All posts by Dr. Aaron Milavec

Aaron Milavec, Professor Emeritus, has served as a seminary and university professor for over twenty-five years. He brought his fresh approach to the Didache to the attention of biblical scholars by originating a new program unit of the national Society of Biblical Literature, "The Didache in Context," which he chaired 2002-2005. Meanwhile, his website,, promotes pioneering research and scholarly exchange on issues of the early church. His thousand-page commentary, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E., received a 2004 Catholic Press Club award recognizing the best books in theology. To date, Aaron has published fifteen books in theology and ministry. brief bio = CV = research = support = renewal = GLBTQI =

Reform of the papacy intended by Pope Francis

Reform of the papacy intended by Pope Francis

by Sandro Magister

The prior of Bose, Enzo Bianchi, and archbishop emeritus of San Francisco John R. Quinn are presenting it as a given that Francis will completely overhaul the role of the pope. But some acts of this pontificate contradict their expectations.

VATICAN CITY, August 7, 2014 – There are those who maintain, and even say they are certain, that Pope Francis wants to reform the papacy to the point of “destructuring” the role of the Roman pontiff as it was developed in the second millennium of the Christian era, beginning with the Gregorian reform and continuing through the magisterium of the Council of Trent and of Vatican I.

This seems to be the gist of two significant declarations that have come in recent weeks.

On July 23, after Pope Francis appointed him as a consultant for the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity, Bianchi released shattering statements to the website Vatican Insider.

> “Francesco vuole raggiungere l’unità anche riformando il papato”

The position that the prior of Bose received is not of great significance in itself. But it received enthusiastic coverage in the media, given the vast influence of Bianchi’s words in the Catholic world – and not only among progressives – and his regular contributions to the front pages of important Italian secular newspapers like “la Repubblica” and “La Stampa.”

But there have been few critical observations on the promotion – in the Vatican dicastery that deals with ecumenical dialogue – of the founder of a monastic experience that already presents itself as interconfessional, with a Lutheran among its long-standing members, highly open and friendly toward the Protestant and Orthodox but intransigent and disdainful with the traditionalist Lefebvrists, the only ones for whom it reserves the label of “schismatic.”

Particularly tough was the commentary of Msgr. Antonio Livi, a former dean of the faculty of philosophy of the Pontifical Lateran University, who went so far as to accuse Bianchi of attributing his own musings to the pope.

> Bianchi come Scalfari: usa il papa per i suoi fini

But what did Bianchi assert that was so explosive?

The prior of Bose told Vatican Insider that he thinks “the pope wants to achieve unity also by reforming the papacy, a papacy no longer feared in the words of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, with whom Francis has a bond of friendship.”

Explaining that the reform of the papacy means “a new balance between synodality and supremacy,” Bianchi added:

“The Orthodox Church exercise synodality but not primacy, we Catholics have papal primacy but we lack synodality. There can be no synodality without primacy and there can be no primacy without synodality. This would help create a new style of papal primacy and episcopal government.”

The Piedmontese monk then evoked an innovation that could also have a practical translation. He said that the synod of bishops “has been around since the Second Vatican Council,” that the council of nine cardinals who assist Francis in the reform of the curia “was the pope’s idea,” but added that there is a possibility in the future of “an episcopal organization that would assist the pope in governing the Church without calling papal primacy into question.”

We now come to the other attestation on Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s intentions concerning a reform of the papacy.

Here the protagonist is the American archbishop John R. Quinn, 85, head of the diocese of San Francisco from 1977 to 1995 – when he wanted to leave at the age of only 67 partly in the wake of sexual abuse that had involved a couple of his coworkers in the diocesan curia – and president of the United States episcopal conference from 1977 to 1980.

On July 7 Quinn told the American newspaper National Catholic Reporter that Bergoglio said to him, a few days before the conclave that saw him ascend to the see of Peter:

“I’ve read your book and am hoping it will be implemented.”

The book by Quinn that Cardinal Bergoglio read and approved of dates back to 1999 and is entitled “The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity.”

The volume presents itself as a reflection on the 1995 encyclical by John Paul II “Ut Unum Sint.” An encyclical, according to the author of the book, “clearly in rupture with the past and in many aspects revolutionary,” in that “it extols the synodal model of the Church of the first millennium and insists on the fact that the pope is a member of the college of bishops and that primacy must be exercised in a collegial manner.”

“Ut Unum Sint” in short – still according to Quinn – “testifies to the fact that accepting Vatican I and its teaching on the primacy of jurisdiction does not exclude a broader understanding of primacy” and “makes it clear that Vatican I was not the last word.”

From this postulate Quinn derives a series of concrete proposals concerning the governance of the Church.

With regard to the episcopal conferences for example, in spite of the restrictive norms contained in the 1998 motu proprio on their theological and juridical nature, Quinn maintains that they are to be considered a true realization of episcopal collegiality and have a real magisterial and even doctrinal role.

Concerning the synod of bishops, he indicates the need to remove this from the control of the Roman curia, excluding the automatic inclusion of dicastery heads.

Regarding the appointment of bishops Quinn hopes, with respect for the “authentic ecclesiology” of Vatican II, that the role of nuncios in the selection of candidates will be drastically reduced, giving a preeminent role instead to the bishops of the relative ecclesiastical provinces and in subordination to the presidents of the episcopal conferences.

In practice, therefore, “the list of names selected by the bishops should be sent to Rome directly by the archbishop of the metropolitan province, with the indication of the agreement of the president of the conference,” while “there should be no discussion about the list between the bishops of the province and Rome,” much less any role of the nuncio. And if Rome were not to find itself in agreement about the list, “this should be sent back to the province for further consideration and amendment.” To all of this should be added a substantial involvement of priests and laypeople, but without any politicization, factionalism, and breaking of confidentiality.

These new modalities in the election of bishops would serve – still according to Quinn – to obviate the “grave problems” raised by the current procedures. And he cites the delay in filling vacant sees, the excessive “emphasis” on selecting candidates who provide doctrinal reliability, the transfer of a bishop from one see to another, the multiplication of auxiliaries.

Quinn also maintains that exclusivity in the election of the pope should be removed from the college of cardinals. He suggests admitting to the conclave the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, without bestowing the scarlet on them, having at least a few presidents of the episcopal conferences participate in the vote, and allowing significant lay organizations to indicate to the electors the qualities that they would like to see in the new pope.

Finally, for Quinn, one crucial issue in a reform of the papacy aimed at Christian unity is not only that of centralization, but also that of the reform of the Roman curia.

A Roman curia that above all should have fewer bishops and fewer priests. And in this regard Quinn brands as “an abuse of the sacrament of sacred orders and the office of the bishop” the fact that secretaries of the Vatican dicasteries are systematically elevated to the episcopal dignity.

So these are the reforms that Quinn was hoping for at the end of the last millennium, the ones that then-cardinal Bergoglio, on the eve of the 2013 conclave, is alleged to have said – according to Quinn himself – that he wanted to implement.

The question arises naturally. Now that Bergoglio has become pope and has the power to do it, what intention does he have of promoting, fostering, and even imposing the application of these reforms?

Some of the decisions that Francis has made so far seem to move in this direction, like the creation of the council of nine and the reinforcement of the synod of bishops.

But others move in the opposite direction, like the continual elevation as bishops of secretaries not only of the curial offices, but also of the governorate and of the synod itself.

With regard to the delicate question of episcopal appointments in the dioceses – a topic that was touched upon at the last meeting of the “C9” – it is not known if the practice indicated by Quinn has or has not begun to be implemented in Argentina. What is certain is that none of the numerous episcopal provisions in that country from March of 2013 until now has undergone the scrutiny of the members of the congregation for bishops at the Vatican. Just as the appointments to the dioceses of Isernia and Locri in Italy did not undergo its scrutiny.

