Assault Upon the Sexes: Fostering the Papal Defence

Editorial FAITH Magazine March-April 2009

'This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis, 2:23)

Pope Benedict has been the object of fierce attacks over the past couple of months. Now, that a Pope is attacked for being a Catholic should not surprise us too much. After all, at the Last Supper, the Lord said plainly to His Apostles, "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you." (Jn 15:18-19) Then Jesus goes on to say that if those who belong to Him do suffer persecution and difficulties from others "it will be on my account that they will do all this." (Jn 15:21)

The ferocious attacks on Pope Benedict have worn the mask of rational outrage, but when analysed carefully there seems to be very little rationality in the anger. Joan Bakewell, in the February 6th edition of The Times, decided that the Pope's decision to lift decrees of excommunication from four Lefebvrist bishops, one of whom absurdly denies the historical veracity of the mass extermination of Jews during the Second World War, should be linked to his Regensburg Address: in her view this was a sign of an increased antagonism on the part of the Vatican towards other religions. Pope Benedict was for her the villain of the piece. What is sad is that such a view could be taken seriously, let alone published: it is based on speculation, supposition of the motives of others and noserious attempt to look at the evidence of the Pope's writings, addresses and actions both before his election to the Papacy and afterwards. Any serious thinker would acknowledge that he has shown a remarkable commitment not only to relations with Jews but also to dialogue with other religions. At the same time, he has reaffirmed the uniqueness of the Church and the universal significance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer (see our Road from Regensburg column).

Indeed, there has been little attempt even in Catholic circles to give a public and sustained support of Pope Benedict throughout these difficulties. The fact that even Bishops and Cardinals have not just criticised the Pope but have also kept silence, giving him little support, speaks volumes about those august bodies. Many have sat back and watched; others have made statements reaffirming the Church's commitment to working with the other religions and with the Jews; but few have stood up and robustly supported the Pope at a time when he needed them. In Gethsemane too the Apostles ran away and hid, or at best looked on, when the Lord was taken prisoner. We are all weak - but it is a weakness and their silence has not been a virtue. There is a reason why Cardinals sport thecolour of red and it is not on account of their own dignity.

The personalised nature of the criticisms of the Pope, the inability to look at hard evidence and the unwillingness

to ascribe anything but evil intent to the Pope's motives make one suspect that it is not one decision that is the real problem: it is really about the fact that the nature of Catholicism and the role of the Pope have at their core a claim so audacious as to provoke outrage. In modern secular Britain - indeed, in the modern secular West - any claim that there is anything like a real and absolute Truth is viewed with suspicion at the very least and most of the time with a sustained antagonism. This is what the Catholic Church does claim, however: that there is an absolute truth about Man, about the world, and about God, and that all this has been revealed and articulated in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. This means that the identity, the mission, indeed the life of Jesus Christ makes afundamental and absolute claim upon every human life. It means that no human life is complete if it is not a life lived in union with Christ.

It is here that we hit the central problem and it is something that has recurred not just during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI but also in that of John Paul II, Paul VI and beyond. The idea that someone's life is lacking something if it is not lived in Jesus Christ, smacks to the modern world as a denial of liberty. For many it seems that the Church is an oppressive force that wishes to squeeze out human freedom and impose on everyone its own vision of what it means to be human. Now, within the modern notion of human freedom there is a central thesis: every human being is an individual who should be allowed the maximum amount of freedom to do what they like with their lives and to get the most that they can out of it. This radical individualism is reflected in every aspect of modernliving; in education, politics, economics, relationships and the media. In nearly every sphere what counts is the autonomy of the individual.

Failure of Libertarianism

The fact that this notion is not the whole truth, that it is a perversion of the truth of Man, has been revealed slowly but surely by the fact that such an idea is unliveable. It is unliveable at the level of society: hence, in Britain we have a government that lauds the freedom of the individual (and it should be noted in passing, but noted very well, that our present generation of politicians rarely talk of the "human person" or just of the "person", but usually of the "individual") but which has brought in some of the most draconian legislation in Europe designed to control what people say and do on certain issues so that society can proceed in its life as a unity and not just as a mere collection of individuals.

Many argue that the legislation stipulating the rights of homosexual people not to feel harassed overrides the rights of others to free speech. The very fact that one can have a class of human beings and that this class of persons has real human rights is but one manifestation of the many self-contradictions at the heart of the individualistic concept of life. The economic crisis presently being endured in much of the West and beyond also reflects this truth: the whole meltdown in many ways had its source in that unbridled capitalism that decreed the autonomy of the individual and the moral good of each person being allowed to pursue wealth without any relationship to the rest of human society. The concerns about the environment, so blatantly apocalyptic in many of their expressions, alsoreveal that human beings have to consider that as individuals they do not have absolute rights to do whatever they wish: there are some actions that really do have harmful consequences upon the rest of the world and therefore there is a morality that needs to be respected if we and the planet are to survive and flourish.

