CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
NOTE ON THE BOOK
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is entrusted with the responsibility “of promoting and safeguarding the doctrine of faith and morals in the whole Catholic world” (Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 48), has completed an examination of the aforementioned book by Father André Guindon according to the ordinary procedure of its Ratio Agendi. After a dialogue with the author conducted through the mediation of the Superior General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from November 1988 to September 1991, the Congregation publishes this Note which indicates points in which the volume conflicts with the doctrine of the Church in the area of sexual morality. At this same time, the Congregation again extends the author the opportunity within a reasonable period of time to furnish clarifications which would exemplify his stated desire to be faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium. The dialogue with the author is being pursued in conjunction with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Congregation for Catholic Education according to their respective areas of competence.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE BOOK
The book seeks to be more than a study of sexology. The author intends to offer the Church a personal contribution toward the development of a new doctrine regarding what he calls “sexual fecundity”, proposed as “a contribution toward the construction of an alternative to the unsatisfactory fecundity-fertility view” (p. ix). We are not just dealing then with a rethink- ing of the moral norms concerning human sexuality, but with the proposal of a new anthropology and an “agenda for the forthcoming revolution of the sexual creators” (p. 236).
The volume is not lacking in a number of praiseworthy goals and positive aspects, for example, its desire to overcome a legalism which is merely exterior and negative (pp. 9ff), its avowed opposition to a contraceptive or hedonistic mentality which considers sexual pleasure an end in itself (pp. 36, 74, 94), its efforts to attain a unified vision of the human being (pp. 22ff), its resolve to be attentive to persons beyond their moral faults (p. 164) and its investigation of the Christian meaning of human affectivity (pp. 100, 105).
A careful examination of the text, however, has shown that it also contains a number of serious and fundamental disagreements, not only with more recent teachings of the Magisterium, but also with the traditional doctrine of the Church. These disagreements regard the general understanding of sexuality, the understanding of the human person in his relationships with others and with God the creator, as well as the moral judgment of particular forms of sexual behavior. These disagreements are ultimately rooted in an inadequate and at times erroneous approach on the level of theological method.
2. Particular Problems
2.1. General understanding of sexuality
The author uses the terms “sexual” and “sexuality” in a wide sense so as to designate all that characterizes the affective activities of the human being as sexual (cf., for example, pp. 23, 71, 120-121). “Sexuality is that which gives human beings an interpersonal and social history and that which makes them responsible for its development” (p. 34). One can hardly imagine a broader definition. Sexuality is described in terms of the two components of “sensuality” and “tenderness”, which are linked respectively to the bodily and spiritual dimensions of the human being. But to designate as sexual every expression of affection with the claim that it is inevitably marked by the sexual nature of the person is not only a confusing inflation of the word sexual, but also a violation of the elementary rules of logic. From the fact that every affective relationship is marked by the sexual character of the partners, it does not follow that every affective relationship is a sexual one. It becomes ambiguous and confusing, then, when all affective relationships, even those of parents with their children, those of celibates and so on are characterized as sexual (pp. 66-67, 120-121).
Corresponding to this enlarged notion of sexuality is the author's proposal of a new and more fundamental understanding of “sexual fecundity”, which is to become the basis for illuminating “all the instances of sexual interaction” (pp. 66-67). This new criterion of reference is presented as independent of “biological fecundity”, which traditional Catholic moral teaching, it is claimed, mistakenly assumed to be the only norm. Thus the principle regulating human sexuality would no longer be the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act, but rather the inseparability of “sensuality” and “tenderness” (pp. 66-68). The primary meaning of the “transmission of life” would be a “new quality of human life which is communicated in and through an integrated sexual experience... from one love to the other” (p. 67). Procreation is treated as secondary and dispensable. The integration of sensuality and tenderness is proposed as the criterion for judging any kind of sexual activity, not only conjugal, nor heterosexual only, but also homosexual (p. 67). As a result, “it is assumed that the moral journey in the sexual lives of spouses, parents, sons and daughters, lesbians and gays or celibates does not differ substantially from one lifestyle to another” (p. 79).
