A Masturbation Conversation

We continue to live in the late Soviet period of Catholicism. They pretend to make sense; we pretend to believe them.

-Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish

When I suggested yesterday that we should be talking seriously about masturbation, I was not aware that Andrew Sullivan had done exactly that in a post at The Daily Dish back in January (“How Natural Is Masturbation?”), with a couple of follow-up posts to report on reader comments.

Here are some pertinent extracts:

Now there’s a topic for some interesting dialogue. The Catholic church proclaims that wanking is as serious a sin as gay sex because all sexuality is designed to be exclusively procreative – both as a matter of divine will but also, critically, because this is readily apparent to anyone by reason alone.

(This claim of justification by “reason alone” is a favourite in Church documents and of church spokesmen – but frequently signals that there is no justification whatever outside the closed reasoning of the Vatican mind, not apparent to outsiders.)

Shaw was certainly right in saying that 99 percent of men masturbate and 1 percent are liars. I once caused a little stir at Notre Dame by pointing out that every priest in the audience was masturbator, as of course they all were.

(One could reasonably dispute Sullivan’s precise figures here – but I am certain they are in the right ball-park).

From a reader:

Recently scientists have determined that, at least in a man’s older years, masturbation seems to have some preventative properties in relation to prostate cancer. Indeed, some doctors are now prescribing “masturbation therapy” to men over fifty. If further research sufficiently determines the health benefits of masturbation, will the Catholic Church endorse it on that basis? Even more importantly, can I get a return on the several hours of Hail Marys I said in penance in my teenage years?

And an observation which is relevant to so much of the orthodox sexual ethics:

Nature is an elastic concept. The Church’s grasp of it remains umbilically linked to the biology of the thirteenth century. And its allegedly celibate clerisy is the only group allowed to examine it. Hence what most adult, intelligent human beings regard as the hilarity of the hierarchy’s claptrap.

At least one reader was appalled.

I think your beliefs about masturbation are largely at odds with traditional Christian teaching. I’m surprised someone as smart as you are would not think more critically about this issue, especially since you are a self-described Christian.

Sullivan’s reply is that his argument is in fact deeply rooted in orhodox theology:

My reader misses the focus of my posts, which was on the arguments of the new natural law. This …..posits, after Aquinas and Aristotle, that nature, as observed by reason alone, tells us something about the purpose of human behavior and life.

When something is as ubiquitous as masturbation, when we now understand that massive over-production of sperm is in fact an evolutionary strategy to maximize chances of reproduction, and when we also notice that even in a marital, procreative relationship, a wife’s nine months of pregnancy renders all that spousal sperm incapable of producing children … then one wonders why rubbing one out from time to time is so unnatural.

From another reader, an important danger in the doctrine:

Telling teenagers in particular that both premarital sex and masturbation are sin, while providing no outlet for their proverbial raging hormones other than the delayed gratification of an ill-prepared prepared rush into marriage in their early twenties, sets an impossible and unhealthy standard.

Is the doctrine thereby contributing to disastrous marriages?And from one more reader, some thoughts based on real experience, not mere cerebral speculation:

The real objection the Church has isn’t that you are indulging in a lie. It is that you are indulging. The pleasure of any sexual activity, solo or otherwise, is a very inconvenient reality for the Church. One that priests are no better at denying themselves of than the rest of us. As much as the rational side of us might want to define sex as a utilitarian function, used only for procreation, no amount of scholarship can change the fact that it’s fun, that it feels good. That, at its best, it is ecstatic. Certainly not the kind of thing you want people engaging in if you’re trying to get them to forget about this world and focus on the next one.

On a personal note, my first wife, raised Catholic, had a great deal of guilt and anxiety about sex, and we had a truly awful sex life. Masturbation, although at times something of an indulgent vice, was also an activity I credit with keeping me somewhat sane through a highly frustrating time of my life, sexually speaking.

I can think of some Irish priests that maybe should have done a little more fantasizing and masturbating. Maybe not a long term answer, and certainly less fulfilling on so many levels than good sex mutually shared. But surely better that than preying on acolytes.

