The pastoral response to ubiquitous sexual sin

This being the Year of Mercy, let’s be pastoral, by which I mean think practically about how to help sinners.

I went to a Catholic elementary school, and although an inattentive and impious student, I did pick up the distinction between mortal and venial sins.  I understood that the former send you straight to hell if you don’t go to Confession before you die.  However, the benefit of this knowledge was vitiated by another impression I had–that mortal sins are very rare.  Somehow, my friends and I all got it into our heads that there are only a couple mortal sins:  murder and adultery, we thought, and we weren’t even sure about the second one.  The Catholic attitude toward the Last Things seemed strange to me.  On the one hand, we were told that the way to heaven is very narrow and difficult.  On the other hand, the list of mortal sins in our heads made it seem laughably easy.  I concluded that going straight to heaven is hard, but nearly everybody makes it to Purgatory.  It wasn’t until my late twenties that I accepted that I myself was in a state of mortal sin.

If surveys are to be believed, most Catholics are.  Many are guilty of sins against the Church:  skipping Mass, heresy, supporting anticlerical parties.  The vast majority are guilty of mortal sexual sins.  Consider that the following are all mortal sins and all quite pervasive:

  1. contraception
  2. unnatural sex
  3. pornography viewing
  4. masturbation
  5. premarital sex

(Regarding #2, anybody who’s been married in the Church in recent decades has heard what I call “the oral sex talk” about how you can do whatever you want as long as the semen ends up in the right place.  I refer to violations of this stricture, which might be interpreted as forms of contraception.)

I’m no better than the majority; I’ve been guilty of most of these for portions of my adult life.  On the other hand, I’ve also on more than one occasion succeeded in staying celibate for years at a time while waiting for my wife to be ready to have another baby.  So I have experience both as a Catholic wallowing in sexual sin and as a Catholic struggling with some success to remain chaste.

Even apart from the ideological problem of people refusing to believe their sexual sins are really sins, sex will continue to be a major pastoral challenge for the Church and her members.  The reason, ultimately, is low child mortality rates, the greatest blessing of the modern era.  The human male sex drive evolved in circumstances when few offspring survived to adulthood so lots of children were needed just to maintain the population.  Today, nearly all our children survive, so without strenuous self-control most couples would quickly have more of them than they can afford or handle.  On the larger scale, a large birth rate would be unsustainable in the long run for environmental and other reasons.  Lastly, modern medicine allows people to marry and breed who in previous generations would have been too defective, and they often can’t handle as many children.  Facing the same situation two centuries ago, the Reverend Malthus decided that England faced a choice between “misery” and “vice”.  The misery he had in mind was crushing poverty (which, as a Christian, he correctly preferred to vice); we 21st century Catholics are lucky to face the comparatively minor misery of continual sexual frustration.  Even if children were not an issue, women still have much lower libidos than men (especially with the antidepressants so many of them are taking).  Sometimes people imagine that Christian sexual morality is harsh for bachelors, priests, and gays but allows nearly unchecked carnal bliss for married couples.  This is not true.  If, like me, you had trouble being chaste before marriage, you will, like me, have trouble being chaste after marriage.

Do I sound like a Kasperite, demanding that the Church be “realistic” and accept that these sins aren’t going away and should therefore be accommodated?  Actually, I want the Church to have a medieval attitude, which was realistic, never imagining that sins were going to disappear after a year-long “awareness raising” campaign, but committed to the unending struggle.  Remember, our patristic and medieval predecessors thought heaven difficult and perdition likely, so they realized that most people commit mortal sins or are at least strongly tempted to them.

The first thing we sinners need is to be told very clearly that our sins are mortal, that our souls are in peril, and that we must abstain from the Eucharist until we repent and reform.  I know Churchmen worry about angering people, but this really is something we need.  Anyway, my sense is that only the contraceptors are defiant; porn viewers and masturbators are nearly always disgusted with their habit.  If a priest can give them the kick they need to break it, they will be grateful.  Even engaged couples “jumping the gun” often, I think, wish they had the strength to wait for the wedding night.  I myself am utterly convinced by natural law arguments of the truth and beauty of Catholic sexual ethics.  Even without the Church, I would know that the things I’m tempted to do are degrading, but without her voice telling me that God forbids it on penalty of hellfire, I’m pretty sure I’d just say to myself “Fine, I’ll be degraded.  Continence is just too hard.”

