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It’s Not Just About Sex

April 4, 2013

A common criticism advanced against Catholics by secular society, and also by “liberal” Catholics against “conservatives” is that they are obsessively concerned with sexual morality.  In my personal opinion I think there is a bit of truth to this, though like any demagoguery it is often overstated and lacks nuance.  Today, however, I found a brief quote from Pope Francis that also seems to lean in this direction.  Sandro Magister has published brief excerpts from the autobiography of Cardinal Bergoglio—more properly, a book length interview published in Argentina in 2010.    Here is what the Pope had to say:

In another passage of the interview, Bergoglio criticizes those homilies “which should be ‘kerygmatic’ but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. This can be done, this cannot be done. This is wrong, this is not. And so we end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions. We overlook a very rich catechesis, with the mysteries of the faith, the creed, and we end up concentrating on whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms.”

I think the Pope has a point.   To get one straw man out of the way:  I am not saying, and I don’t think the Pope is saying that the Church should not preach and teach on sexual morality.  I think he is saying that this is not the sum total of Christian truth, and to focus on it is to both distort the Christian message and to prevent its effective hearing by a world that needs it.

  1. Sacerdotus permalink
    April 4, 2013 7:31 am

    I have often heard that the church leaders are too focused on the pelvic area I guess the current focus on gay marriage and gays in general would make the point.

    • April 4, 2013 11:05 am

      Do you think that the Church would be focusing on sexual morality and gay marriage if our secular society wasn’t so focused on those areas? Our culture has/is accepting of and is endorsing sexual promiscuity and gay marriage. If this wasn’t happening I doubt the Church would be openly defending and promoting traditional marriage and sexual ethics in our culture as much as they are now. If the Church was silent on these matters then the silence could mean the Church agrees with the culture on these issues. It could be almost considered a sin of omission if Church leaders didn’t speak up for Church teaching on these matters.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
        April 4, 2013 12:41 pm

        But does the Church focus on these topics to the exclusion of other pressing matters shaped by secular society? It seems that the Church chooses what it responds to. We have just gone through a period in which torture, in all its ugliness, was part of the national conversation and was, in fact, approved of at the highest levels. Yet somehow it seemed that the Church never cared as much about this issue (despite being both grave and an intrinsic evil) than about sexual matters.

        • April 4, 2013 4:42 pm

          Good question. Let’s see I hear the Church focusing on immigration, the poor, social justice – ex. speaking out on budget issues. As far as teaching the Sacraments, they definitely teach them to the congregation, fellow Catholics in the parishes, and have RCIA to teach the Faith to non-Catholics so it doesn’t seem like the Church is ignoring other important topics within the Church. Now, the Church may focus on the HHS mandate and sexual morality not equally but more so than other topics but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ignoring or not adequately addressing other topics within the Church.

          As far as torture goes, there is not one definition for what constitutes torture. Plus, because of the Church’s past with torture it hasn’t condemned it outright and certainly has not called certain acts you define as “torture” to be intrinsically evil. Don’t get me wrong the acts are evil but may be a necessary evil used very rarely.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          April 6, 2013 9:43 am

          Torture is not a “necessary evil”; it is an intrinsic evil and the Church defines it as such. If Catholics can argue otherwise, then perhaps the bishops have not have not spoken out about it as clearly and forcefully as they should, but they have consistently held to this position as the teaching of the Church (see here).

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        April 4, 2013 2:47 pm


        You apparently don’t know much about the history of your faith. The emphasis on sex today by the RC hierarchy is not even remotely close to the massive emphasis on it for many, many centuries in the past. This has always been the stock-in-trade of what we know of the preaching of the past. What pray tell, do you think all those indulgences were supposed to be used for?? Most people in history were NOT rich, so the sins of the rich did not occupy them. So the bulk of humanity at religious ideation trained on them in sermons in the form of (likely) quit unrelenting proscriptions and warnings about concupiscence.

        What has changed is that now some people in society are actually interested in changing the actual ideals of that morality. Strangely, that has resulted in less preaching on sex than ever before. That is a sign of PROGRESS. And it seems the Pope wants even less– good for him!

        The mistake you make, is one that is common. You assume that the spiritual life of incredibly recent vintage (!! I am not kidding it is literally since the popularity of cheap paperback book in the late 50’s and sixties, that recent!!) when the words of saints and their more subtle writings became available — you assume that is what most of RC history was like. NO. It was for the mass of people quite average sermons at Church mostly touching on the most common “sins” — sexual ones. Adjust thy perspective please. YOu Church has been up to this forever. (technical point: there was not as much theologizing per se about it all, and that indeed as an academic matter alone may be the result of the cultural climate that you mention. quite distinct from day to day religiosity of most people, that’s the point.)

        • April 4, 2013 4:55 pm

          Peter Paul,

          I want to say that I was talking about the culture’s emphasis on sexual issues and the Church’s reaction to the culture’s acceptance of sexual promiscuity and gay marriage. I didn’t say anything about the Church’s history so I’m not sure how you inferred that I stated the Church was more outspoken in defense of Catholic doctrine today than previously in history. I’m not saying that I’m an expert on the history of the Catholic Church. What I’m saying is I know some things, don’t know other things, but try to learn something new about the Catholic Church each day.

