In The Monthly on 31 October 2011, Robert Manne recalled the efforts of Cardinal George Pell to discredit the case of those who were concerned about climate change. Cardinal Pell said that Robert Manne was following fashionable opinion on the subject. Extracts from Robert Manne’s article follow below. John Menadue.
In the Sydney Morning Herald of October 28, Eugene Robinson, a columnist with the Washington Post, reported the findings of the most comprehensive study of the Earth’s temperature ever undertaken. The study had been conducted by the Professor of Physics at University of California, Berkeley, Richard Muller. His team had collated 1.6 billion temperature readings. Interestingly, Muller had begun his study as a climate change “sceptic”, mocking Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” graph; sympathetic to those responsible for hacking the University of East Anglia ‘Climategate’ emails. The “denialists” were confident that Muller’s study would produce results favourable to their cause. Muller even received a grant of $150,000 from the great sponsors of US denialism, the fossil fuel industry-based Koch brothers. As it turned out, however, the study confirmed earlier findings. Since the 1950s the Earth’s temperature has indeed risen by about 1°C. Muller argued in the Wall Street Journal: “When we began our study, we felt that sceptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups.” He concluded: “You should not be a sceptic, at least not any longer.” Of course these results were immediately contested. Muller was once a climate change sceptic. His new enemies are climate change denialists. Nothing illustrates the distinction between climate change scepticism and denialism more neatly than the differences that are presently opening up between Muller and his critics.
Although the Australian is owned by the same corporation as the Wall Street Journal it chose not to publish Muller’s seminal opinion piece. Instead, on October 27, it published a somewhat less significant article by that well known climate scientist Cardinal George Pell. The article revealed that Pell presently regards himself as an authority on climate change. He informed his readers that, unlike him, many politicians had not investigated what he called “the primary evidence”. Had they done so they would have learned, as he had, about the inadequacies of both the “evidence” and the “explanations” being offered by the climate scientists with regard to global warming. Pell expressed strong disagreement with something I had written. “Recently”, he argued, “Robert Manne, following fashionable opinion, wrote that ‘the science is truly settled’ on the fundamental theory of climate change; global warming is happening; it is primarily caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide; and it is certain to have profound effects in the future.” Pell complained about the fact that I appealed to something called “‘the consensual view among qualified scientists’”. For him, such an appeal was “a cop out, a way of avoiding the basic issues…” Indeed, to write of the core conclusions of the climate scientists as “settled science” or as the “consensual view” represented what he called “a category error, scientifically and philosophically.”
There are many ways of demonstrating the existence of this scientific core consensus, about whose non-existence the Cardinal seems to me entirely wrong. One obvious way is to provide a brief account of some of the statements released by some of the world’s most important scientific academies in recent years.
In 2007, the presidents of the Science Academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States published a common statement. In part it read: “[C]limate change is happening …[A]nthropogenic warming is influencing many physical and biological systems. Average global temperatures increased by 0.74°C between 1906-2005 and a further increase of 0.2°C to 0.4°C in the next twenty years is expected. Further consequences are therefore inevitable, for example from losses of polar ice and sea-level rise.” In October 2009, the presidents of eighteen relevant scientific associations in the United States, led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, signed a joint letteraddressed to every member of the US Senate. “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.” And in November 2009 in the United Kingdom, the Met Centre, Hadley Office; the Natural Environment Research Council; and the Royal Societyreleased a joint statement. “Climate scientists from the United Kingdom and across the world are in overwhelming agreement about the evidence of climate change, driven by human input of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” The meaning of these statements seems clear.
The existence of a core scientific consensus on human-induced climate change has also been proven by surveys of climate scientists. The results have been published in three recent academic articles each using a different methodology. In Science in December 2004 Naomi Oreskes published an article that showed that of the 928 peer-reviewed articles published in relevant scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, not one “disagreed with the consensus position” on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. In 2009 Doran et al in EOS, The Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, asked 3146 Earth scientists whether they thought human activity was “a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures”. While only 77% of non-climatologists thought it was, among the climatologists who published in the field of climate science, 97.4% agreed. In 2010 in PNAS, The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States, Anderegg et al conducted a survey of the peer-reviewed articles of 1372 climate scientists who had signed public statement either for or against action on climate change. Their conclusion? “97%-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” The conclusion to be drawn from these academic studies is clear. About 97% of climate scientists actively publishing in peer reviewed journals support the idea that global warming is happening and that it is primarily caused by human activity. If that does not constitute a scientific consensus I am at a loss to know what would. Yet Cardinal Pell characterises all of this as something as frivolous and as politically determined as “fashionable opinion”.
Pell is not only wrong to deny the existence of a core consensus among the qualified climate scientists about global warming and its human cause. He is also wrong to believe that laypeople, like himself (and me), can arrive through uninstructed reasoning or speculation at our own conclusions about climate science. Commonsense ought to tell us that those without the requisite training or understanding have no rational alternative but to accept the conclusions of the scientists. In this area of highly sophisticated science, as in so many other similar examples, as Clive Hamilton once wisely put it, our problem is not what to believe but who. This situation of course is not without serious potential problem. If the climate scientists were divided on the core questions of climate change, laypeople would simply have no way of knowing what to believe. Fortunately, however, the scientists are not divided. They accept the fact of a rise in the temperature of the Earth in recent decades; the role played by human activity in that temperature rise through the burning of fossil fuels; and, in general, the kinds of grave potential danger posed. While concerning the precise pace at which the different outcomes of climate change will occur in the future there is no scientific consensus, on these core questions, consensus among the climate scientists undoubtedly exists. Consensus, of course, is not the same as unanimity.
If Cardinal Pell believed he was able, through intuition, to understand particle physics better than the particle physicists or evolutionary biology better than the evolutionary biologists, his hubristic self-confidence would be merely absurd. He is however living at a time when fossil fuel corporations and other vested interests are seeking to create public confusion about the likely impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and when people are searching rather desperately for rationalisations that will allow them, in good conscience, to preserve their way of life by denying the need for radical action to reduce emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Climate scientists are telling us that the future for humans and other species is imperilled. In combination with the current deluge of similar pieces by the expanding army of climate change denialists, Pell’s pronouncements have influence on public opinion and thus the potential to do real harm. In my view, he has used the authority bestowed upon him by high office in the Roman Catholic Church imprudently and irresponsibly.
Cardinal Pell apparently believes that someone like himself – without scientific training; without scientific publications; without the capacity to read and understand academic scientific literature; without even the capacity to pass a first year university examination in one of the relevant climate science academic disciplines – is in a position to disregard the conclusions of 97% of climate scientists actively publishing in peer-reviewed journals which have been supported by the world’s major scientific academies. In denying the existence of a consensus among the climate scientists on core questions, and in arguing that laypeople without scientific understanding or expertise can come to their own conclusions on global warming, as if it were all merely a matter of opinion, Pell has committed what he might call a category error but which I prefer to call a cardinal mistake.
Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and has twice been voted Australia’s leading public intellectual. He is the author of Left, Right, Left: Political Essays, 1977–2005 and Making Trouble.
Why Our Sacraments Often Don’t Connect With Real Life
By Joseph Martos
(Published in National Catholic Reporter vol. 52, no. 9, 2016)
We are told that in baptism we receive new life in Christ, yet baptized babies don’t seem to be any different from unbaptized ones.
We are told that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, yet we often don’t get much out of the mass, and it is rarely a peak moment in our week.
Why is this?
For years I have been sifting through twenty centuries of church history and Catholic theology, and I have made some important discoveries.
The first is that in the first two centuries of Christianity, theology was based in experience. Words that were later taken to refer to things that are outside the realm of experience were originally attempts to talk about things that the followers of Jesus were experiencing.
For example, when Paul wrote about justification by faith, he was not talking about getting right with God by believing in Christ, but about getting your life straightened out by trusting that what Jesus taught is true. When the Book of Acts talks about being saved through baptism, it does not mean washing away sin by going through a ritual, but it means being rescued from selfishness by being immersed in a caring community. When you read an English translation that mentions the Holy Spirit, the original Greek is talking about a spirit of godliness or goodness that leads people to care about and take care of others.
Scholars who study other early documents like “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (often called the Didache for short, from the Greek word for teaching) are finding that these writings were also attempts to spell out in words what the followers of Jesus were experiencing in their lives. But in the third century, things began to change.
You could say that, over time, the experience behind the early writings got forgotten, but the words remained. The writings were recognized as precious, and they got called sacred scriptures. Even the Didache appeared in some early lists of sacred scriptures.
Christian intellectuals in the third century, sometimes called apologists, tried to explain their faith to people in the wider pagan world who suspected that the followers of Jesus were members of a dangerous cult. In response, one apologist name Justin compared the Christian community meal to a temple sacrifice, where pagans shared food in the presence of their god, to show that Christians were religious even though they did not worship in temples. But other apologists began to talk about their faith as a set of beliefs rather than as a way of living. The words were becoming disconnected from the experiences that gave rise to them.
In the fourth century, Constantine wanted to unify the sprawling Roman Empire with a single religion, so he legalized and promoted Christianity. When Christians began to travel freely throughout the empire, they discovered that people in different regions had different theologies. Some believed that Jesus was a prophet, others that he was God, others that he was both human and divine. Instead of uniting Constantine’s empire, Christians started arguing with one another and dividing it even further.
To address the problem, Constantine ordered all the bishops to his villa in Nicaea, and he forced them to stay there until they produced a document they could all agree on. They came up with the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief that said nothing about the Jesus way of living but only about divine beings and the earthly church. The first removal of theology from the experience of Christian living was complete.
The Middle Ages
The attempt of the emperors to preserve the empire failed, and in the fifth century the western or European half of it fell to barbarian invaders from the north. The so-called Dark Ages lasted until the tenth century. Theological thinking came to a halt while people struggled to survive.
Church life, on the contrary, evolved and flourished. The elaborate eucharistic liturgy got pared down to a mass that could be said by missionaries who carried the faith to the tribes that were settling on the continent, and it was called a sacrifice even though no one remembered why. Baptism became a short rite that was performed on babies in a church or adult converts in a river. Confirmation could be given by a bishop on horseback to children who were held up for him to touch. Private confession was introduced by monks for people who needed assurance of God’s forgiveness. Weddings became church ceremonies because there needed to be a public record of marriages. Ordination became a series of rites for apprentices who were learning how to be clerics as they ascended through a series of holy orders. Anointing of the sick began as a ministry to people who were ill, but in the absence of modern medicine it became the last anointing called extreme unction.
By the eleventh century, the chaos had subsided. The weather got warmer, farming flourished, commerce expanded, towns grew into cities, cathedrals were built, and schools were founded. Monks turned their attention from copying ancient manuscripts to studying them. Philosophy and theology were reborn.
Among other things, the schoolmen of the high Middle Ages turned their attention to religious rituals, and especially to those called sacraments. How did bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ? Why could baptism and confirmation be received only once? How did the sacraments of penance and extreme unction work? What were the different powers of priests and bishops? Why was the bond of marriage indissoluble? Like Christian writers in the first and second centuries, the schoolmen reflected on their experience to describe and explain the life in medieval Christendom.
The schoolmen did not realize, however, that much of their theological language was already somewhat removed from life, and so they thought that salvation meant going to heaven, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not experienced, that sins were remitted even if they were committed again, that the bond of marriage was invisible, that priestly powers were unrelated to priestly ministry, and that extreme unction could be received by someone who was unconscious. They saw nothing amiss in a mass that was performed by a priest using words that the people could not hear, much less understand, and who paid attention only when a bell was rung.
The Modern Centuries
In many ways, sacramental ministry devolved into sacramental magic in the late Middle Ages, but the church’s leadership rejected repeated calls for reform until the sixteenth century, by which time half of Europe had turned Protestant. The Council of Trent reformed the sacramental system, eliminating the most superstitious practices, insisting that bishops be true shepherds of their flocks and that priests be trained in seminaries. From the sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century, Catholic sacramental practice and Catholic sacramental theology mirrored one another.
The baptismal and priestly characters explained why Catholics never left the church and why priests never left the ministry. The Eucharist was surrounded by great ceremony, elevated at mass and ensconced in a monstrance for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and received only rarely, usually after a sincere confession of sins to a priest. The indissoluble bond of marriage explained why Catholics never divorced. Confirmation and extreme unction did not have very visible effects, but Catholics trusted that the former was good to receive in adolescence and the latter was good to receive before dying. The Catholic Church remained medieval in form and thought well into the twentieth century.
Vatican II and After
At the Second Vatican Council, the world’s Catholic bishops called for an updating – aggiornamento in Italian – of the Church’s sacramental practices. Historians and liturgists reached back past the Middle Ages to retrieve earlier forms of the mass and other rites that had gotten lost during the Dark Ages – things like praying in the language of the people, receiving communion in the forms of both bread and wine, rethinking the relation between sin and confession, and returning anointing to the context of ministry to the sick.
Unexpectedly, the unity of practice and theology began to dissolve. People stopped going to confession regularly. Priests began leaving the priesthood and the number of seminarians dwindled. Married Catholics started divorcing in greater numbers and even remarrying without waiting for an annulment. The primary effect of confirmation seemed to be dropping out of church. Even baptism was no guarantee that people would remain Catholics or even Christians, as those who left the Church sometimes became agnostics or atheists, Jews or Muslims.
Alarmed by this apparent defection from the faith, popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI attempted to restore what was lost, insisting on strict adherence to ecclesiastical rules, affirming traditional doctrines, stifling dissent, and denying any further developments in sacramental practice such as allowing deacons to anoint the sick or allowing priests to marry. But the traditional doctrines no longer match Catholics’ contemporary experience of church membership, marriage and ministry, not to mention their sense of sin and their experience of illness. Even Catholic worship feels different from the way it did in the days of the Latin mass and Gregorian chant, and the previously strong sense of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is hard to recapture. As happened in the third century, there is a growing gap between theology and experience, only this time the theology is twice removed from life. Official teachings about the mass and sacraments are not only disconnected from people’s everyday lives, but they are also often disconnected from people’s experience of worship. As noted earlier, for many people the liturgy is not the main source of their spiritual nourishment nor the high point of their week.
Around the time of the Council, Catholic thinkers like Edward Schillebeeckx in France, Karl Rahner in Germany, Bernard Cooke in the United States and Louis-Marie Chauvet in France tried to reinterpret the sacraments in more contemporary ways. Fifty years later, however, their work is not given much attention because it suffered from a fatal flaw. Instead of reflecting on the experience of ritual worship, as was done in the early centuries and in the Middle Ages, they reflected on the church’s sacramental doctrines and tried to translate them into thought categories derived from existentialism and phenomenology, the psychology and sociology of religion, and even postmodern philosophy. By being tied to medieval doctrines, however, these theologians found themselves having to explain why baptism is permanent, how confirmation gives spiritual strength, why confession is needed, how anointing benefits the sick, why marriage is indissoluble, and why the priesthood is forever. But these ideas no longer correspond to the world inhabited by most Catholics, so contemporary theologies are just as removed from real life as the scholastic theology they had hoped to replace.
Is there a way out of the current confusion? There is, but it is neither a dogmatic reassertion of the past nor a freefall into cultural relativism. We need to rediscover what is essential to the Christian way of life, reinvent ways to ritualize that, and reformulate what those rituals mean in terms that are faithful both to the teachings of Jesus and to the experience of living in accordance with them.
Do you like what you’ve read? If so, please say a few words to Dr. Martos below. Maybe copy and post your favorite line.
Do you not like what you’ve read? If so, please say a few words about your discomfort. Maybe copy and post your most objectionable line.
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty within the Catholic Hierarchy
by Aaron Milavec
The Catholic hierarchy has a long history of dishonesty hidden in the dark corners of official Catholic moral teachings. This is especially true in the domain of sexual ethics. Again and again, decisions have been made by the highest authorities in the Church on the basis of an ideologically driven agenda that makes use of shoddy biblical scholarship and false notions of our church history.
Once made, these decisions are imposed from the top down. The Catholic hierarchy has no vested interest in feedback loops. No one is responsible for measuring the impact of any given legislation. Moreover, there is no systemic apparatus whereby the suffering imposed by compliance with a piece of legislation could be taken into account and used intelligently by way of reformulating the original decision so as to reduce “unnecessary suffering.” Generally, in the face of any opposition, the Catholic hierarchy responds by assuring themselves that the original decision was rock solid and that the suffering associated with implementing seemingly-bad decisions serves as an opportunity to “take up your cross and follow Jesus.”
Case One: Dishonesty regarding Martin Luther
With the declaration of papal infallibility during Vatican I in 1870, many in the Catholic Church thought that there would be no reason to ever again have an ecumenical council since, when it came to deciding what God wanted us to believe and to do, the pope alone was preserved, thanks to the Holy Spirit, from error.
The truth surrounding papal infallibility is much more complex. In the early church, no one ever imagined that Peter was somehow exalted above all the other apostles and that he and his successors, the bishops of Rome, were the divinely ordained managers and decision makers for the universal church. Pope John XXIII himself had no delusions on this point. He playfully recalled for visitors that “I am not infallible.” He knew that there were deep flaws within the Roman Catholic system of governance, but he also knew that he was no match for the deeply entrenched Cardinal Ottaviani, the head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, who was hell-bent upon keeping everything in place. So, Pope John XXIII convoked Vatican II. . . .
Protestants, in contrast, believed that no one in the Church was beyond the pale of self-deception and that even the pope was capable of committing errors of judgment and of promoting false notions of what we must do to be saved. And when Protestants want to think of how far from the way of Jesus the pope could take us, they had only to recall the papal decrees that enabled the Friar Johann Tetzel in Germany to collect huge sums of money directed toward the completion of the rebuilding of the church of St Peter’s in Rome. In exchange for their efforts, the pope allowed that the local bishop and Friar Tetzel would receive a handsome collector’s fee. And, to sweeten the deal for their German benefactors, donors were issued a “plenary indulgence” with a papal seal that guaranteed that, should the donor die that very day, his/her soul would bypass Purgatory and immediately be welcomed by St. Peter into the courtyards of heaven.
Fr Martin Luther objected to this sale of papal indulgences. He did not want to believe that the rich who could afford to pay for such indulgences were somehow able to bypass doing the fasting and prolonged prayers that served to wipe away the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven in confession. Friar Johann Tetzel, being a fair-minded collector, responded by adjusting the price for a plenary indulgence in accordance with one’s personal income. Nor did Martin Luther want to believe that well-disposed Catholics could purchase a plenary indulgence and then to apply it, not to themselves, but to some beloved father or aunt who neglected fasting and other penances during their lifetime and were destined to spend a prolonged period suffering in the fires of Purgatory. Friar Tetzel, of course, insisted that the pope had the right, as the Vicar of Christ on earth, to apply the treasury of merits accumulated by Jesus and the saints to anyone he deemed worthy. And who would be more worthy than those who contributed to the building of the greatest church on earth, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?
Rome, in the end, tried Luther in absentia and proclaimed his teachings as filled with heresies that endangered the eternal welfare of anyone giving heed to his voice and following his example. Support for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica languished and entirely dried up in some parts of Germany while, in other parts, the sale of indulgences reached new highs. In these areas, the authority of the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth invariably becomes even more absolute. In simple laymen’s terms: ‘The Son of God gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. He gave no keys whatsoever to that heretic Martin Luther.’
What can one learn from this period of history?
- That the papacy has sometimes forced its own parochial interests on the faithful and ruthlessly harassed those who would dare to speak their pastoral concerns to those holding papal power.
