Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

30 September 2010

Why gay sex is wrong, from a Catholic perspective

This is something of a departure from my normal themes; although some of my recent posts have had an explicitly Christian, indeed Catholic, subject matter. I think a defence of Catholic teaching on homosexuality still falls within the remit of this blog, however, in that it involves challenging one of the sacred cows of contemporary Britishness: the view that, unlike certain benighted parts of the world, we in Britain have a rational, tolerant and, by implication, correct attitude towards homosexuality.

Clearly, this subject could generate vast tomes, as it’s so complex and controversial. I’m going to try to cut through some of that by means of a direct assertion: the wrongness or otherwise of active homosexuality (gay sex) is bound up with the nature of the life of faith itself. It’s impossible to understand or accept Church teaching on homosexuality without an appreciation of what faith is, which in a sense requires that you have faith.

If you don’t have a faith, whether Christian or that of any other ‘God’-centric creed, then the centre of your universe and of meaning in life will probably be your self: your personality, relationships, life experiences, aspirations, career, family, beliefs, etc. The purpose of a life lived without faith could be variously described as to fulfil your potential, care for those you love, be successful (or rich, or famous), make a difference in the world, pursue your dreams, do whatever you want, make the best of what you’ve got, etc. What these goals have in common is that they are all centred on the self, which is not necessarily the same as self-centred: who I am, what kind of person I am, self-discovery, self-fulfilment, self-realisation. If you’re a gay person without faith, then it’s obvious that one of the main goals in your life is to be true to yourself as gay and to express your sexuality in your relationships. End of discussion.

However, the life of faith is not centred on the self in this way: it is, or should be, centred on God. And that’s the living God and risen Lord, as Christians know him, not some random, patriarchal giver of archaic homophobic laws, or the prime mover of creation, or other contemporary caricatures. For people without faith, or of another faith, those words – living God and risen Lord – could also appear to be a cliché and caricature. But they don’t do, cannot do, justice to the lived experience of Christian faith, which ultimately is centred on a direct, personal encounter with God. All I can say is that, for me, the love of God in Christ is real and is the most powerful motivating force in my life. When your life has been touched by that love, then the best part of you wants to live out that love and be true to it in all that you do. And you’re carried forward by the conviction that that’s precisely what God wants for you: that your life should be in every aspect be a visible, tangible expression of the love of God, for yourself and everyone you relate to.

That means that God has a purpose for each and every one of us; and that purpose is love. And as God himself is love – the source and centre of all human love and life – then that purpose is also to draw us into an ever deeper union with (communion with and in) his love and being. This means that sexuality and sexual activity also has a divine purpose and meaning. And that’s not only procreation and, for that reason, necessarily heterosexual. The purpose is to share in God’s love and in what that love does, which is to bring new life into being and to bring mortal life into his eternal being.

Therefore, sex is not just for procreation, but it is for life and for marriage, defined as the life-long union between a man and a woman in Christ via the sacrament, or sacred mystery, of matrimony. Sacraments enact and express the union between God and humanity in Christ. Therefore, the union between a man and a woman in marriage is both bodily (as expressed in sex, among other things) and spiritual, just as Christ is both incarnate and pure divine Spirit. In that union with Christ, and with each other in Christ, married couples are called by God to live out and manifest in human form the very nature and action of God himself known as a Trinity: two – God the Father and God the Son – being united in love for each other, and in that very love (a love also known as God the Spirit or the Giver of Life) giving rise to and sustaining the whole of creation. By analogy, the married couple, in their union of love lived out both spiritually and physically – including through sex – are intended to become a father and a mother giving new life of themselves and of that love in the form of their children, who they are called not only to procreate but to guide into the fullness of life that is Christ. Like Christ himself, the new life that results from that union is literally the love of God incarnate.

Sex is therefore intended by God to be a means for human beings to be united in and with his own love and being, and in the fruits of that love, which are life itself. What are called the ‘unitive’ (a man and woman becoming one in Christ) and ‘procreative’ purposes of sex as lived out in marriage are integral to each other: if the sex is not both unitive (sacramental, matrimonial) and open to procreation it cannot fully express and embody God’s love. That’s the common reason why gay sex, unmarried straight sex, non-genital straight sex, and marital sex using contraceptives are all viewed as sinful by the Church: ‘sin’ meaning when, in our actions and thoughts, we close ourselves off to the love of God. In sexual life, that love is intended by God to be realised most fully in the loving union between a man and a woman in marriage from which new life comes.

So it’s not just gay sex that is, on this view, ‘wrong’, i.e. immoral and sinful. All sexual activity that we engage in with either the deliberate intention to ignore what the Church, speaking words inspired by the Holy Spirit, teaches us to be the true meaning and purpose of sex, or in ignorance of that teaching, is to a greater or lesser extent sinful, because it means that our will and our actions are directed to the ends of our self rather than to God’s purposes and love. And the more we structure our lives around the ignoring and ignorance of God, the more we are in danger of being unable or unwilling to turn to God and welcome his love into our lives.