Papal Affront

No human being then is an absolutely autonomous individual who ought to be able to live his or her life without reference to any higher or more demanding truth in order to be complete, to be happy and to be free. It was exactly this point that Pope Benedict sought to highlight in an address he gave three days before Christmas to senior staff in the Vatican. It was greeted by strong protests by gay activists who in the context thought that it was an attack on homosexuality. The media of course did its usual best in stoking up and reporting much of the furore and ire; and it did so with scant regard for what the Pope actually said. People were reported as seeing the Pope's comments as "irresponsible and unacceptable"; they were "hurtful" according an Italian transgender former Member ofParliament, Vladimir Luxuria.

The BBC was most successful and vocal in its reporting of all of this - but then later it had to (shamefacedly?) re-edit its web pages on its website in order to be a little more accurate. It turned out that the Pope had not referred directly to homosexuality at all. It might also be noted that the BBC, like many media outlets, has been inaccurate in its reporting concerning the Bishop Williamson affair: indeed, this author took the liberty of writing to them on two occasions to suggest changes on two different web pages so that the truth of the incidents might be more adequately reported. The BBC changed one page as a consequence: nothing has been heard about the other. In either case, the damage was done and a fundamental misapprehension of the case - that the Pope had readmitted thefour bishops in question to the Church -had been allowed to percolate. The fact it happened twice, and in a similar fashion to the Christmas furore, might at
worst suggest malice: at best it suggests incompetence.

The Christmas affair however really reflects the nub of the issue. Some Catholics tend to minimise the need for apologetics and the need for theological and philosophical reflection in the Church. Benedict XVI sees most clearly that there is a battle here that needs to be fought; on it depend the future of Man and the future of the Church.

Role of the Sexes

So what exactly did he say to arouse so much indignation?

"What is needed is something like a human ecology, correctly understood. If the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected, this is not some antiquated metaphysics.

"What is involved here is faith in the Creator and a readiness to listen to the 'language' of creation. To disregard this would be the self-destruction of man himself, and hence the destruction of God's own work.

"What is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender' ultimately ends up being man's attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone - always and exclusively - to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit.

"Rain forests deserve indeed to be protected, but no less so does man, as a creature having an innate 'message' which does not contradict our freedom, but is instead its very premise."

The Pope has once again pointed out the essential connection between the order of the cosmos, the order of the environment and the order of Man. To disregard this order is to work against what it means to exist at all, what it means to exist as created beings. We in this sense are not lords of our own order, but recipients of and participants in a deeper and wider order of the created world. It is extraordinary that such a fundamental insight, one which also fits in with the modern insights concerning ecology, should provoke so much protest as it did. Yet the protest is ultimately one against any notion of a moral order, that there is an established way of being which demands a change in my behaviour, and that without such a change I am somehow less than I should be, that I ambecoming less than what I am made to be. For many this is a denial of freedom; however, the Pope points out that any

attempt to be free of who and what we are is ultimately self-destructive, because we can only be free as a human person and this implies an order, a pattern in our existence that needs to be respected.

The primary example used by the Pope in all of this is that of gender and human sexuality. It is precisely this area of human living that has proved to be a significant focus in the great discussion about what freedom and happiness really involve and what it means to be a human being. The Pope clearly perceives that there is a real meaning to our human sexuality that is something which is a "given", something we cannot fashion for ourselves or pretend to be other than it is. The biological order of what it is to be Man is not something that can be disregarded. We are made male and female, man and woman, and attempts to blur distinctions under the seemingly innocuous term "gender" are really attempts to assert that sex should be seen as an autonomous human activity, something which has noother meaning than what the individual wishes to bestow upon it.

Recognising Meaning

The falsehood in this is exposed in the very act of contraception: for a man and woman to contracept implies that they are trying to remove an essential element of sex, something fundamental to its meaning and function, and that is fertility. In doing this, the couple have changed the meaning of their act of sexual intercourse, making it infertile, but thereby they show that there is something which is natural to sex that they are seeking to deny and frustrate. The natural order is that sex is for the furthering of the species: that is what it is designed to do.

Sex itself has a given meaning, a purpose which is natural and fundamental to the human species and which we can deliberately and unnaturally frustrate. It rationally follows that there is also a related meaning to that created sexuality of which sex is one use. This means that the truth that sex is for children really means that there is something naturally given about being male and being female. To deny this is to follow the path of autonomy; however, to follow that road is to deny who and what we really are. Furthermore, the idea that I am just an individual, owing little or nothing to anyone, that I need to be autonomous, seems absurd when we consider our own personal origins: we each owe our conception and birth to a mother and a father; our whole lives involve a series ofinterlocking relationships with parents, family, friends, teachers, society and so on. No one can ever be an autonomous individual: to be so one would have to remove all those other relationships; but then I would no longer be "me" - I would no longer exist.