- That the Reformation churches received the benefit of many of the Vatican II reforms four hundred years before Roman Catholics were able to do so.[i]
- That Roman Catholic historians and theologians were constrained to vilify Luther and to justify the papal indulgences for over four hundred years. No biography of Luther was permitted to be read by Catholics that had any good things to say about Luther or any bad things to say about Pope Leo X.[ii]
Case Two: Dishonesty Regarding Priestly Celibacy
Paul VI, during the final meeting of Vatican II in 1965, made an extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of the rule of priestly celibacy since he had elected to study this issue himself. Accordingly, on 24 June 1967, Paul VI published an encyclical on priestly celibacy known as Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.
Explaining how he arrived at his decision, Paul VI wrote: “We have, over a considerable period of time earnestly implored the enlightenment and assistance of the Holy Spirit and have examined before God opinions and petitions which have come to us from all over the world, notably from many pastors of God’s Church” (sec. 1). To his credit, Paul VI acknowledges having received and prayerfully considered opinions and petitions coming from pastors.[iii] To his discredit, Paul VI failed to consult the bishops by letter. He similarly refused to open this delicate pastoral issue up at both the Vatican Council II and at the tri-annual Synod of Bishops in Rome. Paul VI effectively bypassed the principle of collegiality affirmed at Vatican II and, in its place, he imposed a treatise of his own choosing/making.
To his credit, he did not evoke papal infallibility by way of enforcing this decree. At times he even hinted that Humanae Vitae was only a position paper intended to evoke free and open discussion. At no time did he imply that “the assistance of the Holy Spirit” that he prayed for was given to him alone.
History Regarding the Origins of Priestly Celibacy
Every informed pastor (the Pope included) knows that celibacy was not universally imposed upon the clergy until the Middle Ages, but only very few are aware of the bloody history whereby the papal attacks on clerical marriage were resisted for many generations by pastors and their wives. The origins of clerical celibacy emerged as an unexpected byproduct when eleventh century church reformers tried to deal with problems surrounding the inheritance of properties and of offices by the legitimate sons of clergymen. Reforming popes initially tackled this problem by reducing the number of “sons” fathered by priests. Priests and their wives were initially required to sleep in separate beds. When this approach failed, their wives were required to live in separate houses. Fines were imposed. Priests living with their wives were suspended. Bishops bent upon making pastoral visitations and forcibly separating priests from their lawfully wedded wives were often bombarded by angry parishioners throwing rotten fruit. Wives who became pregnant were to be publicly shunned and, in some instances, priests wanting to advance their careers were forced to abandon their wives and children. The bishops gathered at the First Lateran Council (1123 CE) were so frustrated by their inability to impose compliance to earlier legislation that they went so far as to declare all sacramental marriages of priests “null and void.” The Council decreed “that marriages already contracted by such persons [priests] must be dissolved, and that the persons [both husbands and their wives] be condemned to do penance.” In a Church that was endeavoring to sustain the notion that no sacramental marriage could ever be dissolved by anything less than death of one of the spouses, the First Lateran Council’s open hostility toward the sacramental marriages of priests was a shocking (and many would say “ungodly”) departure from its own theology of the indissolubility of the marriage bond.
There followed three centuries where discovering secret mistresses and identifying illegitimate children became the ongoing concern of most bishops. Only when the laity was finally persuaded to boycott the altars of priests “living in sin” and only when the bishops demanded a permanent vow of celibacy prior to ordination did the campaign for clerical “chastity” finally take hold.
All in all, the whole bloody mess surrounding the imposition of celibacy did not approach anywhere near a universal adherence until the seminary system was instituted following the Council of Trent. In the new seminaries, the sexuality of young boys could be closely monitored and their youthful characters could be informed (some would say traumatized) with a morbid fear of having any contact whatsoever with women outside of the confessional. This opened up the floodgates for developing novel theologies calculated to foster clerical “virginity.” Gifted preachers promoted this message: “That a priest’s hands ought to be entirely virginal since only then can they worthily touch the body of Christ [at the words of consecration] just as did the Virgin Mary [after Jesus was born in the stable].” It was due to such pietistic theologies during the 17th and 18th centuries that Paul VI was able to invent his own notion of celibacy as recorded in Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.
What Paul VI did not want to tell us about celibacy
Needless to say, Paul VI, in his encyclical, tells us nothing of the pain, anguish, and understandable resistance to imposed celibacy that marked the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. In its place, Paul VI gives us an alternative pietistic story of the origins of priestly celibacy. Paul VI begins with his mistaken impression that Jesus himself freely chose celibacy as an essential character of his own service of his Father when he declared that “there are eunuchs [like myself] who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12).[iv] Paul VI then wants to give us the impression that the link between celibacy and priesthood that Jesus took as his own orientation gradually grew within the church, and, after many generations, priests voluntarily accepted celibacy as an imitation of what Jesus had done. Furthermore, Paul IV points out that Jesus saw his celibacy as an eschatological sign of the life that everyone would one day enjoy in heaven for “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). The celibacy of the priest, consequently, was heralded in Sacerdotalis Caelibatus as the proleptic “presence on earth of the final stages of salvation.” [v]
The question that needs to be posed here is whether Paul VI was blissfully ignorant of the understandable resistance to imposed celibacy that marked the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. If he was, then we might want to excuse him for telling us a pious fable of how priestly celibacy emerged triumphant because priests wanted to imitate Jesus, their high priest. But isn’t there something that Paul VI fails to acknowledge? Here are some thoughts that Paul VI leaves out of his encyclical:
- According to the Gospels, Jesus never mentions celibacy when he chooses any of his disciples. Peter, who is clearly recognized as a married man, receives no admonition to separate himself from his wife.
- Paul, it would be remembered, prizes his own celibacy, but at no time does he state or imply that this brings him closer to Jesus or that this is part of his “priestly” calling. On a pragmatic level, Paul was able to move around freely because he had no family. Thus, he recommends celibacy for all Christians because this would give them greater freedom to love God without being distracted and held back by a spouse.
- The Letter to the Hebrews is the only place in the NT where Jesus is identified as a high priest. According to this text, however, Jesus practices a new kind of priest who offers a new kind of sacrifice: “Behold, I have come to do your will, O Lord.” At no time is celibacy mentioned.
- When it comes time to appoint bishops, “Paul” in 1 Tim 3:2 says that “a bishop must be above reproach, married only once [a one-woman man]” and, in Tit 1:7, we read that a presbyter should also be “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers.”
Instead of promoting celibacy, therefore, the late apostolic tradition clearly moves in the opposite direction by requiring that bishops and presbyters have a wife and children. Why so? For this reason: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he be expected to take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5).
The embarrassing fact is that Sacerdotalis Caelibatus is entirely silent regarding the above evidence against priestly celibacy found in the Gospels and the letters of Paul. Does this mean that Paul VI failed to notice these things in the sacred Scriptures? Or, did he notice these things but deliberately omitted to mention them because they threatened to collapse his argument in favor of priestly celibacy? If Paul VI failed to notice these things, then his competence as a biblical scholar has to be questioned. If Paul VI noticed these things but deliberately wanted us not to notice them, then his honesty as a scholar and teacher has to be questioned.[vi]
In sum, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus is tainted with biblical inadequacies and gross deceptions.
The falsification of the origins of priestly celibacy
Likewise, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus gives us inaccurate perceptions of church history. Priests loved their wives and their marriages were held in honor until the 11th century when the bishops decided to systematically undercut both of these values. This is not a pretty picture. But it is an essential chapter in the origins of priestly celibacy.
Why did biblical scholars and church historians not object to Sacerdotalis Caelibatus during the past fifty years? Did they fail to notice the deficiencies? If so, they were plagued with the same incompetence as Paul VI. The more probable explanation is that they knew very well just how flawed Sacerdotalis Caelibatus was but were afraid to speak their minds because they were afraid to speak their truth to power. A few did speak out and did publish their findings. Edward Schillbeeckx, Clerical Celibacy Under Fire (1968) and Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000) & Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition (2013) are two brave and noteworthy exceptions.
How Sex Is Understood Differently Today
In developed countries, the negative stigma attached to sexuality even in the case of marriage has been largely dissipated. Sex is no longer registered as surrender to concupiscence or as an impediment to holiness but is widely seen as a sign and seal of love. Men no longer use their wives to relieve their sexual urges and to produce their children; rather, the act of sexual union is now commonly referred to as “love making.” As such, love making is a sacramental sign that communicates and celebrates the intimacy, transparency, and mutual self-surrender between two persons.
Thus, among my seminary students, many of them confided to me that they experienced an acute personal struggle between their calling to priesthood and their calling to intimacy. “What kind of God,” one seminarian asked, “would call me to be a celibate priest while confounding me with an equally strong calling to be a loving husband and father?” This is the question that Paul VI did not know how to handle. This is the question that most bishops today cannot begin to an answer.
Archbishop Pilarczyk, speaking at an ordination, said that it was unthinkable to imagine that God was not calling sufficient men to supply the church with all the ordained ministers its needs. “The problem is with those who receive this call. In today’s culture, young men are selfish; hence, they are unwilling, like the rich young man, to give away their riches so as to follow Jesus.”
There is some truth in what my Archbishop told me, but his small truth should not be used to cover up a greater truth, namely, that celibacy can no longer be seen as a necessary step for anyone who wants to love and to serve God with his whole heart. Just the opposite. Only someone who is in love with life, with women, and with children can be expected to know the love of “our Father who is in heaven.” Intimacy, self-examination, and self-improvement can be achieved today more easily and more naturally by the self-surrender of a man to a woman.[vii] The joys of sex are not meant to be stifled or postponed; rather, they are meant to be expressed and enjoyed and amplified in the blessed freedom and dignity that two committed lovers offer to each other.
I myself tried celibacy for fifteen years. I allowed myself to believe all the pietistic theology that named this as “a higher calling.” But, in the end, the hunger for intimacy won my heart. And, because of this, I said to my friends, “God called me to surrender my sexuality in religious life, and the same God later called me to follow my yearning for intimacy outside of religious life.”
Knowing this reveals to me a secret that is concealed from Archbishop Pilarczyk. Intimacy is “the higher calling” which more strongly attracts sensitive young men who, in the last generation, would have chosen celibacy. Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, unfortunately was totally unable to answer the central question of my seminarian: “What kind of God would call me to be a celibate priest while confounding me with an equally strong calling to be a loving husband and father?” The true answer, as I see it, is that it is not God who requires celibacy of the priest; rather, it is those bishops who, due to their lack of vision and the lack of empathy[viii], prefer to follow the dishonest scholarship of Paul VI rather than to bring the church back to its foundational practice during the first ten centuries.
Read the tirade at the end of Sacerdotalis Caelibatus where Paul VI coldly brands those priests who sent in their letters asking to be dispensed from celibacy as “traitors” to God and to the Church. He challenges these “unfaithful” priests to pray without ceasing that God might rekindle their love of chastity. It never occurs to Paul VI that their appeals might be the urgent voice of God calling to Paul VI to end their suffering by allowing at least some worthy priests to marry.
With the renewal of the Church following Vatican II, tens of thousands of priests had anticipated a relaxation of the rule of celibacy.[ix] The adamant position taken by Paul VI in his encyclical, however, killed any hope for compassionate change. Many Spirit-filled priests, facing a crisis of conscience between their call to ministry and their call to marriage,[x] decided to apply for laicization because there was no other option open to them. All told, 200,000 priests worldwide left their ministry over a period of ten years in order to marry. Had Paul VI relented, we would have easily moved into having married and unmarried clergy living and working side-by-side. But Paul VI killed this prospect. As a result, those who stayed called for more collegiality and more discussion on this matter. In 1970, nine German theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), signed a letter publically calling for a fresh discussion of the rule of celibacy.
In 1971, an open discussion on obligatory priestly celibacy spontaneously erupted during the Synod of Bishops that was devoted to the growing problems confronting priests. After days of deliberation, a vote was taken on a proposal for ordaining married men “if the needs of the faithful warranted it and the pope approved.” The proposal was defeated by a vote of 107 to 87. If the curial bishops had been removed from the voting, then the vote of the bishops-pastors would have carried the day. Nonetheless, when Paul VI closed the Synod, he said to those assembled, “From your discussions, it emerges that the bishops from the entire Catholic world want to keep integrally this absolute gift [of celibacy] by which the priest consecrates himself to God.” This, of course, was not quite the truth. He should have said, “From your discussions, it emerges that more than half of the bishops from the entire Catholic world favor returning to the earlier practice of ordaining married men while the curial bishops here in the Vatican are almost unanimously opposed to this course of action.” Here again one can gauge how Paul VI manipulated the results of the Synod in order to maintain the illusion that clerical celibacy was universally approved by bishops worldwide. Here again dishonesty and authoritarianism prevailed.
When ministers within Anglican and Lutheran denominations were welcomed into the Catholic communion, it was particularly difficult for long-suffering priests to notice how easily Rome was able to relax the rule of celibacy for these Protestant pastors who were escaping churches that endorsed the ordination of women. I have frequently heard bitterness expressed by older priests on this matter. “The Pope spits on our long-suffering appeals to allow some of us to marry. But then these Protestants arrive, and immediately they are ordained as priests while keeping their wives.” Another priest noted, “Look how easy it would be for Rome to bend the rules and to introduce married priests into our parishes.” This caused and continues to cause an enormous amount of personal suffering[xi] for priests and for those who are close to them. The bishop who said, “I doubt whether the Lord would be pleased with our loneliness,” may have been saying what so many others knew in their heart but were afraid to reveal.
Case Three: Dishonesty Regarding the Pill
The birth control pill was first released in 1960. Initially no one could say for sure whether Catholic couples could use the pill by way of deciding when they wanted to conceive and when they wanted to prevent conception. Catholics had already become familiar with the menstrual cycle and they were aware that there was a period of five to eight days in the middle of each cycle when the body of the woman was naturally fertile. Outside of these times, the woman was infertile and sexual coupling never resulted in fertilizing an egg.
The birth control pill was “natural” in so far as it adjusted the hormonal levels in the woman’s body so as to produce conditions in her body that mimic the situation when the woman is naturally infertile.[xii] For eight years, Catholics unsure about the morality of the birth control pill consulted with their priests in the confessional.[xiii] Many priests gave them permission to use the pill. Others discouraged them from doing so. Moral theologians were divided on the issue, thus there was an eight year period when the faithful and their priests had no definite or unanimous judgment regarding the pill. Every Catholic was permitted to follow her own conscience.
This practice was abruptly halted on 25 July 1968 when Paul VI published Humanae Vitae. This papal encyclical was another instance wherein Paul VI bypassed collegiality and subsidiarity. In this case, however, the dishonesty of Paul VI is even more grievous because when the collegial process set in motion by John XXIII failed to return the response that Paul VI expected, he scuttled their report and set out to publish an answer written by an outsider. Let us skim over the facts of this case:
Pope John XXIII received many inquiries regarding the morality of the pill. Accordingly, in 1963, he established a commission of six European non-theologians to study the issue of birth control in the face of an exponential growth in the human population.
After John’s death later in 1963, Pope Paul VI added theologians to the commission and over three years expanded it to 72 members from five continents. This included 16 theologians, 13 physicians, and 5 women. Meanwhile Paul VI added an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals.
The Pontifical Birth Control Commission produced its report in 1966. An impressive 90% of the voting members agreed that “artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil” and that Catholic “couples should be allowed to decide for themselves” what methods were to be employed by way of exercising responsible parenthood in a world where overpopulation presented a growing dangers. According to the Commission’s final report, use of the contraceptive pill could be regarded as an extension of the natural infertility that was divinely ordained as a providential part of the menstrual cycle.[xiv]
The members of the Commission were forced to take an oath of silence, so, even during the time of Vatican II, few people knew who was on the Commission and what sort of discussions/decisions the Commission was taking. For two years after delivering their final report, the members themselves were patiently waiting upon Pope Paul VI to communicate their findings to the world. Most of them were surprised and shocked when Paul VI completely rejected the Commission’s recommendations on the grounds that the decision of the seventy-two member commission “had not been unanimous.” Needless to say, no one can rightly expect that 72 persons discussing a hotly contended issue could ever arrive at a “unanimous decision.” Thus, Paul VI created a flimsy excuse that allowed him to scuttle the Commission’s report.
Some would argue that those in authority always retain the right to reject an advisory report when it goes against their personal judgments. To do so, however, is risky because a truly wise man has to be always ready to learn from his trusted advisors. For him to shun them all and then to absolutize his personal opinion without even mentioning the weight of evidence against him is both reckless and dishonest. Only in authoritarian institutions can those in authority to get away scott-free with this manner of acting.
In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI mandated that the use of the pill could not be authorized under any circumstances because, following the analysis of Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930), every act of sexuality had to be open to its natural procreative function. Thus abstinence and what would later be called “natural family planning” (NFP) became the only morally permissible means whereby Catholic couples were permitted to regulate their reproductive capacity so as to safeguard the future.
The absoluteness of the Pope’s moral judgments here was confusing. At first he affirmed Vatican II when it declared that “it is the married couples themselves who must in the last analysis arrive at these judgments” (Gaudium et Spes § 50) and then he makes an about face by declaring that “the married are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life” (Humanae Vitae § 10).[xv]
The deposit of revelation says nothing about “the pill”; hence, moral guidance in this realm had to rely upon general moral principles and the immediate and direct experience of Catholic couples. Since Paul VI had no experience with sexual love and no experience with NFP, it was incumbent upon him to learn about these things indirectly by sympathetically entering into the experience of married couples?
Patricia Crowley, a lay member of the Birth Control Commission, had given him a selection of letters from members of the Catholic Family Movement around the world tied together by a blue ribbon. The Crowleys had gathered replies from three thousand members of the Christian Family Movement living in eighteen countries. 43% of the couples using NFP said they found it helpful in spacing their children. On the other hand, 78% “claimed that it had also harmed their relationship due to tension, loss of spontaneity, fear of pregnancy, etc.” (90). As an example, a wife who conceived and gave birth to seven children during her fourteen years of marriage writes this chilling and brutally honest account of her experience with NFP:
The slightest upset, mental or physical, appears to change the cycle and thereby renders this method of family planning useless. Our marriage problem is not financial. . . . But my husband has a terrible weakness when it comes to self-control in sex and unless his demands are met in every way when he feels this way, he is a very dangerous man to me and my daughters. Apart from these times he is completely normal and tries in every way he knows, such as morning Mass, sacraments, prayers, etc., to accumulate grace [self-restraint]” (91).
Other letters detailed the hardships and frustrations associated with irregular menstrual cycles and with the unplanned and unintended pregnancies that resulted from NFP.[xvi] Was it appropriate for Paul VI to ignore these testimonies of human suffering and to impose, using the weight of his office, a universally binding judgment that turned a blind eye to the pain and frustration of so many faithful Catholic couples who tried to make NFP work for them?
If Paul VI had been transparent and collegial, he could have said that NFP was “the better way,” even “the best way.” But, as many theologians have pointed out, he had no grounds whatsoever whereby he could declare it to be the ONLY WAY?
From the very start, the absolute rejection of modern methods of birth control was met with stiff opposition among Catholics—both on the practical grounds of their own experience and also on the theoretical grounds that it enforced outmoded norms of human sexuality.[xvii] The Winnipeg Statement represents the strongest episcopal opposition. “The purge” unleashed against dissenting priests and theologians in the USA was without precedent.