The Catholic Church originally instituted its policy of compulsory clerical celibacy in part as a means of control. It thereby created a two-tier caste system, whereby the supposedly celibate clergy were thereby perceived as morally superior – and the rest of the population, living sexual lives, were constantly faced with the prospect of falling into states of sin, which had perforce to be confessed to a priest for absolution.


Pray, Don’t Pay, Disobey: The Catholic Revolution Has Begun.

Prickly Pear, at Far From Rome, has written about a personal decision to remove himself from the sacramental life of the Church. He says that this was “precipitated” by moving house, but has been a long time coming – and was preceded by substantial time for reflection, during a time without easy internet access.  It’s important to note here, that this time was accompanied by an increase in meditation practice.  I was alerted to Pear’s post by a report on it by Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic, who writes on his own experience outside the formal life of the Church for over 25 years. Anyone who is familiar with Jayden’s writing will recognize that he too may have left the institutional church, but retains a very strong spiritual, even sacramental life, with a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He simply chooses to practice his spirituality independently.  Pear quotes from a Commonweal article by Cathleen Kaveny (sadly, hidden behind a paywall I cannot access), on many others who are doing the same thing:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering. But why not stay and fight? First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage is another important Catholic blogger who writes specifically as a Catholic theologian, at his own site and at Open Tabernacle, and has frequently made clear his objections to participating formally in the sacramental life of the Catholic church. He has a useful summary of Kaveny’s piece, and includes this extract:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.  But why not stay and fight?  First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them.  The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Prickly Pear, Jayden and Bill are far from alone. It has been widely reported that ex-Catholics, those who have either transferred to another denomination or simply ceased to identify as Catholic, are now the second largest religious denomination in the US. Similar patterns of disengagement are seen in many other parts of the world. (Research has shown that the most important reasons people give for leaving concern Vatican teaching on gender and sexual ethics, compulsory clerical celibacy, and the child abuse disgrace). I am more interested though, in another phenomenon: the abundant evidence that Catholics who choose to stay are simply ignoring official doctrine, on matters ranging from sexual ethics to church discipline.

A couple of months ago, an Irish paper asked, with reference to the call for a boycott of Mass, “Is this the start of a revolution in the Catholic Church?” My response is no, the start of a revolution is no longer possible. The revolution has already begun, and is well under way, in Ireland, in the US, and elsewhere.

 

Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia: Prague 1989

Read the rest of this entry »

A Congregation in Exile: St Mary’s, Brisbane

This is the face of the future church, unless the Vatican and the episcopal hegemony between them start to take seriously the need to be a listening Church, and find some way to include all Catholics in pastoral decisions -not just the men at the top in their scarlet robes and comfortable palaces: services with (almost) no congregation.

This report, from Brisbane Times, tells of St Mary’s Brisbane – but it could just as well be about other flourishing congregations around the world (St Stephen’s in Minneapolis, or St Joseph’s, Boston, the congregations with womenpriests, and many others) that are doing perfectly well without the help of professional, celibate male priests, officially approved  by the Vatican. Read the rest of this entry »

“Holy Mother” Church: Time for Frail Care?

Writing about John McNeill earlier this week left me reflecting on his ideas of mature faith as reflecting a mature relationship with our parents. McNeill’s thesis, simply put, is that when we are young children, we assume that our parents are always right. If they reprimand or punish us, we assume, even if the evidence points to the contrary, that they are right and that we must be wrong – because our “perfect” parents have said so. As we mature, we are able to recognise the fallibility of our parents, even as we continue to love them. We recognize that they too are human, and that they too can and do make mistakes, and can be wrong. In the same way, we in the church begin by accepting without question the idea that the “church”, as represented by the Pope and bishops are necessarily right in their teaching, and that if we differ, it must be we who are wrong. By analogy with a mature relationship with our parents, McNeill argues that in a mature relationship with the Church, we should similarly recognise the possibility of fallibility.

