The human mind is particularly adapt at pattern recognition. It is this capacity that allows us to navigate a complex world making snap decisions about what is safe and unsafe, right and wrong. This is particularly true when it comes to very complex things like religious positions. We distill things down and run with the “hash” of what we’ve perceived. We see this happening with sex and Catholicism.
Dreher walks through what he calls the Catholic Guilt Canard.
He walks through the teachings on sex from Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis.
To be sure, it is not fair to blame Francis for the reactions of people who are bound and determined to twist his words to fit their own agendas. But Francis has a habit of making it very easy for Catholic liberals to do just that. I recall the reader of this blog, a teacher of religion at a Catholic high school, who wrote after Francis’s “who am I to judge?” remark on homosexuality. The teacher said that with that, the pope had destroyed all the work he had been doing to explain why the Church teaches what it does about sexuality, including homosexuality. He said his students interpreted Francis’s remarks as saying that it was not the Church’s place to say that there is a moral meaning to homosexual expression (or any sexual expression).
This should be read in light of Dreher sharing his own story in a recent post on coming to Catholicism looking to seriously engage the RC vision of human sexuality and finding that its own priests in American didn’t believe it or were willing to offer pastoral support in pursuing it. Catholicism, permissiveness, mercy
In my case, one big reason I was attracted to Catholicism myself had to do with its being a solid rock in a tumultuous sea of relativism. In particular, it was Rome’s teachings on the meaning of sex and marriage that appealed to me, precisely because I was convicted of the disorder in my own pre-conversion life. Rome offered a deep and comprehensive way to understand sex and sexuality, one that was uncompromising, Biblically sound, and because of that, merciful. Chastity was the hard teaching that I did not want to accept, but I had enough intellectual honesty back then to know that it was not an option, not for Christians who were serious about faith. The Bible, and the continuous witness of the historic Christian church, was uncontestable on this point. The world does not want to hear this, and neither did I. But the Catholic Church — particularly in the person of Pope John Paul II — proclaimed this truth.
When I finally wanted God more than I wanted myself and my own will, I submitted. It was a miserable time, dying to myself in that way. There is nothing in our popular culture to support doing what I had undertaken; in fact, exactly the opposite. The thing I did not really understand until I became Catholic is that there is very little within the culture of ordinary American Catholicism to support it either.
Now, if that’s not been your experience, count yourself lucky. It was my experience in a number of parishes and places. For example, my bride-to-be and I were committed to being faithful Catholics and observing Natural Family Planning. She found a teacher in Austin, Texas, where she was finishing her degree, and I looked for one in the Archdiocese of Miami, where I was then living. I had trouble finding one, and when I finally did locate a teaching couple, they told me that they had been forbidden from teaching NFP in a number of area parishes. The parishes simply did not want to deal with presenting an unpopular teaching.
On two different occasions I got into an argument in the confessional with the priest on the other side of the screen over what’s a sin regarding sexual morality. In one case, the priest and I agreed to drop it, he said the absolution, and let me go. But it wasn’t even close to being an honest dispute. The priest flat-out rejected authoritative, binding Roman Catholic teaching. In the other case, a priest in the confessional at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC advised me to use contraception in my marriage. I challenged him, and he gave a sigh that said oh, one of those, absolved me, and sent me on my way.
Those are some brief examples, fairly outrageous ones, from an orthodox Catholic point of view. Mostly, Catholic priests and parishes don’t even talk about this at all. Their silence says everything. What it says to Catholics like I once was, both as a single man and as a married man, struggling with chastity (= rightly ordering the gift of sexuality): You’re on your own, pal.