Those who are pure may not understand why it is that most people give in to sexual temptation, even those who know better.  I mean, of course you know what the basic attraction is, but how does this particular desire overpower what should be a strong contrary will?  In my experience, it’s not that the urge at any particular moment is so overpoweringly strong as that the will to resist can sometimes be very weak.  Arousal itself is less dangerous than despair.  There’s the despair of a continent life sometimes seeming so grey and lifeless.  There’s the despair of imagining one’s current temptation compounded over a lifetime, growing and growing the longer one holds out, and thinking to oneself “I’ll never be able to do it.  I just can’t live like this forever!”  Sometimes, one gets jealous, thinking about that mythical “average couple” that gets to have sex multiple times a week.  If one has already given into sin, the demotivation is even worse.  You’d like to stop sleeping with your girlfriend or looking at porn, but you don’t know if you have the strength.  Even if you do want to stop, it’s hard to take the actual step.  The next time you get aroused, you think to yourself “I guess it doesn’t really matter if I give it up today or tomorrow.  Why not once more?  After all, I can’t get any deeper into this sin than I already am.”  And this is hard to argue against, especially when you’re tempted, but then you realize that you’re trapped.  It won’t really matter the next time either, or the time after that…  If only you had some definite break, so that past sins don’t count and the very next one could seem all-important.

This is where the Church can help, in fact where only the Church can help.  She can provide the motivation we need to continue the struggle.  First, we are invited to see chastity as being something other than a purely negative thing.  It is an opportunity to grow in holiness, which while in mortal sin one can’t even properly start.  Thus, even if a sinner were to succeed in the “scorched ass Catholic” strategy of sinning until an old age and then going to Confession to avoid hell, the sinner would nevertheless be the one who really missed out, not the chaste man who sacrificed his fun.

Second, the sacrament of Confession gives us a real chance to break with past sins.  The Church teaches us to believe that after coming out of the confessional one’s sexual sin counter is now reset to zero.  You really do have something precious to lose from even one future infraction.  True, your soul still bears some effects from those past sins (and it may take a very long time in Purgatory to remove these), but they no longer master you.  You are invited to share the Church’s faith in your own Christ-won freedom.

Souls are in danger, so the Church really must start thinking about sexual sin comprehensively, not just about the ones that are in the news.  Our opposition to each individual sin will be more comprehensible in the context of an overall ethos.  It might seem less unfair if it were clear how much burden and censure are on everyone, not just particular classes of perverts.  Finally, it’s not necessarily true that the Church can endear herself to people best by flattering them.  Some of us are much more attached to the Church because of our weaknesses than because of our strengths.

43 Responses

  1. Amen.

  2. The list of things the Church must really start thinking about is quite long.
    Btw, fasting has worked for me. Only trouble is that it’s almost as difficult as chastity.

  3. There’s a near-universal “oral sex talk?” Oral sex is so 1990’s – why don’t they add anal sex to the talk? Unprincipled exception? Intuitively just too gross for them? So it becomes sinful when you shoot your wad prematurely and get it in the wrong place? Just follow Frankie-Goes-to-Hollywood’s advice.
    Why would anyone let a non-traditional priest teach their children? If you had to drive 100 miles, it would be worth it.

    Are you saying it’s a sin to have sex with your pregnant wife?

  4. I’m not Catholic, though I have studied it more than your average Catholic… and some of the logic is just plane bonkers.

    If you ever need to go to a Dr. for an issue regarding semen, make sure you collect it by using a condom with a hole pricked into it while having sex with your wife. If that hole isn’t present, you’re in a state of mortal sin… car wreck on the way to the clinic and your eternal soul is in danger.

    Who would have thought that the relationship between man and God can be permanently jeopardized for want of a needle.

