Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Catholic Church & Sex

The Pope is at it again and the gay community worldwide is up in arms.

Apparently his “end of year” homily can be interpreted to mean that saving mankind from homosexuality is as important as saving the planet environmentally.

I’ve not bothered to read the offending script – but I have heard some of the media debates and the claims made by the catholic side that the Pope never said this, with the gays saying that it’s the only interpretation one can take from his sometimes oblique comments.

There’s no doubt about two things: Firstly the hostile position of the church with regards to homosexuality and, secondly, the highly insensitive, even if technically legal, language the Vatican routinely employs when discussing the topic.

One interview yesterday clarified, for me, the main problem the church faces in this “battle”. Matt Cooper on TodayFM was interviewing a catholic clergyman about the pope’s reported comments and the church’s position on homosexuality. The cleric explained that the church doesn’t condemn homosexuals, it’s homosexual acts which it finds objectionable. “What’s the difference?” asked a confused-sounding Cooper.

Therein lies the main problem for the church and it’s bigger than the gay community. It relates to all sexual activity – whether straight, gay or transgender.

Liberal western society no longer sees a distinction between the sexual orientation and the sexual act. We are now all deemed to be “sexual animals” - if you’re not expressing your sexuality in a physical way, you are not living a full life.

For the church, the act is the thing. Its condemnation of sexual acts between homosexuals is entirely consistent with its condemnation of sex outside marriage for heterosexuals and its demand for celibacy from its own clergy. (Though its language regarding homosexuality is routinely brutal and offensive when contrasted with any views it expresses on other sexual topics.)

However, liberal western society accepts sex as being nothing particularly sacrosanct. It’s somewhere in the realm of a sign of affection (not necessarily love), an entertainment, a leisure activity or even a form of exercise. As presented in the media (or, indeed, for much of the population) sex seems to have little to do with a long-term relationship or commitment.

The rise and acceptance of the so-called “sex industry” is a clear indicator of what is happening. When you get regular reports of people-trafficking into brothels with little apparent police action or public outcry, lap-dancing bars opening in rural “cities” etc, you know that sex is now a commodity/leisure activity of no great consequence. (Which must have consequences for the legal gravity of rape as a crime. Why should it now be punished at a tariff any greater than that applied to a serious physical assault?)

I’m not clear how much of this "liberal progression" is a willing choice of participants and how much is forced on people who want to be seen to conform to changing mores. Are parents always indifferently happy to their daughters living with boyfriends, and vice versa? Are parents always happy when presented with a grandchild whose parents aren’t married, or may no longer be together? If I had daughters I suspect (ok I know) I’d be strongly disapproving of their cohabitation and/or unmarried mother status.

Unless western society decides that the pendulum has swung too far to the liberal side and starts to move back to a more conservative attitude to sex, the church will continue to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”.

One cannot blame the church for maintaining its own moral position with regard to sex (of all kinds), even if it appears increasingly out of step with the world and its own membership, but one can demand that it speaks much more sensitively (i.e. far less offensively) to its own homosexual minority.

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