Previously, Michael Francis (a moderator at Catholic Answers forums) posted some comments on my articles and position on marital sexual acts. His comments are long and make numerous assertions, which puts me in the position of either letting the comment stand, even though it might lead some souls astray, or spending much time replying to his many points. So, in this post (I hope he doesn’t mind), I’ve taken his most recent comment from the moderation queue (for the post How the Basic Principles of Ethics apply to Marital Chastity) and put them in this post, followed by my paragraph by paragraph response.
His comments are in quotes (and he chose to number the sections of it), and my comments are preceded by a tilde ~
“As expected, you did not publish my response from last night. Rather, you doubled down on the rhetorical flourish and ignored the valid criticism that your entire argument on this subject begs the question. You’ve attempted to judge others in your rhetoric. How, one wonders, would you judge a person who takes perfectly licit (and even good) acts and mistakenly makes them a mortal sin?”
~ That response was long, and moved quickly from one claim to another. It was also somewhat confusing as to which points you were making. Shorter and clearer comments, just in general, are more likely to be posted.
~ I’m assuming it is said to beg the question because of the premise that the acts in question are unnatural? See my recent post on Pope Pius XII, who stated that if the wife climaxes outside of natural marital relations (by a deliberate choice, of course), the act is “contrary to nature” and “intrinsically evil”.
“By reason of this law of nature, the right and power to the complete, directly intended exercise of the sexual faculty does not belong to man except when he performs the marriage act according to the norm imposed and defined by nature itself….
“What has been said up to this point concerning the intrinsic evil of any complete use of the generative faculty outside the natural marriage act is valid in the same way for married people and for single people, whether the complete use of the genital apparatus is exercised by the man or the woman, or by both parties together; whether it is done by means of manual touches or by the interruption of the marriage act; for this is always an act contrary to nature and intrinsically evil.” [Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility; translation by Ford and Kelly in Marriage Questions]
~ So the claim that the wife can climax outside of natural marital relations is contradicted by this teaching of Pope Pius XII. He also contradicts or at least undermines your claim that the married state offers the right to make use of the sexual faculty in acts of “foreplay” which include completion. Other than in the natural marriage act, married persons are under the same restriction as single persons against the complete use of the “genital apparatus” (is that the best translation of the Latin here?).
“Here is your argument as best I can summarize it. If I am wrong, then you can publish this reply and explain what part of this is not an accurate reflection of your position.”
“1. Church teaching prohibits unnatural sexual acts, which consist of sexual acts that are closed to procreation. ***So far so good.”
~ Unnatural sexual acts are neither procreative, nor unitive. They are intrinsically evil. Pope Pius XII states that they are. And many Church documents teach that various sexual sins are intrinsically evil, from contraception, to masturbation, to homosexual acts. All this is relevant because the reason they are intrinsically evil sheds light on which acts are immoral in marriage. As Pope Pius XII states, married persons are still prohibited from completion outside of natural marital relations.
~ The Church does not merely prohibit unnatural sexual acts, She requires each sexual act in a marriage to be unitive and procreative. So you have to argue about the meaning of “act” and the meaning of “sexual act”, otherwise, you have already lost the debate. If some acts of so-called foreplay are sexual acts, but are not unitive and procreative, then they would have the same deprivation in the moral object that makes other sexual sins intrinsically evil.
“2. Foreplay by married couples is similar to non-procreative activities among unmarried persons (last time you compared it to homosexual sex and now you add masturbation) and, for this reason, is prohibited. *** This is faulty reasoning because there is no comparison between married and unmarried sexual activities. If foreplay in anticipation of consummation is prohibited, it’s for another reason but not because it resembles immoral acts by others.”
~ Yikes! That’s quite a distortion of my position. Some acts of foreplay are licit, as they are not per se sexual acts, and therefore do not need to be unitive and procreative. Other acts, termed foreplay, are per se sexual acts, and so they would have to be unitive and procreative to be moral. Concerning that set of acts called foreplay, which include completion for the wife, Pope Pius XII taught that these acts are “intrinsically evil” and “contrary to nature” (unnatural acts). They are certainly grave sins. And no intrinsically evil act is justified by being juxtaposed to a good act, such as natural marital relations.