In Argentina, in addition to his successor in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis has made about twenty other episcopal appointments, eight of which (seven after an unexplained resignation between the publication of the appointment and the consecration) however concern auxiliary bishops. In this field as well, therefore, the Argentine pontiff does not seem to want to follow the indications of Quinn’s vaunted book.

But we are less than a year and a half from the beginning of the pontificate. Too soon to understand how far Francis would like to push in an actual reform of the papacy.   (source)


The article in the “National Catholic Reporter” with Quinn’s statement relative to Bergoglio:

> Quinn to priest group: Church poised at a moment of far-reaching consequences


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

Tony Flannery: Hero of Conscience

Historian Dermot Keogh on the new book by the popular priest Fr Tony Flannery

by Dermot Keogh 15/09/2013

Historian Dermot Keogh on the new book by the popular priest Fr Tony Flannery

Dermot Keogh

Published 15/09/2013 | 05:00

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bookFlanneryWritten by the well known Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery, this book ought to be his reflections on more than 40 years’ service to the Gospel and to the Catholic community in Ireland.

During that time, Fr Flannery preached tirelessly at parish and school retreats around the country, holding novenas in towns and cities that frequently attracted large congregations to usually empty churches. In the process he became one of the best known and most valued spiritual leaders in the country among ordinary Catholics.

That’s what this book should have been about – his service to the Catholic community in Ireland and what that has taught him.

Instead, this slim volume, with a foreword by former President Mary McAleese, chronicles Fr Flannery’s painful journey since February 2012 when he was ‘silenced’ by the Vatican. Being ‘silenced’ means he was forbidden from saying Mass, hearing confessions, conducting retreats, leading novenas or otherwise practising his ministry as a priest.

So one of the best-known and most-valued priests in Ireland, a man regarded with respect and affection by so many Catholics here, has been stopped in his tracks – his life’s mission brought to an abrupt halt.

Why? Because of his work as a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). And also because of some passages in articles he had written for the Redemptorist magazine Reality.

Both of these matters had come to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, the body Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presided over before becoming Pope. The CDF has existed for centuries and is the powerful church body based in the Vatican whose job it is to promote and safeguard Catholic doctrine and take action when there are transgressions among the clergy or the faithful.

The CDF presumably did not like the perceived potential challenge to the existing power structure in the Catholic Church in Ireland which the ACP represented. And the CDF presumably did not like some of the views Fr Flannery had put forward for discussion in his monthly column in Reality, on issues like the attitude of the church to sexuality, birth control, celibacy and the ordination of women, among other topics.

When the weight of the Vatican fell on him, he had not seen it coming.

TonyFlanneryRemote from the workings of the Holy See because of his pastoral ministry here, Fr Flannery explains in his book how it came as “a shock, a bolt from the blue” when he was telephoned to be told that the CDF “had their sights” on him.

Over the following period he was told that he had to issue a public statement, saying he accepted all the moral teachings of the church and also that he accepted that women could never be priests.

He was also warned about the requirement for total secrecy about the involvement of the CDF and forbidden from having any dealings with the media on the matter.

Born in 1948, at 12 he entered the minor seminary of the Redemptorists in Limerick as did two of his brothers.

He went to the major seminary at 17 and was ordained 10 years later. Very typical of his generation, his formation was infused with the changing ideas generated by the Second Vatican Council for which he never lost enthusiasm.

He confesses that for someone who grew up in the 1950s it was not easy to shed the fear of authority. Summoned to Rome to meet the superior general of his order in February 2012, he was a worried man and even more so when he was told that he was in serious trouble and that Cardinal Lavada, head of the CDF, was taking personal charge of his portfolio.

Fr Flannery was handed two A4 pages on un-headed and unsigned paper by his superiors and it was made clear to him that they had come from the CDF.

The first page contained four extracts from articles he had written for Reality relating to structures in the church and the need for reform, the nature of priesthood, the new missal, priestly celibacy and the role of women in the church. On the second page, his superiors were ordered to “seek to impress upon Fr Flannery the gravity of his situation”.

He was not to be allowed to write or to give newspaper interviews.

Further, he was to be instructed to withdraw from his leadership role in the ACP and also from public ministry and to undertake a period of spiritual and theological reflection.

He was angry as he wondered who “those faceless people were who had produced this document” of diktats and given them to his superiors. He wanted to confront his CDF accusers face to face, to show them that their quotations from his articles were cited out of context. He has not, to date, been given that opportunity.

This book shows how its author grew very critical of his Redemptorist superiors in Rome as the process developed.

Fr Flannery argues that, instead of standing up for him, they had bought into the way of thinking and acting of the CDF and of repeatedly going ‘cap-in-hand’ to the Vatican authorities.

He became convinced that his superiors in Rome had “signed up to the Vatican’s way of doing things, which decreed that when it came to the test I as an individual would not be of any real significance . . . [and] I would be viewed as dispensable”.

Returning to Ireland, Fr Flannery wound up his pastoral duties. He did not publish or give interviews and entered into a period of reflection in a retreat house in Ireland. However, he did not stop work with the ACP, which openly supported him.

In early summer last year Fr Flannery received another document from the Vatican, the contents of which exacerbated an already delicate situation. He had two meetings with his superior general, one in Ireland and the other in Rome.

In Rome he was told there had been another “very angry letter” from Cardinal Levada.

Back in Ireland, his period of reflection having ended, he resumed his pastoral duties while preparing a response to the new Vatican document, which he sent to his superiors in late June last year.

Fr Flannery was relieved when he heard that the outcome of the meeting had been positive.

But there was a new twist to the story.

By September last year, with a new head of the CDF – Cardinal Muller – in place, there were further demands that the author’s statement be amended.

New instructions to discipline Fr Flannery were issued: he was to go on a further extended period of reflection to a retreat house outside of Ireland and he was to cease all involvement with the ACP.

Believing he was being bullied by the CDF and his superior general, he again felt angry and prepared an extensive response.

But under direction from the Vatican, when Fr Flannery refused to cease contact with the ACP, his superior general invoked rule 73, number 3, of the order.

This imposed a ‘formal precept of obedience’ which obliged him to obey or run the risk of being dismissed from the order. Fr Flannery refused to conform or sign any pledge.

In mid-January this year, the author went public, giving an interview to The New York Times and holding a press conference in Dublin outlining his case.

He has continued to speak in favour of church reform since then.

The election of Pope Francis this year may help find another way to deal with dissent in the Catholic Church which does not involve the abrogation of the rights of the individual and the use of a system of personnel management that is as archaic as it is unchristian.

It will be interesting to see if the new regime in the Vatican will allow Fr Flannery to explain his views and to clarify matters face to face.

While this volume is a very personal account, and other voices need to be heard and recorded, I am glad as an historian that this book has been published.

I wish the author – and other ‘silenced’ Irish priests – the strength and courage to see things through to a just end.  (source)

Dr Dermot Keogh is Emeritus Professor of History at University College Cork.

Fr. Flannery’s website=

Voices Lost in Survey Summaries

Underreported survey responses for synod on the family a valuable tool for Vatican

 |  Jun. 19, 2014

Last week, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported on survey responses from U.S. dioceses in preparation for October’s first session of the Synod of Bishops on the family. Kurtz’s report was underwhelming at best. His take is that responses pointed to a need for a “more remote and proximate formation” of Catholics: “We know there is a need for greater, effective teaching on key tenets of the faith, such as the indissolubility of marriage, the importance of sexual difference for marriage, the natural law, and the married couple’s call to be open to life.”

Unfortunately, Kurtz is echoing a talking point used by many prelates who spin survey feedback as if it is just another consumer poll designed to rate how well they are doing their job. There is no real dialogue here, no real listening, only the assumption that Catholics will change their minds if bishops talk louder and longer.

Worse, the report watered down what many laity really said. For example, St. Petersburg, Fla., Bishop Robert Lynch, reporting on a diocesan survey that attracted 6,800 respondents, wrote: “On the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, ‘that train left the station long ago’. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium [the sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.”

