Monday, February 14, 2011

The Gift of Sexuality: Canadian Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Chastity

I can always count on the local diocesan newspaper, The B.C. Catholic to give me something to write about if I choose to take the proffered bait. Last week the venerable publication dangled a nice big juicy worm right where I could not resist grabbing for it.

On the front page of the February 7 issue of The BCC was the following article heading: “The virtues of chastity: Bishops release pastoral letter on chaste living.” Of course, following my rages at the Courage apostolate and its promotion of an entire life of chastity for those “afflicted with same-sex attraction,” the sight or mention of the word sets off a whole orchestra of cacophonous klaxons in my uncharitable—and definitely unchaste—heart.

The article, with a local by-line, contains all the usual clichés about the body as “a temple of the Holy Spirit” needing to be treated with “the reverence it deserves”; about our “sex-saturated society”; and about the necessity of constant prayer and regular confession to aid in leading a chaste life.

Another article in the back pages of the paper, with a national by-line, offers more quotes from the Canadian bishops’ pastoral letter as well as from prominent figures in Catholic life in Canada.

I have no idea how many single people, young or otherwise, opt for chastity in their sex lives; I am not aware of any surveys that might provide insight into this issue. Nor do I claim to know all the reasons a person may choose to remain chaste. As a healthy male, however, I think I can state with considerable confidence that living a chaste life—which also includes abstaining from sexual self-gratification, by the way—would be extraordinarily demanding.

It is commendable, in my opinion, that the Canadian bishops “want to assure those young people who are struggling to live a life of chastity that their bishops stand prayerfully with them and are there to support and encourage them.” I am certain that those who have chosen to live chastely can use all the help they can get.

But the bishops would also have young people believe that they possess the knowledge of how God intends the gift of sexuality to be used:

“When this gift is used as the Father wills, we give him glory and build up his Kingdom. When we live our sexuality in the proper way, according to our state in life, others will be able to find God through us.”

They even appear to have knowledge of what sexual activities God condones and does not condone:

“…the sexual act has to be unitive and procreative and [that is] why some kinds of sexual activity are mot chaste. Though pleasure may be present, some acts are a misuse of sex when they fall short of what God intends.”

Finally, the bishops seem to have access to information about the consequences of not living a chaste life:

“Failure to live chastely leads to a self-centered existence that blinds us to the needs, the joys and the beauty of the world around us.”

I am not so privileged as to have direct access to knowledge of God’s intentions for my sexuality, or for anything else. I do have an opinion, however, which comes from the brain that God gave me.

I agree that if human sexuality is a gift from God, it must be treated reverently, as we would treat any gift given to us by someone who loves us. And I agree that we need to teach our young people that the precious gift of our sexuality is not something to be squandered or abused by ourselves or stolen by others; the consequences of misusing our sexuality can be devastating, even fatal. But we are very fortunate in this society in that we are for the most part in control of our sexuality and are therefore able to freely choose how it is to be used.

I cannot for the life of me understand how God could on the one hand give me a beautiful gift like my sexuality and then turn around and tell me that because he made me gay or because I am unable to find a wife or because I am physically incapable of procreating, I may not enjoy this gift. One would think that such a cruel joke could only be played by Satan. I am therefore incapable of buying the bishops’ argument; I expect that a thoughtful young person would also have difficulty accepting their “teaching.”

This pastoral letter leaves me with the sad feeling that bishops as a group are quite out of touch with both authentic spirituality and the reality of modern life and that this dis-integrated condition renders them and their words irrelevant.

I can only hope that young Catholics recognize that the gift of sexuality is theirs alone to use or to share—wisely, I pray—and that the choice of expressing their sexuality in a loving relationship or remaining chaste is theirs and theirs alone.


  1. I just read this excellent article. It is timely for me because just last week I received a teaching packet. I have to teach a lesson in Christian chastity to my 8th Grade class. That will be a challenge. From what I read, the only time that a man should have an orgasm is when he is having unprotected intercourse with his wife. This puts gay men, actually all unmarried men, in a sticky situation. (If you will pardon the expression.) When I was a young adult I was of the belief that 95% of priests were living lives of chaste purity, they not only refrained from having sex with anyone, they also didn't do self-gratification, have wet dreams or have impure thoughts. I don't really believe this anymore. Mark

  2. Hey Mark:

    Can you imagine God saying, "Okay you boys and girls, I gave you genitals and a sex drive, which should just be kicking in about now and driving you a little crazy, but for a joke I decided that I'm going to let the church give you a huge and very confusing guilt complex if you happen to act on the urges I have created in you. I hope you like my sense of humor."

    This packet must present a difficult dilemma for you, Mark. I am sure you will resolve it wisely.

  3. More sad news from my state. More clerical sexual abuse uncovered in Philadelphia. Some 21 priests have been suspended pending outcome of investigations. And it is Ash Wednesday - Mark