          I agree that as far as preaching from the pulpit the Church doesn’t do much teaching on sexual ethics. I think that is why so many Catholics are ill informed on Catholic sexual ethics. That is part of the reason many Catholics tend to go with what the culture says today when there is tension between what the Church teaches is acceptable and what our culture teaches is acceptable.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          April 4, 2013 10:18 pm


          But the main reason they are not saying as much of it, is because it didn’t work out so well for them in history. Take masturbation, which for millennia was anathematized by the RC Church with a whole constellation of utterly false notions in the psychological and even medical realm. All false. Even they don’t want to claim them anymore, for it could be considered pure abuse to do so. So what is left, some wan theology about the proper “ends” of sexual release. This is why the theological end has become so hyped up, and the homiletic downplayed. Their proscriptions sound absurd next to ANY reputable theory of human development. But add some theological complexity and it is almost like tying a rosary around………which actually used to be suggested to seminarians, i have on good authority.

        • Paul DuBois permalink
          April 5, 2013 7:42 am

          So what Peter Paul is pointing out is that when the Church preached to the poor and powerless she did not preach about social justness and the abuse of power, she instead preached about sexual morality and the need to convert their everyday lives to the ways of Christ. Whereas today when she preaches to relatively wealth Americans and the political powers of the world through public addresses she is more likely to speak about justice for all people. This seems like preachers are pointing out the areas where those they are preaching to need to improve. I do not need to be preached to about sins I do not (or cannot) commit, I need to hear about what I am doing wrong that I need to change.

  2. April 4, 2013 8:36 am

    I think he is saying that this is not the sum total of Christian truth, and to focus on it is to both distort the Christian message and to prevent its effective hearing by a world that needs it.

    Our culture in the west, at least in the USA, is over-sexualized anyway. Everything is about sex in some form or another. Watch any 30 minutes of television and the 12 minutes of commercials that you see during those 30 minutes all utilize sex in some form or fashion. Even the whole debate about marriage equality derives some of the impetus from an identity of a person defined entirely by the story of their sexuality, as if that is the only thing about them that matters.

    Life is more than what goes on between the sheets… I think Francis is right on the money here.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      April 4, 2013 10:59 am

      “Our culture in the west, at least in the USA, is over-sexualized anyway.”

      Is our culture over-sexualized in comparisons across both space and time, or is it just that we live in a society that expresses its interest in sexuality freely through a now overpowering media? This may be a chicken/egg problem, but having seen the pornographic marginalia on the Bayeux tapestry, I have often wondered if we really are over-sexualized compared to, say, medieval France, or if we are just expressing it in new and intrusive ways.

      • April 4, 2013 11:02 am

        This may be a chicken/egg problem, but having seen the pornographic marginalia on the Bayeux tapestry, I have often wondered if we really are over-sexualized compared to, say, medieval France, or if we are just expressing it in new and intrusive ways.

        You have a good point. Although, the fact that we identify ourselves by our sexuality seems to point towards something more than just a matter of means of expression. I’m not saying that sexuality in the west has not been a conversation in the past, it just seems that it’s become more than just conversation…it’s identity. Pro-life/pro-choice… it comes down to sex. Marriage equality – even in this conversation we have to label ourselves as “hetero” or “homo”.

        I dunno… perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it seems that sexual identity is one of, it not THE, primary story that we in the west engage in for our identity.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          April 4, 2013 12:38 pm

          Actually, thinking more I think you have hit on something. I think “sexual identity” is a fairly recent construct. My understanding is that the notion of a homo/heterosexual identity is a 19th century innovation, and that prior to that thinking centered on acts: one did things as to being something.

  3. April 4, 2013 10:23 am

    There is most certainly more fullness to the Faith than sexual morality. Good post!

  4. Julia Smucker permalink*
    April 4, 2013 11:27 am

    A true and worthy point, David. I would just add that the Catholic Left is often just as guilty of over-obsessiveness about sexual morality when they want to fall back on the handy stereotype that Church leadership doesn’t care about anything else. When the left and the right have their own vested interests in stereotyping the hierarchy this way (which is all too often), they conveniently ignore what is taught about, say, social justice – despite that social and sexual morality are interrelated within Catholic Social Teaching.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      April 4, 2013 12:46 pm

      Julia your point is well taken, but I think you need to move beyond what the Church teaches to examining what it is truly passionate about. Some years ago the Knights of Columbus passed two pro-life (in the broadest sense) resolutions at its annual meeting, one opposing the death penalty and the other opposing abortion. So far so good: they were reflecting the fullness of Catholic teaching in this area. But the motion on abortion was several hundred words and was really passionate: a rallying call to the troops. The anti-death penalty one was much shorter and had no energy. At the time I caricatured it as saying, “The Church has told us that we are to oppose the death penalty, so we hereby vote to oppose it.”

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        April 4, 2013 2:33 pm

        Well, the Knights of Columbus can hardly be taken as a representative cross-section of the Church, still less of its leadership, and given their typical political leanings, your anecdote doesn’t surprise me. On the other hand, I’ve noticed in the past few days that the US bishops have been sticking to their guns, so to speak, in calling for legislation to regulate firearms.

    • April 7, 2013 9:22 am

      Once again, Julia hits the nail on the head. Pope Francis both addresses and models a Christian life of simplicity and dedication to the poor and marginalized, but the Catholic left suspends judgment about his authenticity until they see what he will say about the issues that really matter most to them, like gay marriage.

      • Ronald King permalink
        April 7, 2013 3:28 pm

        “…but the Catholic left suspends judgment about his authenticity until they see what he will say about the issues that really matter most to them, like gay marriage.” Ron, why make a statement like that, unless, you’re bored.