Surveys from other dioceses indicate similar disconnects between official teaching and acceptance of that teaching by ordinary Catholics.

One large national survey that went mostly unnoticed by the media is worth discussing here because it provided an opportunity for Catholics from anywhere in the U.S. to give feedback, not only those in the 72 U.S. dioceses out of 195 that offered online surveys. Conducted in November and December by 15 progressive Catholic organizations, the survey reports on 16,582 respondents from across the United States. Quantitative and qualitative responses were analyzed by Dr. Peter J. Fagan from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Disclosure: I served as a consultant to this project in its early stages.) Demographically, 83 percent of the respondents were laypeople, 27 percent were parents and 11 percent were professed religious, priests, deacons and seminarians.

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Even though progressive Catholic organizations conducted the survey, just 13 percent of respondents described themselves as a “member of a church reform organization.” Fifty-three percent are weekly Massgoers. This finding undercuts any potential stereotypes that respondents are outsiders throwing stones. Au contraire — they are among the most faithful of Catholics, given that the U.S. Catholic average of weekly Mass attendance is 24 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

“This was a tedious survey for respondents to complete — probably taking 45 to 60 minutes,” Fagan said. “The fact that 16,582 faithful submitted responses is testimony to the depth of care and concern they had for the future of the church and the transmission of the Gospel. Their voices deserve to be listened to.”

The survey consisted of 49 items based on the Vatican’s original survey and, as did many diocesan surveys, the designers made alterations in the language to make it more accessible to a lay population. Three items — about marriage equality, the needs of children of parents in marriages not recognized by the church, and the importance of community availability of contraception — were also added.

While results of the survey’s quantitative questions were in the main consistent with similar studies by the Pew Forum, CARA and international bishops’ conference reports, some of the key findings are worth emphasizing.

Divorce and remarriage

  • 75 percent felt divorced and remarried couples believed their relationship to be worthy of the sacraments, regardless of church recognition of their union.
  • 82 percent agreed that simplification of annulment rules would be beneficial.
  • Ninety-two percent viewed parents in marriages not recognized by the church as approaching the church for sacraments, while 51 percent viewed them as approaching the church for catechesis and 52 percent, general teaching.
  • Most did not know of ministerial outreach at the diocesan (51 percent) or national (67 percent) level.

Marriage equality and ministerial outreach to LGBT Catholics

  • 73 percent said marriage equality is either extremely important (47 percent) or very important (26 percent).
  • 64 percent felt there are Catholics in same-sex unions who do not believe their situation warrants denial of sacraments and still approach the church for them.
  • 57 percent said there is a law recognizing marriage equality in their states.

This survey asked more in-depth questions about LGBT issues than other surveys. The findings are worth reporting since they suggest there is more acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples at the parish and small faith community levels than at the diocesan level.

  • Over a third of respondents saw dioceses as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (37 percent) and same-sex couples (35 percent).
  • A significantly smaller number viewed their parishes as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (11 percent) and same-sex couples (13 percent).
  • Even fewer saw their small faith community as hostile and condemning of marriage equality (3 percent) and same-sex couples (4 percent).

Responsible parenthood and family planning

  • 1 percent said the teachings of Humanae Vitae were completely accepted. Fifty-six percent said they were not accepted, and 43 percent said they were accepted in part.
  • 76 percent support alternatives to Humanae Vitae, including contraception.
  • 80 percent judged availability of contraception to be either extremely important (56 percent) or very important (24 percent).
  • Three-quarters indicated that the following of conscience about family planning, even when it is not consistent with church teaching, does not appear to restrict approaching the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.

A 15-page report of both qualitative and quantitative findings and an 81-page report of randomly selected written responses in English and Spanish are downloadable at

In January and February, survey organizers Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch, Kate Conmy of Women’s Ordination Conference, and Linda Pinto of Catholic Organizations for Renewal sent complete survey reports to the Vatican synod office as well as to the USCCB. They received a warmly written form letter from Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri at the Vatican, as presumably did all others who wrote to him. Pinto received a generic postcard from the USCCB acknowledging they received the report.

It is encouraging that Vatican synod offices are sorting through responses from Catholics all over the world. But I am concerned that according to early reports, only heads of bishops’ conferences and Vatican offices will be present next October. Both sessions of the synod would benefit greatly from inviting lay Catholics of every stripe to inform proceedings. In particular, married theologians — men and women who are experts in contemporary moral theology — should serve as theological consultants to the bishops’ focus sessions.

While it’s true that church teaching doesn’t come from opinion polls, neither does it emerge without regard for the lived experiences of those taught. The Holy Spirit lives, moves and guides the lives of ordinary people seeking to love and follow Christ within their own particular, unique circumstances. Could such Spirit-filled lives also have something to teach our bishops?

Our church must listen. Otherwise, synod outcomes are doomed to fall on deaf ears. If this happens, it will only be because our bishops have failed to open their own.

P.S. You can work to include all kinds of Catholic families, including married theologians, at the Synod of Bishops on the family at

[A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years.]

Will Pope Francis hold bishops accountable?

Will the Vatican step up and hold bishops accountable?
by Jason Berry  |  Jun. 2, 2014

JasonBerryOn the flight back to Rome May 26 after his visit to Israel, Pope Francis gave another impromptu press conference. Responding to a question on the clergy abuse crisis, he said, “At the moment there are three bishops under investigation: one has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed. There are no privileges.”

The pope offered no names, but according to the transcript, added a sonic boom analogy: “A priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord. This is very serious. It is like a satanic Mass.”

Francis’s escalating rhetoric came three weeks after a United Nations Committee on Torture report, citing extensive international legal findings, was critical of the Holy See for bishops’ negligence in sheltering sexual predators. “States bear international responsibility for the acts and omissions of their officials and others acting in an official capacity or acting on behalf of the state,” said the U.N. report issued May 23.

“A zero tolerance approach must be adopted,” Francis said on the airplane. He announced he would meet with a group of abuse victims.

Nevertheless, in a sign of internal divisions over transparency, the Vatican, as of June 2, had yet to identify the three bishops.

And in the sign of an intransigent mindset within Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (whose founder, attorney Barbara Blaine provided voluminous legal research to the U.N.) Southern California SNAP leader Joelle Casteix dismissed the pope’s words as “more of what we’ve seen for decades — more gestures, promises, symbolism and public relations.”

“I would challenge anyone to point to a single tangible sign of progress that has emerged from any of these meetings,” David Clohessy, SNAP executive director in St. Louis, said in response to the pope’s words.

In fact, Francis is a work-in-progress on the crisis that gathered over three decades in Western countries and has spread to Latin America. The pope is also in a supremely ironic position. In response to the U.N. committee, the Holy See said that it does not control far-flung bishops, only its diplomats and officials in the 108-acre Vatican city-state, an assertion baldly contradicted by church history. Cardinals in various countries have Vatican passports. Bishops report to the pope and Vatican offices.

The papacy is a religious monarchy with an antiquated justice system, riddled with de facto immunity for bishops and cardinals.

Five months after the conclave, Francis issued a motu proprio, a decree “of his own hand” to stiffen Vatican laws in several areas with sentences aligned with Italian law for crimes against children.

The Case of Gabino Miranda Melgarejo

The law was announced July 11, the same month Francis defrocked a Peruvian bishop, Gabino Miranda Melgarejo, 53.  Miranda’s laicization barely made news outside Peru. Dennis Coday reported in NCR on Sept. 21, 2013 that Miranda was “quietly removed from office because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.”

Five days later, Reuters in Lima reported that the church “kicked Miranda out of the clergy for suspected pedophilia,” with no specifics on Vatican procedure, instead focusing on a prosecutor’s complaint that the archdiocese had not provided requested information.  The pope reduced Miranda to the lay state barely two months after his May 24, 2013 resignation as Bishop of Usula.