    Does anyone else find talk of ‘Christ won freedom’ in a conversation about all the ways sex can wreck our relationship ironic? Who of you would turn your back on your own children for participating in a BJ or anal sex? Would we condemn each other to a duration in purgatory over such acts? Why then do we entertain threats of damnation from our own heavenly father?

    And lets not forget that these threats change over time. Shell-fish were once on the go-directly-to-hell list.

  5. @Bob

    The “condom with a hole in it” approach seems morally problematic. The simple solution is to not try to contracept at all, there’s no legitimate medical need for a semen sample.

    And honestly, perhaps it’s just a failing of mine, but I have trouble trying to respond charitably to someone who’s being overtly dishonest. You’re either lying about being well-studied about Catholicism, or you’re telling the truth about that in which case you’re purposely trolling with your shellfish comment.

  6. He didn’t say he’s well studied – just more studied than the average Catholic –sadly he’s probably right.

    So grateful we have millions of Bob’s out there to set the Apostles and Church Fathers straight.

  7. What is mysterious to me is that St. Paul rather clearly directs early Church leaders to marry young people- especially when it is noticeable they are becoming interested in sex. Imagine actually applying 1st Timothy- and it would make sense to do so, since, though the specific case is a young widow, the generalization he comes up with (that women are saved through motherhood) is obviously something that can apply to all women- would mean sane Church leadership would be invested in getting pretty much all young women married; thereby getting most men married too.

    So, let us turn to our clergy and remind them, complete with graphic reminders of hellfire and millstones, that, should they continue compromising with this world, they will be in hell even more assuredly than the young ones who are led astray.

  8. Hello August,

    As I said, marriage itself doesn’t solve the problem, because we can no longer afford for each woman to have so many children when all of them will survive.

  9. Bruce,

    That’s just what I call it. I was a teenager in the 90s, and my generation is noticeably fixated on oral sex. My sense is that anal sex didn’t become the fashion until after our formative years, so it’s not really on our radar.

  10. Bonald, this is mission creep. First order is to get folks into normal sexual relationships rather than fostering an environment in which deviant relationships are the order of the day.
    And, when married couples are in normal sexual relationships, they do tend to notice whether or not they can afford a new child- and it affects their behavior!
    The facts of global population being what they are, you, taking about what ‘we’ can afford, are probably best suited finding high IQ people and encouraging them to have more children, since those who are not intelligent are having children AND BEING FUNDED BY LEFTISTS. The net result is that you’ll have massive hordes of people taking your stuff and no young people who can fix anything.

  11. This is a great post. From one scrupulous guy to another, you’ve summed it up really well. (Though August makes a great counterpoint: first things first.)

    Not to divert the conversation, but I confess that I do have an instinctive aversion to some aspects of the medieval teachings on marital sex. Thomas, I think, argues that even kissing during marital intercourse is (mortally?) sinful, since it may give rise to lust. And of course, if kissing is off-limits…

    This is one of those rare areas where I find myself in sympathy with those who mock Catholics for taking sexual advice from clerical continents. For example, a man loves his wife and is sexually attracted to her, as he should be. His sexual desire is properly ordered to its object, but like all of us he is also subject to concupiscence, and we can safely assume that there is always some admixture of lust accompanying his legitimate desire. When he approaches his wife for intercourse in the heat of desire, how on earth is this man, with his clouded intellect, expected to rigorously separate his legitimate desire from his illegitimate ones?

    The answer of the scholastics often seems to reduce marital sex to a dispassionate mechanical function, like taking your car in for an oil change: Mount wife, insert penis, achieve release, done. That’s how you keep lust out of the equation. (I have not read that widely, so I hope I am not wildly misrepresenting here, but I have read traditionalist arguments citing the scholastics along these lines.) And when you recall Thomas’s reaction when his parents sent in a prostitute to get him out of himself, you can understand where he’s coming from. But most of us are not exactly Thomas, and cannot so easily set aside our sexual desires.

