Church, Sex – and Silence

A light-hearted aside here yesterday brought a typically pertinent response from reader Etienne:

I’m not too sure that yet another code will do the trick, but otherwise I get the point. May I suggest a thorough theological [re-]thinking in the preparatory phase? I’d want to explore the following subjects for a start: freedom, love, play, the body, sexuality.

Earlier, Colleen (of Enlightened Catholicism) had this useful observation about the Vatican in response to  my previous post, “Episcopal Pornography”:

What they lack is any understanding of sexuality as a relational experience. Reducing sexuality to acts, divorced from it’s relational aspects, is in itself a definition of pornography.

Mareczku, responding to the same post, refers to the Sipe report. By wonderful serendipity, National Catholic Reporter now has an article by Richard Sipe, discussing precisely these ideas we’ve all been circling. I also have an extended post in preparation,  on the “Nature and Purpose” of sex, as observed in real lives (human and animal) and in history, rather than in dry and dusty theological manuals. When I responded to Etienne, I wrote that the re-thinking of the issues  he proposes must involve lay debate, in plain language. My reply to Colleen noted the irony that the “relationships” we are seeking are exactly what the Vatican accuses us of being incapable of, while themselves focussing exclusively on acts.

This discussion and re-valuation has already begun, even without the participation of the Vatican. Long may it continue, and may the discussion here play some small but constructive part.

Here’s Sipe:

Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.

But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.

Human sexuality is the core of the whole Catholic upheaval that the Pope and the Vatican still refuse to face and discuss realistically.

In 1990 a bishop returning from Rome told me that Pope John Paul II personally instructed every new bishop that he “should not discus in public” birth control, a married priesthood, women’s ordination, abortion and the host of celibate/sexual issues that constitute an agenda that theologians have pointed out for decades are precisely the “tangle of issues that clog up” the Catholic agenda.

Roman Catholic leadership has failed to deal credibly and openly with all of human sexuality. William Shea outlined the challenge most elegantly already in 1986 when he listed the issues that need discussion: “divorce and remarriage, premarital and extramarital sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, [women’s ordination, mandated celibacy] and the male monopoly of leadership.” He opined that the fear and perhaps hatred of women could be at the bottom of the ecclesial hang up.

It would be disingenuous to protest that the Church has discussed these issues or invites dialogue about human sexuality. True enough, the Vatican has made pronouncements and declarations on every item on the list, but none invite dialogue. Congar’s observation is validated; sex is all sin virtue is submission and obedience to authority and its dictates.

Despite Pope John Paul’s four-year effort to define a Theology of the Body he never transcended some of the basic constraints of church teaching that sex is sin. Sex remains permissible and holy only within a valid marriage.

A chronic problem with church pronouncements about sex is their use of the idea of natural law as they define and apply it. The Vatican represents their interpretation of sexual human nature as an absolute determination. They isolate the idea and impose it as an instrument of control. The approach fails to acknowledge that natural law is also the inherent practical and reasonable guide to conscience independent of revelation. Many Catholics use natural law as the road map to guide their sexual behavior. For instance natural law often trumps the dictates of Humanae Vitae in matters of family planning. Some behaviors labeled by the Church “contrary to natural law” (masturbation one instance among many) should be open for examination and dialogue in the minds and hearts of many serious Catholics.

“Intrinsic” is a church-word that seals off any possibility of conversation. Birth control is presented as intrinsically evil; so is abortion; and masturbation. Sex with a minor girl, however, is not considered intrinsically evil only gravely sinful.
Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 1986 document authored by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared that homosexual orientation although not sinful in itself, “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” As if the concept of Original Sin were not sufficient to cover all human beings of any orientation or inclination.

The definition of sex as sin establishes and maintains authoritarian control because bishops and priests (alone) have the power to forgive mortal sin. They are lords over the inner territory of the soul where secret violations are stored. Catholics are required to submit grave sins in sacramental confession for a priest’s absolution at least once a year. All sexual sins, of course, are grave according to Catholic teaching.

(Read the full article at NCR)

 

 

Hans Kung on “Unfortunate” Celibacy.

After a few (too few) voices were raised last week from within the church’s establishment suggesting, ever so cautiously, that perhaps the insistence on clerical celibacy should be reviewed, the Vatican was quick to stamp down hard on this unaccustomed sign of dissent within the ranks. Pope Benedict described celibacy as “sacred” and a sign of “full devotion” to the Catholic Church. The first thing that strikes me in this, is that once again the emphasis is on devotion to the “Church” , and not to the Gospels, or to the people who have been damaged by the whole sorry mess.