“(Layman) Gabino Miranda Melgarejo” is his status on the website, which lists the chronology of appointments and standing for all bishops and cardinals.  Miranda’s final line, July 2013 [no day given], says: “Laicized.”

The prospects of a state investigation in Peru may have pushed Francis to oust Miranda. According to Caretas, a news magazine, Archbishop Salvador Pineiro of Ayachucho, president of the bishops’ conference, responded to a complaint from a 14-year old altar boy that Miranda accosted him in confession and “immediately opened a case against Miranda in strictest confidence and sent the file to the Vatican.”

Miranda himself sent a letter to Fr.  Luis Ladaria, secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), requesting a leave of absence to reflect on “imprudence.” Panorama, a Peruvian TV program, obtained Miranda’s letter (which suggests leaks from the Peruvian church) and quoted it: “I do not know the crimes I am accused of. I do not know where those who accuse me come from, the jurisdiction and when the crimes were supposedly committed.”

The state prosecutor had a second complaint by a 15-year old boy, according to LeRepublica of Lima. No arrest has been reported.

In October, Pineiro said that the ousted bishop “did many good things, but if the Holy Father has taken this decision, it must be very serious business.”

Another bishop told reporters that the action against Miranda reflected Francis’s resolve on the church abuse crisis. That, in turn, bestirred Lima Archbishop Luis Cipriani, of Opus Dei, to fume in a weekly radio address: “Let’s not make firewood out of a fallen tree.”

Miranda was the first member of the hierarchy subjected to criminal procedure under the new Vatican law. The three unnamed bishops Francis mentioned on the airplane appear to be next in line.

Francis’s decision about Miranda was more punitive than the only known case in which Pope Benedict XVI defrocked a bishop, now listed as “(Layman) Raymond John Lahey” on

The Case of Raymond John Lahey

Lahey resigned his post as prelate of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, in 2009 after authorities arrested him with child pornography as he returned to Canada from foreign travel. Lahey pleaded guilty to one count in May 2011, then voluntarily withdrew his bail which put him immediately behind bars. He spent six months in jail. At a hearing on Jan. 7, 2012, the court sentenced him to 15 months, but allowed probation based on time served.

Two months later, Benedict defrocked him. The date given is March 16, 2012, according to  Benedict laicized Lahey after his release from prison. Francis laicized Miranda after a church investigation, but no indictment.

“Laicization of bishops is extremely rare,” said Fr. Tom Doyle, who worked in the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s. Frustrated by the bishops’ concealment of predators, Doyle became an expert witness for victims suing the church.

“This would be done directly by the pope after an investigation,” Doyle told NCR. “I remember discussing this issue with other canonists several years ago. Laicizing a bishop would not follow the ordinary process [for priests] that goes through Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” — though Miranda sent his resignation to the CDF.

Under Pope John Paul II, bishops accused of child abuse “stepped down,” melting out of public view with their ecclesial rank. That tolerance tracks the theology of apostolic succession, which sees bishops in a spiritual lineage from Jesus’s apostles — bishops forever. By whitewashing the memory of Judas, apostolic succession provided a huge shield for negligent bishops, and cardinals like Bernard Law, who left Boston in a financial shambles when he resigned in 2002. In 2004, as his successor now-Cardinal Sean O’Malley began widespread church closures, Law went to Rome to become pastor of a great basilica.

The Case of Hubert O’Connor

In one of the most extreme cases, Canadian Bishop Hubert O’Connor of Prince George, British Columbia, resigned his position in 1991, after five years as prelate, facing charges of raping two young women in First Nations, or Indian communities. One victim, a seamstress, testified that when she became pregnant, the bishop placed her in a home for unwed mothers and forced her to give their child for adoption. The bishop changed his first name on the birth certificate.

O’Connor stood trial with a top-drawer defense attorney. The judge found inconsistencies in the woman’s account, but convicted him based on a second woman’s testimony. O’Connor spent six months in prison; a parole board ordered his release. The conviction was overturned on appeal. A chief of the First Nations assembly wrote John Paul II, demanding church sanctions against O’Connor. The Vatican was silent.

But Rome considered O’Connor damaged goods and he had no other appointment as bishop. He died in 2007. Nevertheless, lists him as deceased and his status as emeritus bishop.  Emeritus, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means “retired but retaining an honorary title corresponding to that held immediately before retirement.”

Who should be laicized?

The CDF has laicized 848 priests between 2004 and 2013, according to testimony by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the papal diplomat at the U.N. panel examining the Vatican handling of abuse cases last month in Geneva.

Lahey and Miranda appear to be the only two bishops to be expelled from the clerical state because of crimes against children, according to an NCR examination of documents, news reports and interviews with researchers.

“The church is finally changing on this issue because of pressure to change,” co-director Terry McKiernan told NCR.

“I think we’re seeing the beginnings of a recognition at the Vatican that they’re not going to emerge from this mess until they act on the enabling of abuse by bishops, and transferring of the criminals. These two U.N. committees [on Torture, and Rights of the Child] are raising the consciousness of the Vatican, making this a major political problem,” McKiernan said.

“The Holy See argues that the U.N. conventions only obligate them on priests or bishops in the Vatican City State, but it’s hard for them to claim they don’t have effective control over priests in many countries, as demonstrated by the CDF handling these cases,” McKiernan continued. “It’s to SNAP’s credit that they got the U.N. to review the research they’ve done. Even though the case against the Vatican has gone nowhere in the International Criminal Court, other countries are thinking of clerical abuse of children in the context of international law — and that is important.”

SNAP’s view of Vatican intransigence is partly a reaction to brass-knuckle legal tactics used by certain American bishops. In legal moves that smack of harassment, SNAP has been hit with church lawyers’ defense subpoenas in several Midwestern cases, seeking email and correspondence with pedophilia victims, a core of SNAP’s mission.

 “They want to stop victims, whistleblowers, police and even journalists from contacting us,” Clohessy told NCR. One of the dioceses, Kansas City, Mo., is under Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted of a criminal misdemeanor for failing to report a priest with child pornography, who subsequently went to prison. Finn received a suspended sentence.

The Milwaukee archdiocese, facing 500 victim claims, is in grinding bankruptcy litigation, trying to settle for dimes on a dollar. The pivotal issue is on appeal: $57 million that the former archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, shifted from general funds into a cemetery trust, with approval from Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of Congregation for the Clergy under Benedict.

By insisting that it only has control over the Vatican City State, the Holy See added a protective barrier for the pope from legal actions. Attorney Jeff Anderson sued the Vatican as a defendant in an Oregon case of a victim abused by a priest who moved across international borders but the court dismissed the Holy See as a defendant.

Francis’s reference to three bishops under investigation fed speculation in the media on who the prelates might be.

The Religion News Service suggested Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who resigned prior to the 2013 conclave and has been under Vatican scrutiny for unspecified sexual misconduct; Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, who was recalled as papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic after allegations of child abuse in Santo Domingo, the capital; and Bishop Cristián Contreras Molina of San Felipe, Chile, who said in a press release that he had invited a Vatican investigation of abuse allegations against him.

The pope as a sovereign monarch under canon law has the power of a one-man supreme court to nullify, modify or abort a given proceeding. Few popes involve themselves with details of the various cases at different Vatican tribunals or canonical courts. But Francis’s agenda of mercy and solidarity with the poor has led him to react quickly on certain cases.

“Francis had no problem dismissing the German bishop,” Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer and Dean Emeritus of Duquesne University law School, told NCR, in reference to the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who reportedly spent 31 million euro ($43 million) on a new residential complex in the Limburg diocese. Tebartz-van Elst is listed as Bishop Emeritus on

“We can’t have a standard in which the pope removes a bishop for financial malfeasance but not for ignoring sexual abuse,” Cafardi said. “Between the two evils of the church, one is loss of money and image, the other is a killer of the soul. And Bishop Finn is still in Kansas City despite his conviction.”

