Sex and Theology and Horse & Buggy Bishops


A March 20–24 CBS News Poll showed that 53% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 39% oppose it, and 8% are undecided. The same poll also indicated that 33% of those Americans, who now think same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, say they once held the opposite view and have changed their opinion.

Already in November 2012, election exit polls showed that 83% of American voters believed that same-sex marriage would be legal throughout the country within five to ten years.

American Roman Catholic bishops, however, see things differently.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church should be more welcoming toward gays and lesbians despite its opposition to same-sex marriage. That was the headline story. The fine-print story, however, was the same old refrain: “But we also know,” stressed Dolan, “that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

Joe Murray, Executive Director of the Rainbow Sash Movement dismissed the Cardinal’s comments as delusional and out of touch with reality.

Edward Peters, a legal advisor to the Vatican and a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, claims: “Catholics who promote same-sex marriage act contrary to Catholic law.” These aberrant Catholics, Peters stressed in his blog: “should not approach for holy Communion.” Allen Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, agrees wholeheartedly: “This sort of behavior,” Archbishop Vigneron asserted, “would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.” Perjury? How strange……There must be some kind of mind-distorting virus in the clouds above Motown.

Back to New York…… Nicholas Coppola, a 47-year-old retired construction worker, and his husband David have been effectively kicked out of the St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, NY, where Coppola had been serving as a religious education instructor, lecturer, and visitation minister for homebound members of his church. He also served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul. Parishioners had known for years that Nicholas was gay; and they never found it problematic.

After Nicholas and David got married on October 27th in 2012, a concerned Catholic sent an anonymous letter to the local bishop, informing him about Coppola’s involvement.

On April 4th, 2013, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coppola attended a special liturgy at St. Anthony’s. Afterwards, he was summoned into the office of his pastor, Father Nicholas Lombardi, where he was told that the anonymous letter complaining about his sexuality had been sent to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese, which includes St. Anthony’s Parish. Lombardi then informed Coppola that, on Bishop Murphy’s orders, Coppola would be banned from all of his parish duties because he had entered into a civil same-sex marriage in violation of church doctrine.

Sometimes I think far too many of our bishops keep trotting down the super highway of contemporary life, in horse drawn theological buggies. Their understanding of human sexuality and theological ethics is rooted in a static nineteenth century outlook that rejects human change and development as aberrant behavior. These horse and buggy bishops really ought to know better. Or perhaps they flunked their Vatican II final exams. They certainly need remedial sexual and theological education. They need to understand and speak from a credible and informed Catholic sexual ethic.

Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic theology has shifted from a primary static worldview to an historically conscious worldview that recognizes human reality as particular, dynamic, evolving, and changing.

I really don’t have unkind thoughts about our bishops. As the old saying goes, some of my best friends are bishops. I went to school with a number of bishops; and a number of my former students are bishops today. (And a few other very good friends, like Ken Untner, from Saginaw, Michigan, are now bishops RIP.) Nevertheless, I am amazed and dismayed at the theological ignorance and archaic understanding of human sexuality displayed by some of our episcopal leaders. They have smart phones and iPads but operate within a closed-world Morse code mentality. An historical critical understanding of our Scriptures and Tradition totally escapes them. Change, growth, and development in our understanding of what it means to be a woman or a man of Faith today seems like something alien and unspeakable.

As required reading for every bishop, and a good number of church lawyers as well, I strongly recommend two books: Sexual Ethics: A Theological Introduction
by Creighton University’s Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler and Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret Farley, who taught at Yale.

Theologians Salzman and Lawler contend that there is a disconnect between nineteenth century absolute sexual norms and intellectual, theological, and ethical developments recognized and endorsed in our Catholic tradition, especially since the Second Vatican Council.

Not all bishops like the theological ethics of Salzman and Lawler. The USCCB Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Cardinal Donald Wuerl has strongly condemned their book for “applying a deficient theological methodology” which leads the authors to “reach erroneous conclusions on a whole range of issues, including the morality of pre-marital sex, contraception, and artificial insemination…..readers of the book could be confused or misled, especially since the book proposes ways of living a Christian life that do not accord with the teaching of the Church and the Christian tradition.”

Margaret Farley’s book proposes a framework for sexual ethics whereby justice is the criterion for all loving, including love that is related to sexual activity and relationships. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has denounced her book because it presents a theological rationale that could justify same-sex relationships, masturbation, and remarriage after divorce.

But I would remind all critics of Farley, Lawler and Salzman of what Cardinal Dolan so strongly asserted on ABC’s “This Week” on Easter Sunday 2013: “We try our darndest to make sure we’re not anti-anybody.”

So gentlemen do your theological homework and let GENUINE DIALOGUE really begin!