        • April 8, 2013 2:09 am

          Because, like most people who have turned their religion into an ideology–which is very typical of “post-modernists”–he is unwilling to give his brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt, to believe that we care about a lot of other things than just “gay marriage.” From what I’ve been able to discern, even those of us who are “gay” are Christian enough to perceive that the “marriage equality” issue only affects about 10% of the folks we love, and so THOSE particular “brothers and sisters in Christ” give it the measured, but fair amount of attention, in terms of our” progressive” agenda for the Church–not so much, as, say, the empowerment of women in the Church With his comments, Chandonoia proves that he’s a true hater, and not so much a Christian as the folks he’s always pillorying.

        • April 8, 2013 8:13 am

          Because it’s true. I’ve been following the comboxes on NCR, and that is exactly what is happening.

  5. Commoner permalink
    April 4, 2013 1:34 pm

    All I can say to PF is good luck getting Catholics (at least here in the States) to think of much of anything but sex.

    It’s all sex, all the time, especially now that we have the likes of Chris West and TOB.

    I’m no prude, but what a breath of fresh air it would be if we could just have some balance and hear about some others sins and virtues every once in a while.

    The all-sex-all-the-time approach to Catholicism clearly isn’t keeping people, especially the youth, in the pews. Maybe Francis can help bring about a sea change. Who knows.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      April 8, 2013 2:10 am

      I honestly believe that he will be able to. I’m suspecting that the cardinals accidently elected a saint.

    • Kerberos permalink
      April 8, 2013 5:17 pm


      How is West anything more than a pornographer ? He’s not alone in his horrible obsessions, unfortunately. At least in the UK his filth is a sideshow – the pity is that it gets any support. Especially if, as his critics say, he has misrepresented JP2’s doctrine – that makes his stuff even more reprehensible & even more dangerous. I thought bishops were supposed to protect the faithful against such stuff. As usual, they prove they are totally useless, except for corrupting the Church. That must be their superpower.

      “I’m no prude, but what a breath of fresh air it would be if we could just have some balance and hear about some others sins and virtues every once in a while.”

      ## Excellent advice. For instance: sloth, pride, avarice, gluttony, envy, wrath, singularity – & among virtues: detachment, mercy, long-suffering, equity.

      Among things that I would not miss is the elevation of equality to the rank of Deadly Virtue. It’s become a sort of ersatz charity. As St. Paul says in chapter 13 of his newly-discovered Epistle to the Naciremans: “Now these four abide: creativity, tolerance, spontaneity and equality. And the greatest of these is equality”.

  6. Agellius permalink
    April 4, 2013 2:30 pm

    “I think he is saying that this is not the sum total of Christian truth, and to focus on it is to both distort the Christian message and to prevent its effective hearing by a world that needs it.”

    Of course it’s not the sum total. But you can’t focus on everything all the time. Sometimes you have to focus on one part and sometimes on another.

    If his point is that people always focus on one part — sexual morality — to the neglect of the rest, well, of course that’s not ideal. But it would be refreshing to me to come across one non-TLM parish that preaches sexual morality for even one Sunday of the year.

    • April 6, 2013 5:53 pm

      With the exception of the past two years, I cannot recall a parish having any homily on sexual morality. There have been plenty of homilies on social justice however.

  7. April 4, 2013 7:58 pm

    The rank hypocrisy on this subject is fascinating to behold.

    The “marriage equality” movement among “gays” and lesbians HAS been a consistent attempt to move the discussion of equal rights for “same-sex-attracted” people AWAY from discussion of sexual practices and toward discussion of self-sacrifice, acceptance of responsibilities and awareness by everybody that people should be judged solely by how they treat their fellow human beings, and especially how they treat children.

    Some of you folks apparently want to let the Catholic Church have it any which way it pleases–and, especially, to play to the peanut galleries of popular prejudice. To wit: the Church says that it prioritizes the chastity of her priests and honours their commitment to preserve it–says that she values people strictly according to their conformity to her standards of social justice and morality, but then turns around and “essentializes” her priest-candidates by saying that “same-sex-attracted” candidates need not apply, no matter how scrupulous many of her “same-sex-attracted” servants have been, in the past, in their observance of their vows.
    t’s as if they are saying that Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Father Judge of 9/11 self-sacrifice couldn’t possibly have been true to their promises at their ordination.

    And then the Catholic Church in America turns around and joins with the Protestant Fundamentalists and pillories the “marriage equality” movement as being THE major social force in destroying so-called “traditional marriage,” conveniently letting the Protestant heretics believe that our concept of marriage is fundamentally different from theirs, and that ours is FUNDAMENTALLY more challenged by their majority-population acceptance of serial monogamy in the form of their massive acceptance of the morality of divorce than it ever could be by the “gay marriage” of an infinitesimally small population of Americans; THIS , of course is THE major issue in preserving the uniquely Catholic tradition of marriage in the Christian world, but Catholics are willing to let the Evangelicals think that their bed-hopping (check out the divorce statistics of “liberal” Catholic Massachusetts, as opposed to, say, Prot-Fundo South Carolina) is, in our opinion, not so great a threat to OUR kind of marriage as “gay marriage” is. If it weren’t so lunatic, it’d hilarious!

