The Time Is Now for Church’s Sexuality Dialogue

The National Catholic Reporter’s editors have called for a “Time for dialogue on sexual ethics” as a response to recent developments in the world of Catholic LGBT issues.

The publication of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book,  Building a Bridge, which examines the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s recent decree banning lesbian and gay married people from most of parish life, have highlighted, respectively, a path to better dialogue in the church and an example of the worst of episcopal excesses in regard to sexuality.

These events have drawn the NCR editors to focus in on LGBT discussions as the linchpin for a wider issue in the church:  the need for doctrine on all sexuality to up examined and updated. The consternation that LGBT issues cause traditional Catholic thinkers brings to relief the fact that the very foundations of church teaching about sex is dangerously antiquated.

The magisterium’s disapproval of genital same-sex relationships is based on what the editorial calls  “an indissoluble connection between the procreative and unitive meaning of the sexual act.”  Re-evaluating this concept could bring about “far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  The procreative norm is harming a lot more people than just the LGBT community.  A reexamination of it could produce healthy and holy results for all.  The editorial provides the following example:

“Much is often made about the church’s teaching that same-sex relations are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church’s procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is ‘intrinsically evil’ (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an ‘intrinsically and gravely disordered action’ because ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose’ (2352). . . .

“The institutional church’s vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church’s moral norms governing sexual activity. . . .

“If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church’s sexual ethics.”

While the editorial calls for laypeople and bishops to dialogue about all matters sexual, it also recognizes that “dialogue can have its limits, particularly if those in leadership do not demonstrate an openness to developing the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality.”

The modern dialogue on sexuality began at Vatican II, the editorial notes, but it was “stalled by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to loosen its rigid interpretation of millennia-old ideas about natural law and the procreation norm.”  While theologians and other scholars in the Church have produced great insights into Tradition and modern views of sexuality, “those who have made the greatest contributions to deepening our understanding of sexual ethics, such as Fr. Charles Curran and Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, have been silenced or had their work condemned by bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Congratulations and thanks to The National Catholic Reporter for this insightful analysis and helpful recommendations!  Since at least 1968, with the publication of  Humanae Vitae, the Church has been aware that its sexual ethics doctrine was not received by the majority of the faithful. Leaders, for the most part, have kept their heads in the sand.

The success of the movement for LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the globe highlight that new understandings of sexuality can be life-giving and holy.  This new reality also has brought opposition to the church’s antiquated sexual ethics teaching “out of the closet” and into the open.  Church leaders can continue to keep their heads buried, or they can courageously move forward with a dialogue that has been waiting to happen for 50 years.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2017