Proposing a Renewed Catholic Understanding of the Sexual Person, pt 2

August 3, 2012

By Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, authors of Sexual Ethics

Part Two of a Two-Part Series

Sister Farrell’s comment and questions cited in Part One of this series highlight the need for a renewed definition of the sexual person that adequately considers the sexual person in light of “the signs of the times.” Drawing insights from scripture, tradition, the sciences, and experience, Catholic theologians are proposing a renewed understanding of the sexual person that challenges the historical suspicion surrounding human sexuality in the Catholic Church. This renewed understanding builds on many of the Catholic Church’s positive messages about human sexuality, especially about the unitive end of marriage or meaning of the sexual act, and can provide sound principles to educate the faithful about the God-given gift of sexuality.

In The Sexual Person (2008) and Sexual Ethics (2012) we propose six fundamental dimensions of a renewed understanding of the sexual person. These include:

  1. Move from the sexual person considered as a procreative person to the sexual person considered as a relational person, one who focuses, not simply on sexual acts, but on the interpersonal meaning of sexual acts for interpersonal relationships and asks whether or not these sexual acts facilitate growth in just and loving relationship with one’s intimate partner, oneself, and one’s God.
  2. Move from  viewing heterosexual orientation as normative and homosexual and bisexual orientation as “objectively disordered” to viewing sexual orientation, heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, as an intrinsic dimension of the sexual person and, therefore, “objectively ordered” for persons with such orientations.
  3. Move to a more holistic and integrated understanding of the sexual person, physiologically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually considered.
  4. Acknowledge the fundamental desire in persons to be in relationship, including sexual relationship, with another person. This desire is realized in a complex of relationships that the magisterium refers to as complementarity, which intends that certain realities belong together and produce a whole that neither produces alone. The magisterium prioritizes physical complementarity and argues that it demands heterosexual marriage as the exclusive stable sexual relationship between a man and a woman.
  5. Move from the magisterium’s description of sexual complementarity, limited to physical complementarity and heterosexual marriage, to a holistic complementarity which integrates sexual orientation as an intrinsic dimension of the sexual person.
  6. Move from an understanding of “truly human sexual acts” (Gaudium et spes, n. 49) limited to reproductive-type sexual acts within a heterosexual marital relationship as fulfilling of sexual persons to an understanding of “truly human sexual acts” as either reproductive-type or non-reproductive-type sexual acts in accord with a person’s sexual orientation that facilitate the sharing of a person’s embodied self with another embodied self in just love that fulfill sexual persons.

This renewed understanding focuses on persons rather than their acts, interpersonal relationships rather than biology, real and experienced rather than abstract and ideal sexuality, principles and virtues (such as justice and love) rather than absolute norms. The normative conclusion that follows from these six renewed dimensions of the sexual person changes the approach to sexual morality: some heterosexual and some homosexual acts, those that meet the requirements for holistic complementarity and just love, are truly human and therefore moral; some heterosexual and some homosexual acts, those that do not meet the requirements for holistic complementarity and just love, are not truly human and therefore immoral.


Join Georgetown University Press at AAR!

October 27, 2010

Georgetown University Press will be exhibiting again at this year’s conference for the American Academy of Religion. Stop by our booth, number 806, to see new and popular titles like:

Family Ethics: Practices for Christians
By Julie Hanlon Rubio
Brings together a rich theology of marriage and family, a commitment to social justice, and a conviction that every day moral choices are deserving of close ethical analysis because it is through them that most Christians live out their faith.

Ethics in Light of Childhood
By John Wall
A fundamental reimagining of ethical thought and practice in light of the experiences of the third of humanity who are children.

Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and Religious Pluralism
By Paul L. Heck
A vibrant study of religious pluralism as a theological and social reality that analyzes how Islam and Christianity understand theology, ethics, and politics.

An Ethics of Biodiversity: Christianity, Ecology, and the Variety of Life
By Kevin J. O’Brien
A comprehensive approach that uses both science and theology to inform a Christian perspective on the extinction of life’s variety and the need for thoughtful and committed conservation efforts.

To Serve God and Mammon: Church–State Relations in American Politics
By Ted G. Jelen
An historical, institutional, and behavioral analysis of church–state relations in the United States.

Theology and the Boundary Discourse of Human Rights
By Ethna Regan
A unique and fresh perspective that examines the intersections of human rights, Christian theology, and philosophical ethics to justify and explore theological engagement with human rights.

Living the Truth: A Theory in Action
By Klaus Demmer, Translated by Brian McNeil
An important work of moral theology that outlines the roles of freedom, truthfulness, and the ethical praxis of Christian life.


Living the Truth: A Theory in Action

July 28, 2010

How is moral theology related to pastoral theology? In this first English translation of Living the Truth, Klaus Demmer answers this question by offering a complete theory of action. Its crucial element is truthfulness, which Demmer claims is a basic attitude that must be translated concretely into our individual decisions. Demmer demonstrates that the demand for truthfulness offers a critical corrective to the usual praxis whereby ethical norms are formulated. This has significant consequences for every area of ethical directives, including questions about celibacy and partnerships.

Demmer moves away from the act-centered morality that dominates the neo-Scholastic manuals of moral theology. His concern is to show how our actions embody and carry out a more original anthropological project. Not only does this anthropological project condition our insights into goods and values, it provides the criteria by which our actions are judged morally. This book will be welcomed by all who are looking for ethical norms, and by all whose task it is to formulate such norms.

About the Author:
Klaus Demmer, MSC is a member of the Order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. From 1970 to 2003 he was a professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has published over twenty-five books on moral theology and is considered the foremost European moral theologian of his generation.


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