Veritatis Splendor: Sexuality, Justice, & Power

Reflections of a Pastoral Psychologist

©Paschal Baute, 12/6/93 6th revision



One of our problems in Catholic theology and life is that we do not have an adequate theology of dissent. Therefore any challenge to tradition or authority is seen as roiling the waters, disloyal and probably ill-intentioned. The Catholic church has not realized that what allows basic change to take place is not the inviolability of the present order but the possibility of conflict and the collision of different views. Newman wrote that two forces resisting change in the church were the deprecating of free discussion and the over-identification of extreme conservatism with orthodoxy. Authority that cannot be challenged becomes tyranny as the history of religion amply demonstrates.

Job, or the poet-Job, may have been the first dissenter to insist on calling God to accountability and refusing to be intimidated or silenced. Job teaches us that it is for each person to negotiate the terms of submission to a higher authority and that when confronted with injustice, questioning is more righteous than accepting. Without the dissenters who came to this country two hundred years ago we may not have had the American revolution. Could it have been the multitude of political dissenters reaching critical mass throughout that society and the Gulag Archipelagro prison system that brought down Communism as much as economic bankruptcy, American weapon superiority or Gorbachev's Perestroika?

The problem for the pastoral psychologist who becomes convinced that churches do not teach an adequate theology of marriage, and that Catholic teaching on sexual love wrecks many marriages, is that he has no forum for protest, when those who try to speak up are regarded as disloyal and silenced, and when the system itself is closed to discussion, particularly on this issue.

We do not understand enough how we sanctify each other through relationship or how sexuality is an archetype or metaphor of God. One survey showed that no adequate text on marriage exists for college theology. Since critical discussion has been suppressed for 25 years this is not surprising. Our theology of marriage, love or sexuality is simply not Incarnational. Catholic/Christian teaching about sex, love and marriage today is the outcome of almost two thousand years of the patriarchical view that women had no rights, that sex was impure, and marriage was only permitted for human weakness.

Catholic teaching on contraception is a faith inspired biological and non-relational view of sexuality. The pope does not justify his view that contraception is intrinsically evil by reference to scripture. He cannot do so. The New Testament, I suggest, does not even mention procreation as a goal of marriage but views sexuality as relational and therefore transcendentally. But hierarchy is unwilling to listen to laity, experts on marital relationships, or even its own theologians. Catholic teaching about sexuality, one must conclude, is more about power and privilege than about sexuality.

Because celibate theologians and bishops cannot understand the transcendent nature of human sexuality, they have no alternative to offer to public school sex education being taught at the same level as "Automobile Transmission Education." Neither hierarchy nor public schools tragically have any clue that they should be teaching "The Transcendent Fullness of Human Sexuality."

But most of all, Veritatis Splendor is simply a tragedy for the lives of millions of third world Catholics most of whom live in poverty. No social effect of this teaching concerning the evil of contraception is deemed worthy of consideration. The need for population control has not yet entered Catholic hierarchical consciousness.

Neither beauty of words nor respect for the office can motivate when the effect of this document is to further shun the usefulness and necessity of collegiality--one of the most important realizations concerning church to emerge in this century. Collegiality says we must listen to and learn from each other and that authority is best exercised when it emerges from consultation. Neither Pope nor hierarchy care how many

marriages Catholic teaching on birth control has wrecked. They have not asked, nor do they care to listen. Hierarchy are absolutely certain they are right. Therefore the encyclical is also a calamity for the vitality of the church.

One root of our problems today is lack of respect for authority because of the way authority of all kinds, both religious (including Catholic) and secular, has been misused. Veritatis Splendor undermines the very authority it hopes to enhance.

When consultation of those most intimately affected is shunned, when the result of the teaching is to place a heavy burden upon multitudes, when discussion is forbidden, when no basis for the teaching or for this kind of authority can be found in scripture, when the proclaimer insists upon his divine right to do all of this, and when the effect of this teaching on population and poverty is ignored, then respect for the proclaimer, his sources and his pulpit is not only diminished but perhaps even forfeited.