    I used to be opposed to “gay marriage” and in favour of “civil unions” for “gays” instead, but it’s been the ferocity of the CATHOLIC Church’s attacks on “gay” folks basic human rights and dignity—as well as the intellectual dishonesty practised in the debate on the subject that has won my support for it. As I recently wrote on my Facebook page:

    The Americans live in a Christian-heretical society that ignores the sanction imposed against divorce that is explicitly proclaimed in the Gospel of Matthew. From a theological standpoint, it does this, historically, in order to follow Luther in his proclamation, as he married a nun, that Christ gave His followers that decree, “in order to convict us of our sins” (Luther’s TABLE TALK)–saying, in other words, that man’s weakness for carnal lust was irresistible and that the Christians’ Saviour had given His followers that rule “with His tongue” far “in His cheek”–thereby picturing Christ as some kind of trickster-god. This is a truly perverted, monstrous version of the deity (and exactly what Empson calls it in MILTON’S GOD), and it has contributed directly to the institutionalization of “serial monogamy” in English-speaking countries. It is NOT “traditional marriage” in any Christian sense, because it’s NOT sacramental, and certainly not “made in the eyes of God,” because, if it were, it’d be accepted that it’s eternal, and that, after divorce, there may be no re-marriage, because that would be to break a covenant that’s made as much to God as to one’s spouse. So, to deny “gay” folk access to an institution that’s ALREADY become cut off from its roots in Western Christian culture is simply hypocritical and cruel. “Gays” have as much right to access the revolving door (divorce) of American serial monogamy as all the other heretics do.

    • April 4, 2013 9:51 pm

      There should be an “edit” function here!

      believe that our concept of marriage is fundamentally different from theirs, and that ours

      That should read “that our concept of marriage ISN’T fundamentally different from theirs, and FORGET that ours…

      I think the other typo is obvioous.

    • Jordan permalink
      April 4, 2013 10:04 pm

      Okay, your comment is totally awesome, dismasdolben. I completely agree with your assessment of American hetero marriage. Just this comment.

      Luther in his proclamation, as he married a nun, that Christ gave His followers that decree, “in order to convict us of our sins” (Luther’s TABLE TALK)–saying, in other words, that man’s weakness for carnal lust was irresistible and that the Christians’ Saviour had given His followers that rule “with His tongue” far “in His cheek”–thereby picturing Christ as some kind of trickster-god.

      I think you’ve written about this before. It’s a rather common quip about Luther (again, prurient post/modern societies). Then again, a glance at Luther’s world demostrates why he would be skeptical of the durability of the marriage institution. The (ex-) Augustinian from Thuringia was born into the dying embers of feudalism. The vast majority of the European population was either enthralled to either bishops and abbots who likely did not keep their vows, or enthralled to nobles who often swapped mistresses like one would turn in a car at the end of a lease. It’s well established that Martin Luther actually kept his vow of chastity while he was an Austin friar. He died still wed to Katharina von Bora. From a Roman standpoint Luther was (and is, perhaps) a rouge friar, but by the standards of his day his marital life was saintly.

      American evangelicalism is a mishmash of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, with a huge dollop of biblically illiterate preaching. Although this is the majority faith of the United States, American evangelicalism is not intellectually solid and therefore inclined to antinomianism on divorce among other points. It should be remembered that Luther was no antinomianist. Luther recognized, possibly after seeing the depravity of his day, that the Gospel injunctions against divorce could not be maintained precisely because he believed conscipuence is sin. Since Rome believes conscipuence and sin are related but nevertheless different, it can claim that the Gospel injunctions are positive laws and not Christ’s ironic remarks on human weakness and suffering.

      • dismasdolben permalink
        April 5, 2013 9:46 pm

        Frankly, I always find the attempts to exculpate Martin Luther of his crimes extremely suspicious. As W.H. Auden pointed out in the aftermath of World War II, no single Christian theologian was ever as bloodthirsty in his approach to Jewry as Luther was. His “reasoning” about the Jews, when they refused to accept his “reformed” version of Christianity, is one of the prime moving forces in German culture of its virulent–and persistent–anti-Semitism. The schyzophrenic Augustinian friar was a monster of egoism, who attempted to set himself up as “the pope” of German Christianity, as Erasmus put it. It wasn’t enough for him to “reform” the institutional Church–that would have resulted in something as innocuous as Anglicanism; instead, he actually perverted orthodox theology, de-emphasizing Jesus and over-emphasizing St. Paul and Augustine of Hippo. And, as I said, the crematoriums of Dachau and Auschwitz are implicit in what he said about the Jews. Auden actually said that, bluntly, and I agree.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          April 6, 2013 11:07 am

          Cuius regio, eius religio .

          I don’t really disagree about Luther. I might have preferred even Pope Julius II, or Leo who had that great portrait painted with his relatives who were very young Cardinals. The sad fact is that corruption is sometimes less harmful than fanaticism.

          But, buddy, you are a bit askew if you think Anglicanism as “innocuous”. I forced myself to read to the very end of Diarmid Macullochj’s giant biography (900 plus pages if memory serves) though by the end I was ready to throw up. Ironically, in the end it did not even figure in my research significantly. Read it if you need to be reminded what an unimpressive lot we human beings are.

        • Jordan permalink
          April 7, 2013 8:55 pm

          dismasdolben [April 5, 2013 9:46 pm]: His “reasoning” about the Jews, when they refused to accept his “reformed” version of Christianity, is one of the prime moving forces in German culture of its virulent–and persistent–anti-Semitism.

          No doubt. Little of Luther’s theology is not overshadowed in one way or another by his extremely virulent antisemitism. While Luther cannot be excused from the antimoral monstrosity he wrought, I suspect that there is a ur-antisemitism of the central European peoples which predates Luther even if Luther played no small part in greatly magnifying the potency of antisemitism. As someone who is an American of greatly attenuated Polish descent, I can attest that even in the postwar period Poles harbored a not insignificant antipathy towards Jews. Lutheranism made few inroads into Poland, so a direct link with Luther’s writings is not as probable a reason for Polish antisemitism. I’m not sure that Luther is the sole culprit for the deeply embedded antisemitism in other central European cultures, even if his writings definitely and directly influenced German antisemitism.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        April 6, 2013 11:09 am

        That is Mucculoch biography of Cranmer, I meant.

