They’re not just “Pelvic Issues”

Some people on the Left, in the “Center” or whatever, say that Catholics like me who prioritize abortion and family-issues are “obsessed with the ‘pelvic issues'” and disregard the Church’s teachings on economics or other life issues. While that is true for *some*, there is a difference between disagreeing about interpretation or prioritization and disregarding them. I’d contend that both “Parties” in the US get the Church’s economics teachings wrong, and that’s a whole other issue.
Here, I’d like to address the annoying insistence on “Pelvic issues,” which is a slightly more superficially polite way of resorting to crudity or of insinuating some Freudian double meaning.
First, abortion is not a “sexual issue.” Abortion is a life issue. It’s about killing, and the recent attempt by a National Catholic “Fishwrap” columnist to turn pro-life rhetoric around to say that alleged global warming should take priority notwithstanding (again, another time), there is nothing that can match 3,000 legal homicides a day, as I have represented previously.
Abortion is only “about sex” to those who do not want to recognize the rights of the victim.
As for contraception, divorce, redefinition of marriage, etc., the Church teaches these issues are important because they impact the family. Catholic “Social Teaching” is often presented, even by the Popes, as striking a balance between “subsidiarity” and “solidarity,” and those in turn are often applied as the Catholic equivalents of being “left wing” and “right wing.” Solidarity says government and individuals owe a responsibility to the “common good,” to helping one another out. Interestingly, the workers’ movement known as “Solidarity” in Poland was credited with politically bringing down Communism in Poland and, by extension, the Soviet Bloc. On the other hand, “subsidiarity,” which I often write about, says that the family is the basic unit of society, and that whatever can be accomplished close to the family “level” should be. From the Compendium

185. Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical[395]. It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth[396]. This is the realm of civil society, understood as the sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to “the creative subjectivity of the citizen”[397]. This network of relationships strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity[398].

It goes on to discuss how it is unjust to deprive smaller social units of the rights proper to them, that the purpose of higher levels of organization is to foster and support the lower levels, etc. The Compendium is such an easily accessible and relatively short document that every Catholic interested in politics should read it.

Wow! Here’s the Pope who called for Vatican II wearing the Tiara and being carried on a litter! It would be nice to see some of these external signs of papal authority return.

The whole point of Pope St. John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra is that Catholic social, economic and moral teachings go hand-in-hand, and require a commitment by people in all social strata. This is what the