A wake up call addressed to the Catholic Church

October 20, 2013 at 3:09 am (Catholic Church, Commentary, James Wall, philosophy, theology)

Sexual Morality 1

Sexual Morality 2

Sexual Morality 3

Sexual Morality 4

Sexual Morality 5

James Wall

Click on the above links and read a wake up call to the Catholic Church to update their code of sexual morality.

Source: What do we know, What can we Believe?

               Challenging Traditional Beliefs and Practices      James Wall

First published 2001  by Ginninderra Press

Printout of the above links pp 43-50:

Sexual Morality

ln the opinion of very many members of the Church, the area in

which it most needs to update its teaching is sexual morality. Church

authorities have intruded into this area to a most unwarranted extent.

They have reached conclusions which seem both ludicrous

and at variance with the welfare of church members. Their concentration

on sexual morality has resulted in a disproportionate significance being given to

this one area of conduct. The inability to adapt to the reality experienced by

most people living active sex lives today has brought into question the whole

teaching authority of the Church across the breadth of Christian beliefs and practices.

It is therefore worth considering this matter in some detail.

As far as my research for this book has been able to determine,

the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on sex derives from a

standpoint of philosophy, rather than from revelation or from a

strictly theological perspective, and is coloured by an asceticism

that acknowledges no inherent benefit in pleasure. According to

this asceticism, all pleasure is there for a purpose, to ensure the

bringing about of an end that would otherwise not occur. The only

justification for pleasure in this view is the fulfilment of the purpose

it is supposed to effect. Thus, people have pleasure in eating

in order to ensure that their bodies are nourished. It could be questioned

whether they would starve themselves if eating were not a

pleasure. Despite that, it is difficult to see how pleasure could not

be inherent in the act of eating, especially for the undernourished

and for growing children. Of course the pleasure does not incline

everyone to eat only food of appropriate nourishment and sufficient

but not excessive quantity.

Pleasure, according to the Church’s apparent view as presented

by ecclesiastic authorities, merely ensures that a divine purpose is

fulfilled. The Church presumably sees no value in pleasure as something

beneficial in itself that can help human beings live better and

more satisfying lives or even as an aid in maintaining sanity in the

face of the stresses most people experience.

In the Church’s traditional teaching, the principal purpose of

sex, the sexual joining of a man and a woman, is the propagation of

the human race. Furlhermore, the Church regarded that end alone

as necessitating the joining of the sexes. Despite more recent acknowledgment

that sexual intercourse also has affective and bonding

significance for couples, the Church still seems to imply that


any essential benefit to the two partners apart from conception could

be achieved by other means. Following this line of reasoning, the

Church has concluded that each and every act ofsexual intercourse

must be open to the primary purpose of conception, despite the fact

that conception will not be a real possibility during a large proportion

of most couples’ active sex lives. It also begs the question as to

why sexual appetite should remain long after fertility has ceased.

Apart from partial or total abstinence, the church hierarchy does

not approve any use of human ingenuity in sexual relations calculated

to space out and/or limit the number of children conceived.

The Church now acknowledges two functions in sexual relations,

the unitive function and the procreation function, as already

mentioned. It is arbitrary, however, to maintain that men and women

may never separate these functions. Nature itself ensures that the

procreative function is not operative during most of the menstrual

cycle and not at all after menopause, and the rhythm method ol’

fertility control, which the Church approves, deliberately sets out

to exploit the separation.

Church authorities have become locked into a quite mechanical

assessment of sexual intercourse, which at times seems to be at

odds even with the key purpose, the possibility of which they claim

is mandatory on all occasions. One may wonder whether that is

because the men (it is only men) who formulated the teaching arc

also charged to be celibate. Although, superficially, it may be thought

that celibacy could produce objectivity, as celibate clergy have no

vested interest in this matter, it would seem more likely to pose a

barrier to understanding. Aperson who takes a vow in good faith to

remain celibate cannot engage in sexual activity without breaching

the vow and incurring guilt in doing so. He or she cannot even

mentally entertain such activity without at least entering what the

Church calls an occasion of sin. Sex under these circumstances

becomes something to be fought against. That is quite at odds with


the joyful experience of men and women living a loving, sexually

active life together. They will experience anticipation of their physical

union, prolonged enjoyment through restraint in meeting each

other’s mood and timing, and feel joy in each other for some time

after intimacy. Unforlunately, not all couples maintain the experience

of such intimacy.

It is difficult to see how those voluntarily committed to celibacy

could achieve the same understanding as a couple living together

of the meaning of sexual activity in human life. Of course, it cannot

be denied that celibacy can bring other advantages or that there

may be benefits in the Church having some celibate clergy.

An example of how the Church has allowed itself to become

locked into a mechanical and seemly contradictory position on sex

can be seen from the implications of the ‘Ethical and Religious

Dictates for Catholic Health Care Services’ issued by the National

Conference of Bishops (USA) in November 1994.It states,

Homologous fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve

conception by use of gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage)

is prohibited when it separates procreation from the marital act in its

unitive significance (e.g. any technique used to achieve extra-corporeal


Thus, in cases in which there is difficulty in getting spem to

penetrate beyond the cervix, it is said that the directive would permit

the use of a condom, provided it had a hole to enable some

ejaculate to escape during intercourse and possibly lead to fertilisation.

The whole reason for the condom in such cases is to trap the

ejaculate so that it may subsequently be injected to achieve conception.

A hole, therefore, would hardly facilitate accomplishment

of the primary purpose as enunciated by the Church. Furthermore,

it would seem incongruous for a group of bishops to sit down and

formulate a detailed dictate to this effect.


