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.

Proposing a Renewed Catholic Understanding of the Sexual Person

August 2, 2012

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

Part One of a Two-Part Series

In a recent interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, Sister Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), commented on one aspect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “doctrinal assessment” of the group:  “We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the Church’s teaching on sexuality…the problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in….” Regarding whether or not these concerns are open for discussion in the Church, Farrell asks: “Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?…Is freedom of conscience within the church genuinely honored?”  Her comment and questions invite reflection on a historical reason for concerns about some Catholic sexual teachings, the need for Church teaching that respects the consciences of the faithful, and the need for a renewed definition of the sexual person that adequately considers the sexual person in light of “the signs of the times.”

Suspicion of human sexuality and the pleasure associated with its use has a long history in the Catholic tradition. Stoic suspicions of sexual pleasure and its emphasis that all moral sexual acts must be acts open to procreation within marriage were incorporated into Christian views on human sexuality and both “conjugalized” and “procreationalized” the approach to sexual activity. Augustine affirmed that sexuality and sexual activity in marriage are good because they were created good by the good God, but he also affirmed that their goodness is threatened by the powerful pleasure associated with sexual intercourse. Pope Gregory the Great even banned from access to the church anyone who had just had pleasurable intercourse. Despite some developments in Catholic sexual teaching, this suspicion of sex has for centuries placed enormous strain on Catholic consciences and self-esteem. This strain continues in the present and is highlighted by different perceptions of the role and function of conscience in relation to Catholic sexual ethics and Catholic social ethics.

There is a paradoxical difference in method between Catholic social and sexual ethics that has implications for exercising one’s conscience on these issues. In Sollicitudo rei socialis, Blessed John Paul II articulates the Catholic Church’s approach to social ethics. The Church seeks “to guide people to respond, with the support of rational reflection and of the human sciences, to their vocation as responsible builders of earthly society” (Sollicitudo rei socialis, paragraph n. 1). In social ethics, the Church guides, and believers, drawing on that guidance, their own experience, the findings of the sciences, and their informed consciences, responsibly respond. If the Church’s way in social ethics is the way of principles that enable believers to responsibly respond, not the way of absolute norms to be unquestioningly obeyed, then surely it can be the way also in sexual ethics. That opens the way to the long-standing Catholic teaching on the moral ultimacy of conscience articulated, for instance, by the young Joseph Ratzinger in his commentary on Gaudium et spes’ teaching on conscience. “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.” Catholics rightly accord theological respect to the conscience of the magisterium when it teaches on sexual issues. Today they ask only that the magisterium reciprocate respect for their consciences.

[Part two will be posted tomorrow. It will discuss what a renewed understanding of sexual ethics might look like.]

St. Ignatius of Loyola

July 31, 2012

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. In celebration of this special feast day (Georgetown University is a Jesuit institution), we wanted to share this selection from Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year that highlights St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in his family’s castle, near Azpeitia, in Spain’s Basque country, sometime before October 23, 1491. As a youth, he served (1506?-17) as a page to Juan Velazquez de Cuellar, King Ferdinand V’s chief treasurer, and there he learned his courtly manners. In 1517, he entered the service of the Duke of Najera, Viceroy of Navarre, and while defending the fortress at Pamplona was wounded (May 20, 1521) by a cannon shot. He convalesced at Loyola Castle, and by reading a life of Christ as well as those of the saints, he experienced a conversion and resolved to visit the Holy Land and serve the Lord.

On his way to the Holy Land, he stopped at the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, and there he made a night’s vigil (March 24-25, 1522) before the Black Madonna. He then went on to nearby Manresa and spent about eleven months in prayer and penance. After a brief visit to Rome to request papal approval for his pilgrimage, he left Venice and arrived in Jerusalem on September 4, 1523. Less than a month later, he left to return to Venice. He then made his way to Barcelona to begin his studies “in order to help souls.” After studies in Barcelona (1524-26), Alcala (1526-27), and Salamanca (1527), Ignatius went to the University of Paris (1528-35), and there he gathered a group of six like-minded men. On August 15, 1534, in a Montmartre chapel, the small band of seven took a vow to go to Jerusalem within a year after their studies, if this were possible, and work for the conversion of the Turks. After their arrival in Venice (1537), they learned that they could not sail for the Holy Land because of imminent war; hence, they went (November 1567) to Rome and offered (November 18-23, 1538) their services to Pope Paul III.

After Ignatius and his first companions decided to form a new religious congregation, their plans received Paul III’s approval (September 27, 1540), and thus the Society of Jesus was born. Ignatius was then elected general and accepted the office on April 19, 1541; on April 22, in a ceremony at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the six pronounced their vows as Jesuits. As a general of the new order, Ignatius remained in Rome, wrote its Constitutions, and supervised the Society’s growth, not only in Italy, but in the other countries of Europe as well. He likewise sent missionaries to India. Because of the excessive acts of penance he had practiced while at Manresa, his health had been severely impaired. St. Ignatius died in Rome on July 31, 1556, and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. His Spiritual Exercises had been first approved by Pope Paul III on July 31, 1548, and on July 25, 1922, Pope Pius XI named him heavenly patron of all Spiritual Exercises.