My thoughts on this were triggered too, by a recent homily I heard which expounded on the image of “Holy Mother” the Church, an image that I find increasingly irritating, for its implied portrayal of us as children. Then, putting this together with McNeill’s conception of the parental image, I took the idea further. After reaching an adult relationship with our parents, we and they continue to grow and age. Sadly, this inevitably leads to a point where our parents’ health begins to fade, and if death does not first overtake them, they may may become frail, or suffer from some form of dementia, losing their grip on simple understanding or their own past and the world around them.

Is this what is happening to the institutional Church? Is “Holy Mother” Church in need of frail care?

It certainly seems that Alzheimer’s has set in. Gone is any connection to Christ’s ministry as one of unbounding love, compassion and inclusion. Gone is any memory of the important place of women in the early church, whether as the early apostle and disciples Junia, Priscilla and others, or as powerful medieval abbesses; gone is any acknowledgement of the many prominent saints, clergy, bishops and popes with openly homosexual relationships, which did not prevent their ordination or elevation to high office; gone is the memory of liturgical rites for blessing same sex couples in Church, or the burial of some such couples in shared graves in honoured church tombs, exactly as married couples.

Gone, in other words, is any connection to any history which does not conform to the distorted understanding of the modern institutional theologians.

Perhaps it is time for us, as adult and mature lay Catholics, to recognize the weakness of our frail and ageing mother, the Church, and nurse here through her slow demise.

Related articles

Womenpriests, and Vatican Horror.

The Vatican has issued new guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse (which in principle is to be welcomed), and included in those guidelines a declaration that the “attempted” ordination of women is to be classed among the  “delicta graviore“.

That women’s ordination is to be linked with paedophilia is so ludicrous that I will not even attempt to discuss the stupidity. Likewise, I will not discuss the abuse guidelines until I have properly scrutinized the original document. However, the Vatican horror at women’s ordination is highly topical in the light of events elsewhere, and worth some consideration. Before coming to the Vatican statement though, let us take a quick refresher in recent history, in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and in women’s ordination in other denominations.

Did you realise that women priests have been around for over two centuries?  As early as  the late eighteenth century in England, John Wesley allowed for female office-bearers and preachers.

Here are just a few notable dates over that period: Read the rest of this entry »

“Speak the Truth in Love?” No, says Archbishop Dolan.

“God’s Tricksters” at New York Pride.

St Francis Xavier church in New York ranks alongside the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco as one of the world’s best known parishes with an explicitly welcoming and inclusive ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. New York’s annual Pride Parade is the oldest and best known. It is entirely appropriate that for the past dozen years, parishioners from St Francis  have joined the parade, with a banner proudly proclaiming the name of the church. This year, they marched as before – but the banner was blank.

This year, as for the past 12 years or more, parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church have marched under their church banner in New York’s colorful Gay Pride parade.

But this year, there was a difference.

Their banner was blank, missing the name of the church. Read the rest of this entry »

Transsexual Marriage – in Catholic Church

In Italy, a Catholic priest has blessed in church a transsexual marriage. From the Independent Online:

A priest in Italy on Sunday blessed the marriage of a 64-year-old transsexual to her 58-year-old male partner, in defiance of Vatican guidelines, the ANSA news agency reported. Sandra Alvino – who underwent a sex change more than 30 years ago – and Fortunato Talotta had been in a civil partnership for 25 years before tying the knot in a religious ceremony in Piagge, an industrial suburb of Florence. Father Alessandro Santoro gave his blessing to the marriage, which was attended by some 200 people

Does this mean that gay marriage is out, but transsexual in? Not exactly. It will be no surprise that the Vatican has objected. What may well come as a surprise, is that the official objections came before the ceremony :

Former Florence archbishop Cardinal Ennio Antonelli had blocked an attempt by Alvino and Talotta to marry two years ago, and his successor Giuseppe Betori later also asked Santoro not to bless their union, ANSA reported.

But the priest went ahead anyway:

Read the rest of this entry »