It is right to recognize the author's intention to base his notion of sexuality and fecundity on an integral anthropology (“a holistic view of selfhood”, p. 23), one which would not forsake the composite nature of the human being, but would be able to reformulate it in truly integrated terms without lapsing into dangerous dualisms resulting in biologistic or spiritualistic reductions which lead in turn to the production of a seriously distorted sexual ethic. But one searches in vain in the book for even a summary statement of such an anthropology, the lack of which reduces the anthropology to a sort of declaration of intent. Furthermore, the equivocal definition of sexuality, together with the erroneous vision of fecundity, actually leads to what was sought to be avoided, namely, an anthropological dualism. In the first two chapters, the notion of sexuality held by Father Guindon requires a strong emphasis on the bodily nature of the human person. But in the third and fourth chapters, when it comes to defining fecundity in and of itself, independently of fertility, bodily nature, which apparently has become cumbersome for the author, is neglected or sacrificed in order to avoid what the author sees as the age-old reduction of sexuality and fecundity to mere biology. A unified and fitting understanding of the human person, one which takes account of all the levels of his being (biological, psychological and spiritual), would not permit the author to speak of fertility as follows:
“As long as we maintain that the result intended must be a child, we are no longer talking about an aspect of a sexual source (fecundity) or of a sexual product. We are dealing with substances: chromosomes (the source) producing a child (the effect)” (p. 65).
The procreative meaning of fecundity is reduced to the level of making copies of the species. At the same time, the anthropological meaning of sexuality is located mostly in its experiential components of sensuality and tenderness, which can thus be creative and make use of the body as an instrument lacking inherent moral value and thus completely manipulatable according to subjective intentions. The separation of the experiential or psychological elements of sensuality and tenderness, on the one hand, from the bodily elements of reproduction, on the other, is indisputably dualistic. Both, in fact, are integral parts of one and the same person. But the same charge of dualism cannot be leveled against the principle, precisely that of Church teaching, that the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act are inseparable.
2.2. Interpersonal relations
In Father Guindon's phenomenology of sexual relationships, emphasis is repeatedly placed on the “self expressing the self” (for expressions of this kind, see pp. 11, 14, 22, 23, 26, 27, 31, 33, 34, 65-67, 71, 90, 102). We have here a personalism centered on the self and self-expression. How is this to be reconciled with the requirements of loving another person, taking into account the other person's reality and autonomy? Why does the book make practically no reference to the fact, surely part of the Christian tradition, that the law of love includes the law of the cross? According to Vatican Council II, the vocation of marriage requires “outstanding virtue” and “a spirit of sacrifice” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 49). Father Guindon hardly makes reference to the need for such virtue. He does not take account of the fact that sexual impulses are not easily integrated with a genuine love so that chastity and self-restraint become a necessary and difficult part of human love unless one assumes that the desire to express oneself sexually is always matched by the availability of a willing partner to whom one can express oneself.
Although the author proposes the values of “loving fecundity” (pp. 72- 74) and “responsible fecundity” (pp. 74-78) as third and fourth criteria for evaluating “sexual fecundity” and even asserts that “human sexuality is fecund when it promotes humanly tender/sensuous life, self-identity, personal worth and community” (p. 78), no adequate explanation is given as to how the experiences of tenderness and sensuality might lead to the building up of a community.
2.3. The relationship between the human person and the Creator
A more basic deficiency underlying the erroneous positions pointed out in the work is the substitution of a concept of creativity for creaturehood (pp. vii ff.). God, in creating the creature's freedom, is said to have given man and woman the capability to liberate their own humanity, and so man and woman are to be seen as “sexual creators”. The author does not recognize that God has placed a meaning and an intrinsic order within created reality, whose truth as the objective norm for human behavior is to be recognized and followed (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 48). Instead, God is said to have entrusted to men and women the creative power to develop a sexual language which expresses and structures meaningful human relationships (p. viii). For the author, therefore, there is no truth which precedes and directs action (agere). There is only the production, through subjective spontaneity, of creative models of meaning (the author makes reference to the epistemology of T.S. Kuhn, pp. 4, 15-16). Moral goodness, no longer a quality of the will which chooses in harmony with the truth of being, is reduced to a product of subjective intentions. For example, we read that “the moral task consists in making one's own truth or in making sense of one's own life” (p. 163). Furthermore, Father Guindon states that homosexually oriented persons should act homosexually since agere sequitur esse (p. 161). Here, esse seems to be reduced to subjective inclination. The truly revolutionary aspect of the book is to be found precisely here in the way it ignores the anthropological bases required by any objective morality, and by Christian morality in particular.
