The Rupture between Sexuality and Marriage

Reflections on unnatural liberation


by JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER

The issue is the rupture between sexuality and marriage. Separated from motherhood, sex has remained without a locus and has lost its point of reference: it is a kind of drifting mine, a problem and at the same time an omnipresent power.

After the separation between sexuality and motherhood was effected, sexuality was also separated from procreation. The movement, however, ended up going in an opposite direction: procreation without sexuality. Out of this follow the increasingly shocking medical-technical experiments so prevalent in our day where, precisely, procreation is independent of sexuality. Biological manipulation is striving to uncouple man from nature (the very existence of which is being disputed). There is an attempt to transform man, to manipulate him as one does every other "thing": he is nothing but a product planned according to one's pleasure.

At the end of this march to shatter fundamental, natural linkages (and not, as is said, only those that are cultural), there are unimaginable consequences which, however, derive from the very logic that lies at the base of a venture of this kind.

It logically follows from the consequences of a sexuality which is no longer linked to motherhood and to procreation that every form of sexuality is equivalent and therefore of equal worth. It is certainly not a matter of establishing or recommending a retrograde moralism, but one of lucidly drawing the consequences from the premises: it is, in fact, logical that pleasure, the libido of the individual, become the only possible point of reference of sex. No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most "satisfying" answer for the individual, to the instincts no longer subject to rational restraints. Everyone is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself.

Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into the "rights" of the individual. Thus, to cite an especially current example, homosexuality becomes an inalienable right. (Given the aforementioned premises, how can one deny it?) On the contrary, its full recognition appears to be an aspect of human liberation.

There are, however, other consequences of this uprooting of the human person in the depth of his nature. Fecundity separated from marriage based on a lifelong fidelity turns from being a blessing (as it was understood in every culture) into its opposite: that is to say a threat to the free development of the "individual's right to happiness." Thus abortion, institutionalized, free and socially guaranteed, becomes another "right," another form of "liberation."

The now dominant mentality attacks the very foundations of the morality of the Church, which, as I have already said, if she remains true to herself, risks appearing like an anachronistic construct, a bothersome, alien body. Thus the moral theologians of the Western Hemisphere, in their efforts to still remain "credible" in our society, find themselves facing a difficult alternative: it seems to them that they must choose between opposing modern society and opposing the Magisterium. The number of those who prefer the latter type of opposition is larger or smaller depending on how the question is posed: consequently they set out on a search for theories and systems that allow compromises between Catholicism and current conceptions. But this growing difference between the Magisterium and the "new" moral theologies leads to unforeseeable consequences, also precisely for the reason that the Church with her schools and her hospitals still occupies an important social role (especially in America). Thus we stand before the difficult alternative: either the Church finds an understanding, a compromise with the values propounded by society which she wants to continue to serve, or she decides to remain faithful to her own values (and in the Church's view these are the values that protect man in his deepest needs) as the result of which she finds herself on the margin of society.

Thus today the sphere of moral theology has become the main locus of the tensions between Magisterium and theologians, especially because here the consequences are most immediately perceptible. I should like to cite some trends: at times premarital relations, at least under certain conditions, are justified. Masturbation is presented as a normal phenomenon of adolescence. Admission of remarried divorced couples to the sacraments is constantly demanded. Radical feminism — especially in some women's religious orders — also seems to be gaining ground noticeably in the Church (but we will speak about that later). Even as regards the question of homosexuality, attempts at its justification are in the making. Indeed, it has come to pass that bishops — on the basis of insufficient information or also because of a sense of guilt among Catholics toward an "oppressed minority" — have placed churches at the disposal of "gays" for their gatherings. Then there is the case of Humanae vitae, the encyclical of Paul VI, which reaffirmed the 'no' to contraceptives and which has not been understood. Instead it has been more or less openly rejected in broad ecclesial circles.

At first sight it seems that the demands of radical feminism in favor of a total equality between man and woman are extremely noble and, at any rate, perfectly reasonable. It also seems logical that the demand that women be allowed to enter all professions, excluding none, should transform itself within the Church into a demand for access also to the priesthood. To many, this demand for the ordination of women, this possibility of having Catholic priestesses, appears not only justified but obvious: a simple and inevitable adaptation of the Church to a new social situation that has come into being.

In reality this kind of "emancipation" of woman is in no way new. One forgets that in the ancient world all the religions also had priestesses. All except one: the Jewish. Christianity, here too following the "scandalous" original example of Jesus, opens a new situation to women; it accords them a position that represents a novelty with respect to Judaism. But of the latter he preserves the exclusively male priesthood. Evidently, Christian intuition understood that the question was not secondary, that to defend Scripture (which in neither the Old nor the New Testament knows women priests) signified once more to defend the human person, especially those of the female sex.