The noted American moral theologian, Richard McCormick, SJ, observes that the “coercive ecclesial atmosphere” surrounding the issue of birth control not only heaped irreversible harm upon hundreds of thousands of Catholic couples, it had the effect of damaging the credibility of the bishops themselves as reliable guides:
By “coercive ecclesial atmosphere” I refer to a gathering of symptoms familiar to all. Bishops are appointed by ideological conformity. Theologians and bishops are disciplined [for nonconformity]. Obedience is demanded to all teachings. Judicial processes fail the criteria of due process. Consultation is secret and highly selective, [and includes] only those qualifying who agree with a predetermined position. . . .
It was contended that the Church could not modify its teaching on birth regulation because that teaching had been proposed unanimously as certain by the bishops around the world with the pope over a long period of time. To this point Cardinal Suenens replied:
“We have heard arguments based on ‘what the bishops all taught for decades.’ Well, the bishops did defend the classical position. But it was one imposed on them by authority. The bishops didn’t study the pros and cons. They received directives, they bowed to them, and they tried to explain them to their congregations.”
Coercive insistence on official formulations tells the laity in no uncertain terms that their experience and reflection make little difference. This in spite of Vatican II ‘s contrary assertion: “Let it be recognized that all of the faithful — clerical and lay — possess a lawful freedom of enquiry and of thought, and the freedom to express their minds humbly and courageously about those matters in which they enjoy competence” [Gaudium et Spes § 62]. If such humble and courageous expression counts for nothing, we experience yet another wound to the authority of the ordinary magisterium. The search for truth falls victim to ideology.[xviii]
Marriage Preparation following Humanae Vitae
As a Catholic theologian, I became aware that the Catholic hierarchy was so mindlessly supportive of NFP as to neglect to inform users that, as in the case of all medical advice, there were potentially dangerous “side effects” for those using NFP. This practice of one-sided dishonesty is not only unfortunate, it is criminal negligence. The bishops should have listened to the faithful and have alerted them to known failures as part of their pact to maintain “honesty in advertising.”
Consider, for example, the medical advice given to patients by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
Q: How effective is NFP in preventing pregnancy?
A: Natural family planning is not[xix] as effective as most other methods of birth control. One in four women who use this method becomes pregnant. The method is not suited for the following women:
Women who should not get pregnant because of medical reasons
Women with irregular menstrual periods who may not be able to tell when they are fertile
Women with abnormal bleeding, vaginitis, or cervicitis (these make the cervical mucus method unreliable)
Women who use certain medications (for instance, antibiotics, thyroid medications, and antihistamines) that may change the nature of vaginal secretions, making mucus signs impossible to read
Women with certain problems unrelated to fertility (for instance, fever) that can cause changes in basal body temperature (source)
If our bishops had included these on a “warning label” with their NFP promotional pitches, then Catholic women who suffered through unwanted pregnancies would have felt relieved that it was not entirely their fault that they got pregnant while using NFP. Meanwhile, those using NFP for the first time would would have been encouraged in knowing that their bishops were straight shooters and that they were not blinded by ideological and theological factors. I have yet to find a single bishop who attaches an informed “warning label” when he approaches NFP. Paul VI surely did not do so.
In fact, when I go to examine what my own diocese has posted on its website, I find statements that are flatly contradicted by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Here are a few:
Any married couple can use NFP! A woman need not have “regular” cycles.[xx]
NFP methods support reproductive health. They are good for the body. The natural methods have none of the harmful side effects caused by contraception, especially chemical contraceptives (e.g., pill, injection, etc.).[xxi]
When wishing to avoid pregnancy, studies show that couples who follow their NFP method’s guidelines correctly, and all the time, achieve effectiveness rates of 97-99%.[xxii]
The most outrageous deception, however, is this one:
The methods of NFP are the only approach to true responsible parenthood because they respect God’s design for married love!
It is to the credit of Paul VI that he popularized the notion that “responsible parenthood” requires parents to decide how many children to bring into this crowded world and when they are to be conceived. Earlier generations of Catholics had the notion that family planning was unnecessary (maybe even impossible) and that partners had sex at random times with the notion that ‘God decides how many children to give them.’ Bishops even created the fantasy that doctors who warned women to avoid future conceptions were to be ignored due to the rubric: “Let God take charge of your life.”[xxiii] Also, large families were regarded as especially blessed by God.
Case Four: Dishonest Advertising in favor of NFP
As things now stand, the glowing testimonials in favor of NFP are motivated by the “unspoken truth” that NFP is the ONLY OFFICIALLY APPROVED method for regulating pregnancies (other than abstaining from sex altogether). Hence, Catholics who believe that Paul VI could make no error in drafting Humanae Vitae are prompted to do fancy cartwheels to demonstrate that he was 100% right about NFP.
So I went online to check this out. Should you visit the cheerful site known as Catholic Online, you will discover a Catholic mother of six giving a faith-based testimony of how she decided to hold fast to NFP. Along the way, however, she makes some pretty fantastical claims:
When women learn to read their [menstrual] cycles, they often report a renewed sense of self-worth. . . . Women often can’t place their finger on it, but they sense this. Not surprisingly, couples who practice a method of NFP have only a 5% rate[xxiv] of divorce by comparison to the 50% rate in the population at large. Clearly, when couples treat one another with dignity and respect, honoring the wholeness of each person, their relationship is positively effected [sic].
I say “fantastical” because if the text in red was actually true, then sex therapist and couples counselors would have used this info by way of shoring up sagging marriages everywhere–and not just among Catholics. Yet, in most things, if something seems too good to be true, it probably a scam.[xxv] And this is unfortunately the case here, despite the fact that I have heard and seen this unsubstantiated[xxvi] claim routinely repeated in NFP promotionals. Hence, this is something like being told to take huge doses of vitamin C to prevent the onset of the common cold. “Every belief works in the eyes of the believer” (Michael Polanyi). Thus we have here an instance in which NFP is being dishonestly promoted with undocumented and exaggerated claims.
Why Paul VI thought contraceptive use was immoral
Why exactly are contraceptives always immoral? The Church is not against interventions into nature. We approve of vaccinations and use eye glasses? Why then are medically safe contraceptives not permitted to Catholics for limiting and spacing pregnancies in the way that Paul VI mandated?
The reason is that every act of intercourse must be open to conception. Hence, it follows that married couples cannot do anything that would prevent conception.
NFP is permitted only because nothing is done to prevent conception. But this is ludicrous! Couples use NFP precisely with the intention of making love without conceiving a child. There is nothing “natural” about the process. Each morning the mucus is checked and the basal temperature is taken. By so doing, the couple can determine when ovulation takes place. Five days after this, the “safe period” begins and lasts for eight to fifteen days. These are the days chosen to make love. The whole business of NFP, therefore, it terribly contrived and quite artificial. For those who are using NFP to have good sex without risking hellfire, the effort seems to pay off.
Some advocates even explain that periods of complete abstinence followed by periods of unlimited sex “brings them into the mood of recalling their honeymoon period that following their abstinence leading up to marriage.” I can relate to that. What I can’t relate to is the fact that, for women, their mucus is slippery (they are wet) and their desire is high just at the time that ovulation is taking place. If this is a normal aspect of female fertility, then the God who created women’s fertility cycle surely wanted to promote both the heightened sexual desire and the heightened pleasure enabled by the slippery mucus. But, according to the designers of NFP, the sexual pleasure of women is seemingly not all that important[xxvii] and God’s design for increased arousal at ovulation can be ignored. This is another reason why NFP is “unnatural.”
How the Bishops Promote NFP
The Bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Research and Practice decided in 1989 to urge bishops to mandate that every engaged couple must take a full course in natural family planning prior to their wedding. Experience showed that fewer than 5% of Catholics made use of NFP. Experience also showed that almost no engaged couples took a course in natural family planning unless they were required to do so. Hence, almost everywhere now, the Pre-Cana Retreat required of Catholics who want to marry in the Church includes a healthy dose of NFP.
In my own experience, I relished the fact that NFP was presented by two enthusiastic married couples who taught us a method that combined mucus testing and temperature taking. The emphasis was upon the “hidden miracle”of the fertility cycle and how neat it was to be aware of how the woman’s body changes along with (but not because of) the phases of the moon. NFP was also presented as the “green” and “chemical-free” form of birth control—aspects that very much agreed with our shared life values.
Despite this positive and upbeat approach to NFP that I myself experienced, I was surprised that the official polls show only 1 to 3 percent of fertile Catholics depend upon NFP as their only method of birth control. This must be terribly depressing for bishops who are spending lots of money promoting NFP.
On the down side, I am also aware that younger Catholic couples don’t take kindly to bishops telling them what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their bedroom. Older Catholics don’t approve of the way that the bishops require all patients treated in Catholic hospitals to follow the moral rubrics of the Vatican. Thus Catholic hospitals do not allow physicians employed by them to prescribe birth control to their patients or to perform IVF, vasectomies, or tubal ligations.
This coercive imposition injures the dignity of those involved. The plain truth is that bishops failed to convince their own people to rely upon NFP and not to use contraceptives. So, as a last ditch stand, they appear to resort to treating adults like children. They force hospitals to “hide” their contraceptives because “father knows best.” The bishops even tried to force Obama to drop contraceptives from the insurance coverage given to employees in Catholic institutions. Rape victims, meanwhile, who find refuge in a Catholic hospital are prone to be denied the “morning after pill.” What? The lunacy of these measures is that, while the “moral purity” of the bishops is safeguarded, the rights of patients to choose and the rights of doctors to place the well-being of patients first is trampled upon.
The mentality of the US Catholic bishops is that every act of intercourse must be open to conception. This assumption is the weak link underpinning NFP and the ban against all contraceptives. Objections to this assumption are many. Here are the most prominent:
- Just because Catholics regard sex as the natural route for fulfilling the command to “be fruitful and to multiply” does not mean that every sex act must accomplish this. In actual practice, even Catholic couples with large families acknowledge that only a small percentage of their love-making results in pregnancies.
- God himself designed the menstrual cycle in such a way as to put in place a period of infertility interspersed with a period of fertility. This can be interpreted to mean that even God favors times of sexual bonding, sexual play, and sexual exploration between partners without any conception resulting.
- If “family planning” is mandated for modern-day Catholics, then all forms of safe birth control are not only permitted but absolutely required in order to prevent an irresponsible overpopulation of the earth that would ultimately lead to deforestation, over-fishing the seas, and new eruptions of starvation and war. NFP can be permitted only as long as its weaknesses are known and acknowledged. As Pope Francis declared, “God does not intend us to multiply like rabbits.”
The Suffering of Future Generations due to Overpopulation
Given the exponential growth in the world population, the question naturally emerged in 1968 as to whether unchecked human growth is sustainable during the next hundred or two hundred years.
Many dismissed this on the grounds that there was ample space for housing developments nearly everywhere (even in Hong Kong); hence, the earth could easily sustain two to three times our present population. Pope Pius VI in Humanae Vitae agreed with this optimistic projection.
But now we know what we could not know in 1968. Three points and a conclusion:
#1 According to the United Nations, one in every five humans depends on fish as their primary source of protein. (United Nations, 2004) On the other hand, marine ecologists fear that the biggest single threat to marine ecosystems today is overfishing. Our appetite for fish is exceeding the oceans’ ecological limits and industrial fishing has had devastating impacts on marine ecosystems. The cod fisheries off Newfoundland, Canada, collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. The cod stocks in the North Sea and Baltic Sea are now heading the same way and are close to complete depletion. As population grows, the pressure for more and more effective fishing increases, and no government can, in conscience, limit the growth of industrial fishing so that sustainability can again be achieved. For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .
#2 The story for oil shows exactly the same phenomena. Recently developing countries like India and China are legitimately moving toward increased industrialization in order to feed, clothe, and house their teeming populations. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2010 World Energy Outlook estimated that conventional crude oil production has peaked and depleting at 6.8% per year. Meanwhile, no government is currently rationing oil products; rather, every nation is trying to out-produce everyone else so that their people can enjoy the luxurious lifestyle that manufactured goods promise. But who is speaking for those who will be living when the industrialized landscape has to begin shutting down due to the worldwide scarcity of crude oil? For this crime, our children’s children will suffer. . . .
#3 Governments have admitted that acid rain is a serious international environmental problem and many countries have taken steps to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. But air pollution does not stop at national boundaries. As the industrialization of India and China moves into high gear, new coal-burning plants[xxviii] increase those toxic emissions that show us as smog in their cities. This is the immediate effect. Meanwhile, these invisible poison gases enter the atmosphere and, much later, forests and fish living thousands of miles away are put at risk due to the falling of acid rain. Some of the most dramatic effects on forests have been observed in Europe. In 1983, a survey in West Germany showed that 34% of the country’s total forest is damaged by air pollution. This included about one half of the famous Black Forest. Switzerland, despite its careful management of its forest reserves, has recorded losing 14% of her forest trees due to the pollution originating outside its borders. For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .
The world population when Humanae Vitae was first published was 3.5 billion. Today’s world population is 7.2 billion. This is more than double. Let’s face it. If current trends continue, another fifty years of reckless population growth will inevitably produce an immeasurable amount of human suffering. So now, in view of the destructive side-effects of population growth, ought the bishops to begin sponsoring conferences aimed at reexamining the optimistic notes regarding population growth in Humanae Vitae? Not to make some changes[xxix] now is to blindly continue to disrupt the ecosystems of our dear home and planet. It is to put our children and our children’s children at risk.
Case Five: Dishonesty Regarding Gay Sexuality
Before same-sex unions could imagine and then to actually fight for the right to be married, three important conditions within heterosexual marriages had to change. Here they are:
#1 Roles assigned to men as money-makers and women as home-makers had to become flexible. It had to become possible for a husband to decide to stay home to keep the house and to raise the children while his wife, an engineer or a lawyer, goes to work each day and earns the money to keep their enterprise afloat with only one salary. If a husband and wife can live this way and even, to some degree, relish “exchanging roles,” then it is possible that two women or two men could do the same thing and call what they have “a loving and fruitful marriage” with the same fierce conviction.
#2 Men had to become less authoritarian and women had to become less submissive. Even Aristotle was able to acknowledge that “true friendship” can flourish only when “both men are social equals.” I can illustrate this best by examing the lives of my own parents and grandparents. In my grandparents generation, men alone could open bank accounts, men alone could buy a home or an automobile on credit, men alone could decide what companions and what forms of recreation were suitable for his wife, men alone could initiate sex in the bedroom, men alone could decide what sort of education was appropriate for each of his children[xxx], men alone had the legal right to claim their offspring as “belonging to them” in the case of a contentious divorce.
#3 The paradigm of sex had to shift from “making babies” to “making love.” It is rare, in my experience, to find a celibate priest who talks knowingly about what it means for a couple to be “making love.” On the other hand, “making babies” is much more understandable for celibates because the logic of an orgasm in a vaginal canal that has an ovum ripening is primary an intellectual affair. Since most priests are intelligent, they find it easy to understand “making babies.”
This is precisely where Cardinal Ratzinger has focused his attention and this is his backdrop for doing his moralizing. He is speaking eloquently to my grandparents generation. However, he cannot be trusted to address the moral values and concerns of the present generation. Moreover, being a priest and an archbishop further isolates him from knowing and appreciating the art of love-making.[xxxi]
Making love cannot be understood by attending lectures, by reading books, by watching romantic films. Making love begins with a mutual sexual attraction that matures within a series of give and takes, trials and errors, into a budding romance that builds upon mutual admiration woven together with sustained trust. Sex begins with light touches, hand-holding, sitting close, telling secrets, etc. Two people make loving following a path that they carve out for themselves that is filled with deep intuitions, playfulness, and surprises. No two people do it in the same way. No two people do it in the same way even after twenty years of marriage. Cardinal Ratzinger is a complete stranger to most of this.
Since “making babies” is easier to understand and easier to talk about, clerics such as Cardinal Ratzinger usually only talk about “making babies.” The art of “making love” attracts them, escapes them, baffles them, but they usually don’t talk about it. Either they are aware of how little experience they have and, thus, they stay away from talking about “making love” for fear that they would come across as superficial or downright stupid. Or, on the other hand, clerics might be aware of how much experience they have had and they prefer not to reveal such intimate moments of their lives, especially if they have had significant “love-making” with another man. Perhaps this is the reason why the official Vatican theology of sexuality along with its morality is framed almost entirely in the safe but outdated paradigm of “making babies.”
This is unfortunate. For what reason? Fr. Shaji George Kochuthara, CMI, associate professor of theology at Dharmaram Vidya in Bangalore, made a thorough study of how sex as “making babies” was accepted, for a very long time, as the supreme value of sex. Then, as Catholic experience grew in tandem with contemporary society, sex as “making love” attached itself to “making babies.” Thus, in the 60s, there were two supreme values of marital sex. In the 80s, however, sex as “making love” took on such importance as to supplant the earlier supreme value of sex. Fr. Kochuthara, in his groundbreaking study, The Concept of Sexual Pleasure in the Catholic Moral Tradition, summarizes his discovery in these words:
When we consider the theological developments from the second half of the 20th century, we can identify a notable change in the emphasis on procreation. The emphasis is no more on procreation, but on love. Mutual love and union of the couple is the most important purpose of marriage as well as that of the marital union. We may understand the difference only when we consider that tradition up to modern times, which practically assigned no place to the discussion on love as pertaining to conjugal life. Besides considering love as a necessary condition for conjugal intimacy, all other aspects of conjugal life, including the procreative dimension, are given their significance based on the criterion of love.[xxxii]
In plain-speaking and vulgar language, what Fr. Kochuthara is saying is that, in my grandparents’ generation, a man could fuck[xxxiii] his wife and be proud of himself. He was fulfilling God’s command to be “fruitful and to multiply.” His wife, meanwhile, had “done her duty” by patiently submitting to her husband’s sexual advances and by raising his children so that he could be proud of them. Nothing more was required.
The time is quickly arriving and is already here when “fucking” is not enough. Any husband who does not allow his wife to coach him in the art of love-making is not worthy to be called a lover. His erection and his sexual satisfaction is not the end all and be all. Unless a husband can escape being exclusively absorbed by his sexual arousal and actively turn his attention to pleasuring his wife, there can be no mutuality in sex and their love-making will inevitably be less humane than what it could be.
Cardinal Ratzinger appears never to have understood this. How could he? In the back of his mind, sex was still about “making babies.” This he could understand. This he could logically explain. “Making love” was nebulous and inconsequential and frightening.
- That is why he took the mandate of Pius XI, “Every act of sexuality had to be open to its natural procreative function,” and made it his mantra.
- This is why he automatically eliminated same-sex unions as worthy of any consideration: no two men or two women can “make babies.”
- This is why he routinely refers to marital intercourse as “the conjugal act” and never once uses the more precise and more modern term, “making love.”
Furthermore, Cardinal Ratzinger seemingly never had the occasion to admire and to care for anyone who had a homosexual orientation. Just to the contrary, he had some painful interactions with gay men in 1968[xxxiv], and the trauma of these interactions appears to have blocked him from any desire to meet and to understand gays or lesbians from that point forward. As a result, he had no interest in creating a Church dedicated to understanding, loving, and protecting its gay and lesbian members. Quite to the contrary, he felt impelled to create a Church wherein “baby-making” was the core of permissible sex and that, as a result, homosexual sex was “objectively disordered” and same-sex unions had no intrinsic value whatsoever when contrasted with the divinely approved marriage of a man and a women.