The Pope has asked for blind obedience to his view of sexual ethics, while totally neglecting the experience and wisdom of those laity who alone have the grace of marriage to live lovingly and sexually. He mandates this surrender of reason because he alone can interpret what is God's design for us and "because of the hierarchical constitution of the church." He knows that he is condemning most Catholics to living "in sin" and millions to poverty and malnutrition, yet insists that he alone has the right to do this.

There is no basis in the New or Old Testament for declaring contraception intrinsically evil. This unbiblical papal teaching has the effect of justifying several patriarchical myths: that God prefers hierarchy to democracy, that celibates are more qualified to legislate morality, that the joy and bonding of sex cannot be a path to God, that the Pope by his office is not accountable to the People of God, that collegiality is not necessary for the proper exercise of authority, and that hierarchy has nothing to learn from those who are living the sacrament of marriage. No distinction is made between fallible and infallible teaching. The content and the method of this encyclical is one of "spiritual monarchy," as it totally ignores the charisma of the People of God.

By forbidding dissent, the Pope is asking that the total surrender given to the Mystery of God, existing beyond all image and conception, be given to his authority. Every bishop already promises loyalty to the Pope as a condition of his consecration. Loyalty to the Holy Father's view of sexual ethics is now the new icon before which all Catholics must bow under pain of mortal sin. Because the Pope is asking for the absolute allegiance required by cult leaders for their own authority, this encyclical makes the Catholic Church into a cult.

The Pope has absolutized his authority and himself. He has fallen into the trap of every sincere believer of believing that his sincerity guarantees the rightness of his viewpoints and the wrongness of those who disagree. He does not trust bishops, theologians, priests or laity but only his "Sanctissimus" self to intuit God's will in these matters. The hidden agenda of this encyclical is monarchical power: the authority of the Pope. John Paul disempowers everyone else.

Genuine Pentecostal renewal cannot come by blind submission to authority but by trusting the Spirit and listening to the People of God. There is simply no mandate within scripture for this kind of sexual clarity nor within our Catholic tradition for this kind of absolute allegiance. Most American lics could care less about any of this as they will follow their own consciences as before and say little, even about the millions of third world children being raised in poverty and malnutrition.

The effect of this kind of teaching is to further undermine moral authority and to increase the nominalization of Catholic practice. God remains for many or most a "feel-good" Sunday morning hobby in which faith has nothing to do with passion for justice or solidarity with the poor. American suburban churches serve typically to isolate Christians from the least, the last and the lost of their own communities.

But bishops in third world countries will not dare support family planning by their governments now with new fear that they would be reported as disloyal and replaced. The papal insistence on the intrinsic evil of contraception makes the church which claims to be an "expert in humanity" into a train willing to crush the lives of millions of children with the chief engineer and most on-board certain that they are "glory-bound."

If he were really confident of his own theological positions, the Pope would allow these matters to be discussed critically in the public forum and allow distinguished theologians to publish their findings.But the Pope does not trust theologians nor the American or Latin church, nor laity. History may view him as a reactionary--who tried to force an Eastern European totalitarian mind-set on an increasingly democratic church. The recent Gallup poll published in NCR showed that even devout Catholics were increasingly unwilling to listen to hierarchy on matters of morality. The message of this encyclical is certainly justification for that kind of thinking, and further undermines the credibility of moral authority in a far reaching manner.

Respect for authority is the key issue in our society. Ask any public school teacher. This kind of papal teaching greatly contributes to people not listening and unfortunately caring less. It is an enormous failure in moral leadership and an embarrassment to the thinking Catholic for his church. There is no humility in this document: no awareness that the Pope himself and the hierarchy stand also under the judgment of God. I am sad that such a beautiful document is so essentially flawed by presumption, pride, and a blind phariseeism which it proclaims to deplore. But I am mostly distraught at the untold numbers of innocent children to be conceived in poverty because a celibate Pope insists contraception is intrinsically evil.

Among thousands of bishops and hundreds of episcopal conferences is there no Paul anywhere who will speak to Peter (Galatians 2)?

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