Milwaukee canonist Fr. Jim Connell, who works with abuse survivors, has filed a canonical appeal in Rome seeking Finn’s removal.

Francis has moved in spontaneous if incremental steps — rhetoric presaging action. It has not always produced the desired results.

In a March 5 interview with Corriera della Serra in Rome, his response to a question about the abuse crisis was unrealistic, if not surreal: “The Church has done so much on this path, perhaps more than anyone … perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No other has done more. And the Church is the only one to be attacked.”

Francis’s comments drew scorn from abuse survivors and in some corners of the media. Two months later, on the flight from Israel to Rome, he sounded like a different pope. “In Argentina we call those who receive preferential treatment ‘spoilt children,’ he said. “There will be no ‘spoilt children’ in this case. It is a very serious problem. When a priest commits abuse, he betrays the Lord’s body.”

Will the Vatican face the crisis?

John Paul avoided dealing with the clergy abuse crisis until events exploded in America in 2002, after which he responded with little effect, continuing his praise of Fr. Marcial Maciel, despite extensive allegations filed against the Legion of Christ founder in 1998 in the CDF.

Benedict, who removed Maciel from ministry in 2006, institutionalized the procedures at CDF to punish pedophiles. He met with victims as a pastoral approach, but — save for his defrocking of the Canadian Lahey — ignored the issue of complicity and negligence within the hierarchy.    [Benedict also fast-tracked the canonization of John Paul II and withheld information regarding the role of John Paul in shielding Marciel. ]

The crisis bequeathed to Francis is a minefield of complexities that stretch across different legal systems of the globe, huge financial losses in countries with Western common law; a culture of angry, movement-hardened survivors connecting via the internet with groups in other countries; a critical mass of information readily available to the media; and a generation of bishops who entered the hierarchy with assumptions of public respect, trusting the pope for guidance.

The bishops’ world has changed in ways they never imagined. In America, they found themselves battered in the media, turning to high-dollar defense lawyers as victims filed suit, and a vacuum of papal leadership from John Paul.

Francis is relying on Boston Cardinal O’Malley on the issue. O’Malley, who wears the sandals and robes of a Capuchin, has spent his career in the hierarchy cleaning up dioceses caught in these scandals — from Fall River, Mass., the diocese plundered by the notorious Fr. James Porter to Palm Beach, Fla., where O’Malley succeeded Bishop Keith Symons and Bishop Anthony O’Connell, (both resigned and were cited for clergy abuse)  then to Boston, which Law left in a state of financial hemorrhaging. O’Malley closed parishes and sold property to staunch deficits, spurring a sit-in vigil movement of parishioners fighting back.

O’Malley’s fluency in Spanish and past visits to Argentina established a rapport with Francis, who made him point man on the abuse issue. O’Malley guided the establishment of the eight-member advisory commission, which recently had its first meeting.

“I have problems with O’Malley,” said McKiernan, of the Boston-based “O’Malley released a list of perpetrators in 2011, and the same day admitted he left off 91 names. So there are transparency issues. We see the same thing in the pope’s statement in the book he did with Rabbi [Abraham] Skorka of Argentina [On Heaven and Earth] where he says he never encountered an abuse case. That’s not true, the media has reported on cases from Buenos Aires. But O’Malley is coming from a place where the church was pushed to the brink and I think he’s talking sense to the pope. They both know it’s a global problem.”

The evolution of a policy turns on the quality of information available to a given leader and his comfort with the use of power. Francis has moved adroitly in dealing with the Vatican Bank and disarray in the Roman Curia. The abuse crisis poses a greater challenge by virtue of geographical reach, legal, financial and moral issues.

The root problem is the power structure, a hierarchy long accustomed to immunity from punishment. Popes, in turn, assume lockstep loyalty from bishops and cardinals. Francis’s move toward a penal policy for hierarchs has cut distance from the passivity of John Paul and the halting approach by Benedict, who refused to accept the resignation letters of two Irish auxiliary bishops criticized for negligence in the government investigation of the church in Dublin.

What Francis decides about the three bishops under investigation, as yet unnamed, will be another signal on the depth, or not, of a criminal justice system so desperately needed by the Roman Catholic church.

[Jason Berry, a co-producer of the Frontline documentary “Secrets of the Vatican,” is a longtime NCR contributor, and author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church.]


Several bishops should be investigated

At least seven bishops, besides the three cited in the Religion News Service report, appear to qualify as “spoilt children” in Pope Francis’s metaphorical sweep.

The Vatican has not released information on whether they are subject to a proceeding on laicizations. But a review of documents from various legal cases, news reports, and church files compiled by and Fr. Thomas Doyle, suggests that the following bishops would qualify.

  • Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Belgium resigned in 2010 after admitting he sexually abused a boy who was later identified as his nephew. Vangheluwe was the senior Belgian bishop, appointed by John Paul in 1984. In 2011, a year later after he stepped down, Vangheluwe gave a nationally-televised interview from a secret location and admitted to sexual relations with two nephews. He also complained that that the church was being unfairly targeted. Carina Van Cauter, a member of the Belgian parliamentary committee investigating sexual abuse, said that Vangheluwe “tries to turn his victims into culprits. He throws salt in their wounds.” Reuters reported that on TV the bishop “sat relaxed, sometimes had a smile dancing on his lips, a twinkle in his eye and shook his shoulders while trying to minimise his abuse. He said that despite acknowledging the abuse, he would never willingly forsake his priesthood. He said he had made his vows and he would ‘not break them.’ ” Belgian society was jolted by the spectacle of a bishop recalling how his intimacy with two young nephews began at family reunions in tight sleeping arrangements. It strains credulity to think that, had Vangheluwe shown such bombast as a priest, Rome would allow him serenity at twilight. Age 77, he is listed as Bishop Emeritus of Bruges.
  • Another Emeritus Bishop, Thomas Dupre, resigned his post in the Springfield, Mass., diocese and immediately checked into St. Luke Institute, a Maryland church hospital specializing in treatment of clergy pedophiles. In 2008 the diocese paid undisclosed sums to two men Dupre had abused as youths, as part of a $4.5 million settlement with 59 victims of other priests. “Dupre contributed some of his own money for the payments,” the Springfield Republican reported, “but officials would not say how much. The Springfield diocese “has no information on Dupre, who has not been bishop here in years,” spokesman Mark Dupont told NCR. A priest of the diocese with detailed knowledge of Dupre and his victims told NCR on background that Dupre is still at St. Luke hospital, going on 10 years.
  • Bishop Keith Symons resigned his position in Palm Beach, Fla. in 1998, admitting to sexual relations with altar boys in his past. A year later he was leading spiritual retreats in the Lansing, Mich. diocese. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper, citing an interview with a spokeswoman for the national bishops’ conference, reported that “bishops do have to make formal requests to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to re-enter ministry. A bishop would have to ‘explain he was seeking an assignment, why he feels he’d be ready for it, what kind of treatment he’d undergone, those kinds of things.’ ” Symons is listed as an Emeritus Bishop by the hierarchy website, with no indication of where he is. (Symons’ successor, Bishop Anthony O’Connell, resigned three and a half years later during the media firestorm of 2002 over clergy abuse, admitting to a sexual relationship with a seminarian years earlier. His victim received a settlement. O’Connell retired to a South Carolina monastery; he died in 2012, Bishop Emeritus.)
  • Emeritus Bishop Daniel Ryan, 84, stepped down as leader of Springfield, Ill., diocese in 1999 as lawyers announced the filing of lawsuits on behalf of young men Ryan sexually victimized as youths. He moved into a house purchased by the diocese, which paid settlements with its insurance carriers to several men who sued him. “Ryan’s misconduct was reported to the Vatican,” Attorney Stephen J. Rubino, who worked on the cases, told NCR. “Ryan is like Frank Rodimer — Rome just let him go into the weeds.”
  • Emeritus Bishop Frank Rodimer of Paterson, N.J., was not accused of abuse; but his negligence was arguably the most glaring of any bishop to be reported. Rodimer owned a beach house on the New Jersey shore with a Camden priest, Peter Osinski. Starting in 1984, Osinski brought a guest, a boy whose family he had befriended. For 12 summers, Osinski and the boy slept in a room down the hall from Rodimer. The boy grew up and filed charges. Osinski went to prison. Rubino sued Rodimer on behalf of the victim for failure to stop Osinski. The bishop paid a settlement of $250,000 with Paterson diocesan funds. Rodimer retired to a home provided by the church.
  • Two bishops from Chile, besides Contreras, are under a cloud. The Vatican conducted an investigation of Bishop Marcos Ordenes of Iquique, Chile, for allegedly abusing teenage boys, according to press reports. Ordenes resigned in 2012; his whereabouts are unknown.
  • Archbishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso, and several priests from the seminary, have been accused in a civil lawsuit of having sex with adolescent seminarians.   (source)