Furthermore, Cardinal Ratzinger was never the parent of a child, and, as a result he never had the opportunity to learn the art of love that plays itself out between a parent and a special child. Hence, while he was a brilliant theologian, he lacked the emotional intelligence and the empathy that a Father of the Church requires.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s Dark Side
I do not fault Cardinal Ratzinger for being true to himself by taking what he could understand, namely sex as “baby-making,” and making it the center of his moral theology of marriage. I cannot fault him for allowing the traumatic events of 1968 to insulate him from any further contacts with the LGBT community. I cannot fault him from being authoritarian. Nor can I fault him from growing old and, in so doing, to become less and less aware of the changing values of young married couples. I can even excuse him for become less and less aware of the horrendous spiritual pain and psychological suffering that his doctrine of homosexuality imposed on young people who grew up loving the Church. In all these things, Cardinal Ratzinger was being true to himself.
I want to fault Cardinal Ratzinger only for this: that he was so unaware of his “dark side” as to suppose that he was so well-informed and so knowledgeable as to be capable of resolving “by himself” all the complex psychological, physiological, and theological aspects of homosexuality. Only someone with an overextended estimate of his own capabilities could do something like that. And then to make matters even worse, he spent hours and days and months using the powers of his office to harass and to silence anyone within the Church who openly disagreed with him. This, too, is his dangerous “dark side.”
In brief, he was an “inquisitor” of the old school. He evoked fear in his victims. Those who did not accept his moral norms were stripped of their right to teach and their right to publish. And, for this, he gained much praise from those who also have authoritarian personalities and admire Cardinal Ratzinger because he slammed his fist down and refused to apologize for taking draconian steps to protect the indisputable truths of the Catholic Church. But none of his victims ever praised the fairness of his inquisitorial process. None of them were convinced by his brilliant arguments.
As for the repressive conduct of the Cardinal Ratzinger and a large segment of the hierarchy in these matters, one would do well to remember the cautionary words of Harry S. Truman:
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country [Church] where everyone lives in fear.
Needless self-hatred, loneliness, and false guilt
So, in the end, I have tried to make clear why Cardinal Ratzinger’s doctrine of homosexuality stands upon a theology of sexuality that is seriously flawed and antiquated. It should be commended to no one, and pastors who recommend it are setting up their LGBT parishioners for an “unnatural” celibate life that is filled with needless self-hatred, loneliness, and false guilt. In a word, Ratzinger’s doctrine which has become the bedrock of the Catholic bishops worldwide is a serious sin and a criminal action against the Beneficent Creator who gives to each person their particular calling and sexual orientation.
Finally, If homosexual orientations are not voluntarily chosen but are a gift of God “discovered” during the time of the sexual awakening that marks adolescence, then it is “blameless.” Cardinal Ratzinger entirely agrees with this. The problem is that he then goes on to take the rules governing sex among heterosexuals in my grandparents generation and applies this to homosexuals. This is clearly an absurd notion. If heterosexual men are gifted with a natural attraction to women, then it would be absurd to suggest that they had this impulse but were never able to act upon it. Likewise, for lesbians to have a natural attraction to women, it would likewise be absurd (a violation of natural law) to suggest that they had this God-given impulse but were never permitted (according to Ratzinger’s doctrine) to act upon it. Thus all the clever tricks that Cardinal Ratzinger uses to demoralize lesbians and gays runs against God’s own manifest intentionality in giving them a calling which has its own special rules. Cardinal Ratzinger never came to understood this. This is the glaring absurdity stuck in the middle of his entire absurd system.
What lessons can be learned from this dishonesty?
During the course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), free and open discussions gradually took hold among the assembled bishops once the curial grip on the Council was challenged. Within this aggiornamento  that was endorsed by John XXIII, the bishops discovered how creative collaboration with each other and with the Holy Spirit served to chart a visionary program of collaborative pastoral renewal that received overwhelming approval by the assembled bishops.
Once the bishops went home, however, the wisdom of free deliberations and collective decision making was quickly ignored by Paul VI. Before they went home, however, the bishops made plans for a tri-annual Synod of Bishops that would meet in order to further define and extend the pastoral renewal of Vatican II. Very quickly the curia took charge of the agenda of these Synods, and the popes who chaired them reduced them to becoming consultative rather than the deliberative bodies. The Synod of 1971 marked a turning point. Since then, the Synods meeting in Rome have been toothless tigers that have had no consequences for defining the key pastoral challenges facing the Church. Much less did these Roman Synods have any opportunity to examine and to reform practices that were dishonestly arrived at and that had caused Catholic an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering.
Pope Francis indicated his intention to return to the vision of Vatican II. He has planned an ordinary Synod on the Family for 4-25 Oct 2015. Meanwhile he has mandated that an extraordinary Synod on the Family planned for 5-19 Oct 2014 would plan and do the preparatory work for the ordinary Synod a year later.
My sources indicate that, in early 2014, Pope Francis met with the organizers of this Synod and made plain his requirement: “I want discussion.” The chair responded, “The bishops are not accustomed to having discussions during these synods.” Pope Francis rebuffed this challenge saying, “I want lots of discussions.” Thus, the organizers have effectively been mandated to return to the free and open discussions that marked Vatican II. Pope Francis emphasized this point in opening the Synod.
Why the Pope Doesn’t Quickly Clean Up the Mess
Pope Francis could push the Church ahead by virtue of a series of “executive commands” but this would be a defeat of the collaborative and decision making mandated by Vatican II. We have suffered under three popes who have squelched collaboration and have mandated changes that, in my view, defeated and reversed much of Vatican II. If Pope Francis would conduct himself as did these popes, then the people of God would be subjected to more authoritarian policies that would inevitably continue to divide the Church into factions. Mores, if Pope Francis would adapt an authoritarian style of papal leadership, this would further entrench the practice of papal authoritarianism and effectively incite bishops to oppose him in the name of a future conservative pope who would be elected to the Roman episcopal office. It would also give the College of Cardinals the impulse to choose a successor for Pope Francis who would reverse everything done by him. In effect, therefore, even a “bully” with a progressive agenda in the papal office is still a “bully” whose style of leadership defeats the Gospel and negates the functioning of Synods as envisioned by Vatican II.
Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that he favors “synodolism,” the term he prefers to use interchangeably with “collegiality.” During the first ceremony of the blessing and imposition of the pallium on 34 metropolitan archbishops on 29 June 2013, Pope Francis spoke about “the path of collegiality” as the road that can lead the Church to “grow in harmony with the service of primacy.” He has publicly chosen an international group of eight cardinals to work with him in reforming the Curia. He has convoked an Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and, at the same time, he has promoted an international survey intended to allow the bishops to hear the joys and sorrows, the trials and tribulations that surround family issues. The conducting of this worldwide survey was erratic and the tabulation of the results left significant loopholes; nonetheless, Francis opened the door to hearing the “sensus fidelium” and signaling to the bishops at the Synod that real people with real problems were counting on them for mercy and justice and love.
In brief, I would judge that to the degree that Pope Francis brings open discussion and collegiality back to the forthcoming extraordinary Synod on the Family will we be able to trust him to begin healing the Roman Catholic Church of its destructive factionalism, its crippling authoritarianism, and its pastoral dysfunctionality.
Collegiality is not just an invention of Vatican II. Collegiality was the hallmark of Peter’s authority in the early church. Collegiality was the defining character of the Patristic churches as well. Papal absolutism was only invented in the middle ages when authoritarian monarchs populated the European landscape. In that era, the Vatican States had to have its own absolute monarch so as to be able to hold its head high in the assembly of monarchs.
But this era has passed away. The European states gradually discovered the wisdom of limiting the divine right of kings, and, eventually, they dethroning monarchs entirely. Thus, the papacy represents the last of the absolute monarchs in Europe. And the Vatican wants us, like gullible children, to believe that Matt 16:18 represents the will of the divine savior to establish Peter as an absolute monarch in governing the church. . . .
On this last point, Pope Francis flatly disagrees with a papacy that functions like an absolute monarchy. In fact, Pope Francis has been promoting the reading and the implementation of archbishop emeritus of San Francisco John R. Quinn’s book, Reform of the Papacy. This is the best good news about Pope Francis! How far and how successful Pope Francis will be in this reform remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: Pope Francis needs to get allies for this project at all levels of church organization. Here is where you, the reader, and I, the author of this essay, come to play our parts. Either we can continue to blindly believe that incompetent popes made bad decisions that were upheld as unquestionable and unchangeable or we can join with Pope Francis and expose the dishonesty that surrounds bad decisions that have been imposed from the top down.
When a Priest Falls in Love
[i]The papacy prior to John XXIII has been quick to silence innovative pastors and to hinder any reforms that did not advance the papal agenda. Without a reforming pope like John XXIII, we Catholics would still be reciting our rosaries and reading our private missals during a Mass that had a mystery and holiness that was largely unintelligible to us and removed from our direct participation. Thus, the directives of Vatican II offer a remarkable summary of the pastoral changes that Martin Luther fostered among the Catholics who favored the reforms of the sixteenth century: “The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that… devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved. For this purpose the rites are to be simplified… The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word… The homily is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself… It should not be omitted except for a serious reason” [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy § 50-52].
The counter-Reformation, on the other hand, made sure that no one moved ahead or stayed behind the authoritarian Vicar of Christ on earth. Without Rome’s approval, nothing went forward. The reforms of Martin Luther were therefore to be despised and hindered.
[ii]James Atkinson, “Catholic Devaluation of Luther, 1517-1939: The Period of Hostility and Destructive Criticism,” Martin Luther: Prophet to the Catholic Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 3-47.
[iii]Paul VI received a substantial number of letters from pastors who favoured a change in the rule of celibacy. See n. 15.
[iv]Fr. Christian Cochini, SJ, examines the question of when the tradition of priestly celibacy began in the Latin Church, and he is able to trace it back to its apostolic origins. Hence, his book is aptly titled Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990). Some Catholics believe that Fr. Cochini provides the meticulous research into the origins of priestly celibacy that were lacking at the time that Pius VI wrote Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. George T. Dennis, SJ, on the other hand, examines the data offered by Cochini and concludes that his book provides no evidence that celibacy had apostolic origins: “There is simply no clear evidence of a general tradition or practice, much less of an obligation, of priestly celibacy-continence before the beginning of the fourth century.” Peter Fink, SJ, agrees, saying that underlying premises used in the book “would not stand up so comfortably to historical scrutiny.” See also Roger Balducelli, “The Apostolic Origins of Clerical Continence: A Critical Appraisal of a New Book,” Theological Studies 43 (1982) 693-705. While Cochini’s book may have been enthusiastically received in some circles in his native India, the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India presents a narrative that roundly rejects his thesis (http://www.cbci.in/Celibacy-In-The-Catholic-Church.aspx).
[v]What functions will and will not prevail in the world to come remains open to study. The theme of the heavenly banquet where eating and drinking at the abundant love feast would require an earth that has harvests and skilled ranks of harvesters, bakers, wine brewers, cooks, etc. It would also require that the resurrected bodies are functioning bodies capable of practicing and perfecting the agricultural and culinary arts. When sexuality is considered as procreation and marriage is considered as bonding a woman to the use of one man who is not free to divorce her, then one can see how, in the first century, Jesus might have been inclined to imagine that the institution of marriage would be set aside in the world to come. This says nothing, however, about the loss of the human sexual appetite and the hunger for intimacy. In an earlier age when sex was considered as a hindrance to true holiness, Christians were naturally inclined to imagine Jesus was a virgin. It was in harmony with this earlier age that Paul VI wrote his encyclical. The new wine, however, will have to be transported in new wine skins and not in the old skins of Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.
[vi]For more details, see Edward Schillbeeckx, Clerical Celibacy Under Fire, Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1968, and Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, New York: Doubleday, 2000, 104-150.
[vii] In some segments of American culture, patriarchy still rules and a man who surrenders himself to his wife is considered weak and unmanly. In Africa, on the other hand, patriarchy is still very prevelent and “virility” is invariably associated with “the number of children” that a man fathers. I find this attitude to be true to some African-American men as well. Such men wear a small earring for each child that they fathered. In Africa, clerical celibacy is often forced to take a second place when it comes time for priests to gain the respect of their congregations.
[viii]The empathy that I am thinking of here is the recognition that so many seminarians already have a dual vocation.
[ix]The National Association of Pastoral Renewal conducted a survey of active priests in the U.S.A. in 1967. 62% of the respondents favored optional celibacy. 92% favored allowing married priests and their wives to receive communion. At the 1971 convention of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, the delegates voted nine-to-one in favor of changing the law requiring celibacy. Terence Sweeney, SJ, polled the 312 American Catholic bishops on this question and 24% of the respondents favored optional celibacy. The 1985 Gallup Poll of Catholic laity found that 63% favored married priests. This and other data can be found in Joseph H. Fichter, SJ, Wives of Catholic Clergy, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1992, 172-180.
[x]I myself, as a seminary professor for twenty-five years, have witnessed many seminarians who honestly and painfully spoke of their crisis of conscience forced upon them by a hierarchy that refused to distinguish between the gift of celibacy and the calling to ordained ministry. Even for those going ahead toward ordination admitted that they were often ‘confused that God should seemingly confound them by giving them such a powerful hunger for intimacy and for family.’
[xi]More recent studies demonstrate that the rule of celibacy has continued to be a heavy burden for many priests. Research conducted by Professor Jozef Baniak at Poznand University in Poland found that 54 percent of Polish priests support an end to mandatory celibacy (The Tablet 2/14/09). Nearly one-third of these Polish priests described themselves as being in intimate relationships with women while 12 percent admitted that they were living with a woman. In 2011, hundreds of German, Austrian and Swiss theologians (249 as of February 15, 2011) signed a letter calling for the ordination of married priests (http://www.memorandum-freiheit.de/?page_ id=518). Other appeals can be found here: http://www.ca.renewedpriesthood.org/ page.cfm?Web_ID=1609. One can find priests struggling with intimacy telling their personal storied at “Priests at the Crossroads” (http://www.leavingthepriesthood. com/
[xii]Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from ovulating. Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by making the lining of the womb inhospitable for implantation. For more details, see http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/birth-control-pills.
[xiii]When asked about birth control, a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati explained to me that he would ask the penitent how many children have been given to them by the Lord. “If they said two or more, then I explained to them that they had fulfilled their obligation to be fruitful and that the Lord now granted them complete freedom to decide if and when they would conceive any future children. This being the case, the use of birth control was permitted.”
[xiv]For the most detailed description of the inside story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, see Robert McClory, Turning Point, New York: Crossroad, 1995. Other helpful accounts are given by a Vatican II reported, Robert Blair Kaiser, The Politics of Sex and Religion: A Case History in the Development of Doctrine, Kansas City: Leaven Press, 1985, and by a Benedictine monk, Philip S. Kaufman, Why You Can Disagree [with the Pope on Birth Control] and Remain a Faithful Catholic, New York: Crossroad, 1992.
[xv]Shaji George Kochuthara, CMI, in his excellent study, The Concept of Sexual Pleasure in the Catholic Moral Tradition, Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 2007, 310 n. 214.
[xvi]McClory, Turning Point, 88-94, 102-106.
[xviii]Richard McCormick, SJ, “Theologians and the Magisterium,” Corrective Vision, Explorations in Moral Theology, Sheed & Ward (now a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Landham, Maryland) 1994, 95. See also John M. Swomley, “The Pope and the Pill” (http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-02.htm).
[xix] In Catholic literature, bold claims are often made. An example: “The effectiveness of the major methods [of NFP] when followed correctly approach 95-99%” (Women Speak on NFP, https://www.carrotsformichaelmas.com/2013/04/29/women-speak-on-nfp-when-natural-family-planning-doesnt-go-according-to-your-plan/). As is often the case, no reference is given to substantiate this claim. Mike Manhart, executive director of the Cincinnati-based Couple to Couple League, which offers one of two primary methods of NFP offered in the archdiocese, goes so far as to claim “NFP is 99.5 percent effective when used correctly” (http://catholicvoiceomaha.com/couples-say-natural-methods-family-planning-are-healthy-and-promote-communication-and-respect).
[xxi] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/what-is-nfp/benefits.cfm Notice that “the harmful side effects caused by contraception” are intimated here without naming them and without any reference to independent research. Neither are the “harmful side effects of NFP” mentioned.
[xxii] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/what-is-nfp/effectiveness.cfm Notice that no reference is given to substantiate this claim. The website does say, however, that “Others, who are unclear about their family planning intention (i.e., spacing or limiting pregnancy) or are less motivated, will not consistently follow the method’s guidelines and have a lower effectiveness rate of 80-90%.” But 80% is still very high compared with the 25% effectiveness rate determined by medical experts.
[xxiii] Here is a case that illustrates the pietistic bravado of clerics:
John Paul II recounted [during the funeral homily on 07 Feb 1998] the story of Pironio’s mother, as the cardinal had once related it to the pope: “In the history of my family,” the pontiff said quoting the late cardinal, “there is something miraculous. When she gave birth to her first son, my mother was barely 18 years old and fell seriously ill. After her recovery the doctors told her that she would not be able to have any more children without risking her own life. So she went to consult the Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, who told her: ‘Doctors can be mistaken: put yourself in God’s hands and do your duty as a wife.’ My mother then gave birth to 21 more. I am the last, and she lived until she was 82.”
Notice the thrust here. The Bishop of La Plata advises this woman to ignore her doctors and risk death in order to “do your duty as a wife.” This is a patriarchal burden placed on women who give themselves over completely to be used and abused by their husbands. The confusing message was “put yourself [recklessly] in God’s hands.” It never occurs to the Bishop that her serious illness and her doctor’s warnings might be “messages” sent to her from God.
[xxiv] This figure of 5% is found elsewhere. No sources are given. It appears that Catholic read what others have written and repeat their unwarranted claims because they judge that this represents solid research. See, for example, http://catholicvoiceomaha.com/couples-say-natural-methods-family-planning-are-healthy-and-promote-communication-and-respect
[xxv] In the article making this claim, 2 out of 3 were skeptical. Polloybook, for example, writes:
We practiced NFP (first CCL, then Creighton) for over a decade and did not find it marriage building at all. I am always happy for those couples who do, but in our experience, they are the exception and not the rule.
- Johnson, representing the 1/3 who defended Paul VI writes this: “The Holy Roman Catholic Church had spoken. I prefer to listen to the wisdom of Christ’s Holy Church.” James Hope writes in response:
You can’t have a church without the people. But in any case, the point I was making was that if well-meaning and conscientious Catholics, having prayerfully considered the issue, come to a decision not to use NFP, despite knowing the church’s position, maybe they are speaking very clearly on the issue.
Then this followed:
Telling the truth about NFP doesn’t make it appealing to the average church[-]going Catholic, let alone to the general public. So lies were attempted instead. Unfortunately for the promoters of NFP, lies aren’t working too well either.
[xxvi] To examine the flaws in the single reported case study linking NFP with low divorce rates, go to https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/4650/does-natural-family-planning-decrease-divorce-rates
[xxvii] I have read an immense amount of literature regarding the various types of NFP. In addition, my wife and I participated in a Pre-Cana Retreat that gave over 25% of it time to NFP. Not once did I hear anything about the research that shows that wives find sex in marriage significantly less appealing than do their husbands men. It is a known fact that most wives reach an orgasm far less often. In such a climate, it does not amaze me that NFP experts would knowing omit the fact that organically and psychologically women are predisposed toward elevated sexual pleasure during the ovulation period.