        • April 6, 2013 8:39 pm

          Peter Paul, I don’t consider Cranmer to have been an “Anglican” in the sense I meant. The “Anglicans” are the Oxford Movement of Keble, Pusey, et. al.–the ones who produced Newman. Cranmer was a radical Protestant, and, if Henry VIII had ever known the true ramifications of Cranmer’s beliefs, he probably would have burnt him. By the same token, Elizabeth I never quite understood that Cecil was a radical Protestant republican and that his campaigns against Mary Stuart were part of his surreptitious efforts to undermine “divine right” monarchy, which Elizabeth I believed in. The modern scholarship regarding the “government projection” of the conspiracy that Mary Stuart became involved in is fascinating in this regard. Elizabeth I was duped into signing Mary Stuart’s death warrant.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          April 6, 2013 9:17 pm


          What I glean is that you have more faith in people generally, and a more sanguine view of human nature. I won’t try to argue you out of it, but the opposite has worked quite well for me. The less you expect from people, especially historical characters the better. Then if there is virtue, you are delighted, and surprised. I like to be thankful.

          As to the specific question of all those Tractarians, I think they really, are ironically best represented by the general cultural theme of Pre-Raphaelism. For all their talk of apotheosizing medieval verities of a profound and suffering sort, they see, more like the pretty gaze of a Rossetti painting, or maybe Burne-Jones. This is why, to my mind, they are so popular. It is a pretty-pretty view of life, and Catholicism at bottom, and it has a desired touch of “ye olde” Englishness to boot.

          Btw, this is also why this general aesthetic trope appeals to very exercised right-wing Catholics. For instance, the incredible producer and moderator of the G.K. Chesteron series on EWTN named Dale Alquist actually once offered that Bougereau was the high-point of Western Art. Pre-Raphaelitism is a kissin’ cousin of that art…..and thinking.

        • April 7, 2013 11:29 am

          High-church Anglicanism as soft-focus Medievalism? Sounds about right. I think the same pre-Raphaelite type thing applies not only to “exercised right-wing” Catholics but to a lot of overly-intellectual converts (and I speak from experience here) who aren’t really “right-wing” but are drawn to a certain type of “traditional” (soft-focus Medieval) Catholicism as a sort of flight from the big, bad, nasty Modern World. I would bet you that if you picked a hundred people who converted to Catholicism as adults, and who did so out of intellectual conviction (as opposed to converting for a spouse, etc.), ninety or more of them would be big fans of Chesterton, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, as well as being more than a little in the orbit of science fiction and fantasy fandom. Once more, I speak from experience–that used to be me, though I never went too far along with the right-wing interpretation of Church history, and I’ve mostly gotten over the fleeing from reality and mistaking a pre-Raphaelite vision with the real Middle Ages thing.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          April 8, 2013 12:00 pm


          Thanks! I wish I could take your perfect and knowledgeable comment here, and somehow magically require that every right-wing Catholic site print it as a blog post. Not very likely because basically all of those sites allow no dissenting views at all from their line– I’ve tried, for fun.

          Who doesn’t love having their views confirmed. But it is not just for that rather unvirtuous pleasure that I enjoyed your comment especially. Also if confirms something that I have been thinking about as a research topic, and may blossom as such in the future, if I can really get my mind around the rather tectonic shift that is involved culturally.

          You know, connecting with the thread just a bit up this page, there are some odd things to be “bitter” about vis-a-vis even one’s engagement with reactionary types. Culturally, one of the good things arguably about reactionary types for most of Western history was that they were staunch preservationists of the culture. But now we seem to be down the rabbit hole truly in the West, and those same reactionary types are devotees of the very worst art and music. There is a character that holds forth on the Catholic Vote Action site named Bradley Birzer with posts of the most contorted reactionary logic about politics and morality. And then he writes posts about some horrible band he loves. That the bizarre contradictions of these people’s lives don’t make them feel personally silly is amazing to me. And if I would admit to bitterness at all in life, it is on an admittedly odd subject like that. I want to say — you are not even being good reactionaries, what good are ya’?!

          And, turmarion, you will not be surprised to hear that Bradley Birzer, a professor of history at some truly bespoke reactionary university, has written a book on the “Sanctifying Myth” of Tolkien. Thus, you said more than your realized, but maybe you did!

          And, turmarion, you will not surprised to

    • Agellius permalink
      April 4, 2013 11:19 pm


      You’re a bitter, bitter man.

      • April 5, 2013 7:36 am

        I know, but I keep my “bitterness” somewhat in check by living outside of the United States.

        • Agellius permalink
          April 5, 2013 10:51 am

          We know. We know.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        April 5, 2013 6:30 pm


        Looks like the Bitter Old Queens are out to get you. LOL. Fight the good fight. Btw, the B.O.Q.’s always think others are more bitter than they are.

        Cultural deduction, ex-pat types like you are usually the opposite of bitter. (more the driven type, am I rights??) For you got to stay in one place for a long time, marinating for years and years, to be really bitter.

        Ora et labora.