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6 thoughts on “Sex and Theology and Horse & Buggy Bishops

  1. Many thanks for a very interesting , timely and courageous posting. I intend to do my theological homework on this subject, now that I have your recommendations on where to begin- Amazon are fully equipped with these books fortunately.
    But yes, our hierarchy in their ‘wisdom’ do come out with some pretty dinosaur type views, obviously ingested long ago in the dark, dusty corridors of theological and ecclesiastical power. I cannot help but speculate on the degree to which these bishops and presumably priests too are afflicted with some degree of emotional/sexual stuntedness related not only to their obvious unnatural social milieu as celibates but also to their lack of contact in general with the female of the species, who often supplies the emotional/intimacy intelligence in greater degrees than the male and yet who are still sidelined and largely ignored in the male dominated Church.
    I have, by coincidence just finished reading a book on human sexuality etc based upon Pope John Paul’s theology of the body entitled ” I am my Body” ( interpreted by Jim McManus. C.Ss.R.) I found it quite seductive in many ways but there is this accent on the way in which the male/female oneness as represented by heterosexual relationships and marriage in particular, reflects the relationship and reality of God in various ways. However I am quite concerned at the literal physical interpretation given here of femaleness and maleness. The accent of “I AM my Body” which is problematic for me anyway as someone who ultimately thinks of myself as primarily a spiritual being In a body ( for now), is also reflected in a physical interpretation and accent on bodily femaleness/ maleness when surely we need to recognise that gender attributes are being more and more incorporated in one physical casing (i.e. one body) as humans evolve mentally and emotionally etc.
    Perhaps this would help people to understand better where- to some extent- homosexual people are coming from. Surely. at the end of the day, it is the love and commitment people have for each other which counts with God, however they feel it is appropriate to express it. Isn’t that how Christ would see it?
    Sincerely. Mari Sutcliffe.

    • Thanks you Mari. I could never warm up to Pope John Paul’s “I am my body” theology. I always thought it showed a real lack of connection to real people in their real lives. I agree with theologian Charles Curran, when he commented in his book The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II, that John Paul II’s theology of the body “clearly cannot serve as a theology for all persons and all bodies.”

      John Paul’s theology ignores certain people for whom his “nuptial meaning” of the body is simply not appropriate. The elderly are missing, unmarried – people who are single, people who are widowed, and of course gays and lesbians. The pope, true to himself as an old celibate cleric, tries to show how virginity and celibacy can be understood within the terms of his ideas about the “nuptial meaning” of the body; but I find his arguments unconvincing.

      Finally I would also say that the pope appears to be totally unaware of contemporary biblical scholarship and makes, in fact, a very selective use of Sacred Scripture to suit his own purposes and confirm his arguments (somewhat the way fundamentalists use Scripture) rather than allowing Scripture to shape his own understanding.

      When discussing Jesus’ attitude to divorce, Pope John Paul makes no mention of the qualification in Matthew 5:32 where Jesus permits divorce for reason of adultery. We also know, for instance (and I am not arguing for it) that the biblical stories of the patriarchs clearly permitted polygamy, in contradiction to John Paul’s statement that polygamy “directly rejects the plan of God as revealed in the beginning.” There should have been some clarification here about how we use and interpret Scripture…..In John Paul’s discussion of divorce, not a single word is said about the so-called Pauline privilege usually seen as permitting divorce or annulment in cases where one of the partners is not a baptized believer. Important distinctions….

      Some quick thoughts. I greatly appreciate your own well-written reflections.
      Jack

    • Well I guess we start at the local level and move up….In many parishes there is (sometimes subtle) discrimination because of a second marriage or same sex relationship. Not just toleration but acceptance starts here…..

      A few bishops have been offended by my phrase “horse and buggy bishops.” Well I struggle to break through an archaic mentality…..

      All in all move forward…even if in small steps.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Jack

      Another Voice

      Email: jadanothervoice@gmail.com Twitter: @jadanothervoice

  2. Many thanks Jack for your thoughtful reply to my comments, thought provoking as always and greatly appreciated. I have only just seen them as I haven’t checked in on the site for a few days. There is much to take in and comment upon as always but it’s late and for now I just would like to say that Sacred Scripture has, in my humble opinion, always been selectively used, since the Church Fathers saw fit to select a canon of literature and declare most of the rest under the general heading of “heresy”. Yes, I am in part refering to the alleged gnostic gospels and associated material. I do, having read some of it and other well written studies of these scriptures, believe that christian people would benefit greatly from broadening their studies and being more open-minded towards these excluded documents and the people who were ‘demonised’ for having dared to think independently from the minority who claimed the power to impose its own interpretation of the teachings of Christ upon others. It seems to me that this is what we on this website are trying to rectify to some extent now. Just some of my own personal thoughts. Many thanks again for yours. Mari.

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