[xxviii] Such plants, to be sure, could use the new high-tech measures that nearly eliminate sulfer dioxide and other airborn pollutants from their smoke stacks. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is not a “toxic” byproduct of combustion but the normal effect of all burning. What we now know is that as the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase, less heat escapes to outer space and the net result is global warming. As the atmospheric carbon dioxide goes above 350 parts per million, scientists have recorded the melting of the Artic ice sheets, rising sea levels, and an increase in weather patterns that produce flooding, wildfires, and heat waves. But who is speaking up for the planet earth and the limitations on the carbon dioxide levels that it can safely absorb? For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .
[xxix] Here is one change that could be made soon. When Pope Francis mandated that feedback should be solicited from Catholics in preparation for the Synod on the Family, this question was included: “Question 7 f. How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?” This enforces the “bigger is better” mentality that has infected Catholic family planning for the last hundred years. In the future, when Humanae Vitae is reexamined and revised, I would expect a new question would be asked: “Question 7 f. How can an open attitude towards small families and childless couples be fostered? How can a decrease in births be promoted?”
[xxx] A beloved friend who is twenty years younger than me confided to me that her father decided that his two sons had to have a college education. Why so? “They needed to prepare themselves to become bread-winners for their families.” For his two girls, however, a college education was, to his way of thinking, “a waste to time and a waste of money because their purpose was to make babies and not to bring home a paycheck.” This patriarchal mindset still exists in many places today. See, for example, Emily Reimer-Barry, “Reasons Not to Send Your Daughter to College?” Catholic Moral Theology, 13 Sept 2013 (https://catholicmoraltheology.com/reasons-not-to-send-your-daughter-to-college-why-fix-the-family-is-broken/).
[xxxi] There is an art to making a good Slovenian wine. My grandfather understood this art. There is an art to making potica (a nut loaf particular to Slovenians). My grandmother understood this art. Someone who takes a vow never to drink wine or to enjoy a slice of potica can never be “an insider” who understands and appreciates the art of making Slovenian wines and poticas. The same holds true for the art of love-making. On outsider can never know what “an insider” knows. And what “an insider” knows cannot be entirely said in words. As Michael Polanyi frequently says, “We know more than we can tell.”
[xxxii] Fr. Kochuthara, The Concept of Sexual Pleasure in the Catholic Moral Tradition (Roma: Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2007)
[xxxiii] I deliberately use a vulgar term here because I want to capture the vulgar sex that the men caught up in the patriarchal mindset imposed upon their wives.
[xxxiv] In the case of Cardinal Ratzinger, I depend upon the conversation during a plane ride to have revealed an important limitation. Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that he was harassed in 1968 by gay students who broke up a faculty meeting as part of their campus-wide protest. Ratzinger was 41 at the time. Beyond this, he admitted that he was not aware of having any significant contact with homosexuals. Such an admission is telling.
How We Got Into This Mess
Why Sacraments Don’t Work the Way They Are Supposed To
A guest presentation by Dr. Joseph Martos
St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Redford, Michigan
December 13, 2016
Let me begin by thanking Bishop Gumbleton and the organizers of this series of talks that address the elephants in the living room, that is, the issues that everyone recognizes but no one is willing to talk about.
As I started thinking about what to say in this talk, I was reminded of the story about the young monk who was sent by his abbot to search the monastery archives for the oldest documents, the ones that talked about the reason for the founding of the monastery.
After spending several weeks in the basement archives, the young monk bounded up the stairs one day and asked to see the abbot right way.
“Why all the excitement?” asked the abbot.
Holding up a faded piece of parchment, the young man pointed to a sentence in [the] monastery’s original rule, and said excitedly, “The word is ‘celebrate’!”
All along, the monks had thought the word was “celebate.”
Every now and then, I feel like the young monk in that story.
In a little while, you’ll see why, but for now, let me say that by digging through the historical records, I’ve discovered that many of the ideas we take for granted are different from the ideas that we find when we dig into the early history of the sacraments.
I never intended to become an expert on sacraments, but when I got my first college teaching job many years ago, I was asked to teach the course on sacraments because no one else wanted to tackle that subject. This was right after Vatican II, when everything in the Catholic Church was in flux, and there were great differences between the traditional Church doctrines and what some of the younger theologians were saying—young theologians like Yves Congar, Hans Kung, and Edward Schillebeeckx. I felt that a safe approach to the course would be a historical approach because no one could argue with historical facts.
At that time, there were a number of very scholarly treatments on the history of baptism, the history of the mass, the history of penance, and so on. But no one had taken all that information and collected it into a single book, and since I needed a book to teach the course, I wrote Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church.
A year later, I was asked to write an introductory volume for a set of seven books on the sacraments. That book has been revised and expanded, and it is now available as The Catholic Sacraments: An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Study. There is a website that goes along with it for the interactive part.
I wrote the second book because I felt, even thirty years ago, that the Catholic Church needed a more up to date approach to its sacraments. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic theologians were fine in their day, but we needed a more modern approach for a modern church.
One clue that I had about why we needed a better way of understanding sacraments is that only Catholics talk about sacraments as being given and received. Protestants don’t talk that way, and the Orthodox don’t talk that way even though the Orthodox tradition is as old as the Catholic tradition. Except for when they talk about receiving communion or receiving the Eucharist, no one but Catholics use the language of administering and receiving sacraments.
When I was doing the research for Doors to the Sacred, I could tell when in church history that manner of speaking became rather common. But I could not really tell why it had become common for us Catholics to talk about administering and receiving the sacraments. The priest or bishop, of course, is the usual minister, but the other person in the sacramental rite is always referred to as the recipient of the sacrament. Thus we talk about receiving the sacrament of baptism, receiving the sacrament of confirmation, receiving the sacrament of penance, and so on.
When I was doing the research for my latest book, I was finally able to figure out where that language had come from. This is because in the last ten years or so, most of the important ancient and medieval texts have been digitized and stored on CD-ROMs, which are CDs with documents stored on them instead of music. Using these digitized texts, it is now possible to do word searches in the writings of the fathers of the church—people like Tertullian and Ambrose and Augustine—as well as in the writings of medieval theologians—people like Hugh of St. Victor, Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas.
When you do these word searches, and you look at how words like baptism, administer, receive, confirmation, penance, ordain, and so on, are used you can see how, over the course of time, the usage of the word changed. For example, Tertullian, a father of the church living in the second century, was the first to use the phrase, “sacrament of baptism.” In his understanding, a sacrament is a sacred sign, or a sign of something sacred, as it is for us, but it is clear from the way he used the words, that when he talked about the sacrament of baptism, what he was referring to was water. The water that was used in the baptismal ritual was a sign of the spiritual change that was taking place when a person joined the Church and received the Holy Spirit. Some two centuries later, St. Augustine wrote about the sacrament of baptism, but what he was referring to was an indelible sign that was impressed on the soul of the one being baptized when the rite of baptism was validly performed.
In summary, then, when Tertullian wrote about receiving the sacrament of baptism, he was talking about receiving the water that was poured on the head, but when Augustine wrote about receiving the sacrament of baptism, he was talking receiving an indelible sign on the soul.
St. Augustine was the most widely quoted patristic author during the Middle Ages. The main reason was that the medieval scholastics could read Latin but not Greek, so even though many fathers of the church wrote in Greek, the scholastic theologians could not use them as sources of information about the sacraments. Augustine not only wrote in Latin but he wrote lots of works about lots of different topics, so he was a great source of theological ideas in the Middle Ages.
St. Thomas Aquinas and other scholastics accepted Augustine’s idea of an indelible sign that was impressed upon the soul at baptism, which made it unnecessary and even impossible to be baptized more than once. Augustine had argued that trying to rebaptize someone would be like trying to put an identical brand on a sheep that had already been branded. The scholastics noted that there were other sacramental rituals that were never repeated, namely, confirmation and holy orders, so they reasoned that these too must bestow an indelible sign. They called the one received in confirmation the seal of the Holy Spirit, and they called the one received in ordination the priestly character. Since these invisible signs were signs of something sacred, the scholastics called them sacramenta or sacraments. And from that day to this, Catholics have talked about receiving the sacraments.
Why did the scholastic theologians believe it was so important that there be an invisible sacrament as well as the visible sacramental ritual? It was because the ritual is something physical—words, gestures, water, oil, and so forth—but the grace that the sacraments bestowed was something entirely spiritual. In their way of understanding how things worked, a physical cause could not have a spiritual effect, and so some intermediary was needed, something that was both material and spiritual. The idea of the invisible sign fit the bill, and so they used that idea to understand how the sacraments worked. The sacrament that is received is like something material because it is a sign, and it is like something spiritual because it is not composed of matter.
Next, we have to ask, what were the sacramental rituals in the Middle Ages, and what were their effects? The sacrament of baptism consisted of pouring water on an infant’s head, and the child was made a Christian for the rest of its life. The sacrament of confirmation consisted of a bishop anointing candidates with oil, as a result of which they could join a religious order and, if the candidate was a man, he could become a priest. The sacrament of holy orders consisted of a bishop laying hands on a man’s head and anointing his hands with oil, as a result of which the man was invested with priestly powers for the rest of his life. The sacrament of matrimony consisted of a man and woman professing marriage vows, as a result of which they were married for life. The Blessed Sacrament or Eucharist consisted of bread and wine that were consecrated by a priest, as a result of which, people could experience the real presence of Christ when they received communion during the mass or prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. The sacrament of penance was needed to forgive serious sins, as a result of which the penitent was allowed to receive holy communion. The sacrament of extreme unction was needed to remove the remnants of sin from the soul of a dying person, as a result of which he or she could die a happy death.
How did the scholastics know these things? They knew them from their own personal and social experience.
They knew from experience that once people were baptized, they were members of the Church for the rest of their lives. They knew from experience that when people were confirmed, they could be more dedicated Christians than the unconfirmed were. They knew from experience that when men were ordained, they remained priests for the rest of their lives. They knew from experience that when people were married, they stayed married until one of them died. They knew from experience that Christ was present in the Eucharist because they felt his real presence when they were saying mass. (We have to remember that the medieval theologians were all priests, and they were required to say mass every day.) They knew from experience that penance was needed for the forgiveness of sins because without it, people could not receive holy communion. They knew from experience that extreme unction was needed to die a happy death because those who received it were less anxious about dying.
The scholastics were teaching in schools of theology for about a century before they hammered out the scholastic theology that the Church takes for granted today. So we can say that the scholastics developed their sacramental theology to explain why the sacramental rituals had the effects they actually had in the Middle Ages. And they used the concept of the invisible sign, or the received sacrament, to explain the effects they perceived in medieval Christian society. as well as the effects they perceived in their own spiritual lives.
But what is the situation today? What is our experience today?
Children are baptized but there is no guarantee that they will remain members of the Church. They could become Protestants or Jews or Muslims or nones, as those who profess no religion are called today. Children and adolescents who are confirmed don’t seem to be any different than those who are not confirmed. In other words, confirmation does not seem to have any effect at all in the Church today.
People who marry in the Catholic Church today have a 50 percent chance of being divorced, and so we know from our own experience that marriage is not indissoluble. Men who are ordained do not necessarily remain priests, even though our medieval theology says they are priests forever. Penance, or the sacrament of reconciliation, is no longer needed to receive communion the way it used to be, and most Catholics no longer see it as a necessary ritual at all. The anointing of the sick—what used to be called extreme unction—is no longer used to guarantee a happy death. And one problem with it is that only priests are allowed to perform it. Why is that? It’s because the scholastics interpreted a passage in the Epistle of James as referring to priests, but we know now that the epistle was referring to elders in the community.
So now we come to the title of this presentation and the answer to the question, How did we get into this mess? How did we get into a situation where our sacraments no longer work the way they are supposed to? Why do the sacraments no longer have the effects that they had in the past?
The short answer is that the sacramental theory developed by the scholastics was thought to be universally true, that is, true for all places and times, but in fact is was not. The sacramental theory or theology fit Catholic experience for about seven centuries, from the mid-thirteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, so naturally the pope and bishops at the Second Vatican Council thought that it would be as true in the future as it was in the past. What they did not realize was that the combination of changed liturgical experience, which they themselves ordered in the hope of updating the Church, and the changes in culture and society, over which they had no control, would change the experience of Catholics just enough that the old theory no longer fit the new facts.
Let me given you an analogy from science.
Let’s say that a rather naïve earthling landed on Mars and expected his experience on Mars to be just like his experience on Earth. Immediately he would notice that he felt lighter. This is because Mars is a smaller planet than Earth, and so its gravity is weaker. If he managed to get outside without a space suit, he would find it impossible to breathe. This is because Mars has an atmosphere but it is a much thinner atmosphere than the one on Earth. I could give other examples, but you get the picture. Our imaginary space traveler believed that ideas that had served him well on Earth would serve him well in a different physical environment. In a similar way, the bishops at Vatican II (and in fact all of the liberal Catholics in the 1960s) thought that the ideas that had served well in the medieval environment of the pre-Vatican II church would continue to work well in the post-Vatican II church. But it didn’t happen.
Between the liturgical changes that the bishops authorized and the cultural changes of the 1960s and 70s, both the worship experience of Catholics and the cultural experience of Catholics changed to such an extent that the old ideas simply do not work any more. The old ideas no longer corresponded to reality as Catholics experienced it. To use a fancy word for this phenomenon, we can say that the old sacramental theology is dysfunctional; it just doesn’t work any more.
According to the theory, people who are baptized Catholics are supposed to stay Catholics forever, but they don’t. According to the theory, Catholics who are confirmed are supposed to be different from Catholics who are not confirmed, but they aren’t. According to the theory, Catholics need to go to confession to have their sins forgiven, but they don’t go to confession any more. According to the theory, Catholics who are married are supposed to stay married until they die, but about half of them don’t. According to the theory, priests are supposed to have spiritual gifts that make them different from laypeople, but the sexual abuse scandals make that hard to believe. According to the theory, only priests can anoint the sick, but because of the declining number of priests, many sick people are not anointed.
One way we can see how dysfunctional our sacramental theology has become would be to put ourselves in the place of the scholastic theologians and ask: What kind of sacramental theology would we develop today if we did it the same way the medieval theologians did, that is, by reflecting on our own personal and social experience?
- Would we say that people could be baptized and confirmed only once? Other churches practice rebaptism and allow for repeated confirmation.
- Would we say that only priests can hear confessions and anoint the sick? Unordained hospital chaplains often listen to the confessions of patients who are dying and some of them develop creative rituals, often through the laying on of hands, for giving spiritual comfort to the sick.
- Would we say that only priests can preside at the liturgy when we know from history that in the early church community elders could preside at the Lord’s supper? Would we say that priest have to be men when we know from experience that there are churches with priests who are women?
- Would we say that Catholics cannot divorce and remarry without the Church’s permission when most Catholics divorce and remarry without the Church’s permission? Of course not.
If this were just a theoretical matter, we could let the matter rest. But it is not just a theoretical matter. Scholastic sacramental theology governs Catholic canon law and the Church’s laws today are causing real harm to people. Our unrealistic theology of baptism leads Catholic parents to believe that they are giving their children something real when they bring them for baptism but the ritual does not give the children anything they do not already have. Our unrealistic theology of confirmation leads Catholic parishes to prepare children for a religious ritual that makes no difference in their lives. Our unrealistic theology of penance and anointing of the sick prevents the development of church rituals through which people could experience genuine reconciliation and spiritual healing without the intervention of a priest. Our unrealistic theology of marriage, instead of preventing divorce, forces many divorced Catholics to remarry outside the Church. And our unrealistic theology of ordination does not allow the ordination of women and married people, thus depriving us of the pastors and ministers we need to experience Christian living in realistically sized communities of faith.
So the issue is real, and it is important. It is impacting our own lives either directly or indirectly.
Now we know how we got into this mess, so the only question that remains is: What do we do to get us out of it?
Thank you for your attention.
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How marriage has changed over centuries
The Week Staff
Ron Royals/Corbis June 1, 2012
Since the ancient world, marriage has evolved from a preservation of power to a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness.
Has marriage always had the same definition?
Actually, the institution has been in a process of constant evolution. Pair-bonding began in the Stone Age as a way of organizing and controlling sexual conduct and providing a stable structure for child-rearing and the tasks of daily life. But that basic concept has taken many forms across different cultures and eras. “Whenever people talk about traditional marriage or traditional families, historians throw up their hands,” said Steven Mintz, a history professor at Columbia University. “We say, ‘When and where?'” The ancient Hebrews, for instance, engaged in polygamy — according to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines — and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world.
The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent development. Until two centuries ago, said Harvard historian Nancy Cott, “monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion” of the world population, found in “just Western Europe and little settlements in North America.”
When did people start marrying?
The first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dates to 4,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia. In the ancient world, marriage served primarily as a means of preserving power, with kings and other members of the ruling class marrying off daughters to forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. Even in the lower classes, women had little say over whom they married. The purpose of marriage was the production of heirs, as implied by the Latin word matrimonium, which is derived from mater (mother).
When did the church get involved?
In ancient Rome, marriage was a civil affair governed by imperial law. But when the empire collapsed, in the 5th century, church courts took over and elevated marriage to a holy union. As the church’s power grew through the Middle Ages, so did its influence over marriage. In 1215, marriage was declared one of the church’s seven sacraments, alongside rites like baptism and penance. But it was only in the 16th century that the church decreed that weddings [need to] be performed in public, by a priest, and before witnesses.
What role did love play?
For most of human history, almost none at all. Marriage was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a fragile emotion. “If love could grow out of it, that was wonderful,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History. “But that was gravy.”
In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible with one another. A Roman politician was expelled from the Senate in the 2nd century B.C. for kissing his wife in public — behavior the essayist Plutarch condemned as “disgraceful.” In the 12th and 13th centuries, the European aristocracy viewed extramarital affairs as the highest form of romance, untainted by the gritty realities of daily life. And as late as the 18th century, the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote that any man who was in love with his wife was probably too dull to be loved by another woman.
[In many societies, both ancient and modern, levirate marriage was practiced. Among the Hebrews, a levirate marriage is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” The word levirate, which has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi, comes from the Latin word levir, “a husband’s brother.” In ancient times, if a man died without a child, it was common for the man’s unmarried brother to marry the widow in order to provide an heir for the deceased. A widow would marry a brother-in-law, and the first son produced in that union was considered the legal descendant of her dead husband.
We see a couple of examples in the Bible of levirate marriage. The first is the story of Tamar and Onan in Genesis 38. Tamar had been married to Er, a son of Judah. Er died, leaving Tamar childless (Genesis 38:6–7). Judah’s solution was to follow the standard procedure of levirate marriage: he told Er’s brother Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother” (verse 8). Onan was more than willing to sleep with Tamar, but, unfortunately, he had no desire to have a child with her: “Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother” (verse 9). In other words, Onan was taking selfish advantage of levirate marriage. He wanted sex with his sister-in-law, but he purposefully avoided impregnating her. God called Onan’s actions “wicked” and killed him (verse 10). Onan was also aware that, if Tamar became pregnant, her child would claim a portion in the family inheritance. Thus, the inheritance coming to Onan would be diluted.
Levirate marriage became part of the Law in Deuteronomy 25:5–6. There, the Israelites are commanded to care for women whose husbands died before they had children. An unmarried brother of the deceased man bore a responsibility to marry his sister-in-law: God called it “the duty of a brother-in-law” (Deuteronomy 25:5). God’s purpose for levirate marriage is stated: “The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel” (verse 6). In ancient Israel the passing on of the family name and the inheritance within a tribe were vitally important (see Numbers 36:7 and 1 Kings 21:3).
