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The Church vs. The Sexual Revolution


Don't believe the headlines. The battle continues.

synod6Journalists covering the synod meeting of bishops in Rome have reported that they haven't had this much fun in several generations.  Ecclesiastical meetings usually are rather staid affairs, especially news-wise, given that the good news the Church has to preach is at least 2,000 years old.  But the special "Synod on the family" called by Pope Francis has provided all sorts of news.  The reporters have enjoyed front-page stories, and rightfully so, for what is unfolding in Rome this week is the principal cultural and religious story of our time.

The question behind the other questions this week in Rome — whether it be on divorce and remarriage, on cohabitation, on contraception, on homosexuality — is simply, and most gravely, this: Will the Catholic Church finally make its peace with the dominant cultural phenomenon of our time, the sexual revolution?

According to the mainstream media, for which religion is mostly about morality and morality is almost exclusively about sex, the Catholic Church remains the great exception to the sexual revolution.  Facilitated technologically by the oral contraceptive and culturally by rapid secularization, this revolution successfully separated sex from babies, and, in short order, sex from marriage, sex from love, and even love from marriage, if love is understood to have a sacrificial, enduring character.

The sexual revolution has crushed everything in its path, including most Christian communities in the West, which it rendered both impotent and sterile.  The Catholic Church has been the lone institutional holdout, earning for itself puzzlement from friends and ferocious hostility from enemies.  Catholic teaching has insisted that both natural reason and biblical revelation teach that sex, love, marriage and babies all belong together in the complementarity of men and women made in the image and likeness of God.  For both human happiness and holiness, Catholic teaching holds that what God has joined together, man must not put asunder.

The sexual revolution was the great putting asunder.  Though it has routed all rivals in almost every corner of the public square, it is a jealous god, suspicious of rivals.  So for 50 years, it has waited for the day of the great capitulation, when a great exhaustion would befall the Catholic Church, and it would make its peace with the sexual revolution.  The giddy global headlines this week announced that the moment was at hand.

Though it has routed all rivals in almost every corner of the public square, it is a jealous god, suspicious of rivals. So for 50 years, it has waited for the day of the great capitulation, when a great exhaustion would befall the Catholic Church, and it would make its peace with the sexual revolution.

It may not be, however devoutly that consummation is wished by many inside the Church and almost everyone outside.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking about the African bishops present in Rome, addressed the drama in Rome in the context of the greater drama of these past generations.

"The bishops of Africa are prophetic in reminding us that the role of the Church is to transform the culture, not to be transformed by the culture," Dolan said.  "I'm afraid sometimes we in the West might say, 'Oh, I guess we ought to dilute things, I guess we ought to capitulate, it's obvious this teaching's being rejected, we're not popular.' And the Africans say, 'Well, you know what?  We're not supposed to be.  What we're supposed to do is propose the truth and invite people by the love and the joy of our lives to embrace the truth.  And take it from us, brothers, it works.' "

Is the great capitulation upon us?  I rather think not, but those who argue that what is unfolding in Rome these weeks is the fruit of the seed planted by the most famous words of Pope Francis — "Who am I to judge?" — have a plausible case.  "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?," declared a document released by the Vatican on Monday.  "Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"

In the senior prelates' final report issued tomorrow, will they declare that the Church has reluctantly, grudgingly, regrettably, but ultimately, made its peace with the sexual revolution?  An airborne papal interview cannot raise the white flag of surrender in a decades-long cultural struggle, but a synod of bishops could feasibly do just that.

Sexual morality would then follow the Church's practise on Sabbath observance: No change in doctrine, but the teaching that Mass is obligatory on Sunday is simply left unsaid, and the Church simply learns to live with the majority of Catholics ignoring it, and the culture as a whole totally rejecting it.  Biblically, Sabbath observance is more important than sexual morality, but the Church long ago capitulated there in the face of not seduction by sex, but the ravenous appetite of commerce, which has swallowed up all social, family, cultural and religious life.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will declare his predecessor Pope Paul VI to be blessed, the ultimate step before sainthood.  Paul VI was the great dissenter from the radically new sexual orthodoxy, affirming in 1968 the ancient and unchanging Christian teaching on contraception.  The world thinks of Francis as the great accommodator.  What the latter says about the former on Sunday will give some indication if the world is right.  That's the story of a lifetime.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The Church vs. The Sexual Revolution." National Post, (Canada) October 17, 2014.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

Photo credit: Participants begin to enter the Vatican's Synod Hall before the Friday session of the Synod on the Family, Oct. 10, 2014_Credit Daniel Ibáñez-CNA

The Author

Father Raymond J. de Souza is the founding editor of Convivium magazine.

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