2.4. Problems of moral method
The erroneous positions arrived at in this book are a consequence of the adoption of a deficient method.
First, the author makes a general reference to experience without adduc- ing any phenomenological analysis of the nature and dynamics of human sexuality, in other words, of that which is to constitute the substance of what is new in his work. On this point he confines himself to bibliographical references. Nevertheless, he maintains that it is from experience that one discovers the nature of sexuality as the integration of sensuality and tenderness (p. 23). He goes on to make a brief presentation of a linguistic model of apparently structuralist derivation which allows him further to explore the meaning of sexuality (pp. 26-30). Nonetheless, this model, as the author expressly declares, can be replaced by others (p. 15).
The author understands moral reflection not only as a reflection upon lived experience (p. ix) but as an articulation of the meaning inherent in that same experience (p. 13), since “no one knows the good and values it if one does not ‘live' it” (p. 13). Thus what is affirmed is the primacy of the “lived”, which becomes the true criterion for making moral judgments. The “lived” is mainly conceived in terms of qualities of subjective experience like sensuality and tenderness. The result is a morality based on a kind of blind faith in human spontaneity. Little or nothing is said of the basic dichotomy in the human heart (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 10), of the consequences of this dichotomy in the sexual realm, or of the role of grace and human perseverance in dealing with this conflict. As a result, the notion of experience is presented in a very selective way, so too the choice of psychological sources is highly selective. There are many psychologists — not to mention philosophers and theologians — who would not agree that subjective experiences like tenderness and sensuality are able to lead automatically by themselves to genuine human love, responsibility and self-transcendence.
With these presuppositions, the author also uses the classical sources of moral theology (Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium) in a way that is partial, reductive and inadequate. Invoking the historico-critical method, the author holds that the moral norms contained in Sacred Scripture should be referred to their historical context in such a way that they are to be considered “inconclusive” with regard to making a moral judgment today, for example, on homosexual acts (p. 160). Sacred Scripture then would be seen not to convey concrete norms but intentions. And the only intentions to which Jesus appealed are love and freedom, interpreted subjectively (cf. p. 175). In direct contrast with these very principles, however, we find distorted interpretations of the Bible, for example the author's purported discovery of edifying examples of lesbians and male homosexuals (pp. 164-165), which the author adduces in support of his own positions.
Tradition and Magisterium, frequently presented in caricatured fashion (e.g. pp. 4-10, 43-53), are neither accorded their proper authority nor their normative value for theological reflection. They serve rather as the polemical prelude to the author's presentation of his “alternative”, developed from the fourth chapter onward. It is true that the author sometimes quotes the Magisterium favorably, even showing his approval (p. 120) for the statement of Gaudium et Spes (no. 50) that “children are really the supreme gift of marriage”. Nonetheless, he sets himself up as the judge of which parts of the teaching of the Tradition and of the Magisterium are acceptable and which are not. Such a role implies superiority in the one judging over the one judged.
2.5. Moral judgments on particular kinds of behavior
The Sexual Creators contains moral judgments in opposition to what Sacred Scripture and Tradition have constantly and consistently affirmed and the Magisterium has authoritatively taught even quite recently. Furthermore, these positions are not incidental to the book but emerge successively in a form coherent with the author's repeated emphasis of his intention to make sexual fecundity, understood as the integration of sensuality and tenderness, autonomous with respect to procreation.