~ Again, Pope Pius XII stated that there is a comparison between married and unmarried sexual acts. Married persons do not have the right and power to commit completed sexual acts outside of marital relations. So the final question concerns incomplete sexual acts. Pius XII doesn’t address the question in the above quoted address, but this does not indicate approval. In his Address to Midwives, he discusses which sexual acts a married couple can do, if the natural act is not possible. He does not approve of incomplete acts as even a possibility. Instead he says the only choice is “complete abstinence”. He then states: “It will be objected that such an abstention is impossible, that such a heroism is asking too much.” (n. 41-42). Clearly, he does not consider incomplete sexual acts to be a moral option.
~ Please note that it is not possible to claim that any and all incomplete sexual acts are moral in marriage. The Holy Office (12 Aug 1950) condemned the use of amplexus reservatus, even in marriage [Ford, Kelly, Marrige Questions p. 216]. Amplexus reservatus is intercourse which would be of the natural type, except that both the husband and wife deliberately refrain from climax. Sexual acts must be marital, unitive, and procreative, to be moral, but that act is deliberately non-procreative, so it is intrinsically evil — even though it is an incomplete sexual act.
“3. Humane Vitae kind of…sort of addresses the matter and at least one Doctor of the Church directly addresses it. *** This is also faulty reasoning because HV does not address the mechanics of married sexuality. It addresses the use of contraception and conditions for the licit use of Natural Family Planning. Doctors of the Church inform Church teaching, they do not establish Church teaching. The Church herself is silent on this matter. That makes it a little like the argument about the existence of aliens – silence answers the question.”
~ Humanae Vitae requires “each single act” that is to say “each and every marital act” to be unitive and procreative. We all know that Humanae Vitae was written to address the question of contraception. But as is the case with many magisterial documents, other questions end up being answered because the truths and ethical principles of the Faith often have broad application. This is not a question of mechanics. It is a question of morality. Sexual acts in a marriage must be unitive and procreative.
~ I take offense at your repeated false assertion that the Church is silent on this matter. My articles repeatedly present the teaching of the Church on this matter: (1) on the basic principles of ethics, as they apply to ALL ethical decisions, which includes marital sexual ethics, and (2) on sexual ethics, many teachings of which apply to marital sexual ethics. Your proposal on marital sexuality is devoid of any consideration of both types of teachings.
~ You have not said, specifically, which acts of foreplay you are defending. So I will speak more generally. The idea that the Church is silent on whether or not a husband can sodomize his wife (to her completion but not his) is absurd. This type of act has always been considered unnatural. It obviously contradicts the teaching that sexual acts must be unitive and procreative. And the point, made by St. Alphonsus Liguori, that fornication is still fornication, and sodomy is still sodomy, even without completion, is obvious to reason alone.
~ No, Doctors of the Church do not merely inform Church teaching. The Church chooses certain few Saints among the thousands of Saints, to have the role of Teachers of the Church, that is to say, teachers of the faithful. She expects the faithful to learn from them directly, and not only if the Magisterium decides to use their teachings in a document. Sweeping away the teachings of Aquinas and Liguori on that basis shows how weak your argument is. You have no reply to Liguori or Aquinas, except to ignore them?
“4. Because foreplay itself is intrinsically evil as a means, it cannot be defended by its end. This relies on the faulty reasoning of 2 and 3 and so is itself is a faulty conclusion. This is true, however, with regard to contraceptive behavior – the totality of the marriage does not justify the use of contraceptives in any given sexual act – male completion.”
~ As Pope Pius XII taught, the husband and wife are under the same rule that the complete use of the sexual faculty can occur only in the natural marriage act. I do not say that all foreplay is intrinsically evil. Each act of foreplay is subject to the basic principles of ethics, to determine if it is moral or immoral under any of the three fonts. The idea that any sexual act at all is moral if you label it as foreplay, or use it as if it were foreplay, is patently ridiculous. All human acts are subject to the eternal moral law.