German theologian Hans Kung has a sound rebuttal to Benedict’s stance. Writing in National Catholic Reporter, he points out the contradiction between Benedict’s claim, and he evidence of both Scripture and Church history:

Why does the pope continue to assert that what he calls “holy” celibacy is a “precious gift”, thus ignoring the biblical teaching that explicitly permits and even encourages marriage for all office holders in the Church? Celibacy is not “holy”; it is not even “fortunate”; it is “unfortunate”, for it excludes many perfectly good candidates from the priesthood and forces numerous priests out of their office, simply because they want to marry. The rule of celibacy is not a truth of faith, but a church law going back to the 11th Century; it should have been abolished already in the 16th Century, when it was trenchantly criticized by the Reformers. Read the rest of this entry »

Church & Laity: More on the Sensus Fidelium

Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed has already noted how his post on Richard Sipe, with his observations about sexuality and the sensus fidelium, has provoked widespread comment. I want to elaborate now on why this should have been so, and why it is important – and also to address some of the confusion in that comment.

Sipe’s observations were just a few comments extracted from a longer article on the coming reformation of the church: “Sexuality Sets Stage for Church’s Next Reformation, Expert Predicts.” (Arthur Jones, NCR January 2003). Let us not forget this context.  Many other observers have commented on the same idea, not as something to be desired, but as an imminent event. The challenge then, is to identify the ways in which we can accelerate and participate in this Kairos moment. But before venturing into the bigger picture, we must consider the specific points covered in the original Wild Reed post, and the subsequent discussion.

In the short extract posted, Sipe notes that there is a sharp divergence in thinking between the hierarchy and the laity on matters of sexuality, and goes on to remind us that in terms of traditional teaching on the sensus fidelium (SF), a teaching which does not carry with it the support of the faithful as a whole, lacks authority. It was this observation in particular that produced most of the vigorous discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Synchronicity: Thinking (and Speaking) Together

I wrote a couple of days ago how about how closely Richard Sipe’s comments (quoted at the Wild Reed) on sexuality and the church, on the sensus fidelium, and the hierarchy, so closely matched the conclusions I was reaching myself.  What I didn’t know at the time,  was that William Lindsey posted a comment at the Wild Reed immediately after my own with almost identical thoughts on the comments thread. Bill, like me, also wrote about this in his own blog, drawing attention to the “synchronicity” involved:  Colleen Kochivar – Baker too had been writing along similar lines. Since then, Bill has written again about the synchronicities involved.

“Synchronicity” is a word I have been using a lot lately, especially in private correspondence with Bill Lindsey.  There have been several occasions where one or other of us have been wanting to write on a particular topic, but have been slow to do so:  then found the other has written something  almost identical.  As illustration, the story of the South African athlete is one example.  As a South African travelling in that country as the news broke of rumoured gender test results, I was thinking of writing, but stalled as I wondered if it was strictly relevant to this blog .  No sooner had I decided to put something together, than I found that Bill had written a post with almost identical thoughts to my own, so I left the topic alone, except for a comment at Bilgrimage.   There have also been other examples.

“Synchronicity” is a word carefully chosen, in clear distinction to “co-incidence”.  In strictly temporal terms, they mean much the same thing, but “co-incidence” implies an occurrence due purely to chance.  “Synchronicity” has no such connotation, and suggests instead at least the possibility of some linking causality- such as (perhaps) the influence of the Holy Spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Sexual Ethics and the Sensus Fidelium

At The Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a short extract from an old NCR article by Arthur Jones on Richard Sipe, speaking about the disjunction of the official teaching on sexual matters and the attitudes and practices of the laity.

At one point in Jones’ article, Sipe notes that “In terms of human sexuality, the Church is at a pre-Copernican stage of understanding” – a reference, notes Jones, to “15th century Catholic priest and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who resurrected, despite church opposition, the scientific theory of the sun rather than the Earth as the center of the solar system.”

Says Sipe: “The church has not come to understand the nature of sex. And it’s not easily understood – we have to struggle along with the neurological, the genetic, the psychological, the evolutionary basis of it. The church has not done that and is frightened of doing it.”

The post then continues with observations on the response of the laity and its importance:

What the laity has began to realize, [Sipe] said, is that the reason the [clergy sexual abuse] scandal is so destabilizing to the church is because it goes to the fundamentals of the doctrine. The laity wants all these questions reexamined and rediscussed – from contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, sex before marriage, to sex after divorce, even abortion. The laity is beginning to ask the church on questions of human sexuality, “On what basis are you saying this is natural and this is unnatural? The laity is questioning the church’s reasoning on what is natural and how it’s natural and demanding it be rethought. This questioning is so compelling that nothing can turn it back,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »