Tag Archives: marriage spirituality

Archbishop: School that fired gay teacher showed ‘character’

Archbishop: School that fired gay teacher showed ‘character’

By MARYCLAIRE DALE July 13, 2015 4:07 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Roman Catholic school officials who fired a married gay teacher are not seeking controversy but showed “character and common sense” by following church teachings, Philadelphia’s archbishop said Monday.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, in a statement, thanked Waldron Mercy Academy leaders “for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented … in accord with the teaching of the church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

The church opposes gay marriage. Of homosexuals, Pope Francis has said: “Who am I to judge?”

Teacher Margie Winters recently told a newspaper that she lost her job last month as religious instruction director even though she had told the school about her same-sex marriage when she was hired in 2007. She was told she could be open about her marriage with faculty but not with parents at the school, Winters told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“So that’s what I’ve done,” Winters said. “I’ve never been open. And that’s been hard.”

Nonetheless, she said, a few parents found out and complained to the school or the archdiocese. She was fired after she refused a request to resign, Winters said.

“In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current church teachings,” Principal Nell Stetser said in a letter to parents obtained by the Inquirer, “but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings.”

Many parents are upset by the dismissal, and Philadelphia’s Democratic nominee for mayor, Jim Kenney, a Catholic-school graduate, has criticized the firing.

Spokesman Ken Gavin said last week that the archdiocese “did not influence” Waldron’s decision at the nondiocesan elementary school.

However, Chaput on Monday weighed in with his statement.

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief,” he wrote. “There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple a matter of honesty.”

As archbishop of Denver in 2010, Chaput supported a diocesan Catholic school in Boulder that refused to let two young children of lesbians re-enroll. Chaput, in his weekly column, called it “a painful situation and said the church “never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education.”

However, he said parents choose Catholic schools for their children so they can see their religious beliefs “fully taught and practiced.”

“That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents,” said Chaput, who described people with different viewpoints on marriage as “often people of sincerity and good will.”

Chaput said children of single and divorced parents are welcome in diocesan schools as long as their parents support the Catholic mission.

Chaput is scheduled to host the pope’s two-day visit to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families.

Irresponsible Claims for NFP

scared2As a Catholic theologian, I am aware that the Catholic Church tends to be so promotional of NFP as to neglect to inform users that, as in all medical advice, there are potentially dangerous “side effects” to the use of NFP. This practice is unfortunate. It destroys confidence and subverts “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 as effective as most other methods of birth control. One in four women who use this method become 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 would include these on a “warning label” with their NFP promotional pitches, then Catholic women who suffered through unwanted pregnancies would feel relieved that it was not their fault that they got pregnant while using NFP.  Meanwhile, those considering using NFP for the first time would be encouraged to know that the bishops are straight shooters and that they are not blinded by ideological and theological factors.

As things now stand, the glowing testimonials in favor of NFP are motivated by the “unspoken truth” that NFP is currently the ONLY OFFICIALLY APPROVED method for regulating pregnancies.  Hence,
Catholics who want to believe that Paul VI could make no major error in drafting Humanae Vitae will want to do fancy cartwheels to demonstrate  that he was 100% right about NFP.

Consider this, for example.  When you visit the  cheerful site known as Catholic Online,  you will hear a Catholic mother of six explaining how she came to hold fast to NFP.   Along the way, however, she makes some pretty fantastical claims:

When women learn to read their 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 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.

I say “fantastical” because if the text in red were 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, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is not true.   And this unfortunately is the case, despite the fact that I have heard this claim routinely used 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).

Mark Twain — ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’

Fraternally,

Aaron Milavec

Controversy over Divorce and Remarriage

A Philosophical Analysis of the Catholic Controversy over Divorce and Remarriage

 

The tendency of philosophers to work in a given paradigm weakens comparative perspectives, and so weakens dialogue. This also happens where articulation of the paradigm uses “God language” – theology – with the result that dialogue is diminished, and conflict exacerbated. This is seen in the Extraordinary Synod of the Catholic Church that is underway in Rome, where cardinals and bishops engaged discourse defending adversarial positions rather than dialogue. A comparative philosophical perspective that highlights the methodological differences helps us to understand the divergences that surfaced in the lead-up to and during the Extraordinary Synod.

Paul Anthony McGavinThe focus of conflict was the question of admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Sacramental Communion. Cutting through the complexities of this controversy, one can identify the key persons for dissent as Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,[1] and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[2] Müller moved early for maintaining the practice of non-admission to Holy Communion, and Kasper has become the focus for re-admission to Communion. Truthfully, however, Kasper is surrogate for Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis. The conflict is between Francis and conservative cardinals and bishops. Pope Francis claims a purpose of dialogue. What divergences in philosophical perspectives have inhibited this dialogue?

Those upholding the status quo position speak as though well-schooled in a kind of analytical philosophy that focuses on “validity”, and does not attend to “soundness”. The status quo position proceeds in a syllogistically tight and noetic manner from the premises of sacramental theology in which the sacrament of marriage establishes an ontological status of husband and wife that endures until the death of one or both spouses. Impediments prior to and at the time of marriage may be of a diriment nature and allow an invalidation of the marriage. So, for example, a defect of intention or a lack of free consent are reckoned as diriment impediments, and grounds for annulment, not divorce.[3]

“Those upholding the status quo position speak as though well-schooled in a kind of analytical philosophy that focuses on “validity”, and does not attend to “soundness”

The mentality of this perspective is noetic insofar as no account is taken of evidentially-based considerations subsequent to the celebration of marriage unless these are imputable prior to marriage. In this mentality, marriage essentially exists in noetic ontological terms, and phenomenological evidence of the death and or dissolution of the marriage is not admissible in adjudging the reality of matrimonial status. In brief, the sacramental theology position and associated juridical position are assessed on validity criteria, and soundness criteria are not engaged. This methodological position is at the core of the divergence between positions typed by Müller and Kasper. But this is indicative of a wider methodological divide.

The method of the status quo position essentially draws upon a philosophical theology (and philosophical in the sense of a restrictive analytical philosophy) that is cast as sacramental theology. The core to the Kasper positon is that consideration solely in terms of sacramental theology is inadequate to the question of admission to Holy Communion of Catholics who following the failure of marriage have obtained a civil divorce and remarried in a civil ceremony. Kasper contends that the question needs consideration from other theological perspectives, and needs to comprehend phenomenological evidence.

“Marriage essentially exists in noetic ontological terms, and phenomenological evidence of the death and or dissolution of the marriage is not admissible in adjudging the reality of matrimonial status”

For Kasper, the key to this consideration is mercy.[4] This raises difficulties, because in Catholic theology the formal focus for the administration of mercy is another sacrament, named Penance (or, more commonly, Confession). And Penance is formally articulated using an analogous sacramental theology that involves an act of contrition and an expressed purpose of amendment not to sin again. From the current Latin canonical/catechetical position, this means a purpose not to perpetuate a deemed status of adultery as a condition for the granting of absolution and the readmission to Sacramental Communion. But this manner of thinking is not that of Kasper, whose thinking is better understood in virtue terms than in deontic terms. For Kasper – and for Pope Francis – consideration focuses on whether it is possible in phenomenological terms for the subject or subjects to retrieve the prior matrimonial state and – where retrieval is not possible – on whether the lessons from matrimonial failure have been learned and present commitments are toward the building or rebuilding of virtuous living.

Essentially, Kasper proposes not a deontic ethic, but a virtue ethic – with the consequent methodological difference. The focus is not on lawful obligations and the violation of precepts, whether of natural law or of positive law. The focus is on assisting those whose marriages have failed in their movement toward virtuous living that involves assisting such persons in their demonstration of penance and their seeking mercy.

Methodologically, this perspective avoids reasoning from a single system, whether a closed-system sacramental theology or a closed-system deontic ethics. The perspective involves bringing together a variety of perspectives that can generate a response of practical wisdom for a forward-looking furtherance of virtuous living.

A response that calls on a variety of perspectives and eschews a single methodology seriously challenges received perspectives. For those wishing to uphold the status quo, such an approach violates the dominical words, “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Mark 10:11). For these persons, such a perspective violates the ontological reality of marriage, “and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8). From a status quo position, the conditions for dispensation of sacramental absolution are violated. From the status quo position, the moral conditions for sacramental communion are violated. From the status quo position, the enduring character of sacramental marriage is violated. The reckoning of these violations all proceed syllogistically in the closed-system reasoning that is adopted. And all are largely supported by past declarations of Catholic doctrine and practice. The defence by those against development within the Catholic tradition does not comprehend that consideration of these issues may reasonably involve recourse to perspectives and methodologies other than those already defined in the received teaching and formal practice of the Catholic Church.

What Kasper views as a pastoral application of mercy, his opponents see as heresy and the undermining of Catholic morality. Methodologically, the status quo perspective is a reductive one that arises from a deontic and noetic worldview. I say “reductive”, because the status quo defence expresses a perspective that the whole is the sum of the parts. For them, any compromise on a particular truth of the Gospel is to compromise evangelical truth. Pope Francis – whose perspective is not reductive – has long held a contrary view, as seen in a 1978 talk recently published in English:

[Partisan conflicts]…end up placing greater importance on the parts than on the whole.[5]

A non-reductive and virtue perspective on the issue may simply be incomprehensible to a status quo mentality. For them it may be akin to “2 plus 2 equals 5”. Those who oppose Kasper – and therein oppose Bergoglio – would be astonished at a virtue perspective such as voiced by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue:

There is an objective moral order, but our perceptions of it are such that we cannot bring rival moral truths into complete harmony with each other, and yet the acknowledgement of the moral order and of moral truth makes [certain kinds of choices] out of the question. For to choose [one precept] does not exempt us from the authority of the claim that I choose against.[6]

In brief, the choice in a particular instance of a “mean” in an Aristotelian sense does not thereby involve denial of an objective moral precept. Using Ratzingerian language, an Aristotelian ethic does not present a “tyranny of relativism”. From a deontic ethics perspective, one precept cannot be set against another, all must be fulfilled. From a virtue ethics perspective, mercy does not stand in contradiction to a precept of marital fidelity. Moral choice involves the reckoning and enacting of a mean that promotes a teleological end. While Kasper – and Bergoglio – have not expressly argued in virtue ethics terms, their opponents fail to understand that neither is moving away from the scriptural teleology “and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8), nor from the dominical precept, “What God has joined, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).[7]

“What Kasper views as a pastoral application of mercy, his opponents see as heresy and the undermining of Catholic morality”

In brief, the alarm of those who want an unchanged status quo is quite misplaced. It arises from their religious and psychological perspective of faithfulness to the Gospel. It arises from their fear of the weakening of the witness of the Church in the face of relativist cultures where pre-marital sexual relations are common and where marriage practically is “for as long as it works”. It arises from their reductivist understanding of fidelity to the Gospel that requires singular adherence to what are viewed as its constituent parts. This perspective is mistaken, methodologically mistaken.

I would not wish to read from the witness of the gospels that Christ propounded against reductive philosophies and propounded in favour of Aristotelian ethics. But the scriptural record of dominical sayings and discourses clearly witnesses to precepts that do not sit easily in a unitary reductive system. For example, “He who divorces his wife…and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32) and “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, Hosea 6:6). Neo-Thomism may be taken as a unitary reductive system, and it is versions of neo-Thomism that are challenged in consideration of proposals for admission to Sacramental Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics.

