Our old, if critical, friend, Advocatus Diaboli, has had some spare time between Christmas and the New Year. And if the Devil makes work for idle hands, we can expect his advocate take advantage of the opportunity. I have now received a further contribution from him – and I look forward to you putting him firmly, though I am sure courteously, in his place. Quentin.
O O O
Thank you once again for the hospitality of Secondsightblog. I am not going to comment on the discussion which followed my last contribution, you must decide for yourselves. Instead I turn to a different subject.
An outsider, like me, might well get the impression that the Catholic Church is primarily a movement designed to control, and preclude as far as possible, anything to do with sexual activity. That impression might be formed from the fact that it is the one subject which, in different manifestations, gets the greatest column inches. And, even on a blog to which mature people like yourselves contribute, anything related to sexuality seems to get the most comments. If I may take a single example, your Bishop O’Donoghue (whose work on Catholic doctrine has recently been commended by the Vatican) was able to claim that obedience to the Church’s condemnation of all contraception was the “litmus test” of Catholicism.
This remark may seem idiotic, but – taken against history – it is typical of how Christianity can be perverted with the best of intentions. I can see very little in the Gospels about sexual sin (and what is there is compassionate), and in St Paul what is condemned is not sexuality but sexual excess. Even his cautions on marriage can be explained by his belief (based foolishly on taking Jesus’ words literally) that the end of the world was about to come. If that is what a bishop in good standing thinks being a Catholic is primarily about, he is either a fool or my case is already proved.
Where did it all start? The major authority was Augustine who was a reformed Manichean. Like many converts his reaction was extreme, and the result was his doctrine that the only justification for sexual intercourse was procreation (Manicheans believed that procreation was sinful, and advocated alternative sexual practices). Augustine believed that sexual pleasure as such was sinful, even in marital intercourse; that the terrible inheritance of original sin was transmitted through this lust. Not a very good start for an attitude which was to last about 1500 years.
About 200 years later we find Pope St Gregory the Great making it clear that the libido necessary for sexual intercourse was in itself sinful, and should preclude a man from entering a church for a time. Aquinas takes the same general view. And so on – until the great alarm caused by Pius X1th in 1930 suggesting that, under certain conditions, intercourse without intention to procreate could be lawful and good.
Being as generous as possible I calculate that for 77% of the history of Christianity it has been generally and explicitly taught that every form of genital expression, even in the most loving expression of the holiest of marriages, is inevitably sinful. Not bad for an infallible Church, is it?
And what about those who are picked as leaders of the Church? We might think of the bright-eyed seminarians, fully infused with call of the Spirit. The only figures I have are from the 1950s but a study at that time showed that their rate of self abuse was 99%. Interestingly it was somewhat higher than most other groups. Coming to much more modern history (2002) I find that less than half the priests under age 45 believe that to be a practising homosexual is inconsistent with being a priest. How many would you guess accept self abuse? And you do not need me to turn the knife in the wound of international paedophilia.
I am not commenting on the rights and wrong of any of these practices. I am merely saying that they are grossly at variance with what your Church teaches. Fundamentally I am accusing you of deep laid hypocrisy. The only indulgence I can offer is that long, indurated culture (and 1500 years is long) has put you into denial. You may be forgiven because you do not know what you do.
Do you believe that the celibacy of the clergy is a great and sacred thing – allowing a priest to devote himself to his mission? Nonsense and double nonsense. There are plenty of monastic orders for those who choose celibacy as a free act. The secular clergy (and take that right up to the bishops and cardinals, and all the other steps on the ladder of priestly ambition) rejoice in a celibacy which allows them to conceal their lack of experience and their fear of an intimate committed relationship with the opposite sex. Don’t bother to tell me that there are exceptions, I am concerned with the many who sustain a regime of sexual orthodoxy not through a mature understanding but through warped and wounded personalities. These are the people who have the sheer impertinence to pontificate on how you should lead your sexual lives.
When your Church has rid itself of such attitudes I will listen to what she has to say about sexuality. She may or may not have a good deal to contribute. In the meanwhile I’d as soon walk down Soho and buy a dirty film. At least no one there is pretending.
Your friend, Advocatus Diaboli