Homosexuality and Isaiah

Homosexuality and the Message of Isaiah

by Frederick J. Gaiser

Frederick J. GaiserFrederick J. Gaiser teaches Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. This article appeared in The Christian Century, May 2, 2006. pp. 26f. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission.

If those in the church who are in favor of changing long-held attitudes and ordinances relating to homosexuals were merely cultural relativists with no regard for the Bible or tradition, the debate would be easier. The same would be true, of course, if those wishing to retain those attitudes and ordinances were merely diehard homophobes who used the Bible selectively to their own ends. But neither is the case. Though there may be some people who more or less fit those categories, the hard truth is that Christians of good will — more, Christians of good faith — for whom the Bible remains the source and norm of faith and life sincerely disagree about whether or how biblical passages regarding homosexual behavior relate to the current situation. In other words, exegesis — important as it is — will not solve the problem.

What then to do? There are many responsible ways to carry on this discussion. One way is to seek help from a somewhat parallel situation in the Bible itself.

The situation I have in mind is the one Israel faced following the exile. The question for Israel was how it should reconstitute itself. With all preexilic institutions shattered, what would mark the way forward? Was this the time to circle the wagons and defend past traditions in the face of the chaotic conditions that came with being a province of Persia, subject to dangerous foreign influences? Some said yes, and found solid biblical warrant for their stance in the many parts of God’s law that call for purity, holiness and separation from the world. Others thought this might be a time to welcome the stranger and open the doors to new possibilities. Those who made this argument pointed to God’s call to be a city on the hill and a blessing to the nations. Both sides could claim fidelity and find good biblical support.

Enter the prophet of Isaiah 56. Speaking for God, he announced: “Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths . . . I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who. . . hold fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. . .for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:1-7).

Throw open the doors, said the prophet. In saying this, he set himself against biblical legislation that clearly argued otherwise. It says in the book of Deuteronomy, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (23:1). A similar passage in Leviticus declares that “no one who has a blemish shall draw near” the sanctuary, including one with “crushed testicles” (21:18-20).

Some biblical scholars see this development in Isaiah as an Old Testament instance of the sort of radical reinterpretation or even abrogation of a previous divine word that marks Jesus’ own ministry (“You have heard . . . but l say to you. . .”) How is such a thing possible?

The prophet, like Jesus, claims to speak as “one with authority” — that is, precisely as a prophet, one who brings from God a new and life-giving word. But the old words, barring eunuchs from the assembly and limiting the access of foreigners, claimed authority too. Does the prophet simply promote chaos by urging folks to do their own thing? By no means. The promise, in its radicality, remains fully within God’s established covenant with Israel.

“Maintain justice, and do what is right,” says Isaiah (56:1 — keep the sabbath and hold fast the covenant. Foreigners and eunuchs are called to observe Torah and confess their faith just as do other Israelites. The inclusivity proclaimed in Isaiah 56:1-8 is not an ideology that simply proclaims acceptance, disallowing claims to truth and differentiation. Those eunuchs and foreigners are welcomed who confess Yahweh and give themselves to the demands of the covenant.

Further, the promise comes not by right but as gift. A conversation about human rights is always in order, to be sure — particularly in regard to issues of human sexuality — but Isaiah is speaking of the remarkable generosity of God, who “will give an everlasting name” to the eunuchs, precisely those who could establish no name for themselves by the normal processes of procreation.

The text moves beyond legalities and orders and speaks from the perspective of a divine grace that changes everything. It does so, in part, by seeing the present in the light of God’s future. A new salvation is on the horizon, one that, like the old, will be “good news to the oppressed” and “liberty to the captives”(61:1). New life will be possible even in the midst of unfulfilled political hopes. In Isaiah’s language, God is “about to do a new thing” (43:19) — or, in more modern parlance, God is going where no one has gone before.

Finally, in the eyes of the prophet, it is not a matter of eunuchs and foreigners being “allowed” into a community that is whole in itself and that now condescends to let in some who, alas, are not like them. Rather, God is gathering “others” to “the outcasts of Israel” that God has “already gathered” (56:8). The people of Israel can accept the inclusion of others because they know themselves to be outcasts and sinners, welcome in God’s house because of who God is and what God has done, not because of their own righteousness. There is no “we” who magnanimously admit “them”; there is a community of outcasts who together recognize their common need of undeserved grace.

What might this mean for the present discussion about the place in the church of homosexually oriented believers? Might the contemporary church hear itself and its situation addressed by a surprising prophetic word that, in the name of God, calls previous words of God into question? That is to say, might God be calling the church to a “new thing” in which not even earlier words of God — good and proper for their own time — can stand in the way of the broader community God now has in mind?

An assenting response will not be universal, of course, just as it was not in the time of the prophet. Was the prophet’s new word canonical? Will the people of God now understand God to be up to something new? Time (and the Spirit) will tell, and prayer will be in order.

At the same time, the conversation about the inclusion of “others” might find a way to uphold the prophet’s insistence that all — insiders and former outsiders alike — are called to “maintain justice and do what is right,” to “keep the sabbath” and “hold fast to the covenant.” Again, “anything goes” is not the prophet’s theme.

What will it mean for homosexual unions (or heterosexual ones, in our difficult times) to “keep the sabbath”? What will it mean for both sides in this debate — at least as it takes place among believers, in and for the church — to move beyond political ideologies and culture wars and stand together under God’s word of law and gospel? Once more, the conclusion of such a process will hardly be foregone, but God might again do surprising things among people who give themselves to God’s living word.

Standing under the word in prayer while waiting for the clarification of the Spirit will satisfy neither those who argue for “justice now” nor those for whom the faith itself is at stake in this issue — and those people will necessarily continue their professions and protestations. But such waiting might prevent rending of the body of Christ and might finally allow a contemporary understanding that, like the biblical canon, retains a place for both tradition and renewal, the old and the new.   (source)


With a new Synod of Bishops comes a new chance to do things right

With a new Synod of Bishops
comes a new chance to do things right

Joan Chittister  |  May. 28, 2014 From Where I Stand Synod of Bishops 2014

Joan ChittesterI remembered an ancient saying attributed to Buddha not long ago that smacked far too much of the present than it did of the past: “There are only two mistakes on the way to truth. One is not going far enough and the other is not starting.”

I knew right away that we’re either on the verge of another mistake — or not. It all depends.

Very few ever get a second chance to get the really big things of life right. Really right.

On the personal level, recovery from error is always a slow and tenuous process. We fail at marriage and plod through life for years while all our other dreams shrivel with it. We get stuck in dead-end jobs, and there goes the kind of life for which we’d hoped.

But if mid-course corrections are difficult for individuals, they are even more difficult for major institutions.