First of all, the author treats Scripture, Tradition and the declarations of the Magisterium in a highly selective fashion, often to the point of complete distortion. One would have to conclude from the third chapter titled “The Dualistic Tradition of Fertility”, especially from pages 44-53, that traditional sexual morality has been in large part mistaken for almost two millennia in regard to its emphasis on procreation, which the author describes as “natalist ideology” (pp. 44ff). Concerning the teaching of Gaudium et Spes (nos. 47-52) on the dignity of marriage and the family, we read in the fourth chapter:
“We could probably pick out, in the constitution, statements which would support a reproductive interpretation of sexual fecundity. This should not surprise us. There is general agreement today that one finds, in the council documents, texts which are the result of a compromise between what are sometimes theoretically irreconcilable positions. Paradigmatic transitions are always marked by the simultaneous presence of contradictory views” (p. 65).
This means that Gaudium et Spes is in part erroneous and can be understood correctly only by excluding the mistaken part of its doctrine, that is to say, the considerable part not in keeping with the ideas expressed in The Sexual Creators. Humanae Vitae is criticized for invoking biological laws (p. 47). Familiaris Consortio is said to make a “mere nominal distinction” between “observance of rhythm” and “obstacle to birth” as if this were a distinction of moral relevance (pp. 49-50). Persona Humana is criticized for considering procreation as the “essential and indispensable finality” (of fecundity) (p. 43).
Contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium (cf. Persona Humana, no. 7; also Familiaris Consortio, no. 80), the author, in considering premarital sexual relations, the possibility of “pre-ceremonial” cohabitation, and “marriage by phases” (pp. 87-89) observes: “One could even argue that, theologically, such a ‘marriage by phases' is not unthinkable”. He also refers here to other writings of his (p. 110, Note 5). Contrary to Church doctrine, the author asserts the irrelevance of the public celebration of the marital cov- enant and of the canonical form of marriage between Catholics. The author discredits the necessity for the Church's consent on the basis of a flawed presentation of history (p. 88). He, in fact, gives one to understand that the liturgical celebration of marriage represents a late development in the Church, confusing thereby the obligation of observing the required canonical form for the validity of marriage with the existence of a liturgical ceremony which is in fact quite ancient.
In brief, the author proposes (pp. 87-89) a sweeping redefinition of the sacrament of matrimony.
In regard to homosexuality, the author tends to liken, from the moral point of view, the homosexual situation and the heterosexual situation on the basis of an abstract conception of sexual fecundity, applied univocally to specifically different kinds of sexual conduct (pp. 159-160, 172, 177). In some respects a homosexual relationship would indeed seem to be superior to a heterosexual relationship. On Page 165, we read:
“This gratuitous celebration of love (as in the Song of Songs: cf. above on the same page) is characteristic of gay sexuality... A woman does not make love to another woman, or a man to another man, because that is what is expected of everyone; or because that is what must be done to get a provider or a homemaker, or again, because that is how babies are made. Healthy gay persons are sexually active with a partner because they wish to express their affection to someone to whom they are attracted”.
Father Guindon defends the “sexual fecundity” of homosexuals, claiming to prescind thereby from any judgment on the objective morality of erotic or genital acts they may perform (p. 163) — a claim which is difficult or impossible to reconcile with the obvious sense of expressions like “make love” and “(being) sexually active” on page 165, as just quoted — and appealing in a vague and equivocal way to the norm of interpersonal love proclaimed in the Gospel (pp. 174-175). Not only is there no recognition of any objective disorder in the homosexual condition as such, but homosexual behavior, in opposition to Persona Humana, no. 8, is even justified as being “the only sane choice” for one who is naturally and irreversibly homosexual (pp. 160-161). To sustain this, the author appeals to the principle agere sequitur esse (p. 161), which is applied indiscriminately and univocally to the ontological and moral orders. He does not seem to allow homosexual persons much freedom concerning their sexual orientation or the possibility of sexual abstinence: “The only options they (moralists) seem to be able to offer them (a heterosexual or asexual lifestyle), are, as they themselves must recognize, unachievable for healthy homosexual persons” (p. 162). The possibility of a homosexual person changing to a heterosexual orientation through psychotherapy is ridiculed and dismissed (p. 161). Homosexuals are presented as a source of witness to our society in their celebration of gratuitous love (pp. 174ff).
