Visions of Daniel

Sex, Gay Marriage, and the Vatican


Papers link

Here are two brief statements on Vatican teaching about sexuality. Both were published as Letters to the Editor of National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

The first (November20-December 3, 2015, p. 25) is a response to the Roman Synod on the Family, a meeting of the worlds' bishops which was called by Pope Francis and met in Rome in fall, 2015. Many had hoped that some real changes on Catholic teaching would result.

Hopes dashed yet again. The synod offered pious words when decisive action is needed. Vatican sexual teaching is simply wrong and needs to be updated. It rests on ancient speculation appropriate for barnyard animals. Add in contemporary biology, sexology, and psychology, then interpersonal communion and familial bonding--not procreation--emerge as the primary, the controlling, the inviolable meaning of sex in the human case. Natural law, yes, but get the nature right.

Other Catholic theologians, needing to be self-protectingly more circumspect than I, argue in this same vein. Long-standing Catholic practice and solemn decree at the First Vatican Council say faith and reason, religion and science, cannot be in genuine contradiction: God's truth is one. But hard-liner myopes one-sidedly insist on supposed divine revelation--dismissive of scientific consensus, deaf to the informate consciences of Catholic couples, closed to the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, blind to the overpopulation that (scientific consensus again) simply cannot be sustained.

The biblical teching on creation remains credible although it still assumed the Earth was flat. Jesus' call to universal love remains credible although, culture-bound, he endorsed slavery in many paprbles. Sexual ethics can be changesd on solidly tradition grounds. But no. The atrocity goes on: In effect, in principle, Vatican intransigence is as destructive, if less obviously so, as the "termination" of lesbians and gays, the bombing of abortion cliniics, the massacres of ISIS and Boko Haram, all done "in the name of God."

Francis appealed to science to teach environmental responsibility. Why not also to teach about sex?


This second statement provides the full text of a letter published with some editorial changes on January 4-17, 2013, p. 23, under the title "Sex, factually." The topic was the the approval of gay marriage in three states in the November, 2012, election. Quotations in this letter come from the news report, “Bishops seek stronger marriage catechesis,” NCR , November 23-December 6, 2012, pp. 5-6.

We need to keep in perspective voter approval of gay marriage despite all-out episcopal opposition. Rhetoric from both sides is simplistic and misleading.

The bishops' solution, better education about marriage, is fatuous. That their understanding expresses the “natural institution” that “lies within our very nature” is, yes, “a vision of marriage and family life”—yet only one vision, one ideal among possible others. Which best captures human reality? That this vision has been held “for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world” is simply untrue. On the other hand, appeal to “the spirit of Catholic social teaching,” the “Gospel and pastoral wisdom,” “separation of church and state,” and “simple fairness to all”—ever careful to tippy-toe around official Catholic sexual ethics—is also still superficial.

Something more fundamental is at stake, and all would do well to acknowledge it. A century of unprecedented research on human sexuality has radically revised our understanding of sex, romance, and love. The nature of sex must, indeed, be respected. Catholic reliance on natural law stands firm. But let's get the nature right. Human sexuality is not the biologically focused, near barnyard-animal-like reproductive affair that Aristotle, the Stoics, Augustine, and Aquinas supposed. Today we know better, and our culture rightly prioritizes the interpersonal, the spiritual, dimension of human sex.

Granted, to institutionalize this new understanding remains challenging. Still, all concerned would do well to name the elephant in the room: Vatican teaching is outdated; no media campaign can make correct what is factually mistaken.