~ Certain sexual acts, done to completion and in isolation, are unnatural and therefore intrinsically evil. They are intrinsically evil, specifically, because they are sexual acts which are neither unitive nor procreative. The basic principles of ethics prohibit these acts from being considered moral by the purpose of the act (foreplay is the purpose), or by being done about the same time as a good act. The teachings of the Church on morality applies to all human acts, even those in the marital bedroom.
~ So your position does not survive this application of the Church’s ethical teachings, unless you can somehow claim that an incomplete unnatural sexual act is not a sexual act. It certainly is an act, since the CCC and Veritatis Splendor clearly present human acts as deliberate knowing choices. Do you really expect people to believe that unnatural sexual acts are no longer sexual acts because of the lack of climax? I clearly establish that such a claim is false from the USCCB document, and Liguori, and arguments from reason as well, in my article.
“I do appreciate that you attempted to define “sexual acts” even if your definition is far more restrictive than Church teaching. But it is you, and not the Church, who defines it as: “each single sexual act”, by which you mean to judge, whether you realize it or not, individual movements of the body rather than what the Church is referring to – male completion inside of his wife. If the Church considers this to be mortally sinful conduct, then yes, I would absolutely expect the Church to produce a manual so couples can save their souls.”
~ Your claim that the only thing that is a sexual act in a marriage is male completion is contrary to reason. It is contrary to the teaching of Pius XII quoted above. It is contrary to magisterial documents referring to various sexual acts as any deliberate use of the generative (or sexual) faculty. My definition of sexual acts is entirely in agreement with the many magisterial documents I cite or quote in my several articles on this topic. The Church does in fact say “each single act” (Humanae Vitae 3) and “Each and every sexual act in a marriage” (USCCB Catechism).
~ You are the one with an absurdly restrictive definition of “sexual act”, defined as nothing other than male completion. Pius XII rejects this claim when he says that female completion outside of the natural act is intrinsically evil and contrary to nature. The types of sexual acts performed by homosexual couples are intrinsically evil because they are sexual acts which are non-procreative and non-unitive. And they do not cease to be sexual acts when done, with or without male completion, by married couples. Pius goes so far as to say that married couples cannot do things that are also forbidden to single persons. So I can see why NONE of your arguments are based on Church teaching; you can’t reconcile what you say with what the Church says.
“No matter how you try to spin it, you can’t argue that marital behavior is forbidden because that same behavior is also forbidden to unmarried persons or is forbidden in masturbation. And the same is true for unmarried persons; their sexual acts that are open to life are not permitted simply because such acts are permitted to a married couple. Your line of argument in this regard is specious.”
Pope Pius XII: ‘What has been said up to this point concerning the intrinsic evil of any complete use of the generative faculty outside the natural marriage act is valid in the same way for married people and for single people, whether the complete use of the genital apparatus is exercised by the man or the woman, or by both parties together; whether it is done by means of manual touches or by the interruption of the marriage act; for this is always an act contrary to nature and intrinsically evil.’
~ Pius XII disagrees with you. Apparently, you did not see that post. The reason for the comparison is to establish which moral objects make a sexual act intrinsically evil. Most intrinsically evil sexual acts are immoral because they are deprived of the unitive or procreative or marital meaning in the object of the act. Natural marital relations open to life has all three objects: marital, unitive, and procreative. That is what makes it an intrinsically good act.
~ Is it moral for a married man to masturbate? No. He is under the same eternal moral law as a single person. Can he masturbate but not to completion? No. The USCCB says it is still the intrinsically evil act of masturbation, even without climax. Can he perform this act on his wife? No. She is under the same eternal moral law. Can husbands and wives commit the same unnatural sexual acts as homosexual couples, as long as they follow certain rules? No, because those acts are intrinsically evil due to the deprivation of the unitive and procreative meanings.
