Friday, February 24, 2012

The Church's Unloving View of Sex

rom contraception to abortion, from ‘dirty’ thoughts to masturbation, from heterosexual to homosexual sex, from natural insemination to artificially induced pregnancy, and from unmarried cohabitation to marital sex, our Church leadership is obsessed with SEX, and its utterances on the subject are mostly negative and/or exclusive to marital sex.
Curiously, Jesus never talked about sex per se. In fact, the closest he got were references to adultery. Maybe that should tell us something.
It wasn’t until after Jesus died and after the gospels were written that Church leaders began to focus on sex. Since then, centuries of teaching on sex have been based on its appreciation by the early church ‘Fathers,’ especially Augustine. Their teaching derived from the world view of the time, a philosophy that looked at the universe as composed of good and evil. Good was identified with spirit, evil with matter. Sex, having to do with matter, fell into the world of evil. Over the centuries this association of sex with evil evolved to a point where every ‘dirty’ thought, word or action outside of marriage was considered mortally evil and worthy of eternal damnation.
That kind of teaching scared the hell out of many an adolescent, and made their natural probing and experimentations furtive and guilt-filled. The number of teens afflicted with psychological problems because of this repression is probably beyond calculation.

Calls are mounting in our time for a re-evaluation of sexual morality. Sex is good, a choice of the Creator. It builds intimacy and strengthens committed relationships. It fosters longevity and stability in those relationships. It is a servant of what the gospels are all about--love. Is it evil when it is in that service, whether among married or not, whether among straight or gay, whether used for the purpose of procreation from stored semen or ova?          
The argument that men and women should be held hostage to the strictly biological while not recognizing the intellectual, psychological and relational dimensions of sex is short-sighted on the face of it.

A word on obedience, much touted by bishops as high on the list of virtues: There exists a delicate balance between love and obedience. Blind obedience is not a virtue. (Militarily, it is a tactic.) When blind obedience is demanded of adults, history reveals that it has too often been a substitute for competence on the part of the demanding authorities.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Women Priests: The Time Has Come

s we noted in treating the French Revolution, the
 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined equality: “the law must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all … employments according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of virtues and talents.” One cannot get more pointed and straightforward than that.
Sixth graders understand the definition and concur with it. If you ask sixth graders why does the Church have seven sacraments for men and only six for women, they instantly get the point. Women have only six sacraments because they are barred from the sacrament of ordination. They are not allowed in the diaconate or the priesthood. The sixth graders’ eyes get wide at the realization and they burst out: “That’s not fair! That’s not equal!”
The bishops don’t get it and should take a lesson from the sixth graders. Pope John Paul II expressly forbade even discussion of women’s ordination. Of course, that prohibition failed to stop discussion. 

When the bishops try to justify patriarchy in the Church, they usually descend into triteness: “Jesus didn’t have women apostles,” omitting the fact that many of Jesus’ closest disciples were women, forgetting the male-dominated culture of Jesus’ times, and forgetting that Paul used the term apostle for Junia (a woman) in his epistle to the Romans. We might remind the bishops that Jesus didn’t establish a monarchy, though popes and bishops have no problem with affirming that he did.
The point is simple. It is impossible to argue that equality for all humans, male and female, is not a moral imperative. It’s time our bishops acknowledged this fact and argued the truth at the Vatican.
It is clear though, that we have no bishops who are courageous enough to act counter-culturally within the purple culture, even collegially. They are inhibited from doing so by fear of personal consequences and/or by the cultic structure of their culture, and by its innate narcissism.
Women are being ordained in our times without the approval of either the Vatican or the bishops. They are the forefront of more to follow. They are working in ministry, often with married male priests. Seventy percent of us, the laity, agree that this should be a permanent reality. When you meet these brave women, acknowledge their prophetic role and support them.


Dead Men's Bones, by Stephen Boehrer

Friday, February 10, 2012

Church Change by the Back Door: Usury and Contraception


ishops have made U-turns on moral issues in the past where the wisdom of the laity prevailed. The bishops do need some sort of back door, however, in order to camouflage the turn-around. An excellent example is the change in their position on usury, the taking of interest on loans.
Papal condemnations of usury and money lenders go back as far as the fourth century. Today, usury is often understood as the taking of ‘excessive’ interest. That was not the understanding of usury in the papal condemnations. The definition of usury used by the pope and curia is explicit in the Encyclical Vix Pervenit of Pope Benedict XIV in 1745: “Usury….consists in this: That someone, from the loan itself, which of its very nature demands that only as much be returned as was received, wishes more to be returned to him than was received, and therefore contends that some profit beyond the principal, by reason of the lending, is due to him. Therefore, all profit of this sort, which surpasses the principal, is unlawful and is usurious.”
When the Western world changed from a land economy to a money economy, people began taking or paying interest on loans. It became the common practice. Confessors began to notice that people were no longer confessing the sin of usury. Priests and bishops were confused on the issue and various opinions emerged even among the clergy. Harkening back to Vix Pervenit, the bishop of Rheims queried the Vatican on how to deal with the confessors and the differing opinion. The response from Pope Pius VIII (1821-1830) was: “They are not to be disturbed.” In other words, don’t worry, just stop talking about it. The practice of the people had prevailed, and the Pope slipped out a back door.

A contemporary example where the laity have decided by their practice on an issue that was and is still being condemned by the Vatican is contraception. Some 97% of Catholic women of child-bearing age use contraceptives. Some estimates say 98% of all Catholics disagree with the official position. The laity are simply relying on their own wisdom. 

They know that sex can be about loving and supporting intimacy as much or more than about procreation. They give importance to the relational aspects over the mere physical act. The gospels are about loving, not about sex. Contraception now has a firm acceptable place in their consciences. And the Vatican is looking for a back door. The door came slightly ajar recently when Pope Benedict XVI moved from a previous position to a contrary one saying that contraception might be appropriate to stop the spread of AIDS.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sexual Abuse in the Purple Culture

he behavior of bishops throughout the western world in the clergy sexual abuse scandal remains on daily exhibit in the media: the cover-ups; the transfer of pedophile priests from parish to parish, diocese to diocese and beyond; the stone-walling of victims and their parents; the attempt to ‘manage’ the ‘problem’ through attorneys.
We’ve heard their lame excuses: “most priests are good priests,” as if we should expect some pedophiles to emerge from their seminaries; “priests are only human,” as if raping or sodomizing a child is human.
We’ve seen them turn to scapegoating: saying that “gays are responsible and therefore should not be ordained,” (a statement shot down by competent psychotherapists); portraying children as “very seductive tempters and temptresses, sexually enticing;” depicting the abusers as the real victims; painting victims as money-grabbing complainers who want the money that would otherwise go to charity. The list goes on.
All of the above merge to exhibit a group of men, who posture as our moral leaders, acting uniformly out of a purple culture that immunizes them from empathy for the sufferings of children. It is narcissism at its zenith.
We should remind ourselves again just how powerful were the voices of the laity in the first centuries of the Church. They were strong enough to influence apostles and popes, and to move them in a different direction. Can anyone imagine there would have been a deluge of clerical sexual abuse of children if bishops had asked the laity, especially parents of young children: “Do you mind if I place accused Father Pedophile in your school, or parish?” 

The bishops never turned to the laity, an implicit denial of the wisdom they would find there. We will see going forward how the cultural box in which bishops are immersed prevents them from acknowledging their errors and from acknowledging the correctness of lay wisdom on other significant life issues.