This is just too funny, I couldn't pass it up.
Pope Benedict's chat with Archbishop Neinstedt and his fellow bishops from Minnesota etc. has generated quite a bit of comment. I have chosen not to write on the 'gay marriage threat to culture' aspect or his take on the evils of co habitation, but on Benedict's insistence chastity is one of the foundational planks of Catholic sexual morality. It is, but it shouldn't be. Relationship should be the foundation of Catholic sexual morality. The following is from Vatican Insider:
Benedict XVI's message to U.S. bishops: “Sexual difference is a question of justice”Alessandro Speciale - Vatican Insider - Rome 3/9/2012
These are real sore points in the United States where recently, in many states, marriage between same-sex couples has either been approved or is being discussed.
Next autumn Minnesota will vote on the introduction of a ban on same-sex marriages to their state Constitution and the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Mgr. John Nienstedt – who led the delegation of prelates on their Ad Limina visit to the Pope – is at the front line of the electoral campaign.
(Pope Benedict is definitely giving the papal seal of approval to Archbishop Nienstedt's refendum to ban gay marriage in Minnesota. 2012 must be the year Rome tries to remake the US in it's own image and likeness.)
During his speech, Pope Benedict XVI condemned “the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage.” He asked the Church in the U.S. to “resist this pressure” with a “reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation.” ("Reasoned" is precisely where the arguments for Prop 8 are failing in court.)
“Sexual differences - he added - cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.” (This all sounds nice and reasonable except that the children of gay parents are left out, and the Church itself marries childless couples all the time.)
At a time when the Church in the United States has a very short fuse in as far as Barack Obama’s Administration is concerned, over the exemption of Catholic organizations from offering health insurance cover that includes contraceptive care, Benedict XVI expressed his concern at the threats to the “freedom of conscience, religion and worship” – topics which were already addressed in a previous speech to U.S. prelates.
These threats - the Pope said in today's meeting - “need to be addressed urgently, so that all men and women of faith, and the institutions they inspire, can act in accordance with their deepest moral convictions.”(This statement is quite disingenuous. It is not the individual conscience which is the driving force for US Catholic bishops. It is the institutional conscience that bishops are defending. Women have zero say in determining that 'conscience', and that 'conscience' is hell bent on restricting the freedom of women to make decisions with regards to their own bodies.)
What worries the Pope the most, is the “contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality.” Indeed, “a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity,” lead to a “grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”(This idea of grounding a mature sexual ethic in the practice of chastity is spiritually infantile. More on this in my own remarks.)
Benedict XVI also showed concern for the drop in the number of Catholic marriages and the widespread tendency of young couples to live together before getting married: a “widespread practice” which is however “gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society.” Bishops were urged therefore to “develop clear pastoral and liturgical norms for the worthy celebration of matrimony which embody an unambiguous witness to the objective demands of Christian morality, while showing sensitivity and concern for young couples.” (I'm sure the bishops will work diligently to come up with programs that place the importance of the chastity of these young people far and away above their actual relationships.)
With regard to these topics and to virtues such as chastity, which is often “ridiculed”, Benedict XVI aknowledged that these could partly be attributed to “deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades.”
In all the debate and conversation surrounding the HHS birth control mandate or gay marriage very few people have gone to the heart of Catholic sexual morality. I'm glad Pope Benedict has decided to emphasize this heart, this foundation. That heart and foundation is sexual chastity. Here is the definition of chastity from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Chastity is the virtue which excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite. The use of the term 'appetite' in a similar definition to food is intentional. If one peruses the entire section on chastity, one finds the comparison between the sexual appetite and the food appetite as the bedrock of the whole article--with one fundamental difference. A human being can die from hunger, which is a bad thing, but a human being is actually sanctified by intentionally and permanently denying their sexual 'appetite'.
