Sipe Comments



June 13 2012

If one definition of masturbation can be "self-stimulation limited to self-gratification that is incapable of any generative possibility", then that is exactly what the Vatican is exercising with ever-greater vigor and enthusiasm - against Jesuit theologian Roger Haight, and Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., against American nuns for their preferential charitable efforts in favor of the poor and against injustice rather than rallying the faithful to the church's authentic teaching against abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and all matters sexual.

They are all objects of censure from the dreaded Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the former Office of the Inquisition. I was encouraged by one high ranking church official to publish my books on clergy celibacy and sexual behavior, but warned: "It's a good thing the Church no longer has the power to castrate or burn at the stake or you would be in trouble." Words now are the Vatican's tools of torture and excitation.

Sister Margaret Farley now is one of the major targets of their words and sexual fantasies. Authentic is the operable Vatican word - along with intrinsic, depravity, disordered, inviolable and defective - in its condemnation of Farley's well-reasoned framework for discussion of Christian sexual ethics entitled "Just Love".

Her book forthrightly explores the ethics and understanding behind sexual ethics and the varied perceptions held by Christians. She said her book, "was designed to help people, especially Christians but also others, to think through their questions about human sexuality ... moving from what frequently functions as a taboo morality to a morality and sexual ethics based on the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognizably just loves,"

Farley unabashedly approaches topics the Vatican reserves to its own magisterial (authentic) teaching - masturbation, same-sex unions, homosexuality, homosexual acts, divorce and remarriage.

The Vatican appointed a Commission of experts to review the work and found it "contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful."

The commission is certainly in error when they write: "the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." That simply is not true despite the magisterium and the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most Christians know better.

The Commission again cite the catechism to counter Farley's discussion about divorce and remarriage and accuse her of contradicting Catholic teaching that excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce because, "by its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses." So, "the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was."

When it comes to the question of homosexuality the Vatican obviates any dialogue by appealing to scripture that they claim "presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity," and they reinforce their argument with tradition that "has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."

The conclusion of the Vatican is that Farley "also manifests a defective understanding of the objective nature of the natural moral law, choosing instead to argue on the basis of conclusions selected from certain philosophical currents or from her own understanding of ‘contemporary experience.' This approach is not consistent with authentic Catholic theology."

It is the Vatican that cannot get the objective nature of natural law straight. Certainly that constitutes "A body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct." But that ethical belief system is inherent in human nature and discoverable by reason rather than revelation - that's what makes it natural.

Margaret Farley's appeal to reason in understanding the nature of human sexuality comes far closer to truth and reality than the Vatican's ipsilateral ruminations.

Although I appeal to a metaphoric use of masturbation in deconstructing the Vatican commission's denunciation of "Just Love"

there is a very real sense in which masturbation must be taken into account when considering documents about human sexuality emanating from the Roman Catholic clerical system.

In my study of priests in the United States (A Secret World 1990) I could conclude that masturbation was consistently the most frequent sexual activity of this vowed-celibate group.

During 1968-9 I served on an American Medical Association committee developing a book, Human Sexuality (1972). Doctor William Masters also on the committee said that he once conducted a survey of 200 Catholic religious and 198 reported that they had masturbated at least once in the previous two-year period. He added good naturedly, " I don't think the other two understood the question."

We can safely assume that many of the Vatican-assigned priests do masturbate, and most observant Catholics would not begrudge them this tiny secret pleasure.

We also know, however, that some priests sexually abuse minors. (Between 6% and 9% in the U.S.) Most Catholics would agree that this clerical behavior poses a greater "risk of grave harm to the faithful" than Sr. Margaret's book.

The Vatican commission that denounced "Just Love" (and the work of Haight, Johnson and the LCWR) disseminate several erroneous propositions while they hide behind their authoritative words. First and foremost they ignore the reality of sexual behaviors of Roman Catholic clergy who they insist vow "perpetual and perfect chastity, therefore celibacy" (Canon 277). The pope maintains that this is a God-given requirement for ordination and he lacks the power to change it.

They perpetuate the myth that Roman Catholic clergy actually behave celibately despite knowledge that some bishops and priests have more or less long term sexual partners, heterosexual and homosexual. Some have fathered children; some use contraceptives; some have tolerated abortion of conceptions authored by clergy "for the good of the church". (Many can be named.) And the list goes on.

The Vatican's rationale about sex is that "all sex is gravely sinful" if not downright depraved outside a valid marriage; but they are the authors of this morality; they define what is sin. They are the arbiters of forgiveness. They ignore or minimize clerical sin and rationalize that "priests are human" and brag that they are a church of forgiveness - a neat self-serving system for their non-married staff.

They have the power over sin, but need to control sex of lay folk by inducing guilt because fear is the only way an inquisition works. They are unwilling to dialogue about sexual ethics risking loss or their upper hand.

The Catholic Church has lost all credibility when it comes to any pronouncements about human sexuality - contraception and masturbation included. This loss of ethical stature is the main consequence of the secret sexual life of the Vatican, bishops, priests and their unreasonable teaching.

"Just Love" presents a reasonable set of propositions for ethical dialogue. What does the Vatican have to lose from a more reasonable and nuanced discussion of human sexuality? Will they be recognized as even more corrupt than already imagined if they allow debate about sexual ethics? When human sexuality is removed from the category of taboo and guilt as Margaret Farley suggests, and subjected to reasonable criteria, ethics based on "the discernment of what counts as wise, truthful, and recognizably as just love" emerges quite naturally.

Little wonder the Vatican is consumed by masturbation.

A.W.Richard Sipe


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