“In brief, the alarm of those who want an unchanged status quo is quite misplaced. It arises from their reductivist understanding of fidelity to the Gospel that requires singular adherence to what are viewed as its constituent parts. This perspective is mistaken, methodologically mistaken”

As seen in the Pope’s address to seminarians of the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Bergoglio word against closed-system thinking may seem a bit trenchant:

The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre.[8]

But the sentiments so expressed are akin to those recalled in respect of his seminary years by Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI):

The crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.[9]

Although Ratzinger is a far more refined thinker than Bergoglio, yet methodologically they share certain common perspectives. In neither does one find syllogistic analytical philosophy, nor does one find deontic ethics. Instead one can set alongside each other key quotes such as:

There is a persistent suspicion today, even among wholly Church-minded theologians, that orthodox theology is hopelessly condemned merely to repeat magisterial statements of doctrine and traditional formulae.[10]

The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defended without nuance or different understanding is wrong.[11]

It is from this methodological perspective that Pope Francis speaks of theology in dialogic terms when he calls for “a theology…which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences….” (Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, #133). In that Exhortation – to date the only substantive writing of Bergoglio as Pope – “dialogue” is a key word (see, # 31, 133, 137, 142, 165).[12] It is dialogue that is needed if the follow-up Synod is to proceed constructively. Such dialogue calls for a readiness to listen across different methodological paradigms and to converse outside preferred mental sets. This involves some mobility in epistemologies and some flexibility in psychological preferences. Theologians, like philosophers, are often not well practised in thinking outside preferred paradigms. Cross-paradigmatic thought is necessary for understanding and constructive dialogue.

 

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Footnotes and References

 

[1] “The Problem of Divorced and Remarried” on 1 March 2014, reportedly praised by the Pope as “profound and serene” theology (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350729?eng=y).

[2] “Testimony to the Power of Grace”, L’Osservatore Romano of 25 October 2013.

[3] A summary of the Church’s teaching on marriage was presented in an earlier article by the author (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350864).

[4] Thus the title of his 2014 English publication, Mercy: the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life.

[5] “A conviction, a clarity, and a desire” [translation of “Una institución que vive su carisma”], in Philip Endean, “Writings on Jesuit Spirituality I by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ”, Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 45/3, Autumn 2013, 14.

[6] After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) 143.

[7] This is most recently seen in respect of the Pope in the terms of his establishment 27 August 2014 of a Special Study Commission on reform of matrimonial processes that includes in its terms of reference “safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony”, L’Osservatore Romano 26 September 2014, 2.

[8] L’Osservatore Romano, 18 April 2014:13.

[9] Memoires (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998) 44.

[10] Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995) 95.

[11] Francis I, “A Big Heart Open to God: interview with Pope Francis”, America, 30 September 2013.

[12] See the author’s, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350762?eng=y

Ugly Face of Church’s Firings of Homosexuals

IHM School To ‘Rethink’ Policies After Firing Lesbian Teacher

September 27, 2014

Barbara Webb’s supporters stand outside Marian High School during a Sunday rally

In the last month, the number of LGBT-related employment disputes at Catholic institutions topped twenty for the year.

 

 

Case of Barbara Webb

Barbara Webb was fired from Marian High School in August for becoming pregnant outside marriage. Supporters have sustained protests online, with nearly 70,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, and by rallying at the school. Now, the leadership of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters who sponsor the school have responded.

Oakland Press reports that IHM president Sr. Mary Jane Herb released a letter to the Marian community which did not directly address Webb’s firing. However, the letter promised a review of the school’s policies and said a team of consultants would intervene before future employment decisions are made in similar situations. Citing Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and inclusion, Sr. Herb also wrote:

“Our Church and Catholic schools are confronted with a complexity of issues that have not been faced in the past….These are challenging times and times in which we feel God’s Spirit is working with us, encouraging us to respond to the signs of the times in new ways.”

In response, organizers under the name “I Stand with Barb Webb” have begun a crowd-funding campaign, which hopes to raise $65,000 so that Marian H.S. can institute diversity trainings for staff and a diversity club for students. While the IHM Sisters’ offering is a start, it does not do justice for Barbara Webb or ensure LGBT firings will stop at Marian High School. Hopefully, through this learning process, school administrators and IHM leadership will come to see what Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has seen: that these firings “need to be rectified.

The Case of Nate Alfson

St. Mary’s High School coach Nate Alfson bravely came out as gay in an article for OutSports this summer, telling LGBT youth to “Be you. Be true. Never forget that you matter.” It then surprised many when the Dell Rapids, South Dakota school did not fire Alfson.

Sioux Falls diocesan spokesperson Jerry Klein said recently this outcome should not surprise anyone, and that the hierarchy’s teaching on chastity is key to understanding this decision.  However, such a comment could imply that if Alfson dates or enters a civil marriage he would assuredly lose his job coaching.

Jill Callison, a columnist for the Argus Leader quoted Klein and commented on the import of his statement:

” ‘(L)iving a sexually active same-sex lifestyle, one that is not chaste, is not compatible with Church teaching,” the statement says. ‘The same is true for a sexually active, opposite-sex lifestyle outside of marriage. In either of these circumstances, employment or public ministry on behalf of the Church is not appropriate.’ “

Case of Ben Brenkert

Ben Brenkert’s story of leaving the Jesuits after ten years over injustices is spreading, after having been initially posted on Bondings 2.0.   Brenkert had written an open letter to Pope Francis about the firing of LGBT church workers, specifically Colleen Simon, who was let go as food pantry coordinator at a St. Louis Jesuit parish. Now, his story has appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, The Advocateand the Washington Post.

You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents made public since 2008 by clicking here.–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Case of Jamie Moore

Jamie Moore

The music director at St Victoria parish in Victoria, Minnesota, has resigned after marrying his husband last weekend, and the resignation was ordered by embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt. But as LGBT-related employment disputes top twenty in 2014 alone, are these firings and resignations making it more difficult for LGBT people and allies to remain Catholic in any capacity?

The church’s pastor, Fr. Bob White, wrote to parishioners explaining that upon hearing their music director, Jamie Moore, had entered into a same-gender marriage, the archbishop demanded his resignation and Moore complied. White added that Moore would “be sorely missed…we wish him every happiness.” The pastor said he would address the situation from a “pastoral perspective” during upcoming weekend Masses.

Nienstedt released his own statement, citing a document unusually titled “Justice in Employment” which allows church workers to be fired immediately for public conduct inconsistent with Catholic teaching. The archbishop added that his role was to make “painful and difficult” decisions to uphold Christian values.

However, St. Victoria parishioners do not quite see the archbishop’s actions in keeping with Christ’s message.   Some compared this incident to the firing of Kristen Ostendorf, a lesbian teacher, from a Minnesota Cathoilc high school last year. Others like Chub Schmeig criticized the action outright, telling Fox 9 News:

” ‘I believe the church has more serious problems to be concerned with than whether a gay or lesbian person is in the church…It has lots of other issues to handle first.’ “

What might those problems be for Minnesota Catholics? Archbishop Nienstedt, a leading anti-LGBT bishop in the US, is facing increasing calls for his own resignation over his mishandling of clergy abuse that included moving a priest convicted of sexual abuse and offering secret payments to priests who admitted to the sexual abuse of children. As far as LGBT issues are concerned, Nienstedt has called marriage equality the “work of Satan” and spent tremendous resources mailing more than 400,000 DVDs during Minnesota’s debate on that matter. He has also been accused of making sexual advances on priests and seminarians, charges which he denied this summer.

And what to make of this situation, where an archbishop under pressure to resign personally forces a gay musician out? Two prominent gay Catholic writers, Frank Bruni and Andrew Sullivan, are tackling this question in the wake of so many LGBT-related employment disputes with church workers. Writing in his column for the New York Times, Bruni recalls the recent Communion denial and dismissal from volunteer services of two longtime gay parishioners in Montana, Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff, who quietly were married. He continues:

“Such punishment has befallen many employees of Catholic schools or congregations since the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states allowed them civil weddings. Teachers long known to be gay are suddenly exiled for being gay and married, which is apparently too much commitment and accountability for the church to abide. Honesty equals expulsion. ‘I do’ means you’re done…

“The Catholic Church does incalculable good, providing immeasurable comfort — material as well as spiritual — to so many. But it contradicts and undercuts that mission when it fails to recognize what more and more parishioners do: that gay people deserve the same dignity as everyone else, certainly not what happened to the Montana couple. If Francis and his successors don’t get this right, all his other bits of progress and pretty words will be for naught.”

Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes about how these incidents have shifted his thinking about being gay and Catholic, moving from a minor blemish amid much greater goodness to a “defining wound…[that] may slowly wreck the whole church.” Writing about the Montana couple, Sullivan says:

“It’s kinda hard to portray these two as some kind of subversive force…And the action against the men came not because they are gay but because they decided to celebrate their love and friendship with a civil marriage license. So they’re not really being targeted for sex; they are being targeted for their commitment and responsibility and honesty. And the only reason they have been excluded on those grounds is because they are gay.”

“If the church upholds this kind of decision, it is endorsing cruelty, discrimination and exclusion. Pope Francis’ view is that this is exactly the kind of thing that requires the church to exercise mercy not rigidity. But allowing a married gay couple to sing in the choir as an act of ‘mercy’ would merely further expose the fragility of the church’s thirteenth century views of human sexuality. It would put the lie to the otherness of gay people; to the notion that it is essential or even possible for a tiny minority to live entirely without intimacy or love or commitment. It also reveals that gay men have long been a part of the church – and tolerated, as long as they lied about their lives and gave others plausible deniability with respect to their sexual orientation. It is an endorsement of dishonesty.”

Sullivan goes on to point out that these dismissals and firings are inconsistent with Catholic moral teachings on compassion, mercy, inclusion, and fairness — and that young Catholics view this “as barbaric and inhuman.” He concludes:

“There is only so much inhumanity that a church can be seen to represent before its own members lose faith in it. I recall the feelings of my own niece and nephew who lost a huge amount of respect for the church when they heard a homily denouncing the civil marriage of their own uncle. I notice the outcry among Catholic high school students when a teacher was fired for the very same reason. When a church responds to an act of love and commitment not by celebration but by ostracism, it is not just attacking a couple’s human dignity; it is also attacking itself.”

One final note is that Sullivan captures the hypocrisy in these situations perfectly when he writes: “Yes, the church is now in favor of divorce as a condition for being a Catholic!”  (Divorce is required of the Montana couple to be allowed to return to communion.) Indeed, there is neither logic nor just cause for these dismissals.

As Pope Francis calls for greater mercy and his top US adviser, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, says these employment disputes “need to be rectified,” the hypocrisy inherent in denying Communion to LGBT people or forcing church workers out for their sexual orientation, marital status, or personal views only becomes more fully on display. I reiterate the prediction of former San Francisco Catholic Charities director Brian Cahill that these disputes will cause the church to become a ‘shrinking cult.’

For the sake of LGBT Catholics, their allies, and the good of the whole church, let us pray and act so this hypocrisy will end.  Please consider beginning a discussion in your parish to enact employment non-discrimination policies.  You can find out how to do that by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Montana Bishop’s Divided Thinking in Communion Denial Case

September 23, 2014

When the pastor of St. Leo parish in Lewiston, Montana, found out that a gay couple there had been joined in a civil marriage, his response was to tell them they were not longer welcome at communion or to participate in any of the parish’s volunteer ministries, even though both had been actively involved in many of them for a number of years.

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

In the Great Falls TribuneRev. Samuel Spiering acknowledged he had learned about the relationship of Paul Huff, 73, and Tom Wojtowick, 66, through a rumor, though the couple did confirm it.  To make matters worse, Spiering offered a resolution which requires the couple to deny their commitment to one another.  The Tribune states:

“Huff and Wojtowick were also told that to regain full privileges within St. Leo’s, they must first obtain a divorce, cease living together and write a statement renouncing their prior marriage.”

Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese supported the pastor’s decision, noting, in The Billings Gazette:

“Warfel said he knows Wojtowick and Huff ‘to be good people.’

“ ‘This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,’ he said. ‘A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.’

