Marital sexual ethics, reply to objections 2

This post discusses more objections to the teaching on marital sexual ethics found in this article:
Unnatural sexual acts as marital foreplay

A. Objection: Some priests and theologians have approved of the use of unnatural sexual acts as marital foreplay.

Reply: It is always possible to find some priests and some theologians who will reject, re-interpret, or undermine any teaching of the Catholic Faith whatsoever. Some priests and theologians reject the teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. Some reject the teaching against contraception. It is said that some priests, even when advising penitents in the confessional, allow the penitent to use contraception. Some priests and theologians will justify direct abortion, either by inventing a new basis for ethics, or by re-interpreting the terms direct, moral object, and intrinsic evil. Any teaching that they dislike, they interpret so that its meaning is nullified or so as to mean the exact opposite of what has been plainly taught.

The prevalence of this rejection of magisterial teaching seems to always be greater when the sin pertains to sexuality. Human persons are influenced by concupiscence and by sinful secular society toward all manner of sins, but especially toward sexual sins. And so when some priests and theologians go astray from clear doctrine and sound theology, it is often on the subject of sexual sins. And almost always the error is by way of permitting a sexual act, rather than restricting it.

This type of objection often ignores the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, and ignores the teachings of Saints and Doctors of the Church (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas).

When such objections do not utterly ignore the teaching of the Magisterium, they severely distort it. In response to magisterial teachings that they dislike, they interpret the teaching in some way that narrows or nullifies its meaning, so that some sins seem justified. For example, some persons have claimed that contraception is not immoral outside of marriage; they narrow the teachings of Humanae Vitae to only marital sexual acts. Similarly, the clear and definitive teaching of the Magisterium that every sexual act must be marital, and that every marital sexual act must be unitive and procreative, is interpreted so that ‘act’ has a different meaning, one that would include any number or type of knowing choices. But this interpretation ignores the teaching of moral theology that an act is a knowing choice. And it ignores the teaching of Humanae Vitae that explicitly rejects the principle of totality, combining acts for the purpose of moral assessment. (Donum Vitae also rejects this approach.) Humanae Vitae begins by considering whether it is a set of sexual acts that must be procreative, such that some procreative acts justify the entire set (the principle of totality), or whether “each single act” must be procreative. Humanae Vitae then concludes that “each and every marital act” must be both procreative and unitive. The USCCB Catechism words this same teaching this way: “Each and every sexual act in a marriage needs to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child.” (USCCB Catechism, p. 409).

The claim that these phrases, “each single act” and “each and every marital act” and “each and every sexual act,” refer to any number or type of sexual acts combined as a set is patently contrary to the plain meaning. Some persons even claim that acts of foreplay are justified as long as these acts occur within the same context as an act of natural marital relations. So they use the term ‘act’ to refer to each knowing choice of various sexual acts, in effect admitting that these are separate acts. But then they go on to claim that, for the purposes of moral evaluation, all these acts are one act. Their position contradicts itself and contradicts the clear teaching of the Magisterium.

The teaching of the Magisterium definitively rejects this approach of combining acts. In truth, each marital sexual act must be judged in itself and cannot borrow its definitive moral quality from the totality of conjugal life of which it becomes part, nor from the conjugal acts which may precede or follow it. The Magisterium has taught that each and every marital act must be unitive and procreative. The theological opinions of some priests and theologians cannot withstand this definitive teaching of the Magisterium. Nor do these opinions contain any compelling theological argument to support such claims.

B. The most common objection is the ‘ipse dixit’ argument, in which the proponent of a particular point of view merely states that an idea is true, without any support. A person states that the Church teaches that unnatural sexual acts may be used as foreplay. A person states that unnatural sexual acts are moral when in the context of an act of natural marital relations. But no support for the claim is presented at all. This approach is very common. And when the person is telling people what they want to hear, it is appallingly effective.

This is the new approach to theology that has become so popular. The theologian simply tells people what they want to hear, and they accept it without question.

Reply: There are no magisterial documents permitting unnatural sexual acts to be used in marriage or out of marriage, nor as foreplay, nor in any circumstance or context. It is a patently false claim to say that the Church or the Magisterium has approved of unnatural sexual acts within marriage.

Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil because they lack the procreative meaning; these acts are inherently non-procreative (and they are also inherently non-unitive). Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubii and other magisterial sources can be cited to prove that the Church teaches that each and every marital act must be procreative as well as unitive. And, as Veritatis Splendor and the CCC teach, intrinsically evil acts are always immoral regardless of intention (such as the intention to use the act as a type of foreplay) and regardless of circumstances or context:

“It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC, n. 1756).

C. Objection: that the Magisterium has no teaching on whether unnatural sexual acts may be used within marriage, and therefore, the Church has left the decision to the prudential judgment of the spouses.

Reply: Yet another objection is raised that simply ignores the definitive teaching of the Magisterium, pretending that no such teaching even exists. At least the other approach, the one that misinterprets magisterial teaching, admits that such teaching exists.

Sexual acts are a grave matter:

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Now according to Christian tradition and the Church’s teaching, and as right reason also recognizes, the moral order of sexuality involves such high values of human life that every direct violation of this order is objectively serious.” (Persona Humana, n. X.)

Do you really believe that in 2000 years of teaching the Magisterium has never addressed whether unnatural sexual acts are gravely immoral sins that deserve the punishment of Hell, or are completely moral and a fitting part of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony? This type of objection interprets and narrows and thereby dismisses every teaching of the Magisterium that applies to morality in general and to sexual morality specifically, in order to conclude that, in effect: “No one knows if such acts are moral or immoral, so do whatever you want.” This type of approach to ethics is not Catholic Christian and is not reasonable.

In fact, Saint Augustine and Saint Aquinas have condemned unnatural sexual acts within marriage. The Church has chosen them as Saints and as Doctors (teachers) of the Church. In fact, the Magisterium has repeatedly and definitively condemned sexual acts that are non-marital, or non-procreative, or non-unitive. The teaching of the Magisterium condemns all non-marital, or non-procreative, or non-unitive sexual acts as intrinsically evil. The teaching of the Church on intrinsically evil acts is definitive and irreformable: intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

So it is not true that the Magisterium has no teachings that would guide the Christian spouses so as to avoid gravely immoral sexual acts in the marital bedroom. The general teachings on morality (three fonts of morality, intrinsically evil acts) and the specific teachings on marital sexual acts clearly imply that unnatural sexual acts are never moral.

Address to Midwives by Pope Pius XII

“If nature had aimed exclusively, or at least in the first place, at a reciprocal gift and possession of the married couple in joy and delight, and if it had ordered that act only to make happy in the highest possible degree their personal experience, and not to stimulate them to the service of life, then the Creator would have adopted another plan in forming and constituting the natural act. Now, instead, all this is subordinated and ordered to that unique, great law of the generatio et educatio prolis, namely the accomplishment of the primary end of matrimony as the origin and source of life.

“Unfortunately, unceasing waves of hedonism invade the world and threaten to submerge in the swelling tide of thoughts, desires and acts the whole marital life, not without serious dangers and grave prejudice to the primary duty of husband and wife.

“This anti-Christian hedonism too often is not ashamed to elevate itself to a doctrine, inculcating the ardent desire to make always more intense the pleasure in the preparation and in the performance of the conjugal union, as if in matrimonial relations the whole moral law were reduced to the normal performance of the act itself, and as if all the rest, in whatever way it is done, were to be justified by the expression of mutual affection, sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, worthy of praise and reward before God and conscience. There is no thought at all of the dignity of man and of the Christian — a dignity — which restrains the excess of sensuality.”

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