      • Ronald King permalink
        April 7, 2013 4:14 pm

        Digby/Dismas, if I may interject, being honest about being bitter is a strength and blessing and is indicative of a vulnerable human being. Those who do not have the insight to be aware of their bitterness tend to remain rigid in their core beliefs about faith and humanity.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          April 7, 2013 5:50 pm


          That is a good point, and a sly one, if you don’t mind me saying so. I would make a collateral observation. That almost anything in human experience can be turned into something good, for as the ancient religious instinct and insight goes— God can bring the good out of the bad. And so for bitterness as well.

          On this very point let me add this. One of the lovely things in my life was that when I was a young man I was friends with the quite noteworthy philosopher Samuel Todes. He was a real influence on me. I also was happy to know his partner of many years, the famous poet Daryl Hine. I did not know Daryl nearly as well as I knew Sam, but I was fond of him because of our
          friendship, but also because he had been a seminarian once too like myself.
          I cherish the memory of their stay at our house, with so much irreplaceable conversation.

          Sadly, I also remember the day Paul and I received a card from Daryl telling us that Sam had died of colon cancer, suddenly discovered, just after going to a philosophical conference on the Philosophy of the Body in California (Santa Cruz if memory serves) where Sam’s very special take on the phenomenology of the body was finally starting to be given the prominent position it deserved.

          Coping with such a loss, at such a time, is perhaps a good example of a “good” reason for bitterness. And proving that such a feeling can be transmogrified into great art, is the poem which the Paris Review published online in honor of Daryl’s own recent death:

          “A Rebours

          Time’s one-way traffic won’t reverse
          Summer’s sentimental course
          Or force the headlong universe
          Perversely backwards to its source.

          Reverting to the title page
          Cannot erase a book once read;
          What echo of a golden age
          Gilds an eternity of lead?

          All the spontaneous happenings
          Of the erotic pantomime.
          Precipitate, straightforward lovers
          Intimate that certain things
          Are irreversible as time.”

        • Ronald King permalink
          April 7, 2013 9:11 pm

          That was beautiful. Thank you

  8. Ronald King permalink
    April 4, 2013 8:07 pm

    The Church needs to focus on the healing of souls but focusing on morality does not necessarily create healing, rather, in my opinion it creates a tension between being good and being bad without a deeper understanding of the dynamics of healing. A soul is ill due to a loss of or a lack of love and exists in isolation from this awareness as it attempts to numb or lessen its existential pain. A soul’s identity and its relationship to the world is built around this defensive/protective shield. Healing can only begin through a relationship with an empathetic other rather than a moralistic other.

  9. Commoner permalink
    April 4, 2013 8:47 pm

    I guess I am a bit surprised to hear that nobody else is hearing about abortion, pornography and contraception from the pulpit, because we certainly are in our parish. Co-habiting/premarital sex (other than maybe a very cursory mention every now and then) and divorce/remarriage (these two actually are causes for support groups in our Church, not preaching from the pulpit–with annulments so freely handed out, I suppose there is no reason they shouldn’t be) seem to pretty much get a pass, but we do hear about abortion, pornography and contraception quite a bit.

    The one book my daughter brought home from her confirmation class was a book that was divided into two parts “Theology of the Body for HIM” and “Theology of the Body for HER”. She has to write a paper on each section. It was all I could not to roll my own eyes right along with hers.

    Our priest is not a very kind man (can be quite mean to the altar servers—it’s all about the show, and God forbid one of the altar servers screw up his show), but he certainly preaches about pornography and contraception, and the Church “evangelist” (paid position) is ALL about TOB. Which is exactly why confirmation preparation is all about TOB.

    I would not say we are a particularly conservative parish, although this priest is certainly much more about adhering to the liturgical rulebook than our previous one was. Still, we are not anywhere close to being a TLM church, not by a long shot.

  10. Commoner permalink
    April 4, 2013 8:52 pm

    Forgot to add, we hear a lot about “traditional marriage”, too (despite the fact we hear crickets on divorce/remarriage). And the HHS mandate, and the fact that we Christians are being persecuted. That last one is a pet peeve of mine, but oh well.

    • Thales permalink
      April 5, 2013 7:20 pm

      To me, it sounds like a better than average parish! :) (To each, their own… the Church is universal.)

      • Commoner permalink
        April 7, 2013 4:42 pm

        Truly! I don’t feel spiritually fed by this priest, but I realized a long time ago that 1) being Catholic is not about the feeling you get, and 2) looking to priests to fulfill any need beyond that of receving the sacraments is beyond naive.

        So we carry on.

  11. Paul DuBois permalink
    April 5, 2013 7:51 am

    I don’t know where people have been hearing their sermons and what Catholic publications they have been reading. Yes, since abortion, gay marriage, promiscuity and the bombardment of our society with sexual imagery, adultery and fornication are all current problems and greatly discussed the Church lends her voice and thoughts on these topics. But over the last 40 years I have heard many sermons that have touched me, angered me and shamed me, sermons that have provoked thought and caused boredom. But fewer than 10% of the sermons I have heard and the articles I have seen (probably way fewer) discussed sex, much less sex in a negative way. I guess if you include the discussions of the HSS mandate and abortion(which are not really about sex) then the total reaches 10%.

