The Cross and Sexual Lives

Father Jeffrey pointed out this excellent piece in this week’s Catholic Herald (oh how we love the Herald over the Tablet d’ythink?) earlier this week. Thought I’d save it for the height of Holy Week.

It is increasingly common to be confronted over Catholic teachings on sexual morality by someone whose own practice, or those of close relatives, are at odds with this. Something similar occurred when divorce first became common but still carried a stigma. Those who had separated and remarried challenged Catholics on their “narrow-minded” and “un-Christian attitude”. I suspect that there was an element of bad conscience in these charges.

Recently someone told me that a mutual acquaintance had reported that I was “shocked” to learn that they each had gay children who had entered civil partnerships. My own response was to say that while our mutual friend was a good person he was not perhaps a very sophisticated one, and that he might be externalising unresolved attitudes of his own.

So what are we to say? I recall a Presbyterian minister saying that we all bring our sexual lives before the cross. That was beautifully put and is absolutely the right attitude for a Christian. Humankind carries certain inherited wounds the effects of which include, in Augustine’s language, a darkening of the intellect and a disturbance of the passions.

These affect all of our lives, including our sexuality. A mark of failing to acknowledge this is finding fault in the sexual desires and activities of others: judging someone overly sexual, or unduly repressed and so on. Because we are all subject to the same flaws it is wrong to judge others in their persons, though social behaviour may be a necessary matter for comment. It is right and important to bring our flawed sexualities before the cross because there is something mysterious about sex which lies close to our spiritual condition and which we will only ever discern in the eternal light of Christ.

Catholic teaching is generally misunderstood, even among other Christians who have abandoned traditional understandings and for whom any criticism of homosexuality can only seem a matter of prejudice. Some Christian denominations have given up the idea of sexual order and see everything, barring what is wrong on other grounds (such as violence, abuse, etc), as “ok” within the context of settled heterosexual unions. This is the suggestion of the evangelical group Christian Nymphos whose slogan is “Married sex, spicy, the way God intended it to be”. It can then seem mere prejudice to exclude same-sex relations from this.

That is not at all the Catholic position. It holds that sex is for the sake of marriage and that marriage is a form of divinely ordained, exclusive and life-long union in which the partners must remain open to procreation and constrain sexual activity within a norm of chastity. Moreover, it does not believe that everyone has a right to sex of whatever sort and to whatever extent they choose in the context of consensual heterosexual relations. There is no right to sex any more than there is a right to happiness. Nor does it teach that homosexual sins are intrinsically graver than heterosexual ones. Much of what people get up to is infantile gratification and emotionally coarsening, but that is independent of the matter of the sex of the parties.

For those who read the penultimate paragraph and went “Christian WHAT?!”, the following link might prove interesting reading. Oooh, spicy…

5 Comments on “The Cross and Sexual Lives

  1. Seems unfair to draw a line from Christian Nymphos to a liberal attitude to homosexual practice among Christians. Is there any evidence that the Nymphos group believes that? I don’t think it’s inherent in their (cough) position…

  2. Hello Peter and all,

    just for extra context could I recommend this link?
    It takes you to articles by James Alison and Prof John Haldane published in ‘The Tablet’ in 2007 which may be of interest (…or not!).

    But anyhow, Prof Haldane’s ‘Catholic Herald’ article simply expounds current Catholic teaching on homosexuality (with which not all Catholics agree…) – and I’m wondering if that’s particularly helpful to you Peter? I do note the bit that you’ve marked in bold – but it doesn’t straightforwardly follow from that bit, that same-sex sex is always wrong. And as Prof Haldane’s piece says nearer the end, the ban on artificial contraception is one key reason why official Catholic teaching is against same-sex sexual relationships – but is it fair to say you aren’t against artificial birth control?

    Maybe i should be commenting on Fr Jeffrey’s blog – but I’m just a bit unclear about how Prof Haldane’s article helps support your position, Peter. I’m aware you’ve talked of “bring[ing] our sexual lives before the cross” before; but there’s a number of differences between his position and yours. Maybe this is undue pedantry but hey…. :)

    in friendship, Blair

  3. Is it the case that you are also against all forms of foreplay, masturbation, oral sex etc Peter since this is the position of the Catholic Church? I ask because it seems to me that the Catholic sexual framework only makes sense if you buy into it in all senses. I think once you start unpicking elements of it, all comes tumbling down. Of course, this is what is happening amongth the rank and file of the Roman Catholic Church – natural law seems ludicrous to the majority of educated lay people in Roman Catholic parishes – shame Pope Benedict hasn’t caught on.


  4. Winston,

    What I’m agreeing with is the idea that we are all affected sexually by the Fall and we need to bring that to the cross. I don’t think that necessarily requires me to agree with the full extent of Roman moral teaching.

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