Notice that levirate marriage was a match not born out of affection but out of duty. Deut 25:7-10 illustrates this very well:
7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.
The social pressure specified here was enormous. The village elders, meanwhile, were intent upon providing for the widow from the resources of the family into which she married in the first place. If that family failed to care for her out of obligation and if her parents were unwilling to allow her to return home, then the community had another charity case to attend to.
In India today, widows are often expelled from the family home and left to languish on the streets and alleyways. This is done because the widow is held responsible (due to bad Karma) for the early death of her husband. In older times, the widow threw herself on the burning funeral pyre thus eliminating any need to take care of her. Today, along the shores of the Ganges River, communities of forsaken widows can be found. The women here learn to chant sacred pujas and are given meager food and lodging in exchange for their prayers. It is not a happy situation, to be sure.
Notice that levirate marriage allows for loveless unions and for polygamy. Perhaps this explains why Jews have long ago abandoned levirate marriage, and even the most devout Jews are not anxious for its return even though Deut 25:5 makes it clear that this is God’s will. The existence of levirate marriage in Deut 25:5 also makes it clear that, when Gen 1-2 speaks of one-man-one-woman marriages, this does not mean that this precludes the mandating of one-man-two-women marriages in Deut 25:5.]
When did romance enter the picture?
In the 17th and 18th centuries, when Enlightenment thinkers pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. They advocated marrying for love rather than wealth or status. This trend was augmented by the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the middle class in the 19th century, which enabled young men to select a spouse and pay for a wedding, regardless of parental approval. As people took more control of their love lives, they began to demand the right to end unhappy unions. Divorce became much more commonplace.
Did marriage change in the 20th century?
Dramatically. For thousands of years, law and custom enforced the subordination of wives to husbands. But as the women’s-rights movement gained strength in the late 19th and 20th centuries, wives slowly began to insist on being regarded as their husbands’ equals, rather than their property. “By 1970,” said Marilyn Yalom, author of A History of the Wife, “marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy.” At the same time, the rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce — and nearly half of all couples did. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. This new definition opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too. “We now fit under the Western philosophy of marriage,” said E.J. Graff, a lesbian and the author of What Is Marriage For? In one very real sense, Coontz says, opponents of gay marriage are correct when they say traditional marriage has been undermined. “But, for better and for worse, traditional marriage has already been destroyed,” she says, “and the process began long before anyone even dreamed of legalizing same-sex marriage.”
Gay ‘marriage’ in medieval Europe
Same-sex unions aren’t a recent invention. Until the 13th century, male-bonding ceremonies were common in churches across the Mediterranean. Apart from the couples’ gender, these events were almost indistinguishable from other marriages of the era. Twelfth-century liturgies for same-sex unions — also known as “spiritual brotherhoods” — included the recital of marriage prayers, the joining of hands at the altar, and a ceremonial kiss. Some historians believe these unions were merely a way to seal alliances and business deals. But Eric Berkowitz, author of Sex and Punishment, says it is “difficult to believe that these rituals did not contemplate erotic contact. In fact, it was the sex between the men involved that later caused same-sex unions to be banned.” That happened in 1306, when the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II declared such ceremonies, along with sorcery and incest, to be unchristian. (source)
Natural Law and Sexual Morality
by Chaplain Mike 27 May 2015
• • •
In light of the Irish vote to legalize same-sex marriage, a decision that has its Catholic leaders pondering what the future might hold, I thought we might discuss a few thoughts about traditional Christian teaching on sexuality, in particular the place of “natural law” in understanding sexual morality.
We traditional Christians tend to think our view of morality is a slam-dunk. That nature itself teaches clearly the purposes and goals for sexual relations, and that God’s revelation in the Bible and the Church’s Word and Spirit-prompted traditions are unequivocally compatible with those natural laws. As Peter Leithart writes at First Things: “Through the creation, human beings know the ordinance of God that there is a ‘natural function’ for sexuality.”
In Humane Vitae (1968), the monumental Catholic document about contemporary sexual morality, the Church teaches that moral sexual acts meet three criteria. They must be:
As the Catechism says:
Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter—appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.
This makes sense to me. I count myself traditional when it comes to matters of sexual morality.
But I wonder if appealing to natural law is really the best way to make the traditional point. It seems to me that nature teaches us some things fundamental about biology and reproduction. Male and female bodies complement one another. Human beings reproduce by joining them together in sexual intercourse. If we bring our Creator into the discussion, we might say that God designed our bodies this way for this purpose — this biological, procreative purpose. . . .
I’m not convinced that nature teaches us that sex should be marital. Or that “marital” must involve only one man and one woman, joined together for life. It seems to me that we need more information than what we could get from observing the natural world to come up with that.
Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, thinks the Church may have overplayed her hand with its emphasis on natural law teaching, especially in light of the contemporary debate on same-sex unions.
The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior.
Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University:
A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.
The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?
Noting that proponents also use natural law to show the immorality of birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals, Gutting asks two questions:
First, why, even if non-reproductive sex were somehow less “natural” than reproductive, couldn’t it still play a positive role in a humanly fulfilling life of love between two people of the same sex?
Second, why must non-reproductive sex be only for the selfish pleasure of each partner, rather than, as Corvino put it, a way of building, celebrating, and replenishing their shared intimacy?
He is making the argument that the unitive and marital functions of sexuality can be fulfilled in relationships and through practices that are not necessarily procreative. The most conservative Catholic teachers disagree, and deny that any sexual act that leads to orgasm apart from intercourse is [il-] legitimate, even for heterosexual married couples. Yet we know that married couples continue their sexual relations long past childbearing years when no procreative purpose is in view, and find ways of pleasuring one another apart from intercourse alone. I suspect that those teachers don’t have a full appreciation of the significance of mutual pleasure in the sexual relationship.
As a traditionalist, if I were listing the essential elements of a “moral sexual act,” I would add “mutual pleasure” to marital, unitive, and procreative.
This “pleasure principle” is where a closer look at nature and human nature in particular might backfire on the traditional view. For example, because of the male anatomy, sexual intercourse is perfectly designed for male pleasure. This is not the case, however, with women. The anatomy of the female orgasm is focused on the clitoris, which is outside the vagina. The vast majority of women do not experience sexual climax through intercourse, but through direct stimulation of this external organ, and it’s entirely possible that those who do have orgasms during coitus have them because they receive indirect stimulation there. In other words, if sex is for mutual pleasure, then nature provided women with the wrong equipment to receive that pleasure through the procreative act alone.
It is not only nature, but the Bible itself that emphasizes the “mutual pleasure” significance of sex. In fact, one entire book of the Bible is devoted to it: The Song of Songs. This inspired, canonical work celebrates the unitive and mutual pleasure facets of love and sexuality with little emphasis on its marital aspects and no emphasis at all on its procreative possibilities. Maybe this book is one way God laughs at our little moral formulae.
Now, none of this is enough to persuade me to be anything other than the conservative person I am when it comes to sex, marriage, and family. And I have no agenda here of trying to persuade anyone else of anything. All this is simply to say that observations like these make me more cautious about thinking any case for a certain form of morality is strictly black and white, especially when based upon so-called “natural law” teaching.
This also makes me want to take much less of an “us vs. them” approach to talking about sexuality. The fact is, people who do not practice traditional morality may find great meaning, satisfaction, and deep bonds of love in their sexual relationships. For me to simply dismiss those people out there in “the world” as enslaved and bound by selfish desires, seeking their own pleasure at the expense of others, is not an honest portrayal of the people I observe every day. Loving my neighbor means I can learn from my neighbor, appreciate my neighbor, and see the image of God in him or her even though we hold different moral views.
I can maintain my moral beliefs and still confess that things can get a bit murky.
There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
For which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid. (Proverbs 30:18-19, NASB)
May 27, 2015 at 12:24 am
Appeals to ‘natural law’ can really go awry.
Robert F says:
May 27, 2015 at 5:34 am
I increasingly have a hard time putting any credence in any sexual morality that attempts to micromanage from outside what happens inside other people’s sexual lives. Such intrusion seems extremely unnatural to me, any way you cut it.
Miguel says [to Robert F]:
May 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm
Right? I mean, Jesus and all them had some important stuff to say about the topic and all, but I kind of appreciate how general and vague they tended to be. There’s a few things clearly over the line, and the rest is “love your neighbor.” ….just not in that way.
The Finn says:
May 27, 2015 at 6:03 am
> I count myself traditional when it comes to matters of sexual morality.
> I’m not convinced that nature teaches us that sex should be marital.
Agree. It does not seem nature has much interest in the matter.
> the Church may have overplayed her hand with its emphasis on natural law teaching
I agree. Natural Law upon analysis very often looks like “what we thought was ‘normal’ yesterday” more than it appears to be derivative of something from Nature. Nature is massive, you can find all kinds of things within it.
> All this is simply to say that observations like these make me more cautious about thinking any case for a certain form of morality is strictly black and white, especially when based upon so-called “natural law” teaching.
> For me to simply dismiss those people out there in “the world” as enslaved and bound by selfish desires, seeking their own pleasure at the expense of others, is not an honest portrayal of the people I observe every day
I know some really amazing people ‘of the world’; to accuse them of selfishness in their personal relationship would be unconscionable.
Henry Darger says:
May 28, 2015 at 6:16 am
Why does “traditional” Christianity always boil down to its most bigoted aspects? Whatever happened to love, the Golden Rule, etc.? On the subject of sex, the internet atheists are far more sensible and ethically grounded than this retrograde claptrap:
May 27, 2015 at 9:12 am
May I point out that a Church who privileges celibacy just might not be the best source of advice on human sexuality? And we should probably note that the Church’s teachings on sexuality are one of the most often cited factors in the rise of the ‘Nones’?
I was reading an article recently on the so-called “Purity Ball” movement in some Conservative Christian groups where ceremonies are held in which daughters pledge their virginity until marriage to their Fathers. The article pointed out that polls show young girls who pledge their virginity are just as likely to have premarital sex as ones who do not. But there is a striking increase in the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies among the pledgers because they aren’t taught about contraception!
Chaplain Mike says:
May 27, 2015 at 5:08 pm
Earlier in the post I mentioned that the pleasure factor enhances unity, but I think it’s more than that, especially when viewed from the standpoint of what nature teaches. By nature, the sex act is pleasurable and since both partners are capable of orgasm, it is apparently designed for mutual pleasure. I think that traditional teaching has understated this for fear that an emphasis on pleasure will undercut moral responsibility. In my view that has had disastrous consequences. Neither nature nor the Bible is shy about the pleasure sex provides. If God made our bodies and the sexual process, he apparently designed them for pleasure as well as procreation, and in the case of females that doesn’t happen usually through intercourse. I thought that these were points worthy of making “mutual pleasure” a separate point.
The Case of Mike Moroski[i]
Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati dismissed Mike Moroski, the assistant principal of Purcell-Marian High School (Dayton, OH) after he refused to remove a private blog expressing support for same-sex marriages. Here are the words of Mike Moroski describing the situation that has been imposed upon him:
On Monday, February 4th  I was given an ultimatum by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Namely, to take down my post on this site entitled, “Choose Your Battles,” sign a number of documents assuring my silence and keep my job – or, resign.
After much deliberation with my wife, family, trusted clergy, professionals from all walks of life and my own meditative silence, I decided not to take the post down, nor to recant my position that “I unabashedly believe gay people SHOULD be allowed to marry. . . .”
If I take that post down I would not be able to look at the thousands of former students and families with whom I have worked for twelve years in the eye. . . . What would I say to all of them if I were to go against my OWN conscience[ii] so that I could keep my job for four months?
I refused to agree to the Archdiocese’s terms BECAUSE OF my faith formation at Catholic schools and relationship with Catholic family members & clergy – not in spite of it [. . .]
If any of you Cavaliers [students at Purcell-Marian High School] are reading this, please know that I love you and I am in your corner. I hope that someday you may come to understand why I am not in my office to share a laugh, a cry or a story. . . . As I always tried to teach you – NEVER compromise who you are for someone else – and NEVER let anyone make you someone THEY want you to be. Be strong and take care of one another [. . .]
After the dismissal of Mike Moroski and after the Archdiocese was successfully sued in court by a fired teacher for $171,000,[iii] it appears that Archbishop Schnurr met with his lawyers and was advised to include a “morality clause”[iv] in all teacher contracts so as to better protect the interests of the Archdiocese in future court cases.[v] This “morality clause,” would make it perfectly clear that teachers acknowledged certain ways of acting as incompatible with their employment in the Archdiocese.[vi]
The “morality clause” of the new teachers contract for the 2014-2015 school year permits not only for the firing of gay and lesbian school employees, but also for anyone supporting of the “homosexual lifestyle” [which presumably includes same-sex marriage] as grounds for dismissal.
In response to Archbishop Schnurr’s “morality clause,” Dr. Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign published the following analysis:
At a time when Pope Francis is talking about support of civil unions, the Cincinnati Archdiocese, in a throwback to past times, is talking about firing gay and lesbian teachers and silencing their straight supporters. This isn’t in keeping with the olive branch Pope Francis has extended to LGBT people around the world, but even more importantly, it’s not in keeping with the living message of God’s love of all people.
The majority of Catholics and people of faith believe LGBT people deserve dignity, respect, and equal protections under the law,[vii] and at the same time leaders of the Cincinnati Archdiocese are determined to weed out supporters of LGBT equality. This must stop.
The new contract also prohibits membership in an LGBT equality organization, such as the Conference of Catholic Lesbians or DignityUSA. Creating a safe space for LGBT young people, by placing a multicolored-rainbow sticker on your car bumper, for example, could [presumably] be grounds for dismissal.[viii]
I had the opportunity to interview some Catholic teachers perplexed by this change in policy. All of them were angry at the heavy-handed coercion involved in the imposition of the “morality clause.” One teacher noted that “signing this new contract effectively meant that we [the teachers] would lose our civil liberties outside the classroom as the price for continuing to teach inside the classroom.” In contrast, Paul Kindt, a high school religion teacher, reported that he proudly signed the contract because he believed that the Catholic Church has “THE TRUTH” about love and marriage and that is precisely what he presents to his students—“no human opinions,” he emphasized, “just God’s point of view.”[ix]
Another teacher I interviewed was much more personally distressed by the “morality clause”:
My own brother has just recently come out that he is homosexual. I personally want to listen to him deeply but also to publicly support him in the changes that this will produce in his life. In signing this contract, I feel that I am endorsing a Catholic education that forces young people to suppress or deny any homosexual leanings because they are indoctrinated from their earliest years that such a condition leads to serious sin and the threat of eternal hell-fire. This was what my brother was saying to our family. That he was scared out of his mind to even admit the truth to himself while he was in Catholic schools.
“So how is this to be resolved?”, I asked. She continued:
I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t. I love teaching and I had made the choice of Catholic schools because they give kids a challenging moral code. But on this issue of homosexual unions, I’m completely at a loss. If I sign, I will feel that I am betraying the best interests of my brother. If I don’t sign, there is no way in hell that I could find a full-time opening in a public school this late in the summer.[x]
My third interview was perhaps the most critical one:
Our pastor gathered us in the rectory and heard some of the grievances surrounding the “morality clause” in the new contract. By way of an action step, he proposed the following:
“I have no investment in policing your private lives or in scrutinizing those causes you are supporting in our society. In fact, I detest the Archbishop’s senseless meddling. I’m more concerned with our ability, as a parish, to welcome with dignity all the diverse sorts of families that we have in our midst. When we celebrated the baptism of the twins adopted by Karl and Adam, I was proud of the diversity of our parish and proud of the way that everyone accepted gay parents with enthusiasm.
“This is the kind of worshiping community that Jesus would have championed had he been present. So, I don’t see any reason to mount a protest in the face of the Archbishop’s senseless meddling—it would only put us in the limelight and give him a reason to begin disrupting the excellent ministries that we already undertaken. Hence, I trust you and our parents trust you with their children.
“I would, accordingly, ask you to sign the contract for this greater good and to let go of your anxieties. Be not afraid. I will stand behind you. How many would be able to live with this?”
Everyone gave a visible sign of relief. Not a single voice opposed the resolution this pastor proposed to his teachers.[xi]
This interview illustrates how a local pastor had compelling reasons to take the side of his teachers and, for grave pastoral reasons, to deliberately subvert the intentionality of Archbishop Schnurr to purge the ranks of the 2,200 teachers employed by the Archdiocese.
Molly Shumate, a first-grade teacher, is directly touched by one of the newly highlighted restrictions because she has a son who’s gay. She’s ending her career teaching at her childhood school rather than agree to the restrictions spelled out in the “morality clause” that she says “could restrict her from publicly supporting her son.”[xii]
“In my heart, I know I need to go. I need to find another avenue because I am going to support my son,” Shumate told CNN. “If in five or ten years he finds a partner and he wants to be with that person, I’m going to be in the front row with the biggest bouquet.” [xiii]
The Cincinnati Chapter of the Voice of the Faithful mounted a campaign in support of teacher rights. They petitioned to be able to discuss this issue with Archbishop Schnurr, but he declined to meet with them or with representatives of the 2,200 teachers.
The situation in the archdiocese of Cincinnati is not unique. Toughening up teacher contracts and getting rid of persons in same-sex unions or persons visibly supporting same-sex unions is growing.[xiv]
Archbishop Schnurr is in a real bind. He believes that his divine mandate is to be a courageous shepherd and “to protect the faith of his flock” in the face of doubters on the inside and critics on the outside. Archbishop Schnurr argues quite correctly that those parents who send their children to Catholic schools do so in the good faith that their teachers themselves affirm that faith in both their hearts and in their conduct. What is in the heart of a believer cannot be seen or judged. The conduct of their lives, however, is very much open to public observation and public judgment. This is why the “morality clause” deals with issues of conduct that is to be expected of exemplary Catholic teachers. “By their fruits, you shall know them” (Matt. 7:16)
So far, so good.
Needless to say, Archbishop Schnurr has not called for workshops designed to persuade his teachers that the Vatican has “the truth and the whole truth” regarding sexual morality. Moreover, notice also that Archbishop Schnurr has not called for open dialogue or for further research or for sensitive listening groups with gays and lesbians present precisely because he takes for granted that it is too late for such “soft measures.” In his mind, these issues have already been investigated and authoritatively settled by virtue of the Cardinal Ratzinger decrees (all approved by John Paul II) that were sent out to all bishops by the Vatican.
This is also the reason why Archbishop Schnurr deliberately avoids meeting with “distressed teachers” or their supporters. As the Archbishop sees it, these distressed teachers have signed on to be “Catholics,” so let them step up to the plate and deliver the goods. If they cannot, perhaps their gift as teachers needs to be used elsewhere.
In this instance Archbishop Schnurr has adopted an authoritarian leadership style. He is committed to purging Catholic schools of teachers unwilling to accept his “morality clause.” But does that go far enough? In the face of any call for open discussions among the parents and maybe even mild protests from among the students, does Archbishop Schnurr expect to play the authoritarian card when dealing with parents and students as well? You can bet he does!
Did Archbishop Schnurr act justly?
While it may be the case that Archbishop Schnurr has the right to hire and fire whomever he wishes, this does not mean that he can act arbitrarily. In other words, he must act justly. Here are some reasons to think that he did not.