Governments can be marked for decades by their major debacles. Wars stumbled into without cause, like the invasion of Iraq, can damage a country’s place in the community of nations for years. Few megacorps, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, completely recover from public disaffection. They lose credibility. They barter years of goodwill. They watch the public turn away like sunflowers following the light.

Worse, plunge a public institution into public ignominy, and the ones that don’t disappear immediately are often doomed to fade slowly and painfully into barely recognizable profiles of their former selves.

Once upon a time, churches were exempt from such problems. Not anymore. These days, churches are little better off than the average organization when it comes to the wages of sin and attempts to defraud. “The faith” does not compensate in an educated public for a loss of confidence in the integrity of the church itself.

Which is where we are right now, whether anyone wants to consider that possibility or not. All of our major institutions are being viewed with wary eyes — the government and its outrageous dysfunction, the global financial structures and their pecuniary sleight of hand, and even the church and its insistence on rules for everyone else while it seems to have skirted the important ones.

And into the middle of a church clouded by scandal as well as by rigidity comes a pope with a call for reform and for understanding. What’s not to love?

The problem is that the church has been in this position before.

The first time the church found itself in major public discredit, the reformers of the 16th century were crying out for serious review of both the theology and practices of the church. They railed against clericalism, the wealth of the church, the use of arcane language that distanced the laity from its inner operations and made them second-class citizens, the sale of relics, the conferral of indulgences in exchange for alms, and a theology that left laypeople to be docile and unthinking consumers of a faith long bereft of either witness or spiritual energy.

The answer of the church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to these concerns was 150 anathemas at the very thought of change.

Or, in other words, Trent’s answer to the pressure for renewal of the church was more of the same. Only this time, they went even further and added an index of forbidden books to dampen any more of that kind of thinking in the future; the total rejection of the vernacular to make general discussion of just about anything ecclesiastical impossible for laypeople; greater episcopal control; and more and better rules for everything else.

But the need for change and real renewal never went away.

Now, since the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the church itself has opened the question of reform again.

This time, the call comes from a pope with specific questions. Questions for which he wanted the input of the Catholic laity before his opening of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization” in October. So they sent the questions to bishops for the purpose of gathering input from the laity in each diocese.

But with the exception of a few bishops in the United States, that was the last we heard of it. And that’s the real problem.

There are three dangers implicit in the process of asking questions.

First, when you ask people to respond to a series of questions, it gives them the idea that you are going to take their answers seriously. It raises expectations.

Second, to ask questions is to imply that you are open to considering someone else’s way of looking at the possible answers to them.

Third, as any good lawyer knows, asking a question to which you don’t want an answer different from your own threatens to expose the fissure of differences that underlie it. The old game of “one answer fits all” ends and people really begin to believe that they have a right to think and rethink and think again.

Thinking may be the sign of a healthy group, but it is not the sign of a complacent, tractable or acquiescent group. Once people begin to think together, community sets in, energy sets in, possibility sets in, and new life sets in. For them all.

Trent’s 150 anathemas were a mistake that lost half of Europe to the church, that divided the Christian community for 400 years, that plunged Catholicism into the Dark Ages of thought, and that left the Christian witness adrift in “the scandal of division.”

From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether or not the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way.

[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor.]

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.


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. . . .


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 makes 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.

[Update: Happily, Pope Francis has since changed his mind on this issue.  Coming back from his January, 2015, papal visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis had this to say to the reporters on the plane:

Catholics, the pope said, should speak of ‘responsible parenthood.’

” ‘How do we do this?’ Francis asked. ‘With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood.’

” ‘God gives you methods to be responsible,’ he continued. ‘Some think that — excuse the word — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.’ ” (

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


See here what various religious groups are doing in favor of sustainability.

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.


Jesus’ Preaching to those in Hades

Jesus’ Preaching to those in Hades

Aaron Milavec

A selection from my book, Salvation Is From the Jews:

ProudPapaWithTwinsS120At first, the efficacy of Jesus’ preaching and healing mission was limited to those living persons in Galilee who had encountered him or his immediate disciples and responded to the “Good News of God.” After the death of Jesus, however, his disciples were commissioned to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The intent here is that “whoever welcomes you, welcomes me” (Matt 10:40) and “whoever receives a prophet [one of the Twelve] in the name of a prophet [Jesus] will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matt 10:41). Thus, the death of Jesus does not lead to quenching of his prophetic voice; rather, it multiplies it. In the course of time, consequently, the “Good News of God” progressively reaches out to the whole known world.[1]

By the opening of the second century, some sectors of the Jesus movement went even further and explored ways to extend the benefits of Jesus to those who had already died. In these scenarios, Jesus’ death afforded the occasion for him to be able to offer his message to those who had died and were abiding in Hades awaiting the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. Hades was the mythical abode of the dead‑-a borrowing from Hellenistic culture—and should be understood as quite distinct from what the medievalists later identified as “hell.” The original intent of “he was not abandoned to Hades” in a sermon in Acts (2:31) was to reinforce the reality of the death of Jesus prior to his resurrection. In 1 Peter, however, one finds the phrase “Christ also suffered for sins” (3:18) being used in connection with the explanation that “he was put to death in the flesh . . . and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (3:18f). Those to whom he preached, however, are expressly limited to those who “did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (3:20). The suffering and death of Jesus thus afforded him a few days in Hades wherein he “made a proclamation” to those who drowned at the time of Noah’s flood. The implied meaning here appears to be that those who died in the flood without the benefit of a prophet’s warning were now permitted to benefit from their ability to hear and respond to the Jewish prophet Jesus.

In the mid-first century, Justin Martyr again makes reference of Jesus’ mission to those who had died. In this case, however, it is not the sinners of Noah’s generation who are recipients of the Good News but the Jews who had died prior to the coming of Jesus: “The Lord God remembered his dead people of Israel who lay in their graves, and he descended to preach to them his salvation” (Dial. 72.4).

In the early second century, Clement of Alexandria further extended the mission to the dead. In his way of thinking, Jesus preached his Good News to the righteous Jews in Hades (as just noted), and, the Apostles, following their own deaths, descended into Hades where they preached to the pagan philosophers who had lived righteous lives (Strom. VI, 6:45, 5). Thus, 1 Peter, Justin Martyr, and Clement of Alexander form something of the stepping stones whereby the efficacy of Jesus’ prophetic message was gradually understood to have reached backward in time to liberate progressively larger groups of those righteous persons who had died without the saving benefit of have heard the preaching of Jesus.

 Gospel of Bartholomew

The third-century Gospel of Bartholomew offers the first instance wherein Jesus’ foray into Hades is dramatized. The Gospel portrays the “King of Glory” as menacingly descending the stairs of a thousand steps into the underworld. Hades, the god of the underworld, is depicted as trembling uncontrollably as he descends. Having arrived, Jesus “shattered the iron bars” of the gates of Hades and then grabs the god Hades himself and pummeled him “with a hundred blows and bound him with fetters that cannot be loosed” (19). Here now, the Gospel of Bartholomew dramatizes the commando rescue operation undertaken by Jesus in order to save “Adam and all the patriarchs” (9). When Jesus meets Adam, Jesus specifically says to him, “I was hung upon the cross for your sake and for the sake of your children” (22).

