In his article, Is Masturbation Always Wrong?, E. Christian Brugger proposes serious moral errors. The specific question is whether masturbation is moral for medical reasons. His answer is a mishmash of truth, distortion, and error. And in the end, he fails to assert that masturbation is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.
I will begin with the same quote from the CCC that Brugger uses.
“By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. ‘Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.’ ‘The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.’ For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved’ [internal quotes from Persona Humana, 9]” (2352).
The correct moral analysis of the question is simple. Masturbation is intrinsically evil and therefore it is always immoral “for whatever reason”. A medical reason does not justify masturbation.
The CCC defines masturbation as “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure”. The act itself, which is intrinsically evil, is described as the “deliberate stimulation of the genital organs”. It is wrong because it is a “deliberate use of the sexual faculty” which is deprived of the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings in its moral object, making the object and the act itself moral evil.
The Catechism states the usual reason for masturbation, which is to derive sexual pleasure. However, this does not imply that masturbation for some other reason is moral. The reason or purpose for choosing an act is the intended end, which is the first font of morality. The moral object in the second font determines whether the act itself is intrinsically evil. When the second font is evil, the act is always immoral, regardless of the reason (the intended end) in the first font.
Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of an innocent human person, for the purpose (reason, intended end) of relieving all suffering. That good purpose does not make euthanasia moral. So an intrinsically evil act remains immoral, even when the intended end or purpose is good. The medical purpose of relieving suffering does not justify euthanasia. Similarly, the medical purpose of saving the mother’s life does not justify direct abortion. Therefore, the much lesser medical purpose of collecting a medical specimen or of relieving stress or of treating impotence does not justify the intrinsically evil act of masturbation.
The Magisterium has in fact taught that masturbation is immoral, even for a medical purpose. That teaching is found in Persona Humana, a 1975 document of the CDF, and in the Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility by Pope Pius XII in 1956, and in a decision of the Holy See in 1929.
The CDF: “Whatever the force of certain arguments of a biological and philosophical nature, which have sometimes been used by theologians, in fact both the Magisterium of the Church – in the course of a constant tradition – and the moral sense of the faithful have declared without hesitation that masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act. The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty. For it lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes “the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” All deliberate exercise of sexuality must be reserved to this regular relationship.” [Persona Humana 9]
The Magisterium says that “whatever the motive for acting this way”, masturbation is gravely immoral. The motive for acting this way is the reason or purpose or intended end of the act (first font). Therefore, when the motive or reason for masturbation is a medical purpose, the act remains gravely immoral. The Church clearly teaches that masturbation is immoral even when the purpose or “motive for acting this way” is not to derive sexual pleasure.
As Veritatis Splendor teaches: “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act subjectively good or defensible as a choice.” [n. 81]. So masturbation is immoral regardless of whether the intention is to derive sexual pleasure, or to treat a medical disorder (supposedly), or to obtain a specimen for analysis. All intrinsically evil acts are immoral due to an evil object in the second font. Masturbation is deprived of the marital, unitive, and procreative meanings of sex, and therefore it is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
The mention by the CCC of the usual motive (the purpose or intended end) does not imply that masturbation becomes moral when done for a good reason, even a medical reason. Pope Pius XII taught, in his Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, that masturbation to collect a specimen for medical examination or as a medical treatment is gravely immoral (n. 16-20). Therefore, the teaching is absolutely clear that masturbation is never justified for a medical purpose. Pope Pius XII calls masturbation a “depraved mode of behavior”. He condemns masturbation for the purpose of sexual pleasure. Then he recalls that the Holy See condemned masturbation for a medical purpose in a 1929 decision. Next, he himself condemns masturbation for a medical purpose or for any other “grave reasons” because this type of sexual act is “rightly considered an intrinsic violation of the principles of morality.” [n. 17-20]
Pope Pius XII: “Now the same acts ought to be likewise repudiated, even when they are used for grave reasons, which would seem to remove them from culpability: for example, for use as a remedy for those who are troubled by an excess of nervous tension or abnormal outbursts of emotion; for the medical inspection of the sperm” [n. 19]
“This being so, masturbation is entirely outside of the aforementioned natural capacity of the full exercise of the sexual faculty, and therefore it is also outside that connection to the end ordained by nature. For that same reason, it is deprived of any designation as a right, and also it is contrary to nature and the moral law, even if it is intended to serve a usefulness which is just and not improper.” [n. 24]
E. Christian Brugger should know better. He is not ignorant of the three fonts of morality. He ought to know that any one bad font makes an act a sin. So a good intended end cannot justify an intrinsically evil act. Yet here is what he says:
“The Catechism defines masturbation here, in fact two times, as the deliberate stimulation of the genitals in order to derive sexual pleasure. So the desired end is sexual pleasure, and the means by which that end is pursued is the stimulation of the genitals. And the Catechism teaches that choosing these means for that end is gravely disordered and always wrong.”
