"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Just A Teeny Weeny Bit Of Sex OK? The Vatican Is Considering It

Father Brophy is my favorite priest of all time.  Yes, he had me and his entire congregation convinced that we were on a slippery slope of sin headed right to Hell, but after we all grew up and shook off the last residue of the moral harangues we got every Sunday, we realized that the old man had a point. Just about everyone we knew was  sliding headlong into the fiery, sulfurous pit of Satan with no one but Father Brophy and the Church to block the way. 

Every Pope in the last 50 years has groaned at the gradual secularization of America, its increasing moral relativism, and its arrogant assumption that there is such a thing as a New Morality, a new contract between God and Man, and a diffuse, democratic moral authority. In other words, no one pays much attention to the Catholic Church any more.

Sex has always been first and foremost on the Church’s collective mind.  It was always Father Brophy’s favorite them for Sunday sermon.  The old geezer really ginned up some old-fashioned Protestant Bible-thumping and revivalist sweat and tears when he got worked up on the pulpit, railing against fornication, adultery, and self-abuse.  “Only God and the Church can decide when you can have sex”, he hollered, “and that is only after you have been joined together in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. Everything else is a foul, fetid, hellish distortion of Divine Law, polluting river of filth which engulfs us all.”

Fathers, mothers, and their children were always chastened by Father Brophy’s sermons. Resolutions were made right then and there to stop banging Adele from Accounting, hopping in the back of the truck with the milkman, and whacking off to the girlie magazines on Jimmy’s back shelf. It didn’t last, of course.  Mrs. Carlson couldn’t resist the milkman’s sweet talk and blue eyes.  Mr. Rickert continued to couple with Ginny Filbert in the furnace room, and Johnny Dilman still spent all his lawn-cutting money on Cunt! and Come!.

Pope Francis has convened a synod to talk about this.  Maybe we have been too inflexible, he said, and rather than obey, people have rejected us.  If we meet them halfway, he said presenting a traditional but until recently unexplored doctrine of graduality – turning a blind eye to youthful transgressions in the hope that through Catholic teaching, the faithless will finally come home and be married in the eyes of God,

Writing in the Atlantic (10.13.14) Elizabeth Tenety explains, citing William Mattison, an associate professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America.

“It’s trying to present a positive, welcoming, fully alive view of human sexuality,” he explained. “When we speak of gradualism, it’s not because we're lightening up the rules but it’s that we're all struggling to get there,” Mattison added. “The danger would always be that people perceive that you sacrifice the ideal, but that need not be the case.”

He is probably wrong there. “Give the sinner an inch, and he’ll take a mile”, the old adage of the Church, was an indictment not only of fallen Catholics but everybody.  Once there is a chink in the wall, it isn’t long before the whole thing comes tumbling down. Take lawyers and investment bankers.  They are the most canny prospectors for cracks, chinks, and loopholes. “I can screw Ginny Filbert  from Accounting because no one is hurt”, rationalizes William Rickert. “My husband is indifferent, callous, and has the passions of a toad.  Why shouldn’t I climb in the back of the milk truck once and a while and rattle around with Bobby Jencks. I deserve it.”

So if the Church welcomes unwed Catholic mothers (48 percent of all births) into the fold, what kind of message does this send?  Only one – that carnal knowledge is not sinful if you have the intention of getting married – and that is a tricky message indeed.  The case of Pearl Johnson is a case in point.  She collected child welfare checks with each illegitimate child.  She was poor, desperate, but hopeful. 

She wanted to be delivered from this bottom-dwelling life of penury and shame, but no one wanted to marry her.  She wanted more than anything to be embraced by the Church, but until Mr. Right with some change in his pocket comes along, she is stuck; so she has more out-of-wedlock children, collects her benefits and muddles on.

Or take the example of an engaged couple who is living together before marriage, as 37 percent of Catholics have, or currently are. Are they “living in sin”? Or are they on their first step towards embracing the fullness of the Catholic vision for marriage? Will a priest welcome them to be honest about their situation and get married in his church, perhaps with some special classes or a request that they go to confession?

Any priest who counsels thusly, is issuing a carte blanche for more licentious living. The ‘engaged’ couple may not really have not plans to marry in the near future at all.  They are more than likely happy with the consensual arrangement, one which in an age of divorce, ups the odds of marital stability.  The Church should be happy with this state of affairs. Which is the worst moral sin after all?

Graduality, argues Mattison, isn’t a license to do anything contrary to Church teaching, even if it could be interpreted that way. “I think it actually frees you to move out to people where they’re at but without sacrificing the ideal,” he said.

This is called ‘having your cake and eating it too’ which we all know is not possible.  Something has to give, and once the Catholic Church starts bending the rules, the game is over.  The absolute, unchallenged authority of the Church on matters of faith and morals depends on autocracy and the mental gulag.   The Church has always been Aristotelian, never Platonic.  No two-planed, ideal-real world for the Vatican.  It is all or nothing in the struggle to achieve celestial paradise.

A more tolerant stance on human sexuality, say many, will allow the Church to regain some of the moral authority it has lost because of its hardheaded views, and open the way for it to speak out on large issue.

“We need to address pervasive issues like rape, sexual abuse, overly casual sex (the hook-up culture), commercial sexualization of young girls, and trafficking”, says Lisa Sowle Cahill. The Church has no voice on these issues because it expends its moral capital on divorce and contraception—and in the U.S. on campaigns against gay marriage and contraception,” she wrote. “If the Church's teaching voice were less strident on these issues by means of a ‘law of graduality,’ some of the larger, more important moral values and concerns might get a hearing.”

This, however, is tantamount to secularization of the Church. Rape, sexual abuse, and overly-casual sex are less moral issues than social, psychological, and legal ones. Even the definition of these terms is still being debated in forums throughout the country; and those critics stepping into the hot water of cross-cultural behavioral norms are in for a scalding.

No, the Church should stick to its guns.  If it doesn’t  stand up for the primacy of morality and virtue in human society, then who will?  Pope Paul II got roundly criticized by the American Left for his inflexible stance on abortion.  No, the Pope said, abortion was not ‘a woman’s right to choose’.  It was murder and infanticide. Roe vs. Wade had been the law of the land for decades, and women were aborting fetuses left and right out of conviction that the decision was theirs alone. “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was the feminist war cry shouted by many followers.


By defiantly reiterating its inflexible, authoritarian rules of morality, the Church is doing us all a favor,  It forces us to at least consider options other than the current gay, feminist, ‘progressive’ ones.  Maybe abortion really is infanticide.  Maybe there is something sacrosanct or at least privileged in heterosexual sex, the law of procreation and survival of the species since paramecia.  Maybe contraception, based on expediency, does alter the moral nature of society.  If children are no more than commodities purchased at Walmart when a family has the time and money, then expedience is valued over natural law.

However one comes down on these issues, conclusion should not be a knee-jerk affair; nor should decisions be made on the basis of secular arguments alone.  The Church is simply reiterating what we all know is to be true – virtue and morality will always be the centerpieces of any society.

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