This is even more than a point of logic or a conclusion from biological facts.

A recent report from the Children's Society {The Good Childhood Enquiry: www.childrenssociety.org.uk) stated, "Children, whose parents separate are 50\% more likely to fail at school, suffer behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression." If I am to be who I am truly meant to be, being cut off from one or both of my parents can have a lasting effect on me in my human development. The report continues, "On average, children are less likely to become depressed or aggressive the better parents get on and the more they see their separated father." It concludes, "So to reduce the level of conflict in family life, parents must give more priority to their relationship. This would do more for children than anythingelse."

The God-given institution of marriage is a recognition that the biological foundations of our identity need an environment for their healthy expression and development. It recognises that sex is indeed for children, but that sex also implies much more: it implies publicly committed stable relationships if we are to give our children the best chance of developing healthily and well. It recognises that our sexuality can never just be defined in terms of the autonomous individual: our sexuality is made for relationships, it is made for family. Where this is forgotten, there is always difficulty and confusion, because in the final analysis if I am to know who I am, I need to know who I am from.

Therefore it makes sense that the foundational relationship that brings about my life- the relationship of my mother and father - should be a stable and enduring one. Like any relationship it needs an environment or "ecology", as the Pope puts it, if it is to thrive and grow. This is marriage, the foundation of the integral formation of family. This is why the Church has always taught that marriage is natural to man: it is because family is natural to all of us, no matter what our situation may be, no matter how painful those relationships may have been or become. Marriage also recognises that our relationships with each other are more than physical: they should involve knowledge and love -seeing and accepting the truth and good that each human being is. In this sense marriage, family,sexuality is something inscribed into our identity as human beings and not just a set of social conventions.

Holloway's Vision

Fr Edward Holloway certainly saw marriage, and the nature of Man as male and female, as more than some accident of evolution. For him, the division of the sexes in the evolution of life had to have some deeper and further purpose. If the whole of the evolving universe was brought into being by God's creative FIAT, then nothing in it is irrelevant: everything has a function and meaning;

everything makes some contribution to the overall whole; God does nothing uselessly. We should reflect about this reality before imposing our desires upon it.

As ever in Holloway's thought, the key is the Incarnation itself. For Holloway the division of the sexes came about precisely to facilitate the coming in human nature of the Son of God.

To further most animal species, except some of the more basic forms of life and the earliest ones, sexual intercourse between male and female is needed. This also allows, of course, for greater variety in the species and wider series of on-going developments. For Man too, a man and a woman are needed as well normally: their action together produces a new person, with a soul being directly infused by God. This infusion of the soul is a kind of natural covenant that God has with His creation; whenever a new human being is conceived He gives the soul so that it can be indeed a human being; however, He allows the will of the two parents to be primary in this, so that it is they who decide - even if at times unwittingly! - with their own free will to bring into being a new person. Goddelegates a wonderful task to us. In that sense, the coming into existence of any new human person is the result of the action of the man and the woman: they consent that the man's initiative should find a fruitful response in the woman.

For the Incarnation of the Divine Person of the Son, however, the primary decision must be with God Himself, not with Man. It is not the result of the free will of creatures, as is normally the case with the begetting of a human person, but the result of God's own Will, His free decision to become one of us. It was His own Will that had as its purpose to create all things so that through His Son made flesh all things might share in His goodness and His life. His coming to be as Man, then, must set aside an element of the natural covenant of sex in which God gives primacy to the decision of man and woman. To be a Man at all, He needs the womb, He needs a Mother - and so her free assent is needed. However, because this is the unique case where the natural covenant of procreation cannot bindGod, the male principle, the biological father is set aside. If the human race had been unisexual, there would be no "space" for God's own Sovereign intervention, no space for the natural covenant of procreation to be open to the possibility of the Incarnation. The early division of the sexes makes it possible and therefore the whole covenant of procreation is itself designed to make the Incarnation a reality as part and parcel of God's one Plan.

Jesus and Mary

In this light, the role of the sexes is really about the Incarnation. We are made as human beings for Christ, according to Holloway; but even the fact of being male or being female was made for Him. Indeed the role of Woman has a primary significance. In planning creation this way, in God's one Thought about creation, Mary stands as the peak of evolution, the highpoint of the Universe, the first of all creatures under Christ. In her the meaning of what it means to be female stands clear: without her, Christ cannot become Man. It is her responsiveness, her receptive fruitfulness, that allows the very meaning of creation, the very Centre of the Universe, to happen and to be formed in her womb. In that sense, she embodies and represents the whole of the cosmos, offering of her own self herown substance so that God can become one with us. The union between God and Man that takes place in her is what the universe was made for.