A newspaper reported another odd application of this teaching

that includes a ban on contraception. Although evidence has not

been found to verify the story, nor has a refutation of it been discovered,

even though the story has had wide circulation. European

missionary nuns, in danger of being raped during conflict in an

African country, are said to have requested permission to take the

contraceptive pill to guard against becoming pregnant. The local

bishop is said to have denied their request on the grounds that it

was against the Church’s teaching to artificially interfere with conception.

One can only wonder at the bishop’s reasoning and at why

the nuns felt any need to seek his permission.

The Church’s position on contraception may have made sense

at an earlier time. Then, for instance, infant and child mortality was

high; the requirements of formal education for children were negligible

or non existent; the labour of children was most useful or

even necessary for family support; and there seemed to be no limit

to the number of people the earth could accommodate. It makes

little or no sense now. Population growth threatens the capacity of

the earth to support the number of people who will shortly inhabit

the planet. Childhood labour is generally and appropriately outlawed,

at least in developed countries. Adequate education for living

in the contemporary world can take until a child turns eighteen

years or much older. The expectation of life at birth is considerably

over seventy years. Furthermore, couples in the child-bearing ages

tend to ignore the hierarchy’s teaching in the interests of their marital

stability, their obligations to existing children and their capacity

to fulfil demands on them as individuals, parents, workers and citizens.

For some couples, the teaching causes stress, unhappiness

and/or financial hardship. For some it can occasion marital breakdown.

The reality for young couples in many countries today entails

twenty years or much more of responsibility for the education and


support of each of their children. They also face the prospect of

unemployment in middle age and beyond and of extended periods

out of work for their offspring after the latter reach adulthood. The

current teaching allows couples little hope for a responsible approach

to environmental concems in the light of world population

growth. Perhaps it relies on ‘God will provide’. Ordinary people

do not have that luxurY.

Considering the positive effects of an active sex life in a loving

relationship, there would seem to be little valid purpose in placing

unnecessary restrictions on it or in denying it to fertile couples who

have a compelling reason for not producing children or not producing

more children. A satisfying sex life together can be a lifelong

blessing for a couple but some men and women are not dissuaded

from fiustrating even this side of their lives without any need for

misdirection from church authorities. Nevertheless, it is quite clear

that substantial numbers ignore the church’s prohibition against

so-called artificial birth control, apparently with clear consciences

and despite the notions of sin and guilt that have been projected

onto this aspect of human behaviour.

Provided that couples have a sincere respect, or preferably a

deep love, for each other, the mechanics of their mutual sexual activity

should be irrelevant to a church. Perhaps the church fears

that any weakening of the nexus between sexual relations and the

propagation of children would remove the moral censure from sex

outside marriage. That is not necessarily so, although there would

seem to be a good case for the degree of censure to depend on the


The Catholic Church had a chance to develop its teaching consistently

with contemporary reality during and in the aftermath of

the Second Vatican Council. The chance was lost when Pope Paul

the Sixth withdrew the matter from the assembly of the council

and then rejected the recommendation of the commission he had


established to examine it. The encyclical, Humanae Vitae, reaffirming

the prohibition of artificial birth control, was published in 1968.

The encyclical gave more weight to not contradicting the outdated

line of the Pope’s predecessors than to compassion for those

affected or to the changed circumstances of married couples during

their child-bearing years in the twentieth century. The chance was

lost to develop a policy which reflected the growth in knowledge,

consequent changes in perception and altered conditions in the

world. The encyclical unleashed widespread disenchantment with

the Church’s teaching authority, known as the magisterium, from

which the Church has not recovered. Later authoritarian reassertion

of the ecclesiastic prohibition on birth control has done nothing

to improve the situation.

Another aspect of sexual morality is also ripe for revision. It is

now widely recognised that sexual orientation is genetically determined.

Consequently, the Church’s attitude to homosexuality needs

reappraisal. A complication may exist because some married men

also exhibit homosexual tendencies and some married women are

attracted to lesbian relationships.It may be just as relevant, of course,

that some married people are attracted to and also experience heterosexual

relations outside their marriages but that is not a condemnation

of heterosexual activity as such.

Extramarital sexual activities constitute a breach of trust where

the couple has a commitment to exclusivity in their sex life and

should be censured on that account, although there may well be

mitigating circumstances. There is a similar commitment in the unions

formed by many contemporary young people but without the

formality of marriage. It could be argued that there should be a

mechanism for the recognition of such unions. In a Christian marriage,

after all, the partners themselves are the celebrants of the

sacramental union freely entered into through their mutual commitment

to each other. The civil law in Australian and some other


countries, for instance, has come to recognise mutual property rights

in ‘de facto’ relationships in the interests of justice between the


Some couples, however, marry without any commitment to exclusive

sexual rights and there are casual relationships that also

lack that commitment. In those cases it could not be claimed that

extramarital sex or sex with other partners was a breach of trust,

but the moral force of the marriage could be questioned, and sex

without commitment could hardly be considered virtuous. Some

unions between same-sex couples do seem to entail commitment

akin to that in a fully committed marriage.

When the practice of taking people into slavery was more common,

the Church agreed to permit spouses to remarry who had been

denied contact with their husbands or wives after the latter were

taken into slavery. Consideration now seems overdue with respect

to other conditions that effectively terminate a marriage and may

warrant acceptance by the Church of the right to remarry for a husband

or wife.


1 Comment

  1. Antony Ruhan said,


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