    It all seems a little bit like the rabbinic advice to lift the penis by the scrotum when urinating to avoid giving rise to sexual desire. If husband and wife are a one-flesh communion, surely there is room for some reasonable, prudent degree of bodily intimacy? Besides, many things might give rise to sexual desire: a woman might find herself sexually aroused by her husband’s touch on her neck. Or a man might be aroused by his wife’s eyes, hair, or skin complexion. But when does marital desire become lust? Does anyone truly know himself that well?

    To be sure, the modern approach of Catholic writers like Christopher West leans too heavily towards permissivism (I think he even permits anal sex, with reservations), but I’m not sure the scholastics don’t go too far to the other extreme. If I’m not misrepresenting them, that is. But for a scrupulous guy like me, this stuff is nightmare fuel.

  12. Murray, I would say lust is desire to satisfy urges without regard to consequences. Within marriage, most consequences have been dealt with, and for the few that are left, well we are better off explaining vectors for disease- if it is indeed true that Christopher West is an idiot. Perhaps he is not aware of the parallels between that particular practice and the rise of antibiotic resistant diseases. I am, undoubtedly a bit more permissive than some of these medievals- I regard some as having been infected by gnostics- but there are things we obviously shouldn’t do.

    God is the God of the Living, Christ came so that we can have life and have it more abundantly, so it follows that the rules should result in what God appears to want- more healthy, living people. Indeed, if the church doesn’t get it right, then people grow up like weeds, in the cracks, as civilization disintegrates around us.

    Think about attraction. It helps us find genetically compatible mates. Imagine choosing some one you aren’t attracted to, so that you can follow these medievals. Is God really going to be happy about that? I doubt it. A good genetic match means more kids, and healthier ones. So, there must be limits to the definition of lust. Returning to St. Paul- he says marry them, and he didn’t give out this long list of things to do and not do- just marry them and that they are not sinning within marriage.

  13. That action is sodomy or, at a minimum, sodomitic mimicry.

  14. From the Catholic Ency. entry on lust:

    “The inordinate craving for, or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation.

    The wrongfulness of lust is reducible to this: that venereal satisfaction is sought for either outside wedlock or, at any rate, in a manner which is contrary to the laws that govern marital intercourse. “

  15. @arkansasreactionary

    Using a perforated condom for semen collection is the approved catholic way of gathering semen for fertility treatments. Google ‘catholic perforated condom’ for more info. The fact that a non-catholic knows more about this (and the obvious ridiculousness of the practice) is shocking.

    As far as Catholics and contraception go, the rhythm method is the only church approved way – so no sex with your wife when she is ‘horniest’ unless you want to risk a kid.

    Catholicism, as the claimed heir of the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob inherits the mosaic law as foundational. The fact that the RCC allows eating of shellfish doesn’t nullify the fact that the same God previously banned it.

    Lets not forget either that an entire book of the Bible is dedicated towards finding pleasure in your wife’s body, written by a guy who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Thomas Aquinas on the other hand apparently had an angelic chastity belt. These two view on sex are very schizophrenic.

    I would say Thomas is wrong on his view of kissing – the word of God itself (SoS1:2) is a lover pleading for his kisses. Black and white, easy to read, and a church father drags the entirety of the RCC in the opposite direction. It’s sad really.

  16. Thanks, August and Bruce.

    I think we can safely draw the line at fetishes–though even that line could conceivably get fuzzy at times. What is a fetish, after all, other than the reduction of your spouse to a specific body part (or worse, bodily function), or a specific activity, for the sole purpose of your own sexual pleasure? If (say) you’re suspending your wife in a leather harness from the ceiling while sucking on her toes and then posting the video on the internet, I think we can say that you’re no longer in the realm of legitimate marital sexual desire. I would include anal sex in that category, since it doesn’t (or shouldn’t, for hygienic reasons) lead naturally to intercourse, but rather seems to be a substitute for it.

  17. Bob,

    There are a few errors in your post.

    First, on collecting semen in a condom. This is merely a practical question for Catholics: how do we deliver semen for legitimate fertility treatment while keeping the marital act open to life? The answer (pinhole in the condom!) may be prosaic, but given the Catholic teachings about the proper end of the marital act, it’s hardly ludicrous.