“Warfel called same-sex marriage ‘the issue of our era,’ acknowledging that in the U.S., polls show that support for it has edged higher than those who oppose it. But the fact remains that stands in conflict with Catholic teachings.

“ ‘As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,’ Warfel said. . . .

“ ‘Either I uphold what Catholic teachings are or, by ignoring it or permitting it, I’m saying I disagree with what I’m ordained to uphold,’ Warfel said.”

For me, the bishop’s statements very clearly show the problem with this kind of thinking. While on the one hand, he knows, in reality, that these men are “good people,”  his theoretical ideas about what are the proper uses of sexuality force him to reject them.  His heart tells him one thing, but his head tells him something else.  I hope that he would use this opportunity to discern a little deeper how to resolve that dividing of responses.

Although he claims to want to uphold church teaching, he seems intent on only upholding the church’s teaching on marriage, not any teachings on effective pastoral ministry, the human dignity of gay and lesbian people, the respect for people’s conscience decisions.  When and why did the teaching on marriage trump all other teachings?  When and why does church teaching ask the bishop to deny what he knows from his own experience that these two men are “good people” ?

As in similar cases of dismissal, many people in the parish have come to the support of this couple.  Over the weekend, Warfel had a meeting with parishioners to discuss the situation, but according to The Great Falls Tribune“No substantive changes have resulted.”

The dismissal occurred even though the couple had explained that their marriage was not intended as a challenge to church teaching.  According to the Associated Press:

“Wojtowick said the men married in Seattle in May 2013 so they could make medical and financial decisions for each other.

“During an Aug. 25 conference call with Spiering, Warfel and other diocesan officials, Huff and Wojtowick agreed to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman, Huff said.”

Others have joined in support of Huff and Wojtowick.  Patheos blogger John Shore thinks that Pope Francis should be involved in this situation:

“ ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ Which means, of course, ‘Homosexuality is an abominable offense to God.’

“Which is a morally reprehensible thing to say—especially, of course, to a gay person—and especially to a gay person who has given their life to honoring the very God they’re now being told—and being told by His authorities on earth, no less—finds them, purely by virtue of them being the person they were created to be, repugnant to Him.

“Please, please join me in calling upon the good Pope Francis, in his role as defender of the weak and champion of the oppressed, to recognize the moral travesty being visited upon Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, of the tiny parish of St. Leo in Lewistown, MT, as an absolutely stupendous opportunity for the Catholic Church to once and for all come down unequivocally on the right and just side of the homosexual issue.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA points out a list of injustices evident in the pastor’s decision:

  • It is unjust for Church leaders to ban people from the Eucharist because of who they are or whom they love.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to single out LGBT people for dismissal from ministry and leadership roles, when others who disagree with Church teaching do not suffer the same penalties.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to bar LGBT people from exercising their civil rights.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to demand that a couple separate and divorce.

As our church leaders prepare to begin discussing marriage and family issues in the upcoming synod, one topic that appears to be attracting a lot of attention is doing away with the ban on divorced and remarried people from receiving the Eucharist.  That would be a welcome change which would bring pastoral comfort to so many individuals and families.

Church leaders should also offer similar attention to gay and lesbian couples who choose to marry civilly.  They, too, should not be denied access to the Eucharistic table.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry    (source)

Synod reveals openness and dialogue

Synod reveals openness and dialogue

by Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch

The Roman Catholic Church is shifting – moving toward change.  If you listen you can hear the sounds.  It is like watching a beloved (if, at times, stubborn) child grow and learn to form new words in her or his mouth. Parents, with their proclivity for seeing every great possibility in their children know this.  They know how small, sometimes partial words and incomplete gestures cause the heart to leap with joy for what just happened, but also for what is to come.

That is the spirit here at the synod as the first week comes to a close.  As FutureChurch heads back home, we know that the Holy Spirit is alive and well here in the synod hall.  Even the proclamations of things unalterable are slowly being drowned out in this new life-giving wind of change.

While all the bishops and cardinals more or less assent to the daily mantra, “doctrine cannot be changed,” more and more are proposing creative pathways around that obstacle as they feel a new openness to speak freely under Francis.

SynodDewArchbishop John Dew of Wellington of New Zealand, a veteran who has attended five synods, attests to the difference Pope Francis is making at the synod.  He said Pope Francis, “is just there wondering around and talking to people. He’s very serious about collegiality. People feel freer and you can sense that in the atmosphere.”
On Thursday, the head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher spoke of a major shift, a new starting place for theological reflection by bishops at the synod; the same starting place espoused for decades by mujerista, womanist, feminist and liberation theologians around the world.

“What’s happening within the Synod is we are seeing a more inductive way of reflecting; starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out, ‘what is going on here?'”, said Durocher.  “We are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source…a place for theological reflection.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said at the Tuesday Press Briefing that the experience of married couples is being heard first, before prelates speak. And this is new according to Nichols. He noted that many “positive suggestions being put forward,” and that “we have to approach the social reality of marriage in a friendly dialogue.”  Nichols asserted that equality, rejection of violence and the dignity of children were strands found in western culture that “we can befriend.”

What couples had to say this week

If experience is central to this synod of bishops and the experience of people is  a starting place for theological reflection, what are married couples who get the floor at the synod saying?  It’s a mix, but below are some of the salient points they made.

SynodPirolaRon and Mavis Pirola of Australia shared a story of friends who have a gay son who wanted to bring his partner home for Christmas. The couple’s love for their son took paramount importance over Church teaching saying, “he is our son.”  Using this example, the Pirolas explained how the Church might benefit.

“In our experience, families, the domestic churches, are often the natural models of the open doors for churches of which Evangelii Gaudium speaks”  While acknowledging families could benefit from better teaching and programs, they stressed that “more than anything, they [those who are seen as outside orthodoxy] need to be accompanied on their journey, welcomed, have their stories listened to, and above all, affirmed.” 

Even more pointed, they said that the clergy could become better prepared in presenting Church teachings by “learning from the domestic church.”   The Pirolas believe that this demands a new mindset for lay people.  “They must no longer be viewed as collaborators of the clergy, but truly recognized as co-responsible for the Church’s being and action.”

George and Cynthia Campos of the Philippines told the story of failure in reaching out to Catholics living in “irregular situations.”  Reflecting on why their ministry failed, they suggested that “an enlightened pastoral charity inaugurating innovative forms of ‘accompaniment’ of conjugal spirituality formation and of inclusionary participation in church life leading to full communion needs promotion and enactment by our ordained ministers.”

Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen of the USA framed the crisis in the Church as the result of “the age of the diminished family structure.”  Upholding a more orthodox framework for analyzing the problems facing families, they asked how Catholics can, “effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?”

Stephen and Sandra Conway of South Africa shared their experience and work in a program for couples whose marriages are in crisis as a way of proposing greater openness by the Church. Citing the story of a couple who had joined the RCIA program but who could not get a first marriage annulled, the Conways called for more openness on the part of the Church.  They said, “If God is the ultimate forgiver and full of compassion then these couples should be forgiven for previous mistakes, how ever, they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of these past relationships or mistakes by not being able to partake in communion.”

Arturo and Hermelinda Zamberline of Brazil were inspired by the leadership of Fr. Henri Caffarel who taught that couples should not deliberately close themselves off from having children. They asked the synod leaders to quickly make clear the teaching of Humanae Vitae so Catholics could more readily comply.

Promoting the natural family planning method they also admitted that “many Catholic couples, even those seriously seeking to live their marriage, do not feel obligated to use only natural methods.”

They go on to say that although natural methods for planning the family are good, they may not be practical for many.  Citing the pace of life for many young Catholics and the learning curve for success using natural family planning, “the majority of Catholic couples” are not using natural methods.

Olivier and Xristilla Roussy of France told the story of wanting a big family, learning the methods of natural family planning, deciding to try birth control pills, and, even though it meant an unplanned pregnancy, their returned to natural family planning as the best path toward holiness.

They also stated that mercy was central, not just to others, but for the life of the Church.  “We are called to love people and walk with them rather than judge their actions; to be witnesses to mercy not ignoring the realities they face.  Only this attitude of the heart can prevent us from becoming small communities; narrow, controlled and ultimately dying.”

Even the most orthodox couples, expressed the need for better pastoral care this week.  Some of them reflected what   Fr. Thomas Rosica heard synod leaders say, “The Eucharist is a sacrament that supersedes all sacraments.  Jesus is present in the Eucharist and we must allow Jesus to do his work in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is left for us sinners and we should not portray a church mentality which places limits on God’s love.”

Archbishop Durocher on Thursday sums up best how the diverse hopes expressed by the synod couples can come together when he said the Church must strive for “a marriage of justice and mercy.”

To read the couples testimonies go to the Vatican Press office website   (source=FutureChurch).

The Church’s Gay Obsession

The Church’s Gay Obsession

REPEATEDLY over the last year and a half, I’ve written about teachers in Catholic schools and leaders in Catholic parishes who were dismissed from their posts because they were in same-sex relationships and — in many cases — had decided to marry.

Every time, more than a few readers weighed in to tell me that these people had it coming. If you join a club, they argued, you play by its rules or you suffer the consequences.

Oh really?

The rules of this particular club prohibit divorce, yet the pews of many of the Catholic churches I’ve visited are populous with worshipers on their second and even third marriages. They walk merrily to the altar to receive communion, not a peep of protest from a soul around them. They participate fully in the rituals of the church, their membership in the club uncontested.

The rules prohibit artificial birth control, and yet most of the Catholic families I know have no more than three children, which is either a miracle of naturally capped fecundity or a sign that someone’s been at the pharmacy. I’m not aware of any church office that monitors such matters, poring over drugstore receipts. And I haven’t heard of any teachers fired or parishioners denied communion on the grounds of insufficiently brimming broods.

About teachers: When gay or lesbian ones are let go, the explanation typically cites their contractual obligations, as employees of Catholic schools, not to defy the church’s strictures, which forbid sexual activity between two men or two women.

But there are many employees of Catholic schools nationwide who aren’t even Catholic, who defy the church by never having subscribed to it in the first place. There are Protestant teachers. Jewish ones. Teachers who are agnostic and, quite likely, teachers who are atheists and simply don’t advertise it. There are parish employees in these same categories, and some remain snug in their jobs.

“Is it more important to believe in the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage than to believe in the Resurrection — or even that God exists?” asked the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of the 2014 best seller “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” “I don’t hear anyone calling for the firing of the agnostic parish business manager.”

The blunt truth of the matter is that during a period when the legalization of gay marriage has spread rapidly in this country, from just six states in 2011 to more than three times that number today, Catholic officials here have elected to focus on this one issue and on a given group of people: gays and lesbians.

Their moralizing is selective, bigoted and very sad.

graphysupportforgaymarriagegrowsbydemoninationIt’s also self-defeating, because it’s souring many American Catholics, a majority of whom approve of same-sex marriage, and because the workers who’ve been exiled were often exemplars of charity, mercy and other virtues as central to Catholicism as any guidelines for sex. But their hearts didn’t matter. It was all about their loins. Will the church ever get away from that?

Pope Francis seems inclined to do so, and is nudging other Catholic leaders with his carefully chosen words and artfully orchestrated symbols. He’s probably not telegraphing any major shift in church teaching — which, by the way, changes plenty over time — but he’s signaling that Catholics who run afoul of it needn’t be vilified.

Just three weeks ago, he presided over the marriages of 20 couples from the Diocese of Rome, including brides and grooms who had already been living together or been married before. One bride had a grown child conceived out of wedlock.

The pope’s actions don’t jibe with the way many Catholic leaders in the United States are treating gays and lesbians. The National Catholic Reporter said recently that it could find, since 2008, about 40 public cases of employees’ losing jobs at Catholic institutions in this country because of issues connected with homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Seventeen of these occurred just this year.