Bishops are required to protect homosexuals from unjust discrimination in employment. When Archbishop Schnurr formulated a “morality clause,” he effectively barred the way for any qualified gay or lesbian faculty member from teaching in Catholic schools. Their only crime would be their sexual orientation. And since “sexual orientation” is never a sin; it would be a gross miscarriage of justice to fire someone solely on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Hence, the morality clause is prejudicial and a direct violation of the Vatican ruling that Bishops are required to protect homosexuals from unjust discrimination in employment.
Archbishop Schnurr went even one step further. He fired a teacher solely because he was unwilling to cover up his advocacy of “same-sex marriages.” Yes, I want to make clear that Archbishop Schnurr never met with Mike Moroski to see whether he could change his mind. And why not? Was he too busy to do so? Was he aware that open dialogue on this point had little promise of success? Was he aware that even Pope Francis had argued that “civil marriages” would be of benefit for same-sex couples?
We will never know the answer to these questions. What we do know, however, is that Archbishop Schnurr was clear that if Mike Moroski removed his online post then the Archbishop would allow him to continue as a teacher in good standing. Sad but true. Archbishop Schnurr goal was to silence Mike Moroski. Then Archbishop Schnurr could go back to that person or those persons who originally objected to Mike Moroski’s post and say, “Mike Moroski has withdrawn his statement. I, accordingly, have removed my threat.”
But make no mistake here. Archbishop Schnurr was party to creating a public deception. He was effectively saying to Mike Moroski, “I know and you know that your mind is made up in favor of same-sex marriages. When you remove your online post, this will not change. What it will do, however, is to remove you from being in direct violation of the ‘morality clause’ in your teacher’s contract. Your private views are of no consequence. It is only your public advocacy that is troublesome and punishable.”
Mike Moroski was correct in understanding that “marriage” would help to protect the civil rights afforded “same-sex unions.” Dozens of high-ranking bishops and cardinals have already gone on record to advocate the civil protection of “same-sex unions.” Pope Francis himself has favored for a long time the legalization of “same-sex unions” while reserving the term “marriage” in its traditional meaning.
All in all, Archbishop Schnurr’s decision to dismiss Mike Moroski on this issue alone is a gross violation of justice. The Catholic Church has made it clear . . .
- That no one ought to be coerced to act against their conscience;
- That since the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has already made room for a diversity of views[xv] respecting how the rights of gays and lesbians are to be best protected, it follows that Mike Moroski was entirely justified to express his opinion on this matter;
- That a just punishment must always be measured by the gravity of the crime committed.
Archbishop Schnurr thus acted rashly and unjustly. Instead of honoring Mike Moroski’s rights, he effectively trampled over them. He imposed grave harm on Mike Moroski and on his family. He deprived Purcell-Marian High School of a capable, dedicated teacher and administrator. Even beyond this, Archbishop Schnurr, given the trust that he has due to his office, has given grave scandal by mismanaging the affairs of the Church.
Furthermore, Archbishop Schnurr acted against the interests of gays and lesbians within the Catholic Church by his lashing out at Mike Moroski. Archbishop Schnurr has the obligation to honor and protect gays and lesbians as loved by God and as deserving the pastoral care of his office. Thus, in the case considered, he rashly presents himself as the enemy of gays and lesbians themselves. How so?
Archbishop Schnurr will be seen by some to join himself with those parents who rashly disown their own children when they “come out” as lesbians or gays. These are the children who are forced to live on the streets and who are forced to commit petty thefts and sometimes even to sell their own bodies in order than they might stay alive. These are the children who, despairing of ever being truly understood and loved, are tempted to cut themselves and to commit suicide.
Archbishop Schnurr will be seen by some to join himself with those parents who hate “queers” and insist upon sending their own children to a Catholic school because they mistakenly believe that teachers condemning the lifestyle of “queers” will provide a measure of protection that their own children never turn out to be “queer.” The parents who took notice of Mike Moroski’s website and who reported him to the Archbishop Schnurr might indeed have had this frame of mind. They might even have threatened to withdraw their children if appropriate action was not taken.
If Archbishop Schnurr was himself involved in the personal and spiritual lives of gays and lesbians, do you not think that he might have included in his morality clause for teachers “those who demonstrate by word or action an irrational fear or unchristian prejudice against gays and lesbians.” And how about a teacher who writes on his online blog that he would “immediately disown any child of mine who admitted that he was gay”? Would Archbishop Schnurr want to welcome teachers such as this into the diocesan schools? I would hope not. In that case, should not the Catholic teachers of Cincinnati expect Archbishop Schnurr to provide them with a much more balanced “morality clause” in their future employment contracts?
No Effective Learning is Possible when Teaching Is Reduced to Indoctrination
No learning can take place if the experiences and the thoughts of students cannot be acknowledged and explored. Authoritarianism may succeed in forcing teachers to toe the line, but any successful teacher knows that authoritarianism in learning only leads to indoctrination, intimidation, and quiet conformity. As soon as students are free of the school atmosphere, they say what they really think among their chums and, in many cases, they also discuss their “doubts” with their parents as well.
If parents blindly enforce the authority of the Archbishop, then these parents effectively “bully” their own children by “setting them straight” and, wittingly or unwittingly, collude with the Archbishop who demands submission of mind and heart. This, of course, has limited results because it sets children on the road to rebellion and prepares them to throw off everything that has been “crammed down their throats” the moment that they leave home.
But let’s face it. When Archbishop Schnurr plays his authoritarian card, he effectively treats his own teachers much like the authoritarian parents that unwittingly alienate their children and set them on the road to rebellion. If children need acceptance, trust, and openness to their grievances, then, with an even more urgent care, even an archbishop needs to do the same when it comes to teachers. Vatican II makes this abundantly clear:
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore, the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature (Declaration on Religious Freedom = Dignitatis Humanae, §2).
When the Vatican mandated a hostile takeover of the LCWR (Leadership Council of Women Religious) because these Sisters were not sufficiently compliant relative to Vatican norms regarding homosexual unions, ordination of women, and the use of contraceptives, the Sisters refused to cave in and stood their ground. Dialogue, yes; submission, no. Sister Sandra Schneiders, Superior of the IHM Sisters, set the pace for this dialogue: “There is no avoiding the challenge and the obligation of discernment; ‘blind obedience,’ i.e., uncritical submission to power, is neither discernment nor obedience.”[xvi] The end result is that the Sisters gained the respect of the authoritarian investigators by standing their ground.[xvii]
Archbishop Schnurr’s authoritarian tactics are bound to fail, both in the short term and in the long term. He may achieve some immediate outward compliance, but he risks reaping what he has sown. His time will be fritted away in dowsing brush fires. His credibility as an advocate for gays and lesbians will tumble in a freefall. He may receive letters of congratulations from nervous parents who want their children to grow up in an atmosphere that stubbornly maintains their hard line “intolerance” of gays and lesbians and their same-sex unions. These parents (and some teachers as well) are normally accustomed to indoctrinating their children at home (“for their own good”) and, in turn, they expect the Archbishop to weed out any teachers who would hesitate to maintain this indoctrination at school. Often, they expect that this coordinated indoctrination will, by the grace of God, inoculate their children with a perpetual immunity[xviii] from all “homosexual inclinations.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Woe to those Catholic households where, despite the best-laid plans for coordinated indoctrination, a child confesses having “homosexual inclinations.” A mother known to me, let us call her Gloria, had a son of seventeen who confessed to such inclinations. Upon hearing this, Gloria passed through many stages of grief.
First, angry denials: “No child of mine could possibly be gay!” And threats: “Remember your teaching, son. Sexual sins are always mortal. Repent and confess them to a priest or, God forbid, you will go straight to hell.”
Second, there comes bargaining with God: “God, how could you have permitted this? I have been a faithful believer and have supported your true Church all my life. What must I do to get this unwanted sickness in my child’s life reversed?”
Thirdly, some months down the line after Gloria’s ceaseless prayers and novenas did not get the miracle she wanted, self-doubt emerges: “Where did I go wrong? Or my husband? Or his teachers?”
Then, her son leaves home and travels over a thousand miles away: “For the first time, I can breathe freely without my mother continually hounding me and prying into every aspect of my private life.”
With her son’s absence, Gloria becomes emotionally fragile. She breaks down in tears multiple times every day and, invariably, whenever anyone asks about her son. She seeks therapy.
Then she unexpectedly finds great solace in a support group of parents of LGBT children. For the first time, she hears from parents who have arrived at the point where they accept the sexual orientation of her children. She is horrified initially, but then she comes to realize that this acceptance enables parents to return to a supportive relationship with their children after a horrible period filled with harsh judgments and estrangement.
As a result of this realization, she begins to avoid her parish priest entirely because she no longer wants to hear “any judgments he might have regarding the conduct of her son.”[xix] Gloria gradually stops going to her parish church entirely because she cannot tolerate the “self-righteous pity” expressed by certain “busy-bodies who are praying for Tony’s (not his real name) conversion and return to the Church.”
Tony writes a letter of a few pages each month. At the end of three years, he writes a long letter describing how he first met “a courageous and sensitive young man” and how, over the course of time, they gradually became good friends. Then they gradually became lovers and “have pledged their undying love to each other.” So, for the first time in years, Tony acknowledges that he sorely misses his mother and, “if and only if she would agree to accept him as gay and to bless the love he has for his partner,” then both of them would want to explore how they might visit for a few days right after Christmas.
Gloria is ecstatic!
At this point, Gloria is ready to accept her son “just as God created him, no more and no less.” This readiness came from her association with members of her parents support group. As she became more and more at ease with their positive assessment of homosexuality, she at the same time became resentful of how the teachings of the Catholic Church had pitted her against her own son.
“Even before his leaving,” she said, “I should have been blessing him every day and assuring him that I will be there for him in whatever path God calls him—whether as a gay or as a straight.” To this very day, she cannot understand how “bishops and priests teach us that loving our Creator and loving our neighbor are the heart of Jesus’ message and then, turn around, and teach my son that his deepest desires for intimacy are ‘disordered’ and that he must condemn love-making between same-sex partners because it is always[xx] a mortal sin.” In fact, she tells those who hear her whole story that “those parents [in her support group] who seldom went to church taught me more about the depth of God’s love than those Catholics who went to church weekly and firmly believed that God hated gays.”
Pope Francis speaks on homosexuality
Pope Francis has again and again pressed bishops to embrace “open dialogue” as the essential dimension in all moral decision making. This was most evident in the changes that Pope Francis brought to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. When opening this Synod Pope Francis made it absolutely clear that, under his watch, no one was going to be rewarded by following the party line or by repeating the words of past or present popes.[xxi] Thus, Pope Francis insisted that “free and open dialogue” must be embraced as the required methodology whereby the bishops provided fresh collegial resolutions for the knotty pastoral problems that were being addressed in ways that denied the compassion of God and tore the Church into factions.
[i] Mike Moroski served at Moeller High School for 10 years as a teacher, service learning coordinator, and House Dean. Concurrently, he ran a nonprofit, Choices Cafe, that bridged the gap between those with means and those without. Mike finished his time in secondary education as the Assistant Principal at Purcell Marian. He was terminated from his post at Purcell Marian by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for his public support of marriage equality. Mike earned his B.A. & M.A. in English from Xavier University, and an M.B.A. in nonprofit administration from the University of Notre Dame (M.N.A.). Currently, in addition to his role as executive director of UpSpring (working to keep children experiencing homelessness connected to their education), Mike is a trustee on the Southwestern Ohio Workforce Investment Board, a member of Cincinnati’s Human Services Advisory Committee, and a member of Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Steering Committee. (https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/16655) For an interview with Mike Moroski, see http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/assistant-principal-fired-over-gay-marriage-blog-18482240.
[ii] The appeal to “conscience” takes priority over all other sources for discerning “what is truly right and just by God’s standards” as opposed to following “a political ideology.” Archbishop Schnurr clarifies this point as follows:
The answer is to consult our conscience, which is a judgment of reason about the good to be done and the evil to be avoided in a concrete situation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1778). (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 17). A conscience must be well-formed by using reason to discover the natural law and faith to understand Sacred Scripture and official Church teaching. We then submit our judgment to God in prayer, striving to discern His will. By humbly committing ourselves to the life-long journey of developing our consciences, we more clearly distinguish the Truth of God in a complex, sometimes manipulative world, and make choices that promote the life and the dignity of all.
In effect, therefore, both Archbishop Schnurr and Mike Moroski both appeal to “conscience” by way of justifying how they acted. Archbishop Schnurr delivered his ultimatum because he was responsible for insuring that teachers in his Catholic schools both teach and live according to the norms published by the Vatican. Mike Moroski refused to capitulate because, according to his informed conscience, the Vatican had arrived at a defective judgment when it came to same-sex unions. When such differences arise, the expectation might be that open dialogue must begin and to continue until they can work out some middle ground between them. Both are Catholic pastors; yet, due to the authoritarian modality preferred by the Archbishop, he decided against any dialogue. He moved directly to have Mike Moroski removed from his office by a police escort.
[iii] “Jury awards Christa Dias $171K in suit against Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” Associated Press 03 June 2013 (http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/jury-awards-christa-dias-120k-in-suit-against-archdiocese-of-cincinnati).
[iv] The term “morality clause” has been used by newspaper and television reporters and is not the language of the contract itself. The “morality clause” is on page 6 of the contract. A complete contract can be found here: http://votfcincinnati.org/
[v] If interested, see news video here: http://www.wlwt.com/news/archdiocese-of-cincinnati-expands-moral-clause-in-teacher-contracts/24846662
[vi] Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has initiated a course of action that is quite similar to that of Archbishop Schnurr. The teachers and their supporters in San Francisco, however, were much more pro-active in confronting Archbishop Cordileone on his presumed “orthodoxy” in representing Catholicism. Jim McGarry, a retired educator who taught Catholic theology for twenty years at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a Jesuit Catholic high school in San Francisco that his children attend, supported student protestors saying:
“[The archbishop] is not in compliance with Catholic teaching,” McGarry said. “He is very selectively choosing a small number of doctrines and putting them forward in a selective way and, I think, distorting the tradition … in a way that first of all endangers the health and well-being of our children.” McGarry argued that Cordileone’s hardline stance on homosexuality, which would permit the firing of teachers who wed same-sex partners, directly contradicts a line in the Catholic Catechism that reads, “Every sign of unjust discrimination [against homosexuals] should be avoided.” He also noted that Catholic teaching is well-known for guaranteeing freedom of conscience, allowing Catholics to disobey their government — or each other — when they feel that their morals have been violated.
For details, see http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/10/3631727/san-francisco-catholics-fighting-lgbt-rights-testing-limits-pope-francis-rhetoric/ & https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/teachers-protest-as-san-francisco-archbishop-insists-schools-uphold-catholic-teaching-on-marriage
[vii] Recent polling found that 86 percent of Christians believed the very tenets of their faith compelled them to support protections for LGBT people under the law and 59 percent of lay Catholics support marriage equality.
[viii] Archbishop John Nienstedt refused Communion to about twenty people wearing rainbow buttons and ribbons at a mass at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, in 2010. See Madeleine Baran , “Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest,” MPRNews, 06 Oct 2010 (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2010/10/06/denied-communion).
[ix] Paul Kindt, “I’m Signing the Contract — in Sharpie,” The Catholic Beat, 30 April 2014 (http://thecatholicbeat.sacredheartradio.com/2014/04/im-signing-the-contract-in-sharpie/).
[x] The teacher interviewed wished to remain anamous.
[xi] The teacher interviewed wished to remain anamous.
[xii] Notice how this mother is being torn by her love for teaching and her determination to support her son. The 1986 statement to parents in “Always Our Children” makes the point that parents have a primary role in walking with their children as they explore their sexual identity. See Appendix 1 for details.
[xiii] Source for this paragraph is Susan Candiotti and Chris Welch, CNN, “A litany of ‘thou shalt nots’: Catholic teachers challenge morality clause,” 31 May 2014 (http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/30/living/catholic-teachers-morality/).
[xiv] A survey of firings and “morality clauses” can be found here: http://www.hrc.org/press-releases/entry/hrc-delivers-letter-to-vatican-addressing-growing-concern-on-anti-lgbt-stan
[xv] See Appendix 3: Cardinals, Bishops, and Other Catholic Church Leaders Who Made Positive Statements about Civil Unions and Same-Gender Marriages
[xvi] Sandra Schneiders was clearly the person who orientated the theological stance of the Sisters vis-à-vis their Vatican appointed investigators. See “What Jesus taught us about his prophetic ministry,” NCR Online (http://bonsecoursvocations.org/
[xvii] In Grade School, I learned that once you give in to the bullying tactics of would-be schoolyard tyrants, there inevitably follows a never-ending series of subsequent humiliations at their hands. Hence, you have to risk everything by standing your ground at their first threat of hostilities.
The Sisters, I would say, understood this well, and, as a result, they pushed back against the official investigators. In so doing, they understood themselves as acting in harmony with Jesus himself (See the last footnote.) They insisted that, to censure them justly, the bishops would first have to learn how to listen to them and to discover what they were doing and why. They made it clear that a hostile takeover of the LCWR would result in the Sisters leaving that organization to create another one that would be free of the authoritarian meddling of the bishops. Once the bishops realized that the Sisters were not going to cave in to their demands, they adjusted their tactics and a hesitant two-way dialogue began to take place. This strategy, after three years of struggle, eventually won the day.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF STANDING ONE’S GROUND AND FORCING DIALOG (OR SOMETHING TO THAT EFFECT):
I went to public school. And I’m trying to think of my . . . earliest form of religious rebellion. And I would think it was that as a public school kid (and we went to catechism class for Communion after school), we would have to run the gauntlet of Catholic kids who would throw snowballs at us and fight and things like that. And I remember a boy throwing a snowball at me and hitting me in the face because they felt perfectly able to abuse the public school kids because they [public school kids] weren’t as Catholic as them. And it was really something that the institutional church, meaning the priests and nuns, didn’t look at until it really became an issue. And I remember when that boy hit me, I just dropped my books, there was just something that happened, and I said, “I’m not going to put up with this abuse anymore. This is it.” And I remember grabbing him by his lapels and putting his face in the snow bank and all the other public school kids behind me getting in a big fight with the other Catholic school kids because we weren’t going to put up with getting hit with snowballs anymore on the way to catechism class. And I remember we were all stood up in the classroom because anyone who fought or was in any way disobedient was punished. And I remember staring down at my dirty shoes and my ripped knee socks and this puddle that I was standing in, and just feeling miserable. But also feeling good that I just wasn’t going to go along with things as they were anymore. And things changed. Because after that, the nuns put a stop to anymore abuse of public school kids by Catholic school kids. And what was interesting is that after we had that explosion, we started to interact more with the Catholic school kids and we started to break down the barriers between what it meant to be a Catholic in public school and what it meant to be a Catholic in parochial school. So it was interesting, out of that whole snowball fight there was a, I don’t want to say an integration, but bridges were built. (http://www.lgbtran.org/Exhibits/OralHistory/Doherty/
[xviii] Homosexuality is not a contagious disease that gets transmitted like small pox or the flu. Hence, parents who expect that their children will be immune to homosexual inclinations because they are in an atmosphere where such inclinations are officially denigrated are bound to be disappointed. Furthermore, should such inclinations emerge, their children will be hell-bent upon denying them. Finally, after years of suppression, these same children will hate themselves, fall into despair, and be very prone to seek suicide or flight rather than to admit to their parents who they truly are. What advantage their parents might have imagined by virtue of raising their children in their misinformed and homophobic atmosphere will quickly be discovered to render their children as supremely disadvantaged.