    Secondly, the “rhythm method” refers to an obsolete method of fertility control. “Natural Family Planning” is all the rage now, and if you think that piece of branding is silly, I agree. But I understand it is distinct from the rhythm method, though I have no first-hand experience with either. I further understand that it is widely abused as a method of “Catholic birth control”, but abusus non tollit usum and all that.

    Finally, Catholics distinguish between the moral, penal, and ceremonial aspects of Mosaic Law, and only hold the first to be binding on Christians. The eating of shellfish is a ceremonial law, just as the stoning of adulterers is penal–laws instituted for a particular purpose at a particular time for a particular people, but not universally applicable. The moral law transcends time, place, and culture, and thus is eternally binding.

  18. @Murray

    The question of ‘ludicrous’ can only be answered in accordance with whatever value system you adhere to. I find it ludicrous that Hindu’s can’t eat cows, or Islamic women must wear burkas. Likewise, I find many of the practices of the RCC ludicrous… and this pinhole condom behavior is the logical conclusion of bad premises (in my opinion).

    nfp vs rhythm method is largely semantics. Both are methods of determining peak fertility (one more accurate than the other). At the end of the day the result is the same – when your wife is most horny, don’t have sex unless you want a kid.

  19. @Murray

    Where did Aquinas say that?

    @Bob

    No, it isn’t. The Church has never said that such quasi-contraception is ok.

    And the shellfish argument is a giant red herring and I’m not going to address it.

  20. @AR,

    As I said, I may have been misattributing. I don’t have the link, but it was a traditionalist article dealing with (I believe) “foreplay” in marital relations, and citing Augustine as well as Aquinas and other Scholastics. I thought it was Aquinas, but it may well not have been. Apologies for the breach of netiquette, but I don’t want to google something like “catholic foreplay aquinas” here at work.

    @Bob,
    Sure. But as you say, your argument is with the premises of the Catholic teaching on openness to life within marital relations. Within that context, the proposed pin-in-the-condom remedy (though perhaps problematic, as AR says) is not ridiculous.

  21. @AR
    Since you’re obviously lazy:

    http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/resources/upload/Reproductive-Technology-Evaluation-Treatment-of-Infertility-Guidelines-for-Catholic-Couples.pdf

    Take it up with your church if you have a problem with their position.

    @Murray
    It seems then that we cannot evaluate any action then without examining the belief system underneath the action. For example, if you or I claimed that our God told us to sacrifice our child – and then proceeded to act upon that claim, an outside observer would consider that behavior ludicrous. For Abraham it is credited as righteousness.

    If you or I claimed that slaughtering a people (including their cattle) was righteous behavior, an outside observer would consider that ludicrous.

    Or if you and I suggested that Holy War is a righteous thing to do, an outside observer would also consider that ludicrous… as you would if the initiators were Muslim, but yet you would be willing to give it a pass if the initiators were Catholic.

    Or if you and I suggested that testing a man’s faithfulness by allowing slaughter of his children is moral, we would consider that ludicrous

    What we see here is that moral behavior is not universal, but rather tied to who we identify with. We identify with Abraham, or Israel, or the RCC or God – and therefore excuse behavior by rationalizing a narrative. The test of obedience trumps the child’s life, or those people were wicked and its punishment (even down to the infants), or God didn’t kill Jobs children but allowed Satan because *insert excuse*.

    Which is why this will ultimately fall on deaf ears. Your ‘in group’ is the RCC and as such, I’m just some hostile outsider who doesn’t get it. You have the true faith. I’d have the same amount of success trying to convince a Muslim that his faith is false, or (insert some other religious group) about their faith.

    Your bias is with your group and its narrative – and your group says BJ’s are wrong. Redsox rock, cowboys suck, repubican 4 lyfe. Same thing.

  22. Or if you and I suggested that Holy War is a righteous thing to do, an outside observer would also consider that ludicrous… as you would if the initiators were Muslim, but yet you would be willing to give it a pass if the initiators were Catholic.