  12. April 5, 2013 8:45 am

    I’m very much in agreement. I think it’s worth pointing out, though, that doing something about it is harder than it might sound. Vox Nova is not at all a sex-obsessed blog; but it’s still the case that (by my very rough count) about one out of every seven posts since the beginning of the year has made reference to something pertaining to sexual morality (and this is a period that sees a change of popes and the most sacred holiday of the year). I say this not as any criticism (e.g., at least some of the ones referring to sexual issues I think say things worth saying, like this post), but just as an example of the fact that there’s a contagiousness to this kind of distortion — when everyone else is constantly talking and arguing about things, it becomes salient in one’s own discussions, automatically, and becomes hard not to talk about. Expanding the discussion takes an active effort of getting everyone to look at other things, starting with ourselves.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      April 5, 2013 9:05 am

      Well put. I have realized for a while that if I want to draw a lot of traffic, then I know that a post on sex, in any flavor, is more likely to draw attention than anything else. The two exceptions that come to mind were my posts on the Neo-catechumenal Way and the post on what to say to parents of a newborn with Down Syndrome. (These actually get traffic to this day.) So the next time I post on something else, I hope you will all come back and comment just as vigorously! :-)

  13. Doc Fox permalink
    April 5, 2013 12:13 pm

    “I think he is saying that this is not the sum total of Christian truth, and to focus on it is to both distort the Christian message and to prevent its effective hearing by a world that needs it.”
    Amen. A Church of ‘do nots’ and a Church of ‘do!’ are each incomplete without the other. Presently I suspect that 75% of Americans think the CatholicChurch is only about abortion and birth control. Jesus’ preaching was about quite different stuff, and our new Holy Father is very aware of that, praise be!

    • Jordan permalink
      April 5, 2013 4:32 pm

      Doc Fox [April 5, 2013 12:13 pm]: Presently I suspect that 75% of Americans think the CatholicChurch is only about abortion and birth control. Jesus’ preaching was about quite different stuff, and our new Holy Father is very aware of that, praise be!

      The reason why many Americans think that Catholicism is just about abortion, birth control, and hatin’ on teh gheyz is because the American hierarchy has made a blood pact with the Republican Party. The sooner the American Church can realize that it’s spinning its wheels trying to put its mark on Congress, the better it’ll be equipped to preach the Word. The formation of a political pact with evangelicalism and big business in the vain hope that the imposition of prohibitive laws will change hearts hasn’t worked for the last forty years and will prove worthless forty years’ hence.

  14. Pdogg permalink
    April 6, 2013 12:29 am

    I have heard only one sermon on sex in the last thirty years (love the sinner, hate the sin on homosexuality in the early 90s). Abortion has been mentioned in passing, but never any teaching from the pulpit on sexual morality.

  15. trellis smith permalink
    April 6, 2013 5:30 am

    Other then applying the golden rule all other sexual morality formulations are suspect. Every other unitive moral theory falters when confronted by the imprecision of the daily encounter It is the willingness to understand the motivations of our hearts and engage the circumstances of one’s obligations,and relationships that must inform our moral choices and thus form the basis of the morality for each individual sexual act.

    If as he says he came to give us life abundant then most likely an arid sexually nor a cold hearted jumping from bed to bed with shirt tails aflame, is what he had in mind
    but spare me all the other spun sugar of concupiscence or natural law purposes or ends,
    Most of what we label sin in sex, as Lily Tomlin observed is merely a matter of taste-bad taste being the sin.

  16. April 6, 2013 4:49 pm


    The Church has not specifically identified what constitutes torture de fide. The Church has torture in its past so if it did define and condemn torture authoritatively (de fide) from the Magisterium then the Church would be admitting a fallibility on Her part which is impossible. Just because the USCCB puts out a statement doesn’t make it infallible, something they identify to be intrinsically evil, only if it was declared de fide my the Magisterium and their statement backs that up or is in line with the Magisterium. Even in the description of what constitutes “torture” or what someone could give as an answer the document says “Responses may include some of the following: ” It doesn’t say Catholics must consider these to be torture. It says these may be among the answers given.

    The Church gives the United Nations definition of torture ““any act by which
    severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a
    person” to obtain information or a confession, and where such an act is allowed by a
    public official.” The terms “severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental” is subjective for some things that some people consider to be torture and others don’t consider to be torture. Obviously things like burning flesh and pulling out finger nails constitutes torture.

    Must take a break for now so I will continue response later on.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      April 6, 2013 5:13 pm

      Unfortunately for your argument Theresa, the Church has admitted it made a mistake on this matter. From the Catechism, 2297-8:

      “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

      “In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person.”

      • April 6, 2013 6:25 pm

        The Church apologized for the things it did not deem to be necessary. But that doesn’t make what the Church (or those within the Church) did as being intrinsically evil. It doesn’t mean that even some of the practices today which some people claim to be torture to really be “torture” or “intrinsically evil.” Plus we need to take all of tradition into consideration , meaning not only what has been said recently. Plus, would you consider self-mortification which some saints did, to be “torture” even torture of oneself? To me that is similar to the practices some call torture today. But if we consider self-mortification to be a good thing for both the flesh and the spirit then that would be contrary to some of what is claimed to be intrinsically evil today and in the past..

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          April 6, 2013 6:33 pm

          Please, defend waterboarding. I would be fascinated to see how you could justify that it is not torture and not intrinsically evil.

        • April 7, 2013 2:22 pm

          I will do so sometime soon. I started not feeling well last week but now I definitely feel under the weather (probably have an infection; thought having a hysterectomy would help reduce infections…guess not) and will try to defend later but I can tell you now it won’t be my best defense on the issue.

          Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          April 7, 2013 4:43 pm

          Teresa, irrespective, you have my prayers for health and well being! God speed.

        • April 7, 2013 6:18 pm

          Thank you David. I really appreciate that.

