Avoid ‘misuse of sex’ in marriage, Canadian bishops warn
by Charles Lewis
Canadian Catholic bishops are cautioning married couples to not get too focused on sexual acts other than intercourse, calling them a potential misuse of sex that ignore God’s intentions.
A pastoral letter released this week by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on married couples to lead “chaste” lives — not meaning “celibate” but approaching sex with “purity of mind as well as body” and respecting the dignity of the other person.
“That is why the sexual act has to be unitive and procreative and why some kinds of activity are not chaste,” the letter said. “Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when they fall short of what God intended.”
The letter — most of it is designed to advise young people on why it is important to avoid sexual encounters outside of marriage — was the result of a commission headed by Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver.
The passage on married couples does not use language of condemnation nor sin but could leave the impression that sex acts other than intercourse are wrong.
Hille Haker, a professor of moral theology at Loyola University in Chicago, said she is worried that the advice to married couples is a reflection of more conservative sexual attitudes that pre-date the reforms of Vatican II.
“Before the Second Vatican Council [in the early 1960s] sexual ethics would deal with all the sex acts that are possible,” Ms. Haker said. “They would be busy describing all the different sexual arousals just in order to say this has nothing to do with what we understand to be a permitted sexual life within marriage. It seems to me this passage from the Canadian bishops goes back to that time.”
Vatican II changed the notion of “physical materialized sexual ethics” with an emphasis on love, she added. And once love was seen as the prime function of sex in marriage there was no need “to go into sexual details.”
The pastoral letter quotes John Paul II, who promoted the idea that married people must not objectify their spouses nor use them for personal gratification and that sex within marriage had to be totally self-giving.
“Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love,” the late pope said.
The pastoral letter also said that married couples should not be fooled by the how the “media and Hollywood” turn sexual intercourse into simple “recreation or physical gratification.”
“Any physical pleasure should lead toward the ultimate expression of love between a husband and wife, the total self-giving of one person to another,” the letter said.
Other Catholic experts on sexual ethics say the letter fits exactly with the teachings on sex since Vatican II.
The Church is not saying not to do this or that but it is saying that the total of sex should be with the idea of being open to creating new life, said Moira McQueen, a Catholic bioethicist and theologian in Toronto.
Vatican II put an equal emphasis on the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, she added.
“The letter is reminding Catholics that both aspects are important,” she said.
She said the bishops’ letter does not say people cannot enjoy sexual activity outside of intercourse, but that any act ultimately should lead to intercourse.
Ms. McQueen said it was important the bishops put out the letter because its message runs completely opposite to how society sees sexual activity.
“The focus on society is that sex is purely for fun and recreation. There’s nothing wrong with that from the Catholic view as long at it becomes procreative.
“The bishops are reminding Catholics that there is an ideal that should be aimed for, they are setting a standard.”
It is estimated that the vast majority of Catholic couples use birth control but the letter makes no specific reference to contraception.
Excerpts from the pastoral letter on chastity from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Chastity for Married Persons:
Sexuality becomes truly human when it is integrated into the total relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. Pope John Paul II wrote: “Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” This means that married people are also called to be chaste if they are to truly love each other.
Married people living chastely can have vibrant sex lives. In the relationship between a man and a woman, chastity helps them love each other as persons rather than make each other an object of pleasure or satisfaction. Despite what the media and Hollywood suggest, the value of sexual intercourse does not lie in recreation, or physical gratification. Any physical pleasure should lead toward the ultimate expression of love between husband and wife, the total self-giving of one person to another. Sexual intercourse in marriage can be so intimate that it becomes an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual experience. It strengthens and completes the bond of marriage. That is why the sexual act has to be unitive and procreative and why some kinds of sexual activity are not chaste. Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when the fall short of what God intends.Advice to all young peopleAdvice to all young people
Chastity is a Constant Challenge
To live chastely today means to go against the grain! We are called to follow Jesus, or to be counter-cultural. If we want to find serenity and joy, then we must live in accord with God’s will. He has created us in his image, and if we live according to his commandments we will be happy. Of course, Jesus didn’t say it would be easy. In fact, he said, “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Living Chastity Today
Living chastity is no easy business in the sex-saturated world of contemporary Western culture. It’s impossible to walk through a shopping mall, turn on a computer or television, glance at an advertisement or browse through a bookstore without being bombarded by sexual imagery of every kind. Pornography has never been more widespread, reaching almost epidemic proportion. It denigrates authentic sexual expression and encourages masturbation, sexual intimacy outside of marriage and the separation of the life-giving and love-giving meaning of sexual relations.This article was found at:
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