When I discussed the issue with Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, she wondered aloud if Catholic superiors would dismiss someone or deny him or her communion for supportingbookLisaCahill the death penalty, which is against Catholic teaching.  She and I alike marveled at how little we heard from American church leaders during all the news months ago about botched executions.

Cahill noted. She said that they were “staking out a countercultural Catholic identity” that doesn’t focus on “social justice and economic issues.”

“It’s about sex and gender issues,” she said, adding that it might be connected to the disgrace that church leaders brought upon themselves with their disastrous handling of child sexual abuse by priests. Perhaps, she said, they’re determined to find some sexual terrain on which they can strike a position of stern rectitude.

“They’re trying to regain the moral high ground, no matter how sure it is to backfire,” she said. Having turned a blind eye to nonconsensual sex that ravaged young lives, they’re holding the line against consensual sex that wounds no one.

It’s crucial to remember that in many cases in which the church has punished same-sex couples, their homosexuality and even their same-sex partnerships were widely known and tacitly condoned for some time beforehand. What changed was their interest in a civil marriage, suddenly made possible by laws that are evolving more humanely than the church is. The couples in question stepped up and made loving commitments of a kind that the church celebrates in other circumstances. For this they were spurned. It’s shameful.

And it contradicts Catholic principles apart from those governing same-sex relations, as Martin observed in a column in the Catholic magazine America earlier this year. Catholic teaching, he wrote, “also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’ ”

Some American church leaders indeed question what’s going on. Asked by a reporter recently about the banishment of gay workers, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said that the situation “needs to be rectified.”  No time like the present.

What’s happening amounts to persecution. And it’s occurring not because the workers in these situations called any special attention to themselves or made any political fuss. No, they just loved in a fashion displeasing to many church officials, whose concerns with purity are spasmodic and capricious. . . .  (source)

 

Catholic Family Planning and Exponential Population Growth

Catholic Family Planning and Exponential Population Growth

aaronemma200xAaron Milavec  (blog)

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.

WorldPopulationGrowth2050

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 view of the future.

But now we know what we could not know in 1968. Four points and a conclusion:

ee2#1 According to the United Nations, one in every five humans depends on fish as the 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 with 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 collapse. 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. . . .

oilpricegraph#2 The story for oil shows exactly the same phenomena. Recently developing countries like India and China are legitimately moving toward increased industrialization 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 is depleting at 6.8% per year. US Joint Forces Command’s Joint Operating Environment 2010 issued this warning to all US military commands: “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day.” (www) So 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 oil depletion? 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, this pollution produces 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 damage to 14% of her forest trees due to the pollution that originates outside its borders. For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .

graphC02#4 Finally, scientists can measure climate change by studying the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. As the atmospheric CO2 goes above 350 parts per million by volume, scientists have recorded the melting of ice sheets, rising sea level, abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural land, and increasing intensity and frequency of extreme events like floods, wildfires, and heat waves. But who is speaking up for the planet earth and the limitations on the CO2 levels that it can safely absorb? For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .

Conclusion:

So now, in view of what we now know, what should be our reaction to the “family planning” proposed by Pope Francis in the leading question that he offers us for our consideration:

Question 7 f. How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

This question make my blood boil! The world population at the time when Humanae Vitae was published was 3.5 billion. Today’s world population is 7.2 billion. This is more than double. Let’s face it. Our Mother Earth CANNOT SUSTAIN another fifty years of reckless population growth.

Here is the question that a prophetic Francis  should be asking:

Question 7 f. How can a more open attitude towards childless couples be fostered? How can an decrease in births be promoted?

Not to make this change NOW is to blindly continue to disrupt the ecosystems of our dear home and planet. It is to put our entire future at risk. For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer beyond all measure. . . .

Einstein.worlddestroyed“Our ethical traditions know how to deal with suicide, homicide and even genocide, but these traditions collapse entirely when confronted with biocide, the killing of the life systems of the earth, and geocide, the devastation of the earth itself.”  ~~Thomas Berry

I Don’t Love Natural Family Planning

I Don’t Love Natural Family Planning

by Danielle Bean (8 July 2011)

Daniella BeanDanielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

 

I don’t want to write about NFP. I hate to write about NFP. And yet, here I am…writing about NFP.

I brought this on myself. I completely forgot about an editorial deadline and found myself scrambling for a column topic at about 10:00 p.m. Naturally, I turned to my dear friends, Mrs. Twitter and Mr. Facebook, to see what they thought I should write about.

“NFP!” came the answer, immediately and repeatedly. It is almost NFP Awareness Week, it turns out, and this is a topic in the forefront of Catholics’ minds.

So I will write about NFP — but I do so under protest. Are we clear? Good.

So what do you want to know?

Do I use NFP? Yes.

Do I recommend NFP? Yes.

Do I see problems with the current practice and promotion of NFP in Catholic circles and wish that someone who knew better had been there to advise me at the beginning of my marriage? That would be a big fat yes.

Some thoughts, in no particular order, clarifying what I mean by that last “yes.”

1. NFP does not work well for everyone.

I know the NFP teachers and promoters say that’s a copout and that it can work well for everyone — but what they don’t tell you about, and what they cannot accurately predict in a general way, are the complications of breastfeeding.

When I nurse a baby, I have nonstop fertile symptoms. I am not exaggerating that description for dramatic effect; when I say nonstop, I mean nonstop. I know that not everyone shares this experience, but I also know that many do. This means that each time I have given birth to a baby, I have needed to choose between total abstinence for at least the first year postpartum, weaning my baby early, or deciding to “risk” it and (as has happened several times in 17 years of marriage) become pregnant again while caring for an infant.

These are not always happy options, and I could have been spared a lot of anxiety and self-doubt if someone had at least told me this could happen. Instead, I went into marriage all starry-eyed about how NFP was going to be an aid to our communication…and then wound up sad, lonely, and wondering what was wrong with me and my marriage when NFP seemed not only to be interfering with the way I wanted to mother my children, but actually hurting my relationship with my husband on occasion.

2. NFP is not mandatory.

I think that some NFP promoters (most of them with the very best of intentions) give a false idea of the kind of control human beings should expect to have over their fertility. Whereas Catholics once accepted fertility and procreation as a natural part of every marriage, we now feel we have a measure of “control” over these things, in a way that tempts us into thinking that controlling fertility is a virtue in itself. There is a brand new, modern way of looking at children through the lens of “responsibility” as opposed to “generosity” and “blessing.”

While some cultures might need a nudge in the direction of parental responsibility, generally speaking, our modern society needs a nudge more in the direction of parental generosity. The problem, very simply, is not that we are having too many babies.

Catholic couples do not need to use NFP at all, ever, in order to have happy, holy marriages, but that is not something you are likely to hear from an NFP instructor of any kind. The mentality sometimes calls to mind the Protestant idea of being a “good steward” of your fertility, which is anything but a Catholic notion. It makes me wonder how any Catholics managed to have holy marriages before Creighton and Billings came along to save us from our sorry selves.

3. Have we no shame?

Because of the pervasiveness of NFP talk and information in Catholic circles, I think many of us have lost a sense of awe and holy shame about sex. I know this is also a symptom of the sex-saturated culture in which we live, but I see this as a Catholic version of the problem. Grown women talk about charts and mucus in group settings. Couples share intimate details about their love lives in casual conversations.

Call me a standoffish New Englander, but I say: TMI! Enough already!

I have heard it argued that we need to talk about these things, that it’s beautiful and holy to talk about Catholic sex, and that we should “have no shame” in discussing such matters. But I say it is beautiful and holy, and that’s exactly why we should have some shame, particularly in public settings. By “shame” I mean proper reverence, respect, and discretion for what is a sensitive, sacred, and yes ,very private topic.

4. It’s only information.

Fertility monitors are a popular modern way for couples to observe and track symptoms of fertility in order to avoid or achieve a pregnancy. There are different models that work in different ways, but the idea is that the machine helps you interpret your symptoms and gives you a measure of confidence in determining whether you are fertile or infertile on any given day of the month.

Believe it or not, though, I have read books in which NFP teachers caution against the use of fertility monitors. They warn that couples will come to rely only on the machines to interpret their symptoms, and that marital communication will suffer as a result of that.

It should be noted that these are the same people who think my husband is going to wake me with a smile and hand me a thermometer at precisely 6:00 a.m. every day of the week.

To me, this is an example of where some of us have lost our way and gotten off track in our pursuit of all things NFP. The charts and mucus and temperatures are not good things in and of themselves. In the best of worlds, the practice of NFP should be about couples acquiring information about their fertility and then using that information to make decisions about their family size. Communicating about that information is a separate issue and does not need to be part of the method itself. Monitors simplify the gathering and interpretation of information — so, hooray! Marriages only stand to benefit from clear, easy-to-obtain information about fertility.

5. Temperament matters.

Some women I know don’t seem to mind the process of monitoring their fertility symptoms. I think of these women as amateur scientists, and I envy them. They make detailed observations, record symptoms, and look for patterns. They are naturally good at these things and even enjoy doing some of them.

I do not enjoy it. For me, an awful lot of what is required for the successful practice of NFP feels like too much information. I would sometimes prefer a healthy dose of mystery when it comes to my physical self. The bottom line is that those of us who are loath to make personal observations are an awful lot less likely to succeed in collecting and interpreting data than our scientist sisters.

It should also be noted (but too seldom is!) that some of us are better at abstaining than others. Those who find abstinence especially challenging are not bad people; it’s just part of their temperament. They struggle with purity, where others’ weaknesses might be pride, greed, or gluttony.

We need to remember that abstinence inside of marriage is not a good in and of itself. I worry sometimes that the NFP promoters would have us believe that the challenge of abstinence is the same for everyone, and we can all perfectly plan the sizes of our families (just use some of that self-control, folks!), when nothing could be more potentially harmful than expecting that.

Our personal differences as individuals and couples are a good thing. Our temperaments are part of God’s providence working its way into our lives, even in places where we might be tempted to believe we have control. A married couple that finds abstinence especially difficult, for example, is more likely to have a large family, whether they were planning to or not.

I hate to be a NFP downer.

I fully recognize the kinds of people who research, study, teach, and promote methods of natural family planning usually have the very best of intentions. They want to spread the good news, save couples from the destructive effects of contraception, and teach others about God’s plan for marriages and families. These are very good things.

I think we are all better served, however, when the happy talk is balanced by an occasional reality check. I have attempted to give one here, but perhaps have failed in some glaring ways. Experience tells me, though, that readers will not hesitate to make any necessary corrections and offer their own experiences — the good, the bad, and the ugly — with NFP in the comments here.

So what do you think? Have at it.

 

THE MARRIAGE COVENANT: A BIBLICAL STUDY ON MARRIAGE

 THE MARRIAGE COVENANT: A BIBLICAL STUDY ON MARRIAGE

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

Samuele BacchiocchiDuring much of Christian history, sex in marriage has been condoned as a necessary evil for producing children. Before the sexual revolution of our times, calling a lady “sexy” would have been insulting. Nowadays many ladies would accept that adjective as a prized compliment. “The Victorian person,” writes Rollo May, “sought to have love without falling into sex; the modern person seeks to have sex without falling into love.”1

The attitude of society toward sex has truly swung from one extreme to another. From the Puritan view of sex as a necessary evil for procreation, we have come to the popular Playboy view of sex as a necessary thing for recreation. From the age of warning “Beware of sex,” we have come to the age of shouting “Hurrah for sex.” Homo sapiens has become homo sexualis, packed with sexual drives and techniques.

