Sexuality And Our Church

If the basis of our Christian faith rests on the Incarnation, why does our church continue to marginalize the role of sexuality in its understanding of the human person? Although motherhood is paid lip service, the role of mother has been reduced to that of brood mare.

The Catholic woman has been told that any form of birth control outside of abstinence is sinful, on the premise that the procreation of children is the basic justification for sexual expression. At the same time she is told that she must not deny her husband's marital provenance. If human beings have been created by a loving God with the sexual power and proclivity to procreate, why should this gift be suspect, requiring a rigid code of arbitrary restrictions presided over by a celibate clergy?

Meanwhile the church has systematically demeaned and patronized those thousands of women who voluntarily embraced virginity in order to run the magnificent teaching and nursing orders that were the backbone of the church's presence in the world for centuries.

In the face of this current crisis, will the church respond to the many who are calling for a broad reassessment of church policy in all areas? Pope John Paul II is reputed to hold a special veneration for Mary and is reportedly considering according her a new title. What greater honor could be paid Mary than to finally recognize the worth of the feminine presence in our church by a meaningful and complete acceptance of women in every act of worship?

Commentary

Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi

Janice O'Brien writes persuasively, asks good questions, and invites a response from authoritative sources. Unfortunately, these "authoritative sources" are celibate and have (one might suppose) no experiential knowledge of physical sexual expression in their lives. They will not respond to her questions. They are not listening to her. Bishops and chancery officials do not listen well to laypeople. Laypeople are below them on the pyramid of ecclesial power. That pyramid of power has replaced the Vatican II Council's manner of referring to the church as "the people of God" and to ordained ministry as "service to the people of God." That pyramid of power has been cemented into place by the regime of the present pope, John Paul II, and his able assistant, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

John Paul II and the Curia have hijacked the basic principles of that Vatican Council. They have put into place their own revisionist schemes at every possible opportunity, deliberately returning the church to pre-Vatican II mentalities (clerical dominance, secrecy, centralizing of powers, threats of excommunication, lack of accountability, enforced silencing of dissidents) while still pretending to give their allegiance to the Spirit of that great reforming Council. These papal and Curial policies have undermined every attempt to put Vatican II insights into the practical, every-day life of the church and its peoples.

Women have suffered the greatest as a result. I lived, studied and ministered in this celibate world for close to a quarter-century. During that time I learned first-hand of the dysfunctional attitudes dominating the minds of many male celibates towards women. In today's church, there are relatively few celibate clerics possessing healthy attitudes towards women. The feeling in this celibate mentality is still much too common that if a woman is not a virgin, she is a temptress; if each and every act of sexual intercourse is not open to conception, it is sinful; if sexual pleasure abounds in a relationship, that pleasure itself is suspect.

The "loving God" to which Janice O'Brien refers, must be terribly disappointed in the church's power-brokers, in their violations of the Vatican II Council's vision, and in their continuing dismissal of the parity of women in our church and the demonizing of sexual pleasure.

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