This Union for which we are made finds its achievement in Christ. He comes to bring us Divine Life, Life more abundant. For Holloway, in this identity, as the one who determines and initiates for creation its union with God, Christ embodies what it is to be male and so in His coming as Man He must necessarily be male. In this sense, we begin to see that the biological divisions of male and female are really mirrors of a higher and more fundamental reality. They express what is the greater truth - which is that Christ comes to bring new life to humanity, and humanity is called to have a living, fruitful union with Him. Therefore it is not that we see the relationship of the sexes and apply them analogically to Christ: such a thing implies a certain arbitrariness to our decision. Rather, itis the reality of the union of Christ with the human race which is the template for the meaning of the sexes: the sexes were made for this, they point to it, they mirror it. And the Virgin Birth is not so much an exception to the rule as within the foundation and exemplar, the source of and summit of all other births.

Dignity of the Sexes and Marriage

This is a thrilling and beautiful vision of what it means to be a sexual being and a sexual human being. It means that the meaning of who I am, even in my biology, is part of something greater. For me to be truly myself, I do not need to be left on my own, in some isolated autonomy, where the only meaning to my life is what I give it. That I alone am the one to give meaning to my life may seem attractive at first, but in its heart it is empty and it is brutal, since so many people who live and die in this world have little time, money or resources for such a middle class luxury. This vision of Holloway, and we would dare to suggest that it might be implicitly that of the Church, gives to every human person a real value, role and meaning at every level of their being. To be truly myself,to be truly free, I cannot leave myself on my own: I am made for others, I am made for Christ.

This is one of the great givens of our creation to which Pope Benedict refers.

Such a vision has many consequences. It helps us see that this Union of Christ and Humanity is the Great Marriage, which is the template for every marriage. As St Paul says in Ephesians 5, the more that the husband in his relationship with his wife reflects the sacrificial love of Christ for His bride the Church, and the more that the wife in her relationship with her husband reflects the self-giving love of the Church for her Bridegroom, the more they will be truly fulfilled and the more they will live up to what they are called to be. Such a call towards complete self-giving in their relationship will have consequences for how they express their loving sexually: any holding back of themselves in any area, will be damaging to their relationship. This is one of the reasons why artificialcontraception has had such damage upon marriages and relationships: the couple deliberately withhold their fertility and so no longer give themselves completely to each other; in doing this they deny not just the meaning of sex itself but they also subtract from loving one of its 'givens' - the orientation towards giving oneself completely to one's spouse. This is what Christ has done for us and He is Love Incarnate. When we refuse to give ourselves completely, especially in marriage, we destroy the foundations for a truly mutual and loving relationship, and we no longer live up to the meaning of marriage which is the Great Marriage of total self-giving between Christ and the Church.

The Male Priesthood

This image of the Great Marriage helps us see too the need for a male priesthood. The priest is to stand in Christ's role as Bridegroom in relation to the rest of the Church. He is to live not for himself but for his people. Christ necessarily became male because this is the sex that expresses in its identity most fully His role as Saviour and Life-giver for all humanity, a role that is determining, dynamic and initiating. The priest represents Christ not just spiritually but physically too. For us to have union with God, for which we were made, we need Christ's physical human nature: this is the meaning of the Incarnation. Through Christ, God made Man, we have access to God. The only sex that can articulate and embody Christ's role as Bridegroom and Life-giver to the Church, as the onewho is ever present to care for her, is the male one.

There are other points of development that follow from this reflection. However, it can be seen from all this how crucial Pope Benedict's insight really is. For such a vision, our human nature has a value over and above itself, a value that comes from Christ. Part of this value involves esteeming our biological inheritance. The contrary tendency in modern culture, despite its appearance, actually despises our biology and forms part of the new Gnosticism that pervades our times. In this New Age heresy, biology is implicitly seen as something that enslaves us and so in that sense it is despised, it is seen as something negative and bad. However, as we see daily, this leads not to any real emancipation but to a deepening crisis and misery reflected in the broken hearts, minds and lives of somany of our fellow-citizens in our culture.

The Pope has wisely pointed out to us the serious dangers that such a vision leads to. He wants to help the Church and humanity to see the true beauty of what it is to be man and woman. He wants to show that Christ comes not to take away our freedom but to return it to us truly. The criticisms of the Holy Father in recent months really have this as their object: once again, the attacks are really not about the man but about the message. Those Catholics who have failed to see this up to now, whether they be laity or clergy, need to open their eyes. Either we continue to allow man to self-destruct, or we do something about it. There is no middle course. If we do face up to the crisis we will not be attacking humanity but saving it; we will not be impeding human freedom but raising it to itsperfection. In the Pope's words concluding the speech given in December, "The Church's missionary spirit is nothing other than the drive to share the joy that has been given to us. May that joy always be alive in us, and thus shine forth upon our troubled world."