Both extremes are wrong and fail to fulfill God’s intended function of sex. The past negative view of sex made married people feel guilty about their sexual relations; the present permissive view of sex turns people into robots, capable of engaging in much sex but with little meaning or even fun in it. In spite of the increasing number of books on the techniques of love-making, more and more people are telling marriage counselors: “We make much love, but it isn’t much good. We find little meaning or even fun in it!”

Objective of the Chapter. This chapter examines the Biblical view of sex. We shall consider various aspects of sex within and without marriage in the light of the Biblical teaching. The chapter is divided into three parts. The first part surveys the past attitudes toward sex, from ancient Israel to modern times. The second part examines the Biblical view of the nature and function of sex. Attention will also be given to the morality or immorality of contraception. The third part addresses the question of whether or not there will be marital relationships in the world to come. The overall objective of the chapter is to counteract the secular and hedonistic view of sex by helping Christians understand and experience sex as God intended it to be.

PART I: PAST ATTITUDES TOWARD SEX

Ancient Israel. The Hebrew people understood and interpreted human sexuality as a positive gift from God. They were not affected by the later Greek dualism between spirit and matter which considered sexual intercourse and evil “fleshy” activity to be shunned if possible. Such thinking was foreign to the Hebrews who saw sex within marriage as beautiful and enjoyable. A wedding was a time of great celebration, partly because it marked the beginning of the sexual life of the couple.

The bridal pair retired to a nuptial tent or chamber at the end of the wedding festivities to make love together while lying on a clean, white sheet. Blood on the sheet indicated that the bride had been a virgin and provided evidence of the consummation of marriage (Deut 22:13-19). A newly betrothed man was even excused from participating in war in order to be able to enjoy his bride (Deut 20:7)!

This indicates that the ancient Hebrews had a healthy attitude toward sex. They saw it as a divine gift which gave pleasure to the persons involved while providing the means for the propagation of the race. The classic example of the exaltation of human sexuality is found in the Song of Songs. This book has often been a source of embarrassment to Jews and Christians alike. Some interpreters, like Sebastian Castellio, have viewed the Song of Songs as an obscene description of human love which does not belong in the Biblical canon. Others, like Calvin, have defended the inclusion of the book in the canon by interpreting it as an allegory symbolizing the love of God for His people. The book, however, is not an allegory. It is a romantic celebration of human sexuality. According to some traditions, portions of the book were sung during wedding processionals and wedding feasts.

When the Hebrews came to the land of Canaan, they were exposed to the evil and excesses of the fertility cults associated with the worship of Baal, which included sacred prostitution. To correct these evils, several regulations were given. There were strict prohibitions, for example, against revealing in public one’s “private parts” (Gen 9:21; 2 Sam 6:20), incest (Lev 18:6-18; 20:11-12,14, 20; Deut 27:20,22), bestiality (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and various kinds of sexual “irregularities” (Ex 22:16; Lev 19:20,29; 15:24; 18:19; 20:18; Deut 25:11). Overall, however, the Jews had a healthy view of sex, although they saw it primarily in terms of its reproductive function.

New Testament Times. In New Testament times, we find the beginning of two extreme attitudes toward sex: licentiousness and celibacy. Some interpreted the freedom of the Gospel as freedom to engage freely in sexual relations outside marriage. Jude speaks of “ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). Peter warns against the enticement of false teachers who had “eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin” (2 Pet 2:14). The problem of sexual permissiveness and perversion had become so noticeable in the Corinthian church that Paul openly rebuked those who engaged in incestuous and adulterous sexual relations (1 Cor 5:1, 6:16-18).

Other Christians were influenced by Greek philosophical ideas which viewed anything related to the physical aspect of life as evil. Since the sexual act involves “fleshly” contact and pleasure, it was viewed as inherently evil. This thinking prevailed in the Greco-Roman world, and exercised considerable influence among some Christians. In Corinth, for example, there were some Christians who maintained that unmarried people should remain single and those who were married should refrain from sexual activity (1 Cor 7:1-5, 8-11, 25-28).

Paul responded to these “ascetic” believers by affirming that it was right and proper for married persons to engage in sexual activities: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season . . . lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:3,5). Paul counsels unmarried and the widows to remain single (1 Cor 7:8, 25-26). His reason, however, is based not on theological but on practical considerations, namely, on the need to avoid the added burdens of a family during the end-time persecution which Paul believed would soon break out (1 Cor 7:26-31). Paul’s counsel does not reflect a negative view of sexuality because his advice was predicated solely on practical considerations. This is indicated by his counsel, “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. . . . if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin” (1 Cor 7:9, 28).

Christian Church. The negative view of sexuality, already present in embryonic form during apostolic times among some Christians, developed fully during the early church, shaping the sexual attitudes of Christians up to modern times. This view can be traced back to Greek philosophy, especially to Platonic thought, which saw man as having two parts: the soul, which is good, and the body, which is bad. Such dualistic thinking influenced Christianity through a movement known as Gnosticism. This heretical movement taught that all matter, including the human body, was evil. Only the spark of the divine in man (soul) is good and through special knowledge (gnosis) such a spark could be released from the human body and returned to the divine realm. Thus, salvation was perceived as the liberation of the soul from the prison-house of the body.

This dualistic teaching greatly influenced Christian thought through the centuries to the point that many Christians gradually abandoned the Biblical view of the resurrection of the body, replacing it with the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul. The fundamental error of this view, which an increasing number of scholars are rejecting as unBiblical, is its assumption that matter is evil and must be destroyed. Such a view is clearly discredited by those Biblical texts which teach that matter, including the human body, is the product of God’s good creation (Gen 1:4, 10 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The Psalmist declares: “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works” (Psalm 139:13-14).

The adoption of the unBiblical Greek notion of the human body as intrinsically evil has led many Christians through the centuries into a warped attitude toward sex. Its effect still lingers, as many today are still uneasy about their marital sexual relations, viewing them as something tainted with sin.

Augustine’s Role. The church father who has molded the negative Christian attitudes toward sex more than any other person is Augustine (354-430).2 He regarded the sexual drives and excitement which cannot always be rationally controlled as the result of sin. He speculated that if sin had not come in, marital intercourse would be without the excitement of sexual desire. The male semen could be introduced into the womb of the wife without the heat of passion, in a natural way similar to the natural menstrual flow of blood emitted from the womb.

As a result of sin, the sexual act is now accompanied by powerful drives which Augustine called concupiscence, or lust. The satisfaction of lust through intercourse, was for him, a necessary evil to bring children into this world.

In effect, Augustine equated original sin with the sexual act and its lustful desires since the act is the channel through which he thought the guilt of Adam’s first transgression is transmitted from parent to child. By making the sexual act the means whereby original sin is transmitted, Augustine made sex for pleasure a sinful activity. This view necessitated the administration of baptism immediately after birth to remove the stain of the original sin from the soul of the new born baby.

The major fallacy of this view is its reduction of original sin to a biological factor which can be transmitted like an infectious disease through sexual intercourse. In Scripture, however, sin is volational and not biological. It is a willful transgression of a divine moral principle (1 John 3:4), and not a biological infection transmitted through sexual contact.

What can be transmitted is not the guilt of sin, as Augustine believed, but its punishment. Guilt is the personal transgression of a divine principle, which cannot be imputed upon a third party. The punishment of our wrong doings, however, can be passed on in terms of sickness and/or evil hereditary tendencies. Scripture tells us that God visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 34:7). In the case of Adam’s sin, what has been passed on to mankind are the consequences of its punishment, which include evil inclinations and death. These consequences cannot be mechanically removed through infant baptism.

Original Sin. The notion of original sin is derived primarily from Romans 5:12 where Paul says that “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” In this statement the apostle simply affirms the fact that mankind shares in Adam’s sin and death. He makes no attempt to explain how this happens. He makes no allusion to sexual procreation as the channel through which mankind has become partakers of Adam’s sin and death. The context clearly indicates that Paul’s concern is to affirm the fundamental truth that Adam’s disobedience has made us sinners and Christ’s obedience has made us righteous: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19).

The concept to which Paul alludes to establish the connection between the sin of Adam and that of mankind is not that of biological transmission of sin through sexual procreation, but that of corporate solidarity. As Achan’s sin became the sin of his household because its members shared in a corporate solidarity with him (Josh 7:24), so Adam’s sin has become the sin of mankind because its members share in a corporate solidarity with him. This Pauline argument provides no support to the Augustinian attempt to equate original sin with sexual excitement and intercourse.

Augustine’s association of original sin with sex has been widely accepted throughout Christian history, conditioning the sexual attitudes not only of Roman Catholics but also of Christians in general. As Derrick Baily notes, “Augustine must bear no small measure of responsibility for the insinuation into our culture of the idea, still widely current, that Christianity regards sexuality as something peculiarly tainted with evil.”3

Partly as a reaction to this negative view of sex as a necessary evil for the propagation of the human race, a completely different and pleasure oriented (hedonistic) view of sex has emerged. The sexual revolution of our time has glamorized sexual profligacy and prowess, ridiculing sexual chastity as a prudish superstition. The catastrophic consequences of the sexual revolution can be seen in the ever-increasing number of divorces, abortions, incidents of incest, sexual abuse of children, and the loss of the true meaning and function of sex. In the light of this painful reality, it is imperative for Christians to understand and experience the Biblical meaning and function of sex.

PART II: THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF SEX

Image of God. The book of Genesis is the logical starting point for our quest into the Biblical view of sex. The first statement relating to human sexuality is found in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It is noteworthy that while after every previous act of creation, Scripture says that God saw that “it was good” (Gen 1:12,18,21,25), after the creation of mankind as male and female, it says that God saw that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31). This initial divine appraisal of human sexuality as “very good” shows that Scripture sees the male/female sexual distinction as part of the goodness and perfection of God’s original creation. . . .

Becoming “One Flesh”. The oneness of intimate fellowship between a man and a woman is expressed in Genesis 2:24 by the phrase “one flesh:” “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The phrase “one flesh,” as already shown in chapter 1, refers to the total union of body, soul, and spirit between marital partners. This total union can be experienced especially through sexual intercourse when the act is the expression of genuine love, respect, and commitment. The physical or sexual meaning of the phrase “one flesh” is clearly found in 1 Corinthians 6:16 where Paul applies it to the sexual intercourse between a man and a harlot.

The phrase becoming one flesh sheds considerable light on God’s estimate of sex within a marital relationship. It tells us that God sees sex as a means through which a husband and a wife can achieve a new unity. It is noteworthy that the “one flesh” imagery is never used to describe a child’s relationship to his father and mother. A man must “leave” his father and mother to become “one flesh” with his wife. His relationship to his wife transcends the one to his parents because it consists of a new oneness consummated by the sexual union.

Becoming one flesh also implies that the purpose of the sexual act is not only procreational, that is, to produce children, but also psychological, that is, the emotional need to consummate a new oneness-relationship. Oneness implies the willingness to reveal one’s most intimate physical, emotional and intellectual self to the other. As they come to know each other in the most intimate way, the couple experiences the meaning of becoming one flesh. Sexual intercourse does not automatically ensure this oneness intimacy. Rather it consummates the intimacy of perfect sharing which has already developed.