Interested in learning more? As Georgetown University is a Jesuit institution, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s order features importantly in the three-volume A History of Georgetown University. Another book by Georgetown University Press that reflects on the Society of Jesus is Reverse Mission, a work that looks at religious orders’ influence on US foreign policy.

The Passion of the Indies

July 17, 2012

By John Warren, Marketing & Sales Director, Georgetown University Press

Last week I had the pleasure of attending George Washington University’s 5th Annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing, an event with the theme of “Preserving, Protecting and Enhancing the Publishing Ecosystem” and featuring some of the bright minds of academic and general publishing. My friend Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Company, who writes the essential publishing blog The Shatzkin Files, had alerted me to the conference, but I was pleased to see some other familiar names and faces in the day’s line up.

Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press, offered a glimpse into Oxford’s strategy and some great case studies in e-book marketing. Shatzkin ran through a sobering summary of the Department of Justice’s case against the big six publishers and Apple, and discussed the possible unintended and negative consequences of the settlement for publishers, and by extension, for the diversity and health of publishing. (Shatzkin is quoted prominently in Ken Auletta’s recent New Yorker article about the case.) An in-depth look at higher education and K–12 publishing was provided by Al Greco, a professor of marketing at Fordham University. I had a hard time, however, discerning the connection to ethics through most of these presentations.

The highlights came from two speakers on the indie side of the equation: Lissa Muscatine, who passionately described her and husband Bradley Graham’s decision to purchase, just over a year ago, the iconic Washington, DC, bookstore Politics and Prose; and Dennis Loy Johnson, president of Melville House, who quite eloquently articulated the passion, potency, and peril of independent publishing in the Kindle age.

The day following the conference, I was able to spend some time with Dennis. We’d met ten years ago, when we had neighboring booth space at Book Expo America, the nation’s annual publishing confab. That was shortly after he and his wife, sculptor Valerie Merians, had become publishers, a decision that emerged from the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Then, I couldn’t help but admire his fervor, which the intervening decade has not dissipated. Among other things, he told me about the remarkable story of publishing Hans Fallada’s novel, Every Man Dies Alone.  Dennis described how the novel, originally written shortly after World War II and overlooked for forty years hence, became a phenomenon largely due to the enthusiastic support of independent booksellers, stores such as Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC.

The amazing backstory of Every Man Dies Alone, and how the book came to be published, reminded me of a nonfiction work which Georgetown University Press will be publishing in early 2013: Jan Karski’s Story of a Secret State. Melville House’s book is a novel, based on a true incident, while Georgetown’s is nonfiction, but both describe amazing acts of resistance, of passion and heroism in the face of Nazi oppression, and both are works being brought to new audiences in the digital age. Karski, a member of the Polish Underground, was one of the first people who tried to warn the West about the Holocaust. (Karski was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, on May 29, 2012.) I just finished reading the manuscript, and look forward to helping to bring Karski’s story, relatively unknown in the United States, the attention it deserves.

Georgetown University Press to Publish the American Association of Teachers of Arabic’s Al-cArabiyya Journal

July 12, 2012

ImageGeorgetown University Press is delighted to assume the publication of Al-cArabiyya, the annual, peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Teachers of Arabic (AATA). Volumes 44 and 45 (2011-2012), a joint issue edited by Dr. Reem Bassiouney of Georgetown University, will be the first issue, and it will be available in December 2012. Al-cArabiyya is the only scholarly journal with a focus on Arabic language, linguistics, literature, and pedagogy.

“We are thrilled to work with the AATA to produce the leading journal for teaching Arabic language,” says Hope LeGro, Director of Georgetown Languages at GU Press. “GU Press is committed to serving the field of Arabic language learning, as we have been for nearly fifty years. This journal partnership is a natural evolution of our shared mission with AATA.” The press publishes the Al-Kitaab Arabic Language Program, as well as Arabic dictionaries and other Arabic textbooks.

This year, the AATA celebrates fifty years of serving the scholars of Arabic around the world. Dr. Elizabeth M. Bergman, Executive Director of AATA, praises the new relationship saying, “The AATA has demonstrated its commitment to scholarship on Arabic language, literature, and pedagogy through publication of Al-cArabiyya and through other activities for nearly fifty years. Our partnership with Georgetown University Press is a fitting commemoration of these years of service. It is also a wonderful way to more forward, and serve the growing number of those who study and teach Arabic language and literature.”

Two GU Press Books Win Catholic Press Association Awards

June 29, 2012

Two GU Press books have won awards in this year’s Catholic Press Association Book AwardsChristianity in Evolution: An Exploration by Jack Mahoney won third place in the theology category, and The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church by Charles Curran won third place in the social concerns category. Congratulations to all involved!

We have one of “The 50 Coolest Book Covers”

June 20, 2012 recently did a feature of “The 50 Coolest Book Covers.” Our book Kidney for Sale by Owner designed by David Drummund was one of the books named. This cover just so happens to be one of our favorites at the press. We’re quite pleased by the (well-deserved, if we say so ourselves) notice!


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