Monday, October 9, 2017

Cahill and Wilkinson's Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church on How Humanae Vitae Undermines Sexual Ethic of Catholic Church

As a complement to what I just posted about how the U.S. Catholic bishops and Republican party brought right-wing white evangelicals on board the anti-contraception and anti-abortion bandwagon, I'd like to share a posting I made yesterday to my Facebook friends. I'm now reading the recent ground-breaking, exhaustive study of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church entitled Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports by Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson's of Melbourne University's Centre for Global Research. (Thanks to Sarasi1 for inviting me to do that). When I've finished reading it, I'll have more to say about it, but for now, here's something that leaps out at me as I read:

One point that the report makes very well: following Pope Paul VI's refusal to listen to the advice of the theological advisory board he commissioned to advise him about official Catholic teaching on birth control, the Catholic church has not had a compelling sexual ethic, Cahill and Wilkinson insist. The condemnation of birth control in Paul VI's Humanae Vitae has not been "received" by lay Catholics, who have, in huge percentages, simply rejected the teaching as erroneous, beside the point, absurd, not compelling or reasonable.

This has resulted, Cahill and Wilkinson think, in a total undermining of anything the Catholic magisterium wants to say about sexual ethics after Humanae Vitae. They make this point repeatedly:

Humanae Vitae re-emphasised a traditional sexual morality based on isolated acts, which are regarded either as being 'ordered to nature' or 'against nature', rather than a sexual morality based on relationality. Such was the intensity of the division it caused that it has led to a dangerous and damaging situation, whereby the Catholic Church effectively lacks an accepted sexual morality, with many negative consequences (p. 59).


After the refusal of many members of the Catholic community to 'receive' the contraception message of the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church was left without a community-accepted sexual morality at a time of rapidly changing sexual mores because the Church was no longer credible in matters concerning sexuality and human relationships (p. 97).


[There has been] a deep rejection by the Catholic faithful of the Church's theology of sexuality based on the interlinking of sexuality and procreation, especially following Humanae Vitae in 1968, with the result that the Church has had no widely accepted theology of sexuality since that time (p. 310).

Cahill and Wilkinson's point: by taking the position it did in Humanae Vitae, the Catholic magisterium so decisively undermined its credibility as it teaches in the area of sexual ethics that nothing it says in this area is now taken seriously by many thinking, conscientious people. This leaves a big lacuna both within the Catholic community and the world at large, given how much influence the Catholic church has around the world. And this lack of any credible, coherent sexual ethic is one of the factors that played into what may have been an acceleration of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the second half of the twentieth century (though, as their historical study shows, sexual abuse of minors has always been a serious problem in the Catholic church, as it has in other religious groups, throughout history).

The graphic is from the website of RMIT University, Melbourne.

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