Sex as “Knowing”. Sexual relations within marriage enable a couple to come to know each other in a way which cannot be experienced in any other way. To participate in sexual intercourse means not only to uncover one’s body but also one’s inner being to another. This is why Scripture often describes sexual intercourse as “knowing,” the same verb used in Hebrews to refer to knowing God. Genesis 4:1 says: “And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived.”5

Obviously Adam had come to know Eve before their sexual intercourse, but through the latter he came to know her more intimately than ever before. Dwight H. Small aptly remarks: “Self-disclosure through sexual intercourse invites self-disclosure at all levels of personal existence. This is an exclusive revelation unique to the couple. They know each other as they know no other person. This unique knowledge is tantamount to laying claim to another in genuine belonging . . . the nakedness and physical coupling is symbolic of the fact that nothing is hidden or withheld between them.”6

The process which leads to sexual intercourse is one of growing knowledge. From the initial casual acquaintance to dating, courtship, marriage, and sexual intercourse, the couple grows in the knowledge of each other and this makes greater intimacy possible. Sexual intercourse represents the culmination of this growth in reciprocal knowledge and intimacy. As Elizabeth Achtemeier puts it: “We feel as if the most hidden inner depths of our beings are brought to the surface and revealed and offered to each other as the most intimate expression of our love.”7

Sex as Pleasure. A revolution has taken place in Christian thinking about sex within the last hundred years. Until the beginning of our century, Christians generally believed that the primary function of sex was procreative, that is, to produce children. Other considerations, such as the unitive, relational and pleasurable aspects of sex were seen as secondary and usually tainted with sin. In the twentieth century the order has been reversed. Christians place the relational and pleasurable aspects of sex first and the conception of children last.

From a Biblical perspective, sexual activity is both unitive and procreative, or we might say, recreative and reproductive. God’s command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), is a command to be sexual. When we obey it, we fulfill God’s purpose by becoming one flesh and producing children. So sex in marriage is both unitive and procreative. “During the Middle Ages,” writes David Phypers, “Christians stressed the procreative aspect of sex while neglecting and sometimes despising its unitive purpose. Today, we stress its unitive role, and may ignore the command to be fruitful and increase in number.”8

As Christians we need to recover and maintain the Biblical balance between the relational and procreational functions of sex. Sexual intercourse is a relational act of perfect sharing that engenders a sense of oneness while offering the possibility of bringing a new life into this world. We need to recognize that sex is a divine gift that can be legitimately enjoyed within marriage. Like all other divine gifts, sex is to be partaken of with thankfulness and moderation.

Sex as a Divine Gift. It is noteworthy that the wise man Solomon mentions together bread, wine, clothing and marital love as the good gifts that God has approved for our enjoyment: “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white; let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love,all the days of your life which He has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Eccl 9:7-9).

Sexual activity is generally more important to humans than it is to animals. It is significant that among the mammals, only the human female is capable of enjoying sexual orgasm as well as the male. It is recognized that this experience binds a woman to her partner emotionally as well as physically. The fact that both the human male and female can share together in the pleasure of sexual intercourse indicates that God intended marital sex to be enjoyed by both partners.

In the Song of Songs, the celebration of sexual love between the bride and bridegroom is expressed in suggestive romantic words: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards . . . There I will give you my love” (Song of Songs 7:10-12).

The same positive view of marital sex is found in the New Testament. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul urges husbands and wives to fulfill their marital duties together, because their bodies do not belong to themselves alone but to each other. Therefore they should not deprive each other of sex, except by mutual agreement for a time to devote themselves to prayer. Then they should come together again lest Satan tempt them through lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:2-5).

In Ephesians Paul speaks of the physical union of a man and a woman as a profound “mystery” reflecting Christ’s love for His church. Therefore, we should not be uneasy about marital sex, because when we come together we are experiencing something of the mysterious redemptive love of Christ for the world.

The author of Hebrews admonishes that “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure” (Heb 13:4 NIV). Here, marital sex is extolled as honorable, something not to be embarrassed about. But the same writer adds, “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4 NIV).

Bible writers are unanimous in commending sex within marriage and in condemning all forms of sexual activity outside marriage. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9,10 NIV). The book of Revelation places the “fornicators” among those whose “lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur” (Rev 21:8).

Sex as Procreation. In the Bible the function of sex, as noted earlier, is not only unitive but also procreative. It not only serves to engender a mysterious oneness of spirit, but it also offers the possibility of bringing children into this world. God’s command “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) expresses God’s original intent for the purpose of sex. Through marital sex and the birth of children, God enables men and women to reflect His image by sharing in His creative activity. This means that sex in marriage without the intention of having children fails to fulfill a fundamental divine purpose for sex. The lengths to which some married couples will go in order to have children reveals the deep creative urge God has placed within us.

Of course, not all couples are able to have or are justified in having children. Old age, infertility, and genetic diseases are but some of the factors that make childbearing impossible or inadvisable. For the vast majority of couples, however, sex in marriage should include the desire to have children. As sex consummates the act of marriage, so children consummate the sexual act. This does not mean that every act of sexual union should result in conception, but rather that the desire for having children should be part of the overall intent of sexual relations.

Various contraceptive techniques make it possible today to separate sexual activity from childbearing. A growing number of couples choose to enjoy a lifetime of sexual activity without desiring or planning for children. They are not simply concerned about delaying their arrival but in avoiding them altogether. Children are seen as a threat to their high standards of living associated with two incomes and two careers.   [!Danger!  This is a judgmental and demeaning statement.  Today there are valid genetic, cultural, financial, ecological reasons for delaying or entirely sacrificing the yearning to procreate.]

“We are not meant to separate sex from childbearing” writes David Phypers, “and those who do, totally and finally, purely for personal reasons, are surely falling short of God’s purpose for their lives. They run the risk that their marriage and sexual activity may become self-indulgent. They will only look inwards to their own self-satisfaction, rather than outwards to the creative experiences of bringing new life into the world and nurturing it to maturity.”9

The life-begetting function of sex enables a married couple to further God’s creative work by becoming procreators with Him. It is altogether consistent with God’s creative work that the sexual life-begetting experience should be joyous. Did not God’s angels shout for joy at His first creation (Job 38:7)? Bringing into life a new person in God’s image is a joyful and solemn privilege delegated by God to married couples. In this sense, they become workers together with God in furthering His creation.

Importance of Children. Children are [generally but not always] a fundamental part of our marriage and sexual relationships. They represent God’s blessings upon the marital union. The Psalmist expresses this truth, saying: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like the arrows in the hands of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Ps 127:3-5 NIV [sexist orientation]).

The population explosion has not rescinded God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. World famine is not so much the result of too many people [???] as much as the result of greed, exploitation, irresponsible governments, misuse of natural resources, and unwillingness to adopt more effective methods of agriculture and to teach people responsible family planning. While a number of developing countries are facing population explosions, most Western countries are experiencing population stagnation or decline. Western societies are aging, and unless the current trend is reversed, it will soon become increasingly difficult for them to support their ever-growing numbers of elderly people.

We no longer need large families, but we still need families. The church needs Christian families that can share with the world the love of God experienced in the home. Society needs the service and moral influence of Christian families. Most Western societies live today in what social analysts call the “Post-Christian era.” This is the era in which social values and practices are influenced no longer by Christian principles but rather by humanistic ideologies. The latter promote a secular view of marriage and a hedonistic view of sex. Marriage has become a dissolvable social contract rather than a permanent sacred covenant, and sex is regarded primarily as a recreational activity rather than as a procreational responsibility.

As Christians, we are called not to conform to the world (Rom 12:2) but to transform the world through God’s given principles and power. In the area of marriage and sex, we must show to the world that we obey God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22) and not to “put asunder what God has united” (Matt 19:6).

The Use of Contraception. It is a fact that today most couples in the Western world use contraceptives to delay the start of their families, to space the arrival of subsequent children, and to limit their numbers. This practice is followed by most Christians, often unthinkingly. Is this right? Does Scripture allow us to limit and time our children’s births? Or does the command to be fruitful and multiply mean that we should leave the issue of family planning to the mercies of God? No explicit answer can be found in the Bible because the subject of contraception was not an issue in Bible times. In those days, larger families were needed and welcomed to meet the demand for helping hands in that agricultural society.

In seeking for Biblical guidance on the subject of contraception, we need to ask two fundamental questions: (1) What is the purpose of sexual intercourse? and (2) Do we have the right to interfere with the reproductive cycle established by God?

We have discussed earlier, at great length, the first question. We have seen that the function of sexual intercourse is both relational and procreational. It is a relational act of perfect sharing that engenders a mysterious sense of oneness and offers the possibility of bringing children into this world. The fact that the function of sex in marriage is not only to produce children but also to express and experience mutual love and commitment, implies the need for certain limitations on the reproductive function of sex. If a couple were to risk a new conception each time they made love, they would soon forfeit sexual intercourse as a means of giving themselves totally to each other. This means that the relational function of sex can only remain a viable dynamic experience if its reproductive function is controlled.

Natural or “Unnatural” Contraception? This leads us to consider the manner of controlling the reproductive cycle. This issue is addressed by the second question, namely, do we have the right to interfere with the reproductive cycle established by God? The historic answer of the Roman Catholic Church has been a resounding “NO!” In December 1930, Pius XI reaffirmed the traditional Catholic position against contraceptives in his encyclical Casti Connubii: “Since therefore the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it [contraception] deliberately frustrate its natural effect and purpose, sin against nature, and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”10

The unyielding historical Catholic position has been tempered by Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (July 29, 1968) which acknowledges the morality of the sexual union between husband and wife, even if not directed to the procreation of children.11 Moreover, the encyclical, while condemning artificial contraceptives, allows for a natural method of birth control, known as the “rhythm method.” This method consists of confining intercourse to the infertile periods in the wife’s menstrual cycle.12

The attempt of Humanae Vitae to distinguish between “artificial” and “natural” contraceptives, making the former immoral and the latter moral, smacks of artificiality. Why is it “artificial” to block the flow of the sperm in the uterus and yet not “artificial” to time the placement of the sperm so that it does not fertilize an egg? In either case, the fertilization of the egg is prevented by human intelligence. Moreover, to reject as immoral the use of artificial contraceptives can lead to rejecting as immoral the use of any artificial vaccine, hormone or medication which is not produced naturally by the human body.

The morality or immorality of contraception is determined not by the kinds of contraceptives we use, but by the reasons for their use. “Like most other human inventions,” writes David Phypers, “contraception is morally neutral; it is what we do with it that counts. If we use it to practice sex outside marriage or selfishly within marriage, or if through it we invade the privacy of others’ marriages, we may indeed be guilty of disobeying the will of God and of distorting the marriage relationship. But if we use it with a proper regard for the health and well-being of our partners and our families, then it can enhance and strengthen our marriages. Through contraception we can protect our marriage from the physical, emotional, economic, and psychological strains they might suffer through further pregnancies, while at the same time we can use the act of marriage, reverently and lovingly, as it was intended, to bind us together in lasting union.”13

Contraception and Sin. To ban contraception, as the Catholic Church has done historically, means to ignore the effects of sin on marriage, sex and childbirth. If sin had not entered into this world, there would have been no need for contraception. The menstrual cycle and the fertility rate would have been regular in all women. Childbirth would have been easy and painless. The abundant provisions of the earth would have amply satisfied the need for food and shelter. The socio-political structures of a perfect society would have provided to any child unlimited educational and professional opportunities.

But sin has spoiled our world. Both the human and sub-human creation has been marred by sin. Some women are very fertile while others totally infertile. Childbirth is a great source of pain to most women. Thorns, thistles, pests, and droughts destroy our crops. The socio-political systems of many developing countries are unable to provide adequate housing, education, employment, and medial services to most members of their societies. Christians are not spared the results of sin. Christian mothers may not be able to give birth without caesarean delivery, or many suffer from various health problems. These and many other reasons may cause couples to delay, to space, or to limit the size of their families. In situations such as the ones mentioned above, contraception becomes a responsible way to respect human life and resources.

It is significant to note that the command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), is immediately followed by the command to subdue and have domination “over every living thing.” This implies that God is calling us to be responsible stewards of His creation, controlling any destablizing factor such as the threat of population explosion.

To be responsible stewards of God’s creation means that as Christians we have no right [save in special circumstances] to avoid children altogether  by using natural or “unnatural” means of contraception. We have a duty before God to become responsible parents, by bringing up children in the love, “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). The way we fulfill this duty will vary from couple to couple as we prayerfully seek divine guidance regarding the timing of our children’s births and the methods we use to this end.