          I will start with this. I believe that techniques such as waterboarding should be used rarely. I believe that for the average “Joe or Joanne” (at least most people) that hasn’t had any training military, terrorist or otherwise, the physical and mental stress would constitute torture. In addition I do believe that waterboarding is not good but is in fact evil. I just don’t believe waterboarding to be intrinsically evil. Terrorists train to be able to withstand interrogation techniques. If they are mentally prepared to die for their cause I also think that gives some idea into the terrorists disposition and mental state. This is where I believe that the terrorists physical and mental capabilities of endurance are superior to the average person. This is why I believe that waterboarding when used on the military in training and on terrorists does not constitute torture and does not constitute waterboarding as being intrinsically evil. If the military can legitimately use waterboarding for purposes of training that wouldn’t make watrboarding intrinsically evil.
          I fully respect your position on waterboarding and on torture in general. I actually changed my mind on the issue and held the same position as you for about a month and a half. Then I reverted back to my original position. God Bless.

        • trellis smith permalink
          April 7, 2013 1:53 am

          hell David i wonder how she defends self mortification, a pretty sick practice no matter who does it.

        • April 7, 2013 11:36 am

          Plus, would you consider self-mortification which some saints did, to be “torture” even torture of oneself?

          I think that’s improperly conflating two separate things, and in the case of mortification, it’s sort of a case-by-case basis. Still (and maybe David can help me out on this), somewhere, either in the Little Flowers or in Celano’s biography of St. Francis, there’s a story in which, late in Francis’s life, one of his disciples gently chides him for his extreme asceticism, and Francis admits that Brother Ass has been the vehicle through which he as served God, and that he has indeed been too hard on him (i.e., on his own body). Even holy mortification admits of degrees and context; and that is nothing at all like torturing another.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          April 7, 2013 4:40 pm

          I recall this passage, but do not have it at hand. But St. Francis was definitely expressing some regret that he had been so hard on “Brother Ass”.

        • Ronald King permalink
          April 8, 2013 7:51 am

          I believe self mortification and “Brother Ass” can be lovingly connected through long distance running.

  17. Julia Smucker permalink*
    April 6, 2013 8:30 pm

    The assumption that anything the Church has ever condoned cannot be wrong is used to justify some extremely ugly things – even gravely and intrinsically evil things. We desperately need an ecclesiology that enables us to trust a Church that admits mistakes, because for some of her members, any hint of ecclesial repentance creates an irresolvable tension.

    • April 7, 2013 11:39 am

      Amen, sister! Absolutely agreed!

    • Flowerson permalink
      April 7, 2013 6:00 pm

      Or we need a moral paradigm that isn’t so hopelessly presentist in terms of its (largely “political”) values, which would realize that the superstructure created by the relations of production in our current age do not necessarily represent a progress other than technological (and that, in any case, these relations of production didn’t exist in past ages, so the social and political and economic structures would likewise be different, and rightly so). Any complaints about past church teaching (on, say, slavery) which are dependent on a state of “liberation” only possible according to our current class structure…is not “catholic” at all, it’s just naive. Technological knowledge is cumulative, thus there is a certain directionality to the relations of production and thus superstructure. But the fact that a given social arrangement (and the public morality inherent in that) corresponds to a more progressed stage of production capacity does NOT have any bearing on its objective moral worth.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
        April 7, 2013 6:52 pm

        How delightful: classical Marxism in defense of Catholic traditionalism. I think.

        • Flowerson permalink
          April 7, 2013 7:15 pm

          Indeed. The enemies of the bourgeois world order must all be friends.

  18. Mark VA permalink
    April 7, 2013 6:41 am

    The remark quoted in this post was made by the then Cardinal Bergoglio in or before 2010. It stands to reason to allow for an assumption that he was addressing not the entire Universal Church, but Her particular instance in his archdiocese, or possibly in Argentina. His reference to “… whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms”, I think bolsters the assumption that he was speaking of local conditions.

    The perspective from the chair of Peter is a global one, and in my view, we simply don’t have enough of his actions, sermons, encyclicals, speeches, writings, etc. as Pope, to make any meaningful comments on the particular trajectory of his tenure.

    One thing I do believe – he is and will remain a faithful Vicar of Christ, will find his unique voice as Peter, and we’ll be better for it. His actions so far indicate to me that he will not be floundering in this respect.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      April 7, 2013 8:44 am

      I completely agree that his comments were addressed to the local Church in Buenos Aires and Argentina. But even if his perspective is now required to be global, as one American politician put it, “all politics is local.” The same applies, to a different degree, to the Church. So studying his actions as a bishop will I think give us some clear indicators of where his thinking will go as Pope.

      • Mark VA permalink
        April 7, 2013 1:22 pm

        I think it comes down to individual preference – you seem more adventurous and willing to consider older data, I’m less so, and prefer newer data (which seems strange in one respect, since a traditionalist like me should have an instinctual preference for anything old, including data).

        On the other hand, consider this set:

        Progressive – more adventurous – old data;
        Traditional – less adventurous – new data;

        I’ll have to think about this some more – this is off the cuff, since 3 PM approaches. At any rate, it will be interesting to revisit this question in about a year.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          April 7, 2013 4:42 pm

          I am also willing to admit that in my case, hopes may be coloring my reading. Pope Francis is bringing a lot of things that I have dreamed of seeing in the papacy, and that may be coloring how I read the evidence. All to God’s glory, I hope.

  19. April 13, 2013 6:25 am

    Rod Dreher has something to say about the role of sex in determining traditional Christian anthropology. I don’t wholly agree with him, and have answered him HERE, but I think you should read what he’s written. (I answered it at his blog.)

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