He incorrectly considered masturbation, as an intrinsically evil act, to depend upon its intended end, rather than on its moral object. The first font of intention is the end sought by the person choosing the act. The second font of the moral object defines the moral nature of the act. Using masturbation for the intended end of sexual pleasure is a grave sin. But what makes masturbation and every other intrinsically evil act sinful is not only an evil intended end, but the moral nature of the act itself. That is why euthanasia, which always includes the good intended end of relieving suffering, is still gravely immoral. And that is why masturbation, when done for a good intended end, such as a medical purpose, is still immoral. The CCC does not imply that masturbation is only immoral when the purpose is sexual pleasure.
So his first error is to fail to recognize that masturbation is immoral due to its object, rather than its intended end. He then attempts to condemn masturbation for a medical purpose by claiming that the intended end of sexual pleasure is unavoidable: “It seems that if a man begins to stimulate his genitals, he is very likely to turn to impure thoughts to assist the process; and after the train gets revving, as it were, it is extremely likely that he will begin to seek pleasure….” But that claim is weak. It is not certain that a person who commits the sin of masturbation will necessarily choose the intended end of sexual pleasure. His second error, then, is to claim that the intrinsically evil act of masturbation always has a certain intended end. To the contrary, intended ends are freely chosen by the person who acts; intrinsically evil acts always have the same moral object, not the same intention.
Brugger’s third error is to ignore past teachings of the Magisterium condemning the use of masturbation for medical purposes: “it is true that in the modern period, the Church has not taught specifically on the question of masturbation for clinical purposes.” What is the modern period? The above magisterial quotes, which I cite in condemnation of masturbation for a medical purpose are from 1975, 1956, and 1929. The Church does not need to keep repeating Her teaching in order for it to remain true.
His fourth error is to transform an intrinsically evil act of masturbation into a mere near occasion for sin: “Therefore, adopting this mode of behavior, that is, choosing self-stimulation unto ejaculation, would be placing himself willingly in a near occasion of serious sin….” The Magisterium teaches that masturbation is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Brugger says, instead, that masturbation for a good purpose becomes merely a near occasion for sin. And we know that near occasions for sin are not always immoral, but rather it depends on the circumstances. One may enter a near occasion for sin for a grave reason. But the Magisterium teaches that even “grave reasons” do not justify the choice of the intrinsically evil act of masturbation.
Finally, Brugger goes so far as to suggest that a single man might find some way to collect a medical specimen without sinning gravely: “Explore morally licit options for collecting semen samples with a competent physician who respects Catholic values.” But in truth, there is no such morally licit option. Pope Pius XII has specifically condemned the use of masturbation to collect semen samples for medical analysis.
The National Catholic Register has become the dumping ground for E. Christian Brugger’s heretical and schismatic errors. They seem to have no filter, which would turn away articles containing grave moral error and false claims about magisterial teaching. Other Catholic publications are in a similar state. They do not seem to be able to distinguish doctrine from error, dogma from heresy.
Brugger and many other Catholic authors assert that a condom may be used by the husband to collect a semen sample for medical analysis, as long as the condom is perforated. This procedure has been discussed by moral theologians for many decades (e.g. McFadden 1946, Medical Ethics for Nurses; The American Ecclesiastical Review, 1944; etc.) It has always been a subject of dispute among moral theologians. Some hold that it is never moral; others point out that using only small perforations would not allow for the act to be open to life. The reader is advised that this use for a condom is not approved by the Church.
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