Sex Outside Marriage. Nowhere has Christian morality come under greater attack than in the whole area of sex outside marriage. The Biblical teaching that sex is only for marriage does not even enter the thinking of most people today. The Biblical condemnation of illicit sexual acts has become for many a license for sexual experimentation.

The popular acceptance of sexual permissiveness is evidenced by the introduction and use of “softer terms.” Fornication, for example, is referred to as “pre-marital sex” with the accent on the “pre” rather than on the “marital.” Adultery is now called “extra-marital sex,” implying an additional experience like some extra-professional activities. Homosexuality has gradually been softened from serious perversion through “deviation” to “gay variation.” Pornographic literature and films are now available to “mature audiences” or “adults.”

More and more, Christians are giving in to the specious argument that “Love makes it right.” If a man and a woman are deeply and genuinely in love, they have the right to express their love through sexual union without marriage. Some contend that pre-marital sex releases people from their inhibitions and moral hangups, giving them a sense of emotional freedom. The truth of the matter is that pre-marital sex adds emotional pressure because it reduces sexual love to a purely physical level without the total commitment of two married people.  [Uck!  Sexual love, both inside and outside of marriage, is always more than “purely physical.”  Consider, e.g., the case of Tamar (Gen 38:12-26). ]

Biblical Condemnation. The Biblical condemnation of sexual relations before or outside marriage is abundantly clear. Adultery, or sexual intercourse between married women or married men and someone other than their marital partners, is condemned as a serious sin. [Needs contextualization here.] Not only is adultery forbidden in both versions of the Decalogue (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18), but it was also punishable by death in ancient Israel: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Lev 20:10; cf. 18:20; Deut 22:22-24). The same punishment was meted out to a man or a woman who engaged in pre-marital sex (Deut 22:13-21, 23-27).

The New Testament goes beyond the Old Testament by internalizing the whole sexuality of a person and placing it within the context of motivation. Jesus emphasized that to entertain lustful desires toward a person of the opposite sex outside marriage means to be guilty of adultery (Matt 5:27-28). The reason for this is that defilement comes not only from outward acts but also from inward thoughts, which in Biblical symbology derive from the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” (Matt 15:19-20).

Sexual laxness was pervasive in the Greco-Roman world of New Testament times. Hence, one of the conditions the Jerusalem council made for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian Church was that they should abstain from all forms of “unchastity” (Acts 15:20, 29).

Paul’s letters reveal the difficulties the apostle had in leading Gentile converts away from sexual immorality. To the Thessalonians, he wrote: “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God” (1 Thess 4:2-5). Here Paul admonishes those who had sexual urges to satisfy them by entering not into temporary relationships “in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God,” but into permanent marital relationships. Such relationships are to be characterized by “holiness and honor.”

Paul is most explicit in his condemnation of prostitution. He asks the Corinthians who lived in the celebrated sex center of the Mediterranean world: “Do you now know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But he who is unified to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:16-20).

Reasons for Condemnation. In this passage, Paul helps us to see why the Bible strongly condemns sex outside marriage. Sex represents the most intimate of all interpersonal relationships, expressing a “one-flesh” unity of total commitment  Such a unity of commitment cannot be expressed or experienced in a casual sexual union with a prostitute where the concern is purely commercial and recreational. The only [???] oneness experienced in such sexual unions is the oneness of sexual immorality.

Sexual immorality is serious because it affects the individual more deeply and permanently than any other sin. Paul describes it as a sin committed inside the body: “Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18). It might be objected that all sins of sensuality such as gluttony or drunkenness affect a person inside the body. Yet they do not have the same permanent effect on the personality as the sin of fornication. Indulgence in eating or drinking can be overcome, stolen goods can be returned, lies can be retracted and replaced by the truth. But the sexual act, once committed with another person, cannot be undone. A radical change has taken place in the interpersonal relationship of the couple involved that can never be undone. Something indelible has stamped on them both forever. Even with a prostitute, sexual union leaves its permanent mark. It is a spot in the consciousness that cannot be removed.

“The immoral man sins against his own body.” This truth is openly rejected by those who regard pre-marital sex not as sinful, but as helpful to a satisfactory sexual adjustment in marriage. Some even believe that sexual relations with the person one intends to marry are necessary to guarantee sexual compatibility. Such attitudes fail to recognize that sexual intercourse before marriage is the worst possible preparation for marriage. The reasons for this are not difficult to discover.

Sex without Commitment. To begin with, sex before marriage is sex without [complete] commitment. If we do not like our partners, we can change and find somebody else. Such casual relationships destroy the integrity of the person by reducing it to an object to be used for personal gratification. Some, who feel hurt and used after sexual encounters, may withdraw altogether from sexual activity for fear of being used again or may decide to use their bodies selfishly, without regard to the feeling of others. Either way, our sexuality is distorted because it destroys the possibility of using it to relate genuinely and intimately toward the one we love. Sex cannot be used as a means for fun with one partner at one time and as a way to express genuine love and commitment with another partner at another time. Those who become accustomed to a variety of sexual partners will find it difficult, if not impossible, to express through sex their total commitment and final intimacy to their marital partners.

Engaged couples will probably deny that when they sleep together they are not expressing genuine commitment to one another. But if they were fully and finally committed to each other, they would be married. Engagement is the preparation for marriage, but it is not marriage. Until the wedding vows are taken, the possibility of breaking up a relationship exists. If a couple has had intercourse together, they have compromised their relationship. Any subsequent break up will leave permanent emotional scars. It is only when we are willing to become one, not only verbally but also legally by assuming responsibility for our partners, that we can seal our relationships through sexual intercourse. In this setting, sex fittingly expresses the ultimate commitment and the final intimacy. . . .

Marriage licenses and wedding ceremonies are not mere formalities but serve to formalize the marriage commitment. As Elizabeth Achtemeier explains: “Just the fact that such young people [living together] are hesitant legally to seal their union is evidence that their commitment to one another is not total. Marriage licenses and ceremonies are not only legal formalities; they are also symbols of responsibility. They say publicly, what is affirmed privately, without reservation, that I am responsible for my mate—responsible not only in all those lovely emotional and spiritual areas of married life, but responsible also in the down-to-earth areas that have to do with grubby things like money, health insurance, and property. For example, two people just living together have no obligation for each other when the tax form comes up for an audit, or the other is involved in a car accident and legal suit; but persons holding a marriage license do have such responsibility, and commitment to a marriage involves accepting that public responsibility too. It is a matter of accepting the full obligations that society imposes on its adult members in order to ensure the common good.”14

PART III: MARRIAGE IN THE WORLD TO COME

Will there be marital relations in the world to come? The answer of many sincere Christians is “NO!” They believe that at the resurrection the redeemed will receive some kind of “unisex” spiritual bodies which will replace our present physical and heterosexual bodies . Their belief is derived primarily from a misunderstanding of the words of Jesus found in Matthew 22:30: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.” Does this text imply that at the resurrection all sexual distinctions will be abolished and that our bodies will no longer be physical? If this interpretation were correct, it would mean that, contrary to what the Scripture says, the original creation of humanity as physical, heterosexual beings was not really “very good”(Gen 1:31). To remove the “bugs” from His original creation, God would find it necessary in the new world to create a new type of human being, presumably made up of “non-physical, unisex” bodies.

Change Implies Imperfection. To say the least, this reasoning is absurd for anyone who believes in God’s omniscience and immutability. It is normal for human beings to introduce new models and structures to eliminate existing deficiencies. For God, however, this would be abnormal and incoherent since He knows the end from the beginning.

If at the resurrection God were to change our present physical, heterosexual bodies into “non-physical, unisex” bodies, then as Anthony A. Hoekema rightly observes: “The devil would have won a great victory since God would then have been compelled to change human beings with physical bodies such as he had created into creatures of a different sort, without physical bodies (like the angels). Then it would indeed seem that matter had become intrinsically evil so that it had to be banished. And then, in a sense, the Greek philosophers would have been proved right. But matter is not evil; it is part of God’s good creation.”15

Like Angels. A study of Jesus’ statement in its own context provides no support to the view that at the resurrection the redeemed will receive non-physical, unisex, angelic bodies. The context is a hypothetical situation created by the Sadducees in which six brothers married in succession the widow of their brother. The purpose of such successive, levirate marriages was not relational but procreational, namely to “raise up children for his [their] brother” (Matt 22:24). The testing question posed by the Sadducees was, “In the resurrection to which of the seven will she be wife?” (Matt 22:28).

In answering this hypothetical situation, Jesus affirmed, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scripture nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). In the context of the hypothetical situation of seven brothers marrying the same woman to give her an offspring, Christ’s reference to not marrying or giving in marriage but being like angels, most likely means that marriage as a means of procreation will no longer exist in the world to come. It is evident that if no new children are born, there will be no possibility of marrying a son or of giving a daughter in marriage. The cessation of the procreational function of marriage will make the redeemed “like angels” who do not reproduce after their own likeness.

In His answer, Jesus did not deal with the immediate question of the marital status of a woman married seven times, but with the larger question of the procreational function of marriage, which, after all, was the reason the seven brothers married the same woman. This indirect method of answering questions is not unusual in the teachings of Jesus. For example, when asked by the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2), Jesus chose to ignore the immediate question, emphasizing instead the original creational design for marriage to be a lifelong commitment, without divorce (Mark 10:5-9).

Single in Heaven? Does the cessation of the procreational function of marriage imply the termination also of its relational function? Not necessarily so. If God created human beings at the beginning as male and female, with the capacity to experience a oneness of intimate fellowship, there is no reason to suppose that He will recreate them at the end as unisex beings, who will live as single persons without the capacity to experience the oneness of fellowship existing in a man/woman relationship.

The doctrine of the First Things, known as etiology, should illuminate the doctrine of the Last Things, known as escatology. If God found His creation of human beings as male and female very good (Gen 1:31) at the beginning, would He discover it to be not so good at the end? We have reason to believe that what was “very good” for God at the beginning will also be “very good” for Him at the end. . . .

CONCLUSION

Sex is seen in the Bible as part of God’s good creation. Its function is both unitive and procreative. It serves to engender a mysterious oneness of body, mind, and spirit between husband and wife while offering them the possibility of bringing children into this world.

Scripture strongly condemns sex outside marriage because it is a sin affecting a person more deeply and permanently than other sins (1 Cor 6:18). It leaves a permanent mark in the consciousness that cannot be removed. Sex outside of marriage is sin because it is sex without commitment. It reduces a person to an object to be used for personal gratification. Such a selfish use of sex impairs, if not totally destroys, the possibility of using it to express and experience genuine love and commitment toward one’s marital partner. At a time when sexual permissiveness and promiscuity prevails, it is imperative for Christians to reaffirm their commitment to the Biblical view of sex as a divine gift to be enjoyed only within marriage.

NOTES ON CHAPTER III

1. Rollo May, “Reflecting on the New Puritanism,” in Sex Thoughts for Contemporary Christians, ed. Michael J. Taylor, S.J. (New York, 1972), p.171.

2. For a discussion of the attitude toward sex of the early church, including Augustine, see Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Common Sense About Sexual Ethics: A Christian View (New York, 1962); Donald F. Winslow, “Sex and Anti-sex in the Early Church Fathers,” in Male and Female: Christian Approaches Sexuality, eds. Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse and Urban T. Holmes III (New York, 1956).

3. As quoted by William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (New York, 1970), p.175.

4. Paul Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids, 1975), p.261.

5. See also Genesis 4:17, 25.

6. Dwight H. Small, Christian: Celebrate Your Sexuality (Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1974), p. 186.