Therefore, what is essentially ‘wrong’ about gay sex is that it is sex without any reference or regard to the divine purpose of sex, which is one important way, but not the only way, to share in the love and action of God in the world. That doesn’t mean that gay sex is necessarily or always without love, which it manifestly isn’t: gay couples are often just as loving, if not more so, than many straight ones; and their relationships just as long-lasting. But gay sex is an imperfect expression of the love of God – but, let’s face it, which one of us is perfect? – insofar as God intends that love to be expressed in sex: it cannot be either unitive (a man and woman becoming one body in Christ) or procreative (giving of new life). And, for that reason, gay sex can never be the realisation of a divine calling: God doesn’t call gay people to have sex, because gay sex cannot in itself serve God (bring God’s life into the world, and be an expression of his intentions in creating sex, and creating through sex). Gay sex is ultimately an expression of what the self wants – ‘I’m gay, so therefore I want sex and am going to have it’ – rather than of God’s purpose for sex and for the gay person him- or herself, which is to share fully in the love and being of God.

So gay sex is ultimately, from the Catholic perspective, a potential barrier to the gay person in responding fully to God’s offer of love and eternal life: it can orientate our will and our actions towards the pleasures and goals of this life and of the body, in opposition to the Christian calling to open our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to the love of God for us in Christ. And gay persons are therefore called upon to be celibate, not out of an arbitrary, servile and ignorant submission to a homophobic prohibition on something to which gay people’s personalities naturally attract them; but out of the need – which all of us share – to put God’s love before all other needs and desires.

And that’s because God’s love is both the true purpose of our life in this world and its eternal destination.

7 April 2010

Paedophile Priests And the Possibility Of Redemption

I confess: I’m a Roman Catholic. Being a left-footer is something you increasingly have to apologise about these days; understandably so.

It’s as if being RC is something you have to confess in the other sense of the word – to make your confession about: a sin in itself, as opposed to a particular sin, such as child abuse, which a practising Catholic would ‘normally’ be expected to confess. It’s as if the sins of the Fathers, some of whom actually used the confessional to get to their innocent victims, are now being visited upon all Mother Church’s children.

The world has been turned upside down. Or perhaps, rather, the world is already upside down – sacred things routinely abused and violated – and the Church has ended up making itself in the world’s image, rather than the other way round.

Is there any hope in the midst of this horror? Is there any sign of redemption? Jesus would say, ‘Ask the little children’. But the children are hurting right now; and they’re angry.

For once, the Church doesn’t have all the answers, and it needs to seek redemption – forgiveness – from those it has wronged. But who will hear its confession now?

One supposes that many, but presumably not all, of the paedophile priests confessed and continue to confess their sins in what, since the Second Vatican Council, has in fact been called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And one can only presume that their Confessors gave them absolution, rather than making their pardon conditional on their fellow priests carrying out the penance of going to the police to confess their crimes before the secular authorities, too. The priests hearing confessions about priestly child abuse would have been well within their rights to demand that their brothers first endure the world’s condemnation for their transgressions as a condition of receiving the effects of the sign of divine redemption given to them in the Sacrament (absolution).

But how many instances of priests voluntarily admitting to child abuse down at the local nick have you heard of? Perhaps the other Nick will now take care of them.

The confessional is in fact a fitting metaphor and example of the culture of secrecy and cover-up that has allowed the paedophiles to ply their trade under the priestly cloak of respectability for so long. Indeed, Confession provides the ultimate context in which not passing on information about crimes, which could also prevent re-offending, is justified on sacred grounds: the Confessor (the priest hearing the confession) is sworn to the utmost secrecy and may pass on what he hears in the confessional to no one, without exception, because this is the only way to ensure that the sinner will reveal all and stand spiritually naked before the priest as he does before his Lord, in true repentance. But to what avail if the same sinner abuses the Sacrament to wipe his soiled slate clean, and go on to reveal all and stand physically naked before another innocent conscience?

There’s not much of a leap from the secrecy of the confessional to the view that in no circumstances should a priest report another, child-abusing priest to the police, even if he has suspicions about that priest independent of what he may have learned in the confessional booth. This is especially the case if the Church authorities – the hierarchy and the local bishop – impose other types of vows and duties of secrecy to enable paedophile priests to be dealt with ‘discreetly’, without causing ‘scandal’. Indeed, the confessional might even be the cement that holds the whole edifice of self-contained ecclesiastical ‘justice’ together: consolidating the sense that this sin needs to be dealt with pastorally and spiritually – in the privacy of individual confession, penance and prayer – rather than through the criminal law in the first instance.

But can there be forgiveness without true penance? And what about the Church’s duty to ensure that justice is done by the victims – its own children – and that they, too, may be reconciled to the Church and to their Father in heaven?

Justice has not only to be done but to be seen to be done. And it seems to me that the Church shares collective responsibility with its sacramental representatives for the crimes that have been done to its most vulnerable members. I feel that nothing short of a public confession of its failings – its sins – in this matter will do. At the very least, the paedophile priests should publicly get down on their knees and beg the forgiveness of those they have wronged, in true repentance; and those who effectively allowed them to get away with it by dealing with abuses discreetly, without involving the forces of the secular law, should also lay bare all that they did and failed to do.

Only a Truth and Reconciliation process of this sort can begin the slow, painful work of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation that can restore the Church to the position of love and moral authority it once held in the affections and minds of its faithful children. For once, it is the faithful that must forgive the Church, not the other way round – forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Whether the actual victims of abuse themselves will ever be able to forgive and be fully reconciled to the Church, God alone knows; but without true repentance from those who were supposed to have the care of their souls, that forgiveness will never take full effect.

The mystery of Easter teaches us that new life and hope can arise from the carnage of sin and despair. But we have first to die to our sins.

Is the Church truly willing to confess its own?

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