Against "trivialized" sex

But it is further necessary to get to the bottom of the demand that radical feminism draws from the widespread modern culture, namely, the "trivialization" of sexual specificity that makes every role interchangeable between man and woman. When we were speaking of the crisis of traditional morality, I indicated a series of fatal ruptures: that, for example, between sexuality and procreation. Detached from the bond with fecundity, sex no longer appears to be a determined characteristic, as a radical and pristine orientation of the person. Male? Female? They are questions that for some are now viewed as obsolete, senseless, if not racist. The answer of current conformism is foreseeable: "whether one is male or female has little interest for us, we are all simply humans." This, in reality, has grave consequences even if at first it appears very beautiful and generous. It signifies, in fact, that sexuality is no longer rooted in anthropology; it means that sex is viewed as a simple role, interchangeable at one's pleasure.

What follows with logical necessity is that the whole being and the whole activity of the human person are reduced to pure functionality, to the pure role: depending on the social context, for example, to the role of "consumer" or the role of "worker"; at any rate to something that does not directly regard the respective sex. It is not by chance that among the battles of "liberation" of our time there has also been that of escaping from the "slavery of nature," demanding the right to be male or female at one's will or pleasure, for example, through surgery, and demanding that the State record this autonomous will of the individual in its registry offices. Incidentally, one must realize that this so-called sex change alters nothing in the genetic constitution of the person involved. It is only an external artifact which resolves no problems but only constructs fictitious realities. Nor is it by chance that the laws immediately adapted themselves to such a demand. If everything is only a culturally and historically conditioned "role," and not a natural specificity inscribed in the depth of being, even motherhood is a mere accidental function. In fact, certain feminist circles consider it "unjust" that only the woman is forced to give birth and to suckle. And not only the law but science, too, offers a helping hand: by transforming a male into a female and vice-versa, as we have already seen, or by separating fecundity from sexuality with the purpose of making it possible to procreate at will, with the help of technical manipulations. Are we not, after all, all alike? So, if need be one also fights against nature's "inequity." But one cannot struggle against nature without undergoing the most devastating consequences. The sacrosanct equality between man and woman does not exclude, indeed it requires, diversity.

In defense of nature

The interchangeableness of the sexes, viewed as simple "roles" determined more by history than by nature, and the trivialization of male and female extend to the very idea of God and from there spread out to the whole religious reality.

Christianity is not "our" work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose. Consequently, we are not authorized to change the Our Father into an Our Mother: the symbolism employed by Jesus is irreversible; it is based on the same Man-God relationship that he came to reveal to us. Even less is it permissible to replace Christ with another figure. But what radical feminism — at times even that which asserts that it is based on Christianity — is not prepared to accept is precisely this: the exemplary, universal, unchangeable relationship between Christ and the Father.

I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion. But I am also convinced (we are beginning to see the deep reasons of the biblical position) that the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches will defend their faith and their concept of the priesthood, thereby defending in reality both men and women in their totality as well as in their irreversible differentiation into male and female, hence in their irreducibility to simple function or role.

Besides what I shall never tire of repeating also applies here: for the Church the language of nature (in our case, two sexes complementary to each other yet quite distinct) is also the language of morality (man and woman called to equally noble destinies, both eternal, but different). It is precisely in the name of nature — it is known that Protestant tradition and, in its wake, that of the Enlightenment mistrust this concept — that the Church raises her voice against the temptation to project persons and their destiny according to mere human plans, to strip them of individuality and, in consequence, of dignity. To respect biology is to respect God himself, hence to safeguard his creatures.

Feminine radicalism announces a liberation that is a salvation different from, if not opposed to, the Christian conception. The men and above all the women who are experiencing the fruits of this presumed post-Christian salvation must realistically ask themselves if this really signifies an increase of happiness, a greater balance, a vital synthesis, richer than the one discarded because it was deemed to be obsolete.

It is precisely woman who is paying the greatest price. Motherhood and virginity (the two loftiest values in which she realizes her profoundest vocation) have become values that are in opposition to the dominant ones. Woman, who is creative in the truest sense of the word by giving life, does not "produce," however, in that technical sense which is the only one that is valued by a society more masculine than ever in its cult of efficiency. She is being convinced that the aim is to "liberate" her, "emancipate" her, by encouraging her to masculinize herself, thus bringing her into conformity with the culture of production and subjecting her to the control of the masculine society of technicians, of salesmen, of politicians who seek profit and power, organizing everything, marketing everything, instrumentalizing everything for their own ends. While asserting that sexual differentiation is in reality secondary (and, accordingly, denying the body itself as an incarnation of the spirit in a sexual being), woman is robbed not only of motherhood but also of the free choice of virginity. Yet, just as man cannot procreate without her, likewise he cannot be virgin save by "imitating" woman who, also in this way, has a surpassing value as "sign," as "example" for the other part of humanity.

-- Excerpted from The Ratzinger Report

Copyright 1985 Ignatius Press. All rights reserved.