Catholic Sex

In a book published in 1995, Father Andrew Greeley says surveys reveal that Catholics have sex more often, are more playful in their sex lives, and enjoy sex more than non-Catholics.

If those surveys are correct, they expose widespread hypocrisy among Catholics and a failure of the Church’s “moral” teachings to influence most of them.

Despite Greeley’s descriptions of sex-positive behavior, Catholic sexual doctrines are still extremely repressive. The Church denounces contraceptives, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion, artificial insemination, and voluntary sterilization. It also demands lifelong celibacy for priests, nuns, and monks – and all others who never marry.

Occasionally, the Church even shows signs of its old opposition to so-called “bad thoughts” about sex (i.e., thoughts associating sex with pleasure), and to marital acts of sexual intercourse engaged in for pleasure rather than procreation. One example is when Pope John Paul II urged husbands “not to commit adultery with their wives by desiring sex for its mere pleasure and the satisfaction of instinct” (Modras: 124, of 1980).

Commit adultery with their wives? His nonsensical position deserves the response one person gave to the idea of the pope, a lifelong celibate, issuing directives about sex: “You no playa the game, you no makea the rules.”

Clearly, the Church’s teachings could hardly be more sexually repressive. And if one remembers the “forbidden fruit” effect, which Catholic leaders apparently haven’t learned from their own Bible, it shouldn’t be surprising that the sexual behavior of so many Catholics is inconsistent with those teachings.

As shown in Edith Simon’s book on the history of the Knights Templars, the same outcome occurred in Catholic history. She reports that when Catholic philosophy dominated Western society in the Middle Ages, the Church’s extremely repressive sexual doctrines led to an obsession about sex.

Studies of modern societies also reveal serious problems caused by repressive sexual teachings, such as those espoused by the Catholic Church. And persons who take the teachings most seriously are the ones who suffer the most.

For instance, in the book Religion May Be Hazardous to Your Health, psychiatrist Eli S. Chesen denounces the traditional Christian sexual ethic. He says it “shows up clinically in vast numbers of cases of impotence and frigidity, which usually involve people who learned as children that sex is dirty and not to be enjoyed.”

An article on “Sexual Desire” in the July 6, 1992 issue of U.S. News identifies more problems: “Therapists confirm that children who learn that sex is dirty or evil are especially prone to sexual desire disorders later in life.” The article blames strict religious environments as a frequent source of such attitudes, which can lead to various forms of deviant and sometimes antisocial sexual behavior.

In his book Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church, ex-priest Emmett McLoughlin writes that some conscientious persons who take to heart the Catholic Church’s sexual doctrines “become introverts, develop a variety of neurotic disorders, and may land in a sanatorium or an insane asylum.” He warns that “the Church’s sexual code is not only frustrating but . . . it unbalances people mentally.”

On the other hand, Catholics who don’t take the teachings seriously usually become hypocrites. This is seen in surveys showing that Catholics use birth control and resort to abortion as often as Protestants.

Of course, the whole subject of sex leaves many Catholics in a difficult dilemma. For example, Anne Biezanek wrote in the New York Times: “The Catholic wife is under great pressure. . . . If she uses contraceptives, she is called wicked by her parish priest. If she follows the advice of her priest and refrains from sexual intercourse, she is called cold by her husband. If she doesn’t take steps, she is called mad by society at large.” It might be added that if her husband has AIDS and the couple abides by the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms, she is risking her life.

Further, by making such a big deal about harmless sexual acts, the Church’s irrational ethical code can distract people from concerns about truly harmful behavior. John Ince gives an illustration: “Italian author Giordano Guerri visited Catholic priests in confession boxes in his native country, and told them of a range of fake sins he committed. He discovered that priests responded far more negatively to sins of sex such as adultery or prostitution, than to actual crimes such as murder or selling contaminated food.”

In his 1949 treatise The Catholic Church and the Sex Problem: The Stupidity, Futility and Insolence of Its Ethic, former priest Joseph McCabe wisely argued for replacing the Catholic sexual ethic with a scientific and humanistic one. This new ethic would view sex as “in itself as normal a pleasure of life as wine or art but . . . subject to a restraining in certain conditions because of consequences. . . .” Amen.

The evidence is overwhelming that Catholic sexual teachings are inconsistent with human nature and produce sorrow, guilt, immorality, and hypocrisy. Those results should induce Greeley and other Catholic leaders to advocate that the Church’s sexual doctrines be brought out of the Dark Ages and into conformity with modern scientific knowledge.