7. Elizabeth Achtemeier, The Committed Marriage (Philadelphia, 1976), p. 162.

8. David Phypers, Christian Marriage in Crisis (Kent, England, 1986), p. 38.

9. Ibid., p. 39

10. Cited in Norman St. John-Stevas, The Agonizing Choice: Birth Control, Religion and Law (Bloomington, Indiana, 1971), p.84.

11. Humanae Vitae, paragraph 11.

12. Humanae Vitae, paragraph 10.

13. David Phypers (n. 8), p. 44.

14. Elizabeth Achtemeier (n. 7), p. 40.

15. A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, 1979), p. 250.

source=http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/marriage/3.html

Bravely Searching for a Spirituality of Sexual Intimacy

A Search for Married Spirituality

By Marysia (22 November 2013)

MarysiaThis is an edited version of my contribution to the book Women Experiencing Church: A Documentation of Alienation (Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing Paperback, 1991). Not much has changed [since I first wrote], except that for 30 years of marriage now read 50.

I have been married for more than thirty years. Looking back, I can see that during that time I have become a different person. This is normal, we grow and develop. But I have something other than development in mind. I shall try to look back at the person I had been, and follow the process of change in my understanding of the Church’s teaching on what concerns most of its members, that is on marriage.

I met my husband when we were still young. We were both very religious. We could not to marry yet, but we knew that if we did get married, it would be to one another.

During my convent schooldays I had read that greatest mistake one could make was not to be a saint. But, since God had brought us together, He must have wanted us to look for sanctity through one another. So we set out to look for sanctity in marriage. The method seemed obvious. If we looked to the Church for guidance, we could never go wrong!

Still in our teens, we read Casti Connubii together. We accepted the encyclical’s outright condemnation of artificial birth control. Surely we were intelligent and knew enough about the female cycles to use the calendar, or so called ‘rhythm method’ to control the number and the spacing of children. However, in spite of this self-imposed discipline, within a month I was pregnant. Our third daughter was born three and a half years after the first. Clearly this could not go on. We obviously needed more and better information and found it, at last, at the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, who introduced us to the temperature method. We breathed more freely. The discipline began to show results, or rather lack of them. But there was no question of conceiving a child intentionally; we had to leave room for emergencies.

These are common experiences. Such case histories have been described countless times in connection with Humanae Vitae and in other discussions before and since. But the question of birth regulation, since it affects women so intimately, clearly shows the callous attitude of the official Church. A handful of celibate old men, wielding power, make inhuman rules for others, even though Christ had warned them against putting burdens on other people’s backs.

We survived. Many marriages broke under the strain of trying to follow that teaching, which resulted in either too many children or in a damaged relationship! Moreover, when a marriage broke up under such strains, the victims were branded as sinners.

In our Family Group someone asked a priest to give reasons for the ban on contraception. He glibly replied: “I hope you don’t mind if I change the question, and talk about divorce, which is also forbidden”. We listened in amazement as he answered the unasked question. “But that refers to marriages which are failing” we replied. “All marriages are affected by the ruling on contraception, and the more the couple love one another the more they suffer”.

I led a discussion on sanctity in marriage – our ultimate goal – and realised that there were no married saints. Men were canonised for reasons unconnected to their state in life. Women had to be “virgins”, “widows” or “martyrs”. I thought innocently that the Church had through oversight not noticed the heroic virtues practised by married people. Nobody knew enough to contradict me, and show the true reason for that imbalance.

While I was confined to the suburbs with the babies, My husband continued extra-mural lectures on moral theology at the Newman Association and sat the exam. Writing about the role of sexual intercourse in marriage he disagreed with St. Augustine, placing what he called “togetherness” first. He failed the exam, but we were glad to know that he had expressed what we both thought.

We joined a local discussion group known as “The Mob”. There I first heard the opinion, that the Church tried to force religious forms of spirituality on married people. We needed a married spirituality, and would have to create it ourselves. This was a revelation. At last I stopped hankering after the glories of the Easter Liturgy when small children had to come first, or feeling guilty about not getting to church more often. The clergy were adept at requesting a “come hither” Christianity, manifested in frequent church attendance. Now I saw it as irrelevant to my life.

Then I read “The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Thought” by D. S. Bailey and became aware of the misogyny of the early Fathers, of Augustine’s contention that sexual intercourse in marriage was at least venially sinful, and only acceptable as a means of procreation. That man’s reaction against his misspent youth and his resulting imbalance on sexual matters has weighed heavily on the Church, which still has not shaken itself free from it. Augustine lurks under many of the reasons advanced against women priests. A married Anglican Bishop, Dr. Graham Leonard, revealed his own subconscious and that of many other clerics, saying that if he saw a woman at the altar, his first reaction would be to take her in his arms. What can one expect, therefore, of celibate clergy?

The depths of the nonsense to which the Fathers descended, are shown by St. Jerome’s opinion, that the Jewish patriarchs would have preferred to fulfil God’s promise of expanding into a great nation without sex.. Woman was equated with sex, sex with evil. A woman could only achieve sanctity if she became male, suppressed her womanhood. The early Fathers would have created a better world than God had done. Burdened with this bias against half the human race, the Church in the Middle Ages forbade intercourse before receiving the Eucharist, and discouraged it in Lent, on Fridays, on the eves of Holidays and at countless other times. And I had set out to find sanctity in marriage, by relying on the Church’s guidance!

Bailey’s book was the first of many. Why had I not known the history of the doctrine of marriage in the early Church? The nonsense has never been repudiated. Church’s teaching was no more correct now, than it had been in those early ages. It was still permeated with Manicheism from the time of Augustine. Some changes have taken place, and no-one would dare to express quite the same crude opinions to-day, but the changes were resisted all the time by a celibate clerical establishment. Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors declared : “Whosoever should maintain that the celibate state is not higher than the married state – let him be anathema!” The establishment fought a rearguard action at every step, giving way only under pressure from undeniable reality.

I re-examined the Church’s teaching on subjects which affected my life as a woman and as a partner in a marriage. This re-examination was soon followed by the far greater one, that of the Second Vatican Council. We welcomed it as a long overdue rethinking of the Church’s teachings in many fields, including the one in which we had more experience than did the Council Fathers.

I am not talking only of birth control, but also of the disregard by the official Church of personal values, whether within marriage or within other relationships. The fact that a woman’s interests had to be sacrificed to the bringing up of a numerous family did not worry the law givers. If her conceptions, like Eve’s, were multiplied, that was the reason for her existence. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “Were it not for procreation, another man would be always of more help to a man than a woman.”

It was unimportant if children had not enough room in the home for privacy,. Poverty was a virtue. Some of our friends accepted overcrowded conditions as the consequence of their Catholic life-style. One heard of children sleeping two to a bed. But our parish priest was building a presbytery in which each of the three curates had a bedroom and a sitting room. So civilised!

Which came first: compulsory celibacy or impersonal attitudes to other human beings? Perhaps they reinforced one another. A priest wrote in the Catholic Herald, that he did without sex altogether, so married people could do it for a time. For him, obviously, sex was impersonal. A bishop regretted that he was not allowed to have intercourse with a woman, if only once, “to see what it was like”. Those representatives of the Church talked of marriage, while seeing sexuality in the same light as do adolescent boys. Yet they were grown men, and they aspired to be our teachers and pastors.

The history of the teaching of Second Vatican Council and after on sex and marriage is well known — the reservation of judgement to the Pope, the papal commission on birth control, the scandalous disregard of its findings, the bombshell of Humanae Vitae. But by then the inadequacy of the teaching Church to pronounce on marriage was transparent. As the understanding of the role of conscience deepened, the teaching was taken as only one aspect of the problem. The encyclical had a chance of dying a natural death.

Yet Humanae Vitae was a bombshell. The free and open discussions in our house were heard by our children. A friend had shown my eight year old a photograph of Paul VI, the Pope. Barbara looked dubious: “Mummy and Daddy don’t like him much just now!” – she commented.

This is a personal account of my relationship with the official Church, but my experiences mean little in isolation. The clerics whom I have met were individuals, some better, some worse. I had ceased to expect guidance and wisdom from the clergy. What is important is how the Church institution has weighed over my life and the lives of others. I do not take the institution sufficiently seriously any more to suffer from it. But the institution is still putting burdens on people’s backs, and we should fight for principles not only when they affect ourselves.

Some post-hysterectomy or post-menopause women, who in the past had reached the end of their endurance, have since become “experts on natural family planning”, and give an exposé of the Billings method of determining the time of ovulation. Now there is better knowledge, they say, it’s easier. Of course it is — for them. But I refuse to accept that method, or any other, as the panacea, though it is an improvement on earlier knowledge. I also refuse to accept the right of clerics to immerse themselves with cold abstraction in questions of female physiology. They like doing that, and it has nothing to do with them.

John Paul II went far beyond Humanae Vitae in his condemnation of birth control. I have corresponded with women in Poland who were unable to make the safe period work, badly instructed, not knowing where to turn. They tried to be faithful, but when asking for bread had been given stones. They were conditioned to think that the Church has to go on with the teaching, and if they cannot adhere to it, it is their fault. Often they accept the dichotomy — on the one hand the ideal proclaimed by the Church, on the other undeniable reality. They live in this state of inner division – somehow.

A priest from Poland, an “expert” on marriage visited our family group. He blamed the apparent confusion of the present teaching on birth control on priests. who irresponsibly began to talk of a change, which was not possible.

On the contrary, I said, those priests listened to married couples about the realities of their lives together, became convinced by that witness and had the courage to side with the people.

He was shocked. He had probably never before been contradicted, especially by a woman.

We know that any priest who has spoken publicly against Humanae Vitae is unlikely to become a bishop. Soon the teaching Church will consist entirely of “yes-men”. Instead of being shepherds to their flock, they will be sheep. But those sheep will lead.

It would be so much easier if we were sheep, both for us and for the bishops. But we are thinking women and men. The bishops appear to realise it, since occasionally they request the opinion of the “laity” on matters connected with marriage. They want to know our experience. After all, if they have asked, perhaps they really want to know, so giving them the benefit of the doubt, I reply.

Expressing the views of the groups to which I belong, I repeat that until they recognise the prominence of the problem of birth control in married people’s lives, their expressions of sympathy and pastoral concern will sound hollow. We have written to the bishops repeatedly: at the time of the National Pastoral Congress, Synod on the Family, Extraordinary Synod marking the twenty years since the Council, Synod on the Laity. But our efforts came to nothing. Cardinal Hume said during the Synod on the Family that many couples who use contraception lead good Catholic lives, but shrunk away from the consequences of his judgement. He set out to “repaint the road signs”, to make the teaching more acceptable, as if our acceptance or rejection of the Vatican line depended on its presentation, and not on the truth or otherwise of the teaching. This implies that we are ignorant, that we have not thought, prayed and suffered for years, finally becoming convinced of the fallacy of putting technique before personal encounter and rule before love. It implies that we wait for a lead from the clergy, a lead from the blind – as, on the subject of marriage they are blind. Christ said to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin, but you say `we see’, therefore your guilt remains”. I have never heard a sermon on this subject.

I may not have found a form of married spirituality, but I have discarded the ballast of centuries. I know that marriage is not merely “allowed” by God (since Christ attended the marriage feast at Cana he probably approved of it !)– but created by Him, so that men and women may have the best means of growing in their capacity to love.

Marriage exists for procreation only at the lowest level. The first “good” of marriage is love. The bond exists in the physical, mental and spiritual spheres, and to weaken it knowingly is a sin against marriage and against God. Any rule concerning the conduct of the couple must be subjected to the primacy of love.

It took me years to discard the weight of mistrust and prohibitions which accompanied the idea of Christian marriage only a generation ago. Next generations may perhaps begin at this point, and work towards the creation of a positive married spirituality, which is still lacking in the Church.

November 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm