some of these.

Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart’s “Gay & Lesbian Theologies“, I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970’s.  the first notable text she discusses is Loving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation”, edited by Malcolm Marcourt.

An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of “the courage to be”. In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.

Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with “intellectual theology”, and  under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience.  It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for “we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God………..

For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to  ensure that liberation takes place.” (Emphasis added.)

Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver‘s view that coming out is “Wrestling with the Divine” (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak‘s that is a “Spiritual Experience” (Sex and the Sacred)John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in “Sex as God Intended”.  Today, I want to look at the ideas of  Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of “Coming Out as Sacrament“. Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches.  Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:

“Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our “ability to be vulnerable with one another” – in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves.  As Christ offers himself in vulnerability,   so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength.  By sharing our  “brokenness”  – how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ’s Body – we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ.”

Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-

” that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. “

Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community.  Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out – it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.

Coming out in public is important for one’s own mental health, and also for one’s spiritual being.  Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message.  If you possibly can, do it:  quite literally,  for the love of God.

Further Reading:

Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
Homoerotic Spirituality
The Road From Emmaus:  Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine

Some Faithful Dissenters

Investigating further the question of the sensus fidelium and Catholic dissent, I came across two notable articles on the subject. (Here I acknowledge thanks to the magnificent archives of Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed, where I first came across the links.)

The first, posted at U.S. Catholic in July 2008, is Catholic Dissent: When Wrong Turns Out to be Right. This article reports on notable dissenters, who have faced hostility and direct opposition for their views, but have since been vindicated and in some cases canonized.

Working backwards chronologically, the article begins with  the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who took a stand for freedom of religion against the established view that

civil governments had an obligation to officially recognize the church and support it.

Pope Pius IX made the point in no uncertain terms in 1846 in his encyclical Quanta cura and the accompanying Syllabus of Errors: “The state must recognize [the Catholic Church] as supreme and submit to its influence. . . . The power of the state must be at its disposal and all who do not conform to its requirements must be compelled or punished. . . . Freedom of conscience and cult is madness.

Courtney argued not only that this view was wrong, but also that as espoused by Pius, it was of recent origin, having developed over the previous 100 years.  (This is not the only instance of a “traditional” teaching which is in fact of recent origin.  Papal infallibilty is another, among many).  Murray met fierce opposition from the authorities, who eventually ordered him to cease writing and publication on the subject – but he was entirely vindicated when he became a major drafter  at Vatican II of the Council’s Declaration of Religious Freedom:

“This synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, or any human power . . . This synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself.” The words reflect Murray’s thinking and may very well have been written by him.”

An earlier famous dissident was John Henry Newman, during his time as editor of the magazine “Ramparts”.

As the editor of the magazine Ramparts, he got into trouble with the English hierarchy for asserting in an article that the British bishops would be well-advised to seek the counsel of lay Catholics in important matters. Such a view was regarded as rash and disruptive of good order. He was subsequently informed by his own bishop that the next issue of Ramparts, July 1859, would be his last as editor.

But in that last issue, he expanded on his argument:

Newman drew some shocking conclusions that have been reverberating in the church ever since: that there is in the body of the faithful (the laity) an “instinct” for the truth, that this “sense of the faithful” must never be ignored or taken for granted by the church’s official teachers, that authentic church teaching therefore comes about through a kind of “conspiracy” or co-operative enterprise on the part of both laity and hierarchy, and finally that certain lapses (or “suspensions”) can occur when one side or other of this living body temporarily ceases to function.

I had forgotten this point about the “suspensions”.  Are we now, I wonder, in just such a state, with most Catholics neglecting to speak up against the obvious stupidity of so much of the sexual teaching, against the folly of an exclusively male, supposedly celibate clergy, or against the whole structure of untrammelled clerical power?  Instead, we too readily leave the right wing neocons to parrot  their insistence that we can only be “true” Catholics if we acquiesce meekly in blind obedience to every teaching (except of course, on matters of the social Gospel). Convinced by their rhetoric that we are somehow less Catholic than they for our dissent, we bite our tongues and remain silent.

Newman, of course went on to be rehabiliated and was made a Cardinal.  His full vindication also came with Vatican II, with his ideas incorporated into the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.

Earlier examples were the women Mary Ward, founder of the religious order the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) in the 17th Century, Saints Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, Bridget of Sweden, and Hildegard of Bingen- “all remembered for their faithfulness to the Gospel as they understood the message in their time.  They join a cast of men who creatively protested in various eras”.

Earlier still were those against the Arian heresy, who opposed the many bishops who supported it – and about whom Newman wrote in developing his own argument. Earlier still, the apostle Peter, nominal founder of the Papacy , was opposed by Paul on the regulations governing Gentile converts to Christianity. Here too, the “dissident” view won the day.

Then the most famous religious dissident of them all – Jesus Christ, who dissented strongly from the religious authirities of His own day.

Selective Magisterium: Reflections on Brooten

BernadetteBrootenI have just finished reading (for the first time –  I will re-read) Bernadette Brooten’s “Love Between Women”, which has been a stimulating, enriching experience. Now, I totally lack the academic credentials to offer a formal review. 6000 miles from home, I am also without some of my standard books that I would normally consult to check the contents of my memory, further limiting any scope for accurate statements of fact.. However, in a former life I worked professionally as a market research analyst, presenting and interpreting research data for marketing managers at leading grocery manufacturers.  I regularly told my clients that I didn’t claim to have all the right answers, but I hoped to find the right questions. Brooten’s book certainly raised a lot of good questions for me, and it is in a similar vein that I now share with you some thoughts.

First, the key purpose, methods and findings of the book. The purpose, of course, is clear from the subtitle: “Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism” – with a clear emphasis on “female”.  In this, it is the first such investigation, and represents an important complement to John Boswell, who in practice focuses heavily on male history. Like Boswell, she precedes her discussion of specifically Christian responses with a general survey of attitudes and practices in the wider Mediterranean world. Her methods are innovative, as she goes beyond the standard classical texts, adding to them records from magic, astrology and medicine.  These are useful, because the standards texts, by an educated male elite, tend to focus on a male elite, with far fewer references to women.  But magical binding spells to attract demonstrate the existence and public visibility among non-elites of female homoerotic desire, astrological writings show that the astrologers at least believed that sexual orientations of all kinds were determined at birth, and medical treatises showed a belief that some orientations were seen as diseased.

The two most important conclusions, though, which apply to both Christian and pagan perspectives were that the important distinctions in sexual partners were not on gender itself, but on the appropriate gender roles (that is, as the insertive or receptive partner in sexual penetration), and that there was a marked asymmetry in attitudes to male and female homoeroticism. Read the rest of this entry »