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.

DC Book Event: Reverse Mission: Transnational Religious Communities and the Making of US Foreign Policy

November 8, 2011

November 10, 2011, 04:00PM
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs
3rd floor conference room
3307 M Street, Suite 200
Washington, DC  20007
Event open to the public

Timothy Byrnes will discuss his new book Reverse Mission: Transnational Religious Communities and the Making of US Foreign Policy. Offering a unique perspective on the role of religion in world politics, Byrnes examines the ways in which communities of Catholic priests and nuns (including, prominently, the Society of Jesus) attempt to shape American foreign policy in order to protect the interests of their “brothers and sisters” abroad.

Timothy A. Byrnes is a professor of Political Science at Colgate University. He is the author and editor of a number of books on religion and politics, including Catholic Bishops in American Politics, Transnational Catholicism in Postcommunist Europe, and Religion in an Expanding Europe. He received his PhD from Cornell University.

RSVP required

Creative Conformity Interview

June 23, 2011
Elizabeth Bucar, author of Creative Conformity: The Feminist Politics of U.S. Catholic and Iranian Shi’i Women, was interviewed by Tehran Review. She discusses how Shii and Catholicism are not anti-women. You can read the interview in both Persian and English.
As an added treat, we’ve posted the preface so that you can learn more. Enjoy!

It is August in Tehran. I’ve been walking up and down the same two blocks in the center of the city for an hour. I’ve asked the attendant at the door of the neighborhood mosque and the man who sells phone cards at the corner, but neither has ever heard of the Iranian Network of Women’s NGOs or its director, Shahla Habibi. I try a couple of doorbells on the unmarked buildings, but there is no response. Finally, after the time of my appointment with Habibi has come and gone, I decide to call from a pay phone. Habibi repeats the address I already have, but this time sends her assistant down to open a creaking metal door. I am ushered up three flights of steps. I arrive flustered and sweaty.

The heat, my tardiness, and the difficulty in locating this office have only contributed to a general level of nervousness with which I started the day. Habibi is a prominent post-Revolution figure in national politics. In 1995 President Rafsanjani appointed her as Iran’s first presidential advisor on women’s affairs, a position that would later become part of the official cabinet. She led the Iranian delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and now (2010) runs a nongovernmental organization in Tehran. These impressive credentials were in the back of my head when I dressed earlier in the morning. I decided, in an attempt to increase my status in her eyes, to wear my most conservative Islamic dress: a knee-length baggy black overcoat or manteau; long, loose pants; black socks with my sandals; and a black head scarf, tied under my chin. This was in strong contrast to more fitted manteaus and brightly colored headscarfs I usually wore to fulfill a woman’s legal duty to veil in public. I feel dowdy but respectful.

I am glad for the extra hijabi effort when Habibi greets me at her door in full chador, the traditional form of Iranian dress that became a symbol of Islamic Revolution and is often perceived as the most conservative form of Islamic dress in Iran. She continues to wear the chador within the private space of her office, which is unusual given the heat and the fact that only women—myself, Habibi, and her female assistant—are present. She invites me to remove my headscarf. In response, I tie it even more tightly, feeling that this is some sort of test and hoping to make it clear that I respect the Islamic traditions of my host country.

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