“New Vision” for Catholic Sexuality Needed

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 27, 2008 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Popes

..says Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The cardinal stated 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) has cut off the church from many of the people who most need its advice about human sexuality. It may be time, he said, for a “new vision” for sexuality and birth control. martini.jpg

The encyclical, which teaches that  condoms, birth control pills, IUDs and other “artificial” birth control methods are morally wrong, caused a large  number of people to stop taking the church’s views seriously, Martini said. “Serious damage was done.”

Martini, an 81-year-old Jesuit and former archbishop of Milan, made the comments in a book-length interview, Nighttime Conversations in Jerusalem: On the Risk of Faith (Conversazioni notturne a Gerusalemme. Sul rischio della fede was published by Mondadori, Milano, 2008)

He did not address specifically the morality of contraception but suggested that the question might be better approached from a more pastoral perspective.

Today, he said, the church might be able to adopt “a new vision” and indicate “a better way” than it did in Humanae Vitae. “The church would regain credibility and competence,” he said.

“Knowing how to admit one’s errors and the limitations of one’s previous viewpoints is a sign of the greatness of soul and confidence,” he said.

Cardinal Martini said the church should take a positive approach to human sexuality, with less emphasis   on prohibitions. “Whatever the church affirms, it should be supported by many people, by conscientious in love,” he said.

On a personal note, I was a teenager in the years following Vatican II, and can still feel the reverberations of that era.   The cardinal is right when he states the church lost a lot of its credibility after Humane Vitae. More, I think, then even the global priest-child  sex abuse crisis of the 1990s.

It is my belief the church lost its footing in the 1960s with its rigidity over birth control and also  its dismissal of the Latin Mass.

It has yet to regain it, primarily because of the attitude of the Vatican  towards sex and sexuality and their  hostility to  other voices who question their reasoning.    Celibate clerics  continue to run the discussion to the exclusion of everyone else.   Why are they surprised when no one pays attention?

I believe it was a mistake to toss  the Latin Mass out the door so fast.  It’s abrupt  departure shook a foundation of Catholic identity.   The church  could have eased the transition by making the Latin Mass more accessible and participatory, and made some accommodation for national, ethic and local customs and observances.

But, that kind of leadership  requires flexiblity, listening skills and a willingness to include the laity in decision-making; qualities  never much in evidence in the institutional church in that or any other period.

On the subject of birth control, both teenagers AND their parents–even those stoutly  against premarital sex (like my parents!)–thought the church’s stance stupid and delusional.

Cardinal Martini is right–the church lost the respect of a generation of Catholics and the strict adherence of the rest. People continued to identify as Catholic, but stopped paying attention to rules, regulations and sins they didn’t agree with.   They stopped because they didn’t have any basis in real life, and they weren’t based on common sense.

On the issue of birth control, no family was going to wind up with 8 or 9 children, out of 14 or 15 pregnancies, just because some pampered,  out-of-touch celibate decreed it was God’s way.

By the decade of the ’60s, many Catholic men who served in WWII and Korea  had gone to college on the GI bill and wanted their children to have a college education.   Parents wanted the “better things” in life for their families. This meant having smaller families.

Parents, adults, also had more time and opportunity  for sex, and wanted that sex to be a good lusty romp, not  a mystical union.  

The availability of   birth control  was the biggest boost to a good sex life.   Couples could have sex a lot more, whenever they wanted.  Birth control allowed couples to have sex without worrying about unplanned pregancies. This was especially important to women, who always had the fear of pregancy to contend with  every time she had intercourse. Not having to worry about getting pregnant was a major boost to a woman’s enjoyment of sex.

The pope  should be made aware good sex and lots of it makes for happy Catholics.   Not the opposite.

Yes, a “new vision” is needed for the church on sex and sexuality.   After 40 years, it’s time to admit Humanae Vitae was a mistake, and move forward to a Catholic view  sexuality that is reality-based and natural; not artificial in its prohibitions and fears.

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2 Responses to ““New Vision” for Catholic Sexuality Needed”

  1. Poló Says:

    Good piece.

    I put up a page on the anniversary of the encyclical on my site:

  2. pat Says:

    More than a “new vision” for Catholic sexuality is needed.

    How ironic it is that those in whom the sex drive is so pronounced are the very ones entrusted not to use it by taking an oath of celibacy.

    If one could imagine a trick played upon mankind by God, that would surely meet that criteria.

    No one knows whether women priests would be far more likely to keep an oath of celibacy than males, but history shows that women have been more capable of doing so than men – by training and conditioning if not from self restraint.

    Perhaps women priests are the answer to the church shortage of priests who desire to commit to that oath, or perhaps the church needs to end the illogical and unreasonable oath, and allow priests to marry just like every other normal religion on earth.

    As a man-made rule for other men, there could be few more cruel, and none more demanding; God didn’t make potential priests with the unique biology from other men – to enable them to practice their profession. Practicing religion with eyes closed is not a healthy vision for any church.

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