|I can easily imagine God was a hard act to follow.|
Over at his Wild Reed blog, Michael Bayley has a really important post regarding a paper written by Catholic moral theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. The following is the final three paragraphs Michael excerpted, and I reprint them here because they make some extremely important points. I encourage readers to read the entire extract on Michael's blog. In the initial paragraphs, RRR brilliantly explains the Augustinian tradition which has come down through the centuries and is the basis for what still passes for Catholic sexual morality. I've written many time before that we need to develop a sexual morality based on right relationship, but this piece by RRR seems to state parts of my position far better than I have.
.....We should see sexuality as an integral part of our total psychosomatic being, not something that can be separated out and repressed without damage to our fullness of being. We should recognize that the love-relational purpose of sex has its own integrity and goodness as the creation and expression of bonding, affection, and commitment. It is not dependent on procreation for its justification, and indeed today out of many thousands of sexual acts in the lifetime of any person, only a small percentage can be intentionally reproductive. The defense of marriage between sterile people, sex after menopause, and the acceptance of birth control, including the so-called rhythm method – all tacitly accept the autonomous love-relational purpose of sex.
Once one has accepted any non-procreative sex to be moral for heterosexuals, one can no longer define homosexuality as immoral because it is non-procreative. One cannot even say that homosexuals avoid the responsibility to raise children, since celibates also do not raise children, while many homosexuals are raising natural or adopted children. Once one has accepted the understanding of humanity in which men and women are complex psychological wholes, not stereotypic opposites, and that the goodness of relationship lies in mutual support of the wholeness of each, not the mutual deficiency of masculine-feminine interdependence, then the difference between loving and bonding with someone of the same sex as yourself or someone of the other sex can no longer be rigidly distinguished. Both are relationships with another person, with all the complex problems of developing a healthy mutuality, rather than pathological dependency and exploitive misuse of each other. (Incomplete or immature sexual relationships almost always result in the perceived exploitative use of one person by the other.)
There has emerged among Catholic moral theologians in the last twenty years a comprehensive effort to revise the traditional Catholic view of sexuality, although these moral theologians are currently very much under fire from the Vatican, which recognizes that its system of social and ecclesiastical control rests on the older definition of sexual sin. The Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) report Human Sexuality, published in 1977 represents this alternative tradition of Catholic moral theology. The starting point of the moral system developed in this report is that sexual morality or immorality is an expression of moral or immoral human relationality. Relationships are moral when they are mutual, supportive of the full personal growth of each person, committed, and faithful. Relations are immoral when they are abusive, violent, exploitive, keep people in truncated stages of development, and lead to lying, deceit, and betrayal.
This norm of sexual morality, based on moral relationality, eliminates the neat boundaries between moral and immoral sex defined by heterosexual marriage and procreation. Such a norm makes for much stricter judgments about sexual morality in some cases. Much of the sexuality promoted in patriarchal marriage, which, for example, saw the husband as having a right to force his wife to have sex with him, would be regarded as immoral by such a standard. What is moral or immoral sexually becomes more a question of a scale of values than of clear boundaries. No one achieves perfectly mutual love, and perhaps few relationships are totally evil. Rather, such a norm promotes a developmental goal. We are to grow toward healthy, loving, mutual, and faithful relationships, away from abusive and dishonest ones. The morality of homosexual or heterosexual relations is judged by the same standard, rather than by different standards. (These concepts surrounding relational notions of moral sexuality are critical for the raising of healthy children.)
There is one line in these paragraphs which speak volumes about how difficult it is going to be to ever effect serious reform in the hierarchical structure of the Church. I have it in red, in italics, and bold. It is this line:
although these theologians are currently very much under fire from the Vatican, which recognizes that its system of social and ecclesiastical control rests on the older definition of sexual sin.
When an institution controls the bedroom, and they do it through a system of sin which places sex in a very much inferior position relative to their own supposed sexless selves, they have a great deal of power if their followers believe it. This is why Archbishop Chaput can truthfully say that gay marriage is the single most important issue of his time. Gay marriage is based on a relational concept of sexual morality and as such it undercuts the entire thinking that places sexless celibate males closer to heaven than the rutting laity. Gay marriage is a critical and actually nuclear issue for the Vatican. They must fight it for the very survival of their entire claim to sole authority. Their own complicity in covering up their own sexual abuse is very much tied to the notion that their virginal sexless being validates their sacerdotal power. They are holy almost strictly because they do not engage in sex, not because of any other activity like actually doing what Jesus did, or living the Way as Jesus taught it. It's much easier to refrain from sex, or pretend that's the case, than it is to actually live and do as Jesus did.
This will be a very long battle and we have only begun to fight it---and the Vatican is and will continue to fight back. It won't be enough for 90% of the laity to reject Humanae Vitae or +60% to accept gay marriage. It will take a significant portion of our priests and bishops to stand up and affirm the relational qualities of sexuality and reject the authority they have over laity on the basis of their having rejected sex. Spiritually healthy sex isn't about biological sex, it's about affirming a committed loving relationship. Until we get that notion down, we won't ever be able to integrate our sexuality with our spirituality.