    Well, no. It’s not ludicrous at all. Based on the premises of Islamic theology, jihad is entirely reasonable. I believe, as you do, that Mohammedans happen to be following a false religion, and I further believe they have no place in Western societies, but I understand why they believe the things they do.

    Likewise the prohibitions against (say) shellfish or the Binding of Isaac make sense within their relevant socio-theological systems, just as gay marriage and child-killing do within the socio-theological system of liberalism. You are free to regard those systems as incorrect, but I’m more concerned with their internal consistency here.

  23. @Murray

    How does one evaluate their internal consistency from the outside? Do you even have the time / energy to fully evaluate all the worlds theological systems? or like most people were you born into / near one and picked that one as ‘the one’?

    ISIS seems to be pretty consistent, which is one reason their brand is growing in numbers.

  24. …or like most people were you born into / near one and picked that one as ‘the one’?

    Nope. I was born into weak liberal protestantism, my family left the church early in my childhood. I became an obnoxious atheist at 12 and a (no less obnoxious) Catholic at 41.

    To answer your main question, no. I don’t painstakingly research all other worldviews for their internal consistency, but nor do I barge in and start heckling (say) Hindus for not eating cow, or whatever. If I did decide–for whatever reason–to embark on a critique of Hindu beliefs, I’d spend some time learning why they believe what they believe, so that I could grapple with their premises at a more fundamental level. To do otherwise is to look at the problem from the wrong end of the telescope: Hindus iz dum coz they don’t eat cow. LOL.

    As you note, ISIS is currently prospering (after its own fashion) because it does exhibit internal consistency. That tends to be true of most social or theological systems that manage to endure for many centuries and across different cultures and political systems. Liberalism is an exception, in that it doesn’t even make a serious effort to maintain internal consistency, but since it’s basically a system for giving licence for people to do whatever the heck they want, that’s a powerful enough incentive to keep it sputtering along for the moment.

  25. @Bob

    Apostolos Suos.

    The statements of episcopal conferences are not magisterial unless they enjoy express approval from the Holy See, or are passed unanimously. So it is not at all a settled question.

  26. @AR

    Is your preference then that those struggling with fertility not have a licit means to examine the biological processes that lead to fertility? According to your interpretation of your churches teaching, what licit means are open for a couple struggling with fertility – or is the pastoral advice to bear that burden without help from a doctor? Is there something about semen itself that causes sin to occur when examining it under a microscope – as opposed to another bodily fluid like blood?

    Would you apply that same standard to someone with a broken leg – that they not have a licit means to examine their broken leg and get it fixed?

    Do you see the absurdity of saying that the great physician is OK with fixing all medical ailments except for those dealing with reproduction?

  27. Another Catholic question. When something rises to ordinary magisterial level, it’s still not infallible, right? In general, the magisterium should be obeyed but can be subjected to scrutiny by ordinary laymen?

  28. We haven’t struggled with fertility so I admit I am ignorant on the topic.

    I don’t understand why they collect your semen. What do they do with it – look at it under a microscope and declare “yep, your boys aren’t swimmin” Then what? How does this help fertility?

  29. @Bob

    It’s already been explained to you what’s wrong with collecting semen samples. The purpose of wearing a condom is to obstruct the sperm from reaching the eggs.

    The problem with the perforated method is the same, it still involves deliberately obstructing sperm from reaching the eggs.

    There are of course other means of testing fertility, some mentioned in your link, and others obvious besides. But that’s neither here nor there as to the intrinsic morality of the acts we’re discussing.

    @Bruce

    Ordinary magisterium isn’t infallible, but it should not be scrutinized by ordinary people.

  30. According to WebMD there are surgical solutions to correct certain causes of male infertility. It would seem imprudent to undergo surgery without a confident diagnosis.

  31. There are other means of diagnosis.

    And even if they weren’t, that has no bearing on the intrinsic morality of the acts in question.

  32. You would think that one might assume infertility meant God didn’t intend for you to have children. Healing a broken leg seems like a different case.

