Every Catholic knows that the Catholic Church’s stance on sexuality comes across to many people as basically negative — a series of no’s and prohibitions. The traditional stringency of Catholic sexual ethics has ostracized many Catholics and pained many more.
The Council of the Baptized, a 21-member panel of Catholics chartered in January 2012 as part of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (a group that is not officially recognized by the Archdiocese), is giving voice to the conscience concerns of a growing community of Twin Cities Catholics. The disconnect between the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality and people’s lived experiences has prompted its members to issue a position paper titled “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality.”[PDF] The position paper is being distributed widely throughout the Twin Cities.
The position paper is timely. Pope Francis, believing in a more compassionate Catholic Church, has called for an international conversation on sexuality and the family in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family to be held in Rome, in October 2015. These local Catholics are responding to the pope’s invitation to the faithful worldwide to contribute their lived experience to this conversation. “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality” centers on the important issues of artificial contraception, homosexuality, and cohabitation, divorce and remarriage. The position paper summarizes Church teaching on these topics, and then outlines opposition from theologians, health organizations and world opinion. It points out promising new directions that are already appearing.
Large and small groups are discussing “Toward a Healthy Christian Theology of Sexuality” in living rooms and around kitchen tables. Participants are telling stories about how their experiences, and those of their family members and friends, have brought them into conflict with official Church teachings on sexuality. These often heartfelt stories, written anonymously in very short paragraphs, will be sent to Archbishop John Nienstedt and to all the American bishops who will be attending the Synod on the Family.
Mary Beth Stein and I, the major writers of the paper, will appear on the Mary Hanson Show tonight (Monday, May 18) at 9:30 on TPT MN (check your local listings for channel). Both of us are faithful Catholics who love the Church. We understand that Church teachings develop over time in the light of new understanding and information. One of the most important points we make in the interview is that Church teachings are reformable. We acknowledge that change is often hard, and sometimes it is slow in coming, but that the Catholic tradition is a living tradition. We agree with theologian Paul Lakeland that “incompleteness is an inescapable facet of history,” and “what is not open to change is already dead.”
We mention instances where the Church has responded to new information and reformed many of its teachings. For instance, the rise of the capitalist economy led the Church to stop its condemnation of the charging of interest (usury). When scientific evidence became overwhelming, the Church formally, if belatedly, recognized Galileo’s contribution to an understanding of our sun-centered solar system. We point out that despite the ongoing controversy over evolution, Catholic theologians have begun to mine rich insights into the human condition from Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“Toward a Healthy Theology of Sexuality” is available as a free PDF file here. Catholics who would like to host a Listening Session on the position paper can learn more by checking the Council of the Baptized website.
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