No where in this definition of chastity does one find the notion of sex as a fundamental relationship between two people. A reader will find the idea of sex as expressed in the reproductive relationship between male and female. This reproductive relationship defines the action of 'moderates' in the above definition of chastity. Sex in context of reproduction in a valid marriage is the only licit form of sex. This is all very utilitarian and denies any meaningful relational context for sex. It denies any ideas which suggest sexual expression maybe a real human need in expressing love between two people. Sex is after all, an intense form of touch that has a secondary reproductive pay off if engaged in between a male and a female, but it always retains it's primary tactile function of validating and expressing love between two people.
This would be exactly like the very scientific fact that a mother holding and hugging her child is absolutely essential to the well being and neural development of that child. If the relationship between mother and child is devoid of a tactile component, the child does not prosper and grow no matter how much formula is jammed down it's throat. We also know that adults who are starved for touch, also do not prosper and grow. That's why nursing homes and residence facilities are allowing 'therapeutic pets'. The therapy is not coming from any scintillating conversations between a cat and it's slave/owner. I can attest to that fact. It comes from the touch and the purring and the snuggling and the body warmth and the smiling that engenders---for the cat at least. So we know touch is critical for all humans at all times, and at certain times in our maturation, the primary and most important form of touch is sexual. But the Church is advising that denying this fact is holy and sanctified and better than anything else we can do.
In the interests of helping Pope Benedict properly catechize us Catholics, I offer the section from the encyclopedia which describes the highest form of chastity for women:
The first-mentioned is the virtue of those who, in order to devote themselves more unreservedly to God and their spiritual interests, resolve to refrain perpetually from even the licit pleasures of the marital state. When this resolution is made by one who has never known the gratification allowed in marriage, perfect chastity becomes virginity. Because of these two elements — the high purpose and the absolute inexperience — just referred to, virginal chastity takes on the character of a special virtue distinct from that which connotes abstinence merely from illicit carnal pleasure......The special virtue we are here considering involves a physical integrity. Yet while the Church demands this integrity in those who would wear the veil of consecrated virgins, it is but an accidental quality and may be lost without detriment to that higher spiritual integrity in which formally the virtue of virginity resides. (I guess this is a very circumspect way of saying the physical presence of the hymen is not as important as it used to be unless you want to be a consecrated virgin.) The latter integrity is necessary and is alone sufficient to win the aureole said to await virgins as a special heavenly reward (St. Thomas, Suppl., Q. xcvi, a. 5). Imperfect chastity is that which is proper to the state of those who have not as yet entered wedlock without however having renounced the intention of doing so, of those also who are joined by the bonds of legitimate marriage, and finally of those who have outlived their marital partners.
I love the definition of 'imperfect chastity' because many many of my fellow Catholic teen age virgins back in the day surely thought we were perfectly chaste. It seems Pope Benedict is right, we were imperfectly catechized because even though we thought we were perfectly chaste and truly virginal, we actually weren't because none of us had formally renounced the intention to marry. Well, moving right along.....
Up above I wrote this sexual morality we are supposed to espouse was spiritually infantile. It truly says God really loves Catholics who perpetually vow to keep themselves in the prepubescent sex is icky stage.
For me it's not just that, it's that this underlying foundation of chastity is scientifically ignorant and reduces the sense of touch to an after thought which mostly serves to get us in trouble. If touch is a sort of mistake or challenge to our spirituality on God's part, why in the world create a material universe in which touch is the newest perceptual sense a sentient consciousness needs in which to navigate in this new reality of matter? What if touch and sex are not supposed to be vilified, denied, and controlled but lived as the highest form of spiritual expression we have in this reality. Jesus healed through touch. Babies are conceived through sexual touch. Children are made safe and secure when they are held and rocked. Domesticated animals are defined so on the basis of allowing and enjoying humans to touch and guide them. We may think our brains are what makes us all that and a bag of chips, but it's also our ability to use touch to communicate, and most importantly to communicate love. I know, I asked my cats.