~ It makes a mockery of the Church’s teaching against homosexual acts, same-sex marriage, masturbation, and other sexual sins, to claim that married couples are exempt and can do all of these things (except male completion). The sexual sins that are possible within marriage are not so different from those outside of marriage.
“I hope you will take this critique to heart. I believe you to have a good heart. But a good heart is not good enough when you impose unnecessary restrictions on others that may be harmful by rendering wives objects in the very act that renews the subject to subject covenant of matrimony.”
~ I have the same position as St. Alphonsus Liguori, in his book Moral Theology, which has received the imprimatur many times across many different publications, and which was directly approved by the Roman Pontiff. My position is supported by theological arguments based on the basic principles of ethics taught by Veritatis Splendor and by the magisterial teachings on sexual ethics.
~ If you are wrong, you are not merely guilty of “unnecessary restrictions” but of approving of grave sexual sins within the Sacrament of Marriage.
(Michael added a new comment, while I was preparing my response to the earlier comment. His new comment does not take account of my reply above.)
“My goal is to convince you to reconsider and, except for 1-4 above, you don’t seem to understand how you’re begging the question. I’ll try here a different approach. It has to be more specific though I had hoped to avoid that. If this doesn’t help you, it’s likely not worth hitting my head against a wall over and over again.”
~ I’m not begging the question. I’ve written extensively on Catholic ethics in general and on Catholic sexual ethics in particular. You are only working from a few posts you have read. I understand the definition of acts, the three fonts of morality, and the structure of the font called the moral object. I also understand the various issues you are raising, and I have sound replies.
“Any distinction between hugs and kisses and then deliberate genital activity based on the former not being ordered to climax is artificial. Does it apply to couples who hug and rub? That seems quite likely to result in climax. Are married couples who attempt to hold each other before intercourse supposed to maintain separation of their bodies so there is no genital contact that might lead to climax in the natural order of things? It just seems that you intend a husband and wife to take off their clothes and attempt intercourse without any preparation.”
~ The acts which I call intrinsically evil unnatural sexual acts are the same acts used by homosexual couples — oral sex, anal sex, manual sex, use of sex toys. Most acts of ordinary foreplay are moral. The aforementioned acts are ordered toward climax because they go far beyond mere danger of pollution. These acts are chosen by many couples because they easily result in climax. That is the proximate end of those acts, the deprivation of the unitive and procreative meanings from sexual acts.
~ A married couple can lay so that their genitals make some contact while they are engaging in foreplay. As long as they are not deliberately trying to “dry hump” (sorry) to reach climax, it is not a per se sexual act. They can begin kissing and hugging and making out in various ways. It is fine if during this set of acts there is some stimulation of the genitals.
“What about a husband deliberately touching his wife’s genitalia so he can insert? That is deliberate genital activity that could result in climax. It is also non-procreative. It just seems that your overly restrictive definition of sexual acts puts you in a bind. The ends do not justify the means of a deliberate genital act that is inherently non-procreative.”
~ The husband or the wife can touch the genitals to assist in insertion. No one does that as an act expecting climax. The mere fact that climax could result, for little reason, is not an issue. You are distorting my meaning to try to make my argument fail.
“Do I understand your point correctly? Because it seems you would agree this latter act is intrinsically evil. If it’s not, you’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel to distinguish other deliberate genital acts that are not specifically procreative. Thank you.”
~ I don’t agree it is intrinsically evil. You know very well what kind of acts some couples do. I hear these things mentioned in sitcoms on airwaves TV (during the safe harbor), and in even PG-13 type movies. We are talking about unnatural sexual acts of the type that people use to obtain climax in a way that is clearly not procreative, and from a Catholic point of view not really unitive. My position is that such acts are not moral for married persons, with or without climax. It is not such a radical point of view. It is a view held by Saints/Doctors as well as by present-day priests and theologians.
More on marital chastity in my book: The Catholic Marriage Bed
Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.