THE NEED FOR CLARIFICATION
In letters to his Superior General, written after having received a previous critique of The Sexual Creators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and subsequently forwarded to this same Congregation, and especially in a letter dated August 15, 1990, Father Guindon states that apart from the question of contraception, his book is meant to be faithful to the richness of the Catholic tradition, and that one will not find in it any passage denying the role of the Magisterium in Catholic ethics. These statements seem irreconcilable with the way in which he in fact presents and criticizes the Tradition and the Magisterium. Father Guindon has also stated in these letters that at no point in the book does he contradict the teaching of Persona Humana (no. 5) “that the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rectitude only in true marriage”. He maintains instead that in The Sexual Creators he has not questioned any of the positions of Persona Humana regarding specific genital actions.
Needless to say, what is taught in Persona Humana does not exhaust all of Catholic sexual morality. The document constitutes, nonetheless, a convenient point of reference and one chosen by Father Guindon in his own defence and thus may be given closer attention here. This line of defence chosen by the author is, to say the least, surprising.
First, the book proposes an extremely broad definition of human sexuality: “Sexuality is that which gives human beings an interpersonal and social history and that which makes them responsible for its development” (p. 34). But then, according to what Father Guindon states in his defence, his treatment of sexuality does not take into consideration genital acts, as if one could write a book on sexual morality prescinding completely from the morality of such acts. We are asked to believe that the author discusses different sexual lifestyles, including premarital cohabitation (pp. 87-88) and homosexual relationships (pp. 159-204), in a way that does not imply that these types of relationships may include genital expression, at least as a question to be confronted.
Second, the declaration that he does not mean to contradict Persona Humana on this aspect of the problem does not agree in various points with the text of The Sexual Creators itself. It is the author himself who emphasizes the importance of sexual intercourse: “As each other's existence is confirmed by requited acknowledgement in the coital embrace, subjects are born to themselves as subjects” (p. 93). Taking terms employed by the author like “pre-ceremonial” cohabitation (pp. 87-88), “make love” and “sexual expression” (p. 165, in the context of homosexuality) in the sense in which these are now commonly used, the obvious meaning of the text indicates an approval of genital union even outside the context of true marriage. The very least that one can say is that the morality of genital union is a question which practically everyone must confront and answer, and to write a book on sexual ethics while professing to set aside this question seems a very strange approach indeed. How can one affirm the need for a unified vision of human nature as the basis for understanding human sexuality and then assume that the notion of sexuality, however it is to be understood, does not involve facing the question of the morality of genital union, when referring, for example, to premarital cohabitation or to homosexuality? In this case, the refusal to take an explicit position is in effect to take an implicit position.
The dialogue with Father Guindon has not yet led to satisfactory clarification of his positions, and so further clarification must be solicited.
THE CLARIFICATIONS REQUESTED
In the interest of the spiritual well-being of the faithful, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is charged with the responsibility of promoting and defending authentic Catholic doctrine. For this reason, the Congregation has deemed fit to publish these points of criticism of Father Guindon's book The Sexual Creators.
The Congregation further requests that Father Guindon publicly confirm and explain the significance of three important statements which were made privately in his letter to his Superior General (August 15, 1990), namely, (1) that he sought, in writing The Sexual Creators, to be faithful to the riches of the Catholic Tradition in the area of sexual morality; (2) that at no point did he intend the book to deny the authoritative role of the Magisterium in Catholic ethics; and (3) that he does not contradict the constant teaching of the Church, recently reaffirmed in Persona Humana, that the use of the sexual function has its rightful place only in true marriage.
The Congregation further requests that Father Guindon resolve in a public statement the contradiction pointed out in this Note between the statements made to his Superior General and the text of The Sexual Creators, developing thereby his thought in a more consistent way, resolving the incongruities within the text of The Sexual Creators (such as its selective and variable use of Tradition and Magisterium), and according the doctrine of the Magisterium its proper place and true authority.
* OR 31 gennaio 1992, 5-6.