  33. @Bruce

    Why should one assume that infertility means God didn’t intend for you to have children? Aught we to assume that being blind means God doesn’t intend for us to see, or is the Catholic church against the medical community restoring sight? Are cochlear implants immoral? Prosthetic limbs?

    Seems like a logical black hole, or perhaps (as is my theory) the Catholic church drank too deep from the cup of Thomas Aquinas and ended up with a moralistic block around all things reproductive.

    @AR
    In your opinion, what is the moral way for someone to collect and diagnose if their swimmers are swimming? Or are you not interested in this problem because you personally don’t suffer from it? Yet you seem quite willing to judge someone’s actions as immoral for choosing the perforated condom route.

  34. @AR
    Actually, no – no one did ‘explain to me what is wrong with collecting semen samples’. You claim it is wrong (without an explanation), and there are other RCC sources claiming it is OK (so long as the method is open to life)’. Who am I to believe, AR on some blog, or endorsed by bishops catholic literature?

  35. If one embraces Catholic ethics (or any nonconsequentialist system), one must be prepared for the possibility that sometimes there is no licit way to get a desired outcome. So, for instance, if contraception and abortion are the only means to consequence-free sex, that doesn’t mean that if one is illicit, the other must be licit. It doesn’t even matter if consequence-free sex is an honorable thing to want. In principle, the moral law can even prevent us from saving lives (e.g. if it could only be done by killing a smaller number of innocent people). I have no opinion on whether there’s a moral way to collect semen (condom with a hole in it actually sounds defensible to me, but everybody here knows my sensibilities are warped by past unchastity). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a moral system that doesn’t provide a licit means.

  36. “the Catholic church drank too deep from the cup of Thomas Aquinas and ended up with a moralistic block around all things reproductive.”

    I don’t think it’s the medievals. The Church Fathers wrote against contraception e.g. Clement, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, Jerome, Augustine. The Protestant Church fathers were against contraception and most all protestant denominations rejected contraception until 1930.

  37. @Bonald
    ” the moral law can even prevent us from saving lives (e.g. if it could only be done by killing a smaller number of innocent people).”

    The trolley-car problem is a prime example which can cause a lot of people a lot of angst about how to value innocent life. One could make a similarly absurd problem for Catholics – ie. the act of masturbation vs X number of lives.

    My question is more basic than that – is it possible for there to be an ailment of the body that does not have a licit remedy – such an ailment that must simply be endured because all attempts to fix it would result in mortal sin?

    And if so, what does that say about the designer of such a body who’s brokenness cannot be fixed without endangering the soul.

  38. @Bob

    I’ve explained it already in this comment thread. And your own link listed several other methods of infertility testing.

    And whether or not there are other methods of testing is irrelevant to the morality of the procedure.

  39. It seems then that we cannot evaluate any action then without examining the belief system underneath the action. For example, if you or I claimed that our God told us to sacrifice our child – and then proceeded to act upon that claim, an outside observer would consider that behavior ludicrous.

    Lots of people claim that their God, hedonism, tells them to sacrifice their children. They get quite bug-eyed and spittle-flecked about it when challenged, too. I’m sure that doesn’t count, though, because reasons.

  40. “And if so, what does that say about the designer of such a body who’s brokenness cannot be fixed without endangering the soul.”

    I guess it says that such a designer finds the soul to be longer lasting and of more value than the body.

  41. Bob:

    And if so, what does that say about the designer of such a body who’s brokenness cannot be fixed without endangering the soul?

    “How does it make you feel,” or “what does it objectively say?”

    The former question is fraught, and the answer depends on the person.

    If the question is the latter one though, what it says is that God loves you. You personally, the actual you, as you are right now.

  42. […] it is the Year of Mercy™, Bonald offers the Pastoral Response to Ubiquitous Sexual Sin that he wishes (and I wish) Catholic pastors would provide. For no extra charge, he evaluates […]

  43. […] doctrine to promote my (worldly) interests.  One of the advantages of focusing attention on nearly ubiquitous and generally approved sexual sins is this:  we establish that we are not just laying burdens on small groups like sodomites and […]

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