All posts tagged: sexuality

The Specter of a Sweeping Rewrite of Catholic Sexual Teachings

Last week, Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty. While the previous iteration already declared licit use of capital punishment to be “practically non-existent,” the new wording strengthens this stance, pronouncing the death penalty “inadmissible.” This change has prompted a flurry of speculation, from various media outlets, anticipating a sweeping rewrite of those Catholic teachings that most offend contemporary sensibilities—namely, Catholic sexual morality. Francis Debernardo, writing for The Advocate, cites the catechism revision as proof that the Vatican has “evolved,” and that any Church teaching can thus be altered following “decades of theological debate and discussion.” Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher begrudgingly agrees with Debernardo, calling the Pope’s Catechism edit a “big win” for LGBT Catholics who want to change Church teaching: “I wish [Debernardo] were wrong. I don’t think he is.” The revised section appeals to the principle of human dignity in its condemnation of capital punishment, and Debernardo argues that LBGT advocates can invoke this same principle to usher a new sexual …

Is There an Escape from the Evils of a Contracepting Society?

What a Contracepting Society Looks Like Contraception was from the beginning touted as the answer to a host of societal problems, from the old Neo-Malthusian bogeyman of over-population, down to marital unhappiness and child abuse.  But have such extravagant claims come true? Has contraception helped marriage? Contraception, after all, is sold as promoting the deeper union of the spouses. But divorce has skyrocketed to around 40-50 percent of all marriages since contraception became a widespread marital practice. If contraception increases bonding between spouses, then at least some amelioration of the divorce rate among those using contraception (that is, almost every married couple) should be evident. But no data indicate such an effect. In fact, demographer Robert T. Michael has argued that half of the rise of the divorce rate between 1965 and when it leveled off in 1976 “can be attributed to the ‘unexpected nature of the contraceptive revolution’ . . . especially in the way that it made marriages less child-centered.”[1] More generally, given the deepening of love that it is supposed to foster, contraception …

Humanae Vitae in Light of the War Against Female Fertility

It is startling for those living in a society that so relies on contraception to learn that, for nearly two millennia, every Christian denomination prohibited the use of contraception, even within marriage. This common front first cracked in 1930 when, at the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church made a limited exception for the use of contraceptives by husband and wife.[1] Within the half-century that followed, the pro-contraception view mutated from an anomalous exception into the dominant strain of conventional opinion. Accordingly, dissent from the Catholic Church’s prohibition of contraception is common coin, even (or perhaps especially) among Catholic theologians. Stephen Pope, a Boston College theologian, told a television reporter, “I would say the encyclical [Humanae vitae, affirming the Church’s teaching on contraception] was one of the worst things that happened to the Catholic Church in the twentieth century.”[2] In fact, it is easier to find a theologian who dissents from this teaching than to find one who agrees. Such birth-control boosterism is especially predominant among theologians who matured in the hothouse of dissent in the 1960’s, …

The Assumption and Gender

On November 1, 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII in His Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Generous God) solemnly defined and decreed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the teaching that Mary−because she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin inherited by the Fall of our first parents—did not undergo the corruption of the body at the end of her earthly life, but was lifted body and soul into Heaven. It is really an incredibly bold dogma, and one which can even scandalize our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, but it is very reasonable and meaningful, and is in need of particular attention in today’s world. It is important to realize that this dogma was not invented in the 1950’s. As Pope Pius XII’s encyclical points out, this tradition is found in the ancient liturgical books of both East and West. It is also attested to by St. Sergius I, Pope in the late 17th century, who even prescribed a litany to be prayed on the feast. But …

Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known Beyond Its Walls?

Reflecting on the role of Christians in today’s American society, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes, “We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to rote weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed. Christ’s holy Church becomes indistinguishable from the world.”[1] In this brief statement, Conley summarizes what I take to be one of the central claims of Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option. Pace those who associate him with a religious “self-separatism,”[2] the “option” proposes not a self-separatism, but a series of practices, habits, and distinctive cultural rituals that seek to provide a solution to the social fragmentation both within and outside of the boundaries of the Church, due to acedia and a rejection of the sacred.[3] Without wading into the merits of the specific arguments and narratives proposed in his important work, I will follow the lead of Nathaniel Peters, who argues that, if the Benedict Option is to succeed, it “needs to be guided by …

Desire Can Also Be Destructive

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Is it a video? Call Me By Your Name’s final moment is an elegantly enigmatic yet unambiguously poignant shot of Elio (Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet) staring into a roaring winter fireplace, transfixed by the memories of his summer romance with Oliver. The long unbroken take as the credits roll over his face is accompanied by the repeated refrain of Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” murmuring its yearning question: “Is it a video? Is it a video?” This last moment crystallizes the course the film charts: the troubling ambiguity of falling in love (or not) with an Other. Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, is a tour-de-force portrait of desire which has prompted flurries of controversy concerning power imbalance, pedophilia, agency, and the depiction of queer romance on screen. This review will not attempt to enter those debates, but instead will attempt an explanation of why this film would necessarily raise those discussions. The project of a theological sexual ethics is interested …

Fertility is Not a Disease

Managing a couple’s fertility to regulate their family size does not require removing said fertility from the woman’s or the man’s body. This is not primarily a religious issue. Some years ago a psychologist from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who had no religious affiliation came to me for instruction in the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning. She had already used mechanical and hormonal contraceptives, but, responding to a comment I had made at an NIH meeting, she decided to seek a natural method. After using the method for three months she told me, “This method is so different—now I can be all there, now I am not holding anything back.” The contrast between contraception and fertility acceptance methods has never been explained more simply. Today, hormonal contraceptives and sterilization are marketed aggressively and exclusively. While the physical side effects of contraceptive steroids on every organ system have been described in the medical literature, the personal, social, and spiritual effects of contraceptive steroid hormones, in fact of any blocking of the total …

Interview with Marianne Stroud, CNM

Marianne Stroud has been assisting at births since she was a teenager in South Africa, tagging along with her mother who worked as a midwife there. Today she is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and mother herself, as well as a convert to Catholicism, who works at a practice that was founded to offer women an authentically pro-life approach to women’s health services. The Fertility & Midwifery Care Center, based in Ft. Wayne, IN, employs both CNM’s and OB/GYN’s (including her husband, Christopher Stroud) and utilizes the Creighton Fertility Model/NaProTECHNOLOGY to offer a full range of obstetrical, fertility, and gynecological care. She is also the Board Chairman of Women’s Health Link, a not-for-profit organization designed to help women connect with pro-life healthcare and other various services. The following is the text of the telephone interview Stroud granted to Church Life Journal, as part of our wider attempt to foster a greater attention to the pastoral needs of women in the Church today. TG: Could you speak to possible misconceptions about a Catholic approach to fertility and infertility? …

Family, Careers, and Sexuality: Spiritual Trends in College Men of Faith

Where are the men? How do we get more men involved and engaged in our ministries? I hear these questions time and time again from people across the country in my travels as an educator, minister, and scholar. I hear them from every population: priests, nuns, brothers, pastors, lay ministers, catechists, parishioners, teachers, and coaches. I hear them in every context: parishes, churches, colleges, high schools, and parachurch organizations—even ministries focused specifically on men, from faith-sharing groups to retreats and conferences. Catholics and Protestants alike are struggling to get men (lay and religious) through the door and to keep them there. Everyone is looking for a silver bullet—a quick fix for a complex and enduring problem—only to be disappointed when an initiative or program that may have worked in another context does not work in their own, or when a program has a strong opening and then loses momentum. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every context has its own sets of unique challenges and opportunities for engaging men in their faith. So …