Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bishop Calls for "New Study of Everything to Do with Sexuality"

Speaking at New Ways Ministry's 7th National Symposium in Baltimore,
Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson said the Catholic Church's "natural law
approach to sexual morality and its interpretation of ancient scriptural passages
on homosexual and other sexual activity are in need of correction."

Note: The following is excerpted from Jerry Filteau's March 16 National Catholic Reporter article "Bishop Urges Change in 'Church Teaching Concerning All Sexual Relationships'."

BALTIMORE – At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson [right] called Friday for "a new study of everything to do with sexuality" – a kind of study that he predicted "would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual."

"If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change," he said.

Robinson, a priest since 1960 and auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement for health reasons in 2004, told the Baltimore symposium, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, that "because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious."

That view, espoused by the church, stands in contrast to the general perception of modern society, which "appears to be saying more and more that sex is not in itself serious," he said.

For the church to deal with sex seriously, however, does not in itself mean that the church must continue to accept uncritically its traditional understandings of sexual morality, he said.

Robinson was a featured speaker at the March 15-17 symposium, which drew about 400 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning Catholics and church personnel ministering to them. The gathering's first day was devoted to a spiritual retreat guided by the bishop.

At the symposium's lunch Friday, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley addressed the group on a pending state law, which he had signed just days earlier, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Opponents of the new law have launched a campaign for a popular referendum in November to revoke it, but several recent polls have indicated that a slight but growing majority of the state's voting population favors legalization of same-sex marriages.

In his talk later that afternoon – available along with other writings on his website – Robinson did not address the growing U.S. question of whether faithful same-sex unions should be blessed with the title and all legal rights of "marriage." But he argued that the church's moral appraisal of such unions would change dramatically if it were to reevaluate its traditional approach to all human sexual activity.

He said while the church's emphasis on the profound significance of sex is correct, its natural law approach to sexual morality and its interpretation of ancient scriptural passages on homosexual and other sexual activity are in need of correction.

. . . He began his talk with three basic premises:

• "There is no possibility whatsoever of a change in the teaching of the Catholic church on the subject of homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts.

• "There is a serious need for a change in the church's teaching on heterosexual acts.

• "If and when this change occurs, it will inevitably have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts."

"If the starting point [as in current church teaching] is that every single sexual act must be both unitive and procreative, there is no possibility of approval of homosexual acts," Robinson said.

He proceeded, however, to question that natural law argument, especially as laid out by recent popes, and to suggest that a more nuanced reading of divine commandments in scripture and of Jesus' teaching would lead to a different set of moral norms – starting with a change in church teaching that every sexual act or thought that falls outside a loving conjugal act open to procreation is a mortal sin because it is a direct offense against God himself in his divine plan for human sexuality. . . .

To read Filteau's article in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
An Australian Bishop's "Radical" Call for Radical – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, August 27, 2007).
"I Ask Questions About Sexual Morality": An Interview with Bishop Geoffrey Robinson – David Gibson (BeliefNet, June 19, 2008).
In the Garden of Spirituality – Geoffrey RobinsonThe Wild Reed (July 28, 2009).

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