[xix] At this point, Gloria completely distanced herself from the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuals. In fact, she deeply resents the fact that her parish priest had set her against her son’s homosexuality and against any same-sex union that he might try to make for himself.
[xx] While some moral theologians sometimes say that sins against the sixth and ninth commandments deal with “serious matter” and, accordingly, infractions result in a mortal sin. Even in classical moral theology, however, the conditions for committing a mortal sin always require, subjectively, that the person “recognizes the seriousness of the matter and then goes ahead and does it anyway.” In the case of homosexual acts, however, even Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that those naturally inclined to such sex acts are less culpable than those who are heterosexuals who do the same thing while they are emotionally repulsed by the act.
Furthermore, when two women use sex to express and celebrate their mutual love, they frequently do not see this as sinful at all. In fact, they often engage in sex because they judge what they are doing as “love-making” and experience their mutual sex as a “source of grace.” Cardinal Ratzinger would intervene here saying that, due to the fact that the procreative aspect of sexuality is missing, there must always be a degree of moral guilt. Such a judgment, however, would follow from Ratzinger’s essentialist thinking and his attempt to take a rule used to evaluate heterosexual acts and to apply it indiscriminately to homosexual acts. Furthermore, even in the case of a venial sin, one must judge the action as a minor deviation from what God expects. Something which is regarded as a “virtuous deed” cannot subjectively be “a sin” at all. Here again Ratzinger’s disordered thoughts on homosexuality bring him to conclusions which conflict with classical moral theology.
[xxi] For full details here, see http://datinggod.org/2014/10/06/pope-franciss-opening-remarks-at-synod-full-text/
Welcoming Death without an Afterlife
An unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates
An unexamined afterlife is not worth striving for. –Milavec
[My initial thoughts at the time when I approach my personal death.]
Most people think that their soul survives after death. How they come to this is very murky indeed. Spiritualism, the practice of contacting the souls of those deceased, gives perhaps the greatest credence to such a belief. Near-death experiences also provide some experiential glimpses of living outside one’s body. Yet, even ordinary Christians find themselves praying for the souls of the faithful departed that the Lord of Creation would pardon their sins and admit them into the heavenly realm. Most Christians, I dare say, believe in some conscious afterlife and if the choice is between heaven and hell (or purgatory); the beatific vision with the saints in heaven seems naturally preferable.
The first thing that 99% of Christians would find strange is the fact that the older layers of the Hebrew Scriptures establish Judaism as a religion of faithful service to God and humanity without any rewards in the afterlife. In a word, they believed that holiness was its own reward and the sight of one’s family and children living a productive life that is a blessing to those close and those far is reward enough for the good life. [See Stanley B. Marrow, S.J., “The Road not Taken”]
Sometime during the Maccabean revolution (2nd cen. BCE), those Jews who had seen the pious punished with terrible torments came to the conclusion that the Lord himself remembers the injustice done to them and, on the last day, when he comes to judge the living and the dead, he would surely resurrect these holy martyrs and given them a place of honor in the earthly kingdom of God. Note here that none of these Jews believed that true bliss was to be found in a world or in a place outside of our present planet-home that God created for us.
Starting with Socrates, the beatific vision of truth, justice, and beauty would be the overwhelming delight of those “philosophers” who spent their lives cultivating these things. This “beatific vision” was possible only for an immortal soul released from the body at death. Augustine and others imported this message into the faith of our fathers; hence, Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, named the “beatific vision” as the greatest joy that our souls would find in heaven.
Jesus, needless to say, knew nothing of this “beatific vision” in heaven for he always anticipated a future with God coming to earth “to wipe away all our tears” (Rev 21:4). This same Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth. . . .” (Matt 6:9-13). And when Jesus rose bodily into heaven on a cloud, the two men in white [angels?] say, “”Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will come [return to earth] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Thus, heaven is not the final resting place for Jesus. Nor is it the place where the “beatific vision” takes place. Heaven is merely the temporary holding tank where God is preparing to send Jesus back to earth where he can be the Messiah on the Last Day (Acts 2:36, 3:20-22, 5:42).
When one considers this future on earth, the notion of living an existence as a bodiless soul in a realm where one praises God night and day (there being no necessity of sleep) would become exceedingly tedious, repetitious, and dull. The so-called joys of heaven, accordingly, might be highly overrated. The loss of a body and life on earth are highly underscored. How could a violinist or a gardener or a wood-carver survive in a heaven where they could only envision (in their imagination) making something beautiful with their hands when, in fact, they would, both night and day, lament the fact that they have no hands? How could imagined gardens or imagined musical performances give joy to those who have no ears or eyes or noses with which to feast on them?
In fact, what joy could one give to another person in heaven? One could not stroke their cheek or play a game of ball or trek in the snow-capped mountains. Maybe one could (supposing that there is such a thing as soul to soul communication that is wordless and earless) communicate about things long gone. Yet, this very communication would generate a great sense of loss and be more apt to evoke a sense of longing and annoyance that one’s entire past has been obliterated by death. Let this continue for a few hundred years (since one speaks of eternal life as the natural quality of the immortal soul) and one would have a society of malcontents who found very little to live for or to communicate about. Even singing praises to God could degrade into a tedious choir practice that, after a few short months, would surely leave bitterness and grumbling in its wake. If one could miraculously hear the heavenly choirs, that would be one thing. But to live in a society of disembodied souls would mean that such music would be produced without vocal cords and without musical instruments. Thus, the music itself would evoke a great sense of longing for a body and for the things of this present world. So, from these brief examples, one can see how soulless an eternity in heaven would be.
I thank God, therefore, that he did not give me an eternal soul and I thank him that none of those that I love have immortal souls either. Socrates willingly embraced death because he wrongly imagined that his eternal soul would escape his body and enter into its eternal bliss. Socrates also wrongly misinterpreted “sleep” as the time when the soul leaves the body in order to explore strange cities and strange places.
The earth is properly our home, and what a home it is! We were formed from the dust of the earth [that originated in the death throes of giant red stars] billions and billions of years ago, and God saw that it was good! Life is good. I enjoyed seeing my daughter play her violin in the beginning strings tonight! I also enjoyed hearing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” being performed by accomplished musicians in a small church in Venice the first night that we arrived. I’ve enjoyed making music of my own (the guitar, the recorder, the spoons) purely as an amateur. So I say: “Dear world, you are so beautiful! Blessed be the Maker of the heavens (the stars above) and the earth (below my feet which attracts me toward its center even when I am upside down).”
For a good ten years (1970-80), I persisted in believing that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the last day (even after I had abandoned any belief in a soul). It might have made good sense for a few Jewish martyrs to be rewarded with a resurrection for offering their lives to God in the face of torturing tyrants; it is positively repellent however to imagine the chaos that would result from a general resurrection. Our fragile planet earth has barely enough resources to support eight billion humans. So how can one imagine the impossible situation of providing clean water, wholesome food, and shelter for fifty billion (the total of all the righteous persons who would be raised on the Last Day).
For the pious, it would seem entirely feasible for Christians to invite six times their number to share their homes. Modern homes in the suburbs could indeed squeak by with six times the number of inhabitants. There would be little privacy left and no one would ever again have their own bedroom; yet, who knows, maybe the advantages of communal living would far outweigh the limitations of space.
Yet, what about those situations where a family of five share a two room apartment in the center of Mexico or where a similar family shares a one-room shack in the slums of Calcutta. It would be a slight bit monstrous to expect these families to welcome thirty people into their living situation.
Hospitality is a blessed virtue, to be sure. It would work in the suburbs but never have a chance in the slums. Just the use of the flush toilet by a world population six times our present size would quickly overtax all our current water purification systems. Meanwhile, in those parts of the earth where untreated sewage is disposed of by dumping it into natural water sources. I am thinking here not only of cruise ships and slums but of the hundreds of municipalities that routinely dump raw sewage into the Ohio River whenever their waste treatment facilities are overtaxed by incoming sewage. You get the picture. Increase the population of our planet by six and you get an entire planet drowning in its own shit.
Well, to save the day, there has been a lot of talk about the resurrected body being in some way “spiritualized” such that it doesn’t need to eat or to drink, ergo, not to pee or to defecate. On the other hand, Jews like Jesus imagined eating and drinking in the Kingdom of Heaven (on earth) since, truth to say, not to have enough to eat and to drink was always considered a hardship. On the other hand, Jesus liked to eat and drink with his friends and I’m sure he’d be a bit disappointed at finding that his resurrected friends had “spiritualized bodies” that no longer took any pleasure in or had any necessity to eat and drink.
So, to back up a bit, it might be important to examine whether resurrection from the dead is indeed what God has in mind for those who love him. First off, it must be conceded that “spiritualized bodies” are not natural bodies and that their existence is just as problematic as that of the existence of immortal souls. The blessing indeed is to be found in the natural condition of the human physical body that we are very familiar with.
What a piece of creation we are! A true miracle. Any cleaver bishop or theologian who tries to convince us (using either the bible or church dogmas) that the human condition can be improved upon and that God (since s/he can supposedly do anything) surely has an improved model ready for us in the resurrection from the dead should be shouted into silence. What an affront to God to imagine that s/he has not already done his/her best in creating man and woman in his/her image and likeness!
Moreover, those who imagine that our spiritualized bodies will walk through walls, transport themselves effortlessly through the skies, and never grow hungry or sick or old are talking fables and nonsense and pious gibberish. It’s one thing to imagine a perfect situation in the future. It’s quite another thing to denigrate some of the best aspects of the present situation in so doing.
Walking through walls, for instance, would mean a world without privacy. People could walk in on you at any time from any direction and have no way of signaling that they were coming. What a problem that would be. And what is so terrible about growing hungry, getting sick, or growing old? Are these not the patterns within the miracle of creation that have been tried and tested and found beneficial?
Just take the last point—that of growing old. I, for one, have found a blessing implicit in the human cycle of birth, infancy, adolescence, adulthood, old age, death. As starters, the US situation is growing increasingly difficult because the old are living longer. A full life, in the nineteenth century, meant living into the 60s or 70s but now, with improvements in medicine, most are anticipating living into their 80s and 90s. Like it or not, those in their productive years are now having to work harder and longer to take care of the aging members of their immediate families. The old now no longer live with their families, but are shunted off into assisted living, then nursing homes, then round-the-clock care. This is not the best scenario for growing old; yet, the modern productive couple doesn’t have time to spend with their own children much less to spend with an aging parent. Moreover, the young don’t want old people meddling in their lives—a thing which many aging parents do because they have the habit of taking liberties and advising their children in almost everything.
But this is getting off the point. What if people never grew old? What if people remained in their prime for an eternity? Well, to begin with, this would lead to a great population problem. In any given society, the number of deaths makes room for a certain number of births. Choke off one of the other prospect and you have either a society mushrooming out of control or moving toward extinction. In a word, the system of being born and dying appears to be a superb design originated by our wise Creator to keep a balance between the new and the old, the coming to be and the passing away.
Once this is realized, it appears as an offense to the Creator to even imagine that giving creatures “eternal life” would be some sort of surpassing gift; rather, it would be a surpassing burden. I recently read a short story that discussed a society in which aging was stopped and all sicknesses were cured. It was a society in stagnation. Very few new ideas were originated because those living had already made up their minds on just about everything that they were willing to accept or able to tolerate. In a world in which not much changed, there was even less incentive to originate anything—new music, new gardens, new wood sculptures. The repetition of human skills and crafts leads to dullness. Hence, in the sci-fi novel that I read, what had to be done was to invent a competitive game that led to the death of the loser. Then and only then did excitement enter into life. And so it was that the very society that had achieved eternal life had to later introduce “death” in order to bring back excitement in life.
PS: Here is the essay by Charles Hartshorne that was most helpful to me in coming to accept death as a gracious act and service to my family and friends. I reproduce it here so that you, the reader, might come to understand how an old philosopher can be of service to the world.
THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH
By Charles Hartshorne
Since all of us die, it is clear that the meaning of life must be inseparable from the meaning of death. If we cannot understand death, we cannot understand life, and vice versa. Life and death are two sides of one reality.
In principle life is good while it lasts. The meaning of life is, in part at least, the simple goodness of living. Normally we are glad to be alive. We may imagine circumstances in which we would be much more intensely glad to be alive than we actually are, but still life seems better than just no life. Even when things go badly with us, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that we derive no satisfaction from the activities of the living. The person who proclaims her or his misery derives some value merely from breathing and eating, some value from choosing the words in which the self is expressed, some value from making one’s troubles an object of attention and observing the way other people react to them. I believe that living is essentially voluntary, and that no one can be compelled to exist, unless on a largely unconscious level. If the will to live really dies, then we are already virtually dead. The person who decides to commit suicide gets some satisfaction out of thinking, “now it will soon be over.” This satisfaction is what keeps the person still among the living until performing some physical action which ends life, but then the bullet or poison, not directly the will to die, is what ends the life. Willing to live and finding life better than nothing are, I hold, the same things.
Take the person who stays alive because of fear of hell. Then what sustains the will to live is the thought, “I am better as I am than I might be in hell; I don’t have to be in hell, at least not yet.” Thinking thus gives present life some value. Or, if a mother lives for the sake of her children, the interest in the children and approval of herself as living for them make it possible for her to achieve at least some mild satisfaction in her own activities.
Though living is always more or less voluntary, dying can be either with or without our choice, not only because, on the one hand, external forces in action ourselves, but also because we can will not to live beyond a certain point of time. Or at least, we can be entirely content with the thought of not living forever or much beyond some specified point in our individual careers. We can choose to stop trying particularly to live, accepting death as coming from old age or terminal illness; we can be on the side of the physical forces that tend toward our death.
There are three principal ways of trying to make death as such acceptable. We can believe, or try to believe, in personal immortality in the conventional sense, meaning that after death we are to become conscious again; somewhat as we do in waking from a deep sleep, but this time in some supernatural heaven or hell, or on some other planet or in some other animal body. This may or may not be with memory of our previous earthly career. In either case this is a view which cannot appeal to any definite well-documented or scientific evidence to support it. I think that the appeal of this view is largely a consequence of misconceptions about the nature of life as such, no matter where or when.
Another way of arguing that death is good, or at least not too bad, is that it is like going into a dreamless sleep and never waking up again. Thus, there is no suffering in being dead, though there may be in dying, and so we escape from the evils of life once and for all. Note, however, that only for the others, the spectators, can it be “better” that we are no longer suffering. The suicide who reasons, “I shall be better off dead” will not be better or worse off, not yet just the same: simply he or she will not be in any state whatsoever, good, bad, or neutral. Into no future will the person survive to benefit since the future after death will not be hers or his at all. The suicide must act whether for personal satisfaction in the moments before death, or else for the benefit of those who survive. My conclusion is that the comparison of death to dreamless sleep is not enough to show that death is a good thing for the individual who dies.
The third way of making death acceptable is that of transcending self-interest as our final concern. If, and only if, we can regard our entire lives as contributing to the good of those who will survive us and if we can find part of our present satisfaction in the thought of such contribution to the future of life beyond ourselves, can we find death positively acceptable. I call this doctrine “contributionism.” It includes, but is more than, what is sometimes called “service” to others, for that is too much confined to things we do for others, actions from which others may benefit, like giving lectures. By “contributionism” I mean more than this. I mean that simply by being what we are in ourselves we contribute to the future of life. Our present happiness is a central factor in this contribution.
Miserable people, even if they are useful, contribute less than happy people who are also useful. By giving posterity our misery to look back upon, we do them no special favor. It is joys one wants to recall, more than sufferings. Even admitting the truth in the poet’s phrase, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” still, in the composing and singing of these songs, there is more than misery; there is satisfaction in the beauty of the expression of grief.
To accept death as ending our personal career is to regard that career as a finite or bounded thing. We are finite in space and time; indeed, we are mere fragments of reality spatially and temporally, but then any work of art or beautiful thing is such a fragment, apart from the entire universe throughout time. Contentment with mortality is contentment with the finitude of our ultimate contribution to the whole of life. Should our careers have a last episode? Should a book have a last chapter? A poem, a last verse? Without beginning and end a work of art has no definite form or meaning. I personally regard a life as, with normal luck and good management, having something of the qualities of a work of art, and I see no reason why it should be endless; rather the contrary, it ought not to be endless.
Part of the interest of life is that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are dramatic contrasts between infancy and youth, youth and maturity, maturity and elderliness, and these contrasts are spanned by certain life purposes, finite in scope, that bind them together. What more does one wish? If going to sleep is nothing dreadful, why is it dreadful to think of a sleep without waking? For the sleeper the fact that he or she does not awaken is as nothing. Only the others experience the not waking up.
What bothers people is perhaps the idea that death is the mere absence of life, but my death is only the absence of my continued living, it is not the absence of all living. New lives make their finite contributions to the future of life as a whole. [My death makes room for others to live life differently–more generously, more boldly and more securely.]
THE ACCEPTANCE OF DEATH
by Charles Hartshorne
The Hazards of Believing that Death is not the End
#1 Ecology Gone Amuck in anticipation of the Apocalypse
When the Lord-God comes, should we actually believe that he will provide everyone with a new suburban home complete with a washer and dryer in every basement and a brand new fuel-efficient automobile in every garage? Should we actually believe that God will miraculously fill thousands of dry oil wells so that these engines can burn gasoline for another hundred years? What? If God has already said a resounding “No” to Western Culture and its notion of development and well-being, will he/she suddenly change his/her mind on the last day. More importantly, however, even supposing that God did (for some crazy reason) decide to play Sugar Daddy, how would the Lord teach ecological responsibility if he/she used miraculous powers to overcome the results of our greed and waste? The same thing, of course, can be said of modern-day parents who lavish so many clothes and toys upon their children that they promote their thoughtless use and the throw-away mentality that goes with it. Will God, in the world to come, then have to continually save us from our garbage? [Didache, pp. 908-909]
#2 Celibacy Now In Exchange for a Sexual Afterlife
One of my early students at St. Leonard’s College, GF, OFM, once told me that he was going to be lavishly generous in accepting God’s calling to the religious life in order that, in the afterlife, God would be lavishly generous is satisfying his sexual intimacy desires with “the perfect wife.” This formula for “delayed gratification” may be very unhealthy and very wrong-headed (esp. if there is no afterlife).
#3 Allow Me to Die: Euthanasia in Belgium
Simone, a Belgium woman in good health has chosen euthanasia because she has no compelling reason to live and she wants to meet her daughter in the hereafter. This comes up four times in her 44-minute video. She says goodbye to others with the expectation that she will see them in heaven. Her vision of the afterlife as promoted by her Catholic Church thus promotes, like it or not, voluntary euthanasia. By law, physician assisted suicides have been accepted in Belgium. source=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTpmQI0VoSI
Kevin Kukla’s Klaptrap — Catholic Teaching on Sexuality Gone Beserk
Two years ago I discovered Kevin Kukla’s claptrap on his website, ProLife365.org. At first, I was just annoyed. Then I realized that Kevin represented an educated, upwardly mobile Catholic Fundamentalist who is intent upon upholding and defending the entire Vatican ideology regarding the sexual issues of our day. Moreover, Kevin imagines himself to be a crusader bent upon bringing to young people the sure and unchanging truths of Catholic sexuality that even most priests are embarrassed to teach. As a Catholic theologian who has trained future priests and lay ministers for 25 years, I have sought to fairly and systematically examine Kevin’s claims. My findings are as follows. . . .