Jesus’ death is here understood, not as a penal substitution for the sin of Adam, but as the necessary means for gaining access to the underworld. Hades is the pagan god assigned to guard the underworld. Hades has no role in judging or punishing those who have died; rather, his role is limited to guarding the gates such that the dead cannot return to the land of the living. By destroying the gates and the gate-keeper, Jesus shows that he has the power to release not only the generation of Noah that died in the floor but also all generations going all the way back to Adam himself. The intent of this narrative appears to be that it would not be fair to have these former to be disadvantaged just because they were born too early or were born in the wrong place and did not have the opportunity to hear Jesus’ preaching. Furthermore, the narrative demonstrates that Hades has been defeated and that those who died need no longer groan in despair. This does not mean, of course, that everyone at the final judgment will be admitted into Paradise since, even on earth, only a small fraction of those who heard the message of Jesus reformed their lives and anticipated the coming Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Bartholomew does mark a high point, however, in so far as the efficacy of Jesus’ preaching and his death gets extended backward all the way to Adam. This would seemingly imply that those who do not hear the Good News during their lifetime have the opportunity, never the less, to hear it in the afterlife, either from Jesus himself or from his disciples. With this in mind, the phrase, “he descended into Hades,” was added to the Apostles’ Creed during the fourth century.[2]

What is plain to observe is that the Gospel of Bartholomew firmly centers the efficacy of Jesus upon his “presence” and upon his preaching mission—“that I might come down on earth to heal the sin of the ignorant and give to men the truth of God” (65). Jesus’ death is necessitated as the ordinary means whereby he could make his presence felt among those imprisoned in Hades. Secondly, the Gospel of Bartholomew knows nothing of inherited sin or of the Gates of Paradise being permanently closed due to the sin of Adam. In line with the other Church Fathers, it was the Gates of Hades that needed to be broken down in order for God’s plan of liberation to take place. Jesus, in the scenario, is not the atoning victim on the cross but the one who mounts a commando raid to smash the Gates of Death. Thirdly, the Gospel of Bartholomew has an interest in narrating the Fall of the Angels in such a way as to place the creation of Adam as directly leading to this fall. Once created “in the image and likeness of God,” the Creator commands that the angels worship Adam (the critical test, 51-58). Those angels who disobeyed this direct order were expelled from heaven to earth where they become the sword enemies of Adam and his race. The stage was thus being set to reread the temptation in the Garden as being the choice of obeying God or obeying the serpent. The serpent, in turn, could now be seen as one of the fallen race of angels who had been ruined by the creation of Adam and were now intent upon wrecking their revenge upon Adam and his race. At the same time, God was now being protrayed as “testing the angels” and “testing Adam” in such authoritarian and moralistic tones that “one infraction” led to instant expulsion with no option of repentance or forgiveness in the future.

The Medieval Synthesis of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), along with other medieval theologians, attempted to consolidate and to harmonize the diverse traditions of the first five centuries. According to Aquinas, Jesus descends into the underworld, not to break the bars of those imprisoned there, but to gather the elect and to lead them into the gates of heaven that have been opened due to his atoning death on the cross. The underworld, at this point, is still being understood as the abode of all the dead, both the righteous and the sinners. Now, however, fire torments are introduced. Thus the Hades of the Gospel of Bartholomew has been transformed in the hell of the medievalist theologians. The souls of those who are damned are already in torment. The souls of those destined to be saved by Jesus experience only a temporal punishment calculated to purify them from their former sins. Fire for them is purgatorial and, in due course, later centuries will make a clear distinction in place between those in Purgatory and those in Hell. This need not concern us here. For our purposes, we need only to note that Jesus’ descent into Hades/hell has come full circle. Jesus comes not just to preach to the generation of the flood as in 1 Peter. Nor does Jesus mount a commando raid to break down the gates of Hades. Rather, Jesus’ death opens the Gates of Heaven, and his descent into hell is specifically to take those who have lived righteously and to carry them up, with him, into heaven.

In Acts, Jesus ascends alone into heaven and waits, at the right hand of God, for the time of his return. In Aquinas, all the souls of the righteous, from Adam on forward, are carried by the resurrected Jesus into heaven where they will immediately enjoy the Beatific Vision. When Jesus returns at the end times, all of these same saints will come to earth with him, their bodies will be resurrected from the grave, and both the living and the dead will be judged at the final judgment. Then the righteous will enter into eternal joy and the unrighteous into eternal torment. Purgatory will be no more.

According to the medieval tradition, the “gates of heaven” were permanently closed following the sin of Adam (Summa Theologica II-II 164, 2). This enforces the logic of Anselm pertaining to the universality of sin (both original and actual sins) and the utter inability of anyone to atone for even the least of these sins. But then salvation arrives: “The gate of heaven’s kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ’s passion” (III 49, 5). Here, again, Aquinas notes that not even the Jewish patriarchs who were sinless were able to enter into heaven: “The holy fathers were detained in hell (prior to his descent into hell) for the reason that, owing to our first parent’s sin, the approach to the life of glory was not open” (III 52, 5).


Aquinas not only presents Jesus as descending into hell to rescue the righteous; he also has Jesus achieving on the cross those infinite merits that are required for the universal atonement of all sins, from Adam’s first sin to the last sin on earth at the end of time.[3] Even relative to the Jews, Aquinas says: “The holy fathers [of Israel], by doing works of justice, merited to enter the heavenly kingdom [only] through faith in Christ’s passion . . .” (III 49, 5, ad 1). The deliverance of the Jewish patriarchs, consequently, was not due to their assimilation of the faith of Abraham or to their lifelong fidelity to God; rather, it is “through faith and charity, [that they] were united to Christ’s passion” (III 52, 7). Jesus’ death, consequently, provides a store of merits that was purported to reach backward in time and to atone for Jewish sins. This represented the absolute bankruptcy of Judaism—no one could be saved due to the faith of Abraham or the Torah of Moses. Jesus alone provided the atoning death that enabled the Father to forgive Jewish sins.


[1]In the Gospel of Matthew, it would appear that a world-wide preaching mission was out of the question for Jesus says to this disciples, “for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt 10:23).   Jesus often refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” but the “coming” of the Son of Man, in Matthew’s text, consistently refers to the final judgment (13:41, 16:27, 16:28, 19:28, 24:27, 24:30, 24:37-38, 24:44, 25:31, 26:64). Matt 25:31 firmly situates the Son of Man as drawing all humankind to himself for the final judgment. Matt 26:64 shows Jesus being judged by the high priests and saying to them that their judgment on him is of little significance for they will witness “the Son of Man . . . coming in his glory” to render true judgment. Thus, when Μatt 10:23 suggests that the final judgment will overtake this present generation, this means that even before the disciples of Jesus have gotten around to preaching in “all the towns of Israel,” the final judgment will have taken place. Now, for this to be inserted in Matthew’s Gospel in the year 80 C.E. means that the compiler knows that the time has elapsed and yet that the Son of Man has not come. Perhaps this is because, at this time, Jesus had limited the mission to the towns of Israel and explicitly set the towns of Gentiles and Samaritans as off limits (Matt 10:5). When Jesus appears to his disciples “on the mountain” in Galilee (Matt 28:16) where Jesus had earlier taught them (Matt 10:1), he then expands their mission to include “all nations” (Matt 28:19). In so doing, the time frame for the final judgment is presumably delayed in order to allow for the influx of the Gentiles.

[2] The Apostles’ Creed represents a second century summary statement of belief.   Rufinus, in The Exposition of the Creed (c. 400 C.E.), makes note of the fact that “descended into Hades” did not exist in the second-century Roman version of the Creed. Hence, this phrase must have been added to the Apostle’s Creed sometime in the fourth century. This would place it in the same era as the Gospel of Bartholomew.

[3] The Roman Catechism endorsed the Thomistic perspective saying, “Christ the Lord descended into hell that, having seized the spoils of the devils, he might conduct into heaven those holy fathers and other pious souls liberated from prison” (1.6.q.6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats the message of Trent placing an emphasis upon the fact that “the Gospel was preached even to the dead” (sec. 632 & 634 following 1 P 4:6). This event is interpreted in universal and eschatological terms: “This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all [dead] men [women] of all times and places . . .” (sec. 634). The implication here appears to be that when Christ returns on the Last Day, he will come with all the prophets, the holy Jews, the enlightened philosophers that he has liberated from Hades immediately after he died on the cross.



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.


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 volitional 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.


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 dissoluable 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 just “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 [This judgment is too absolute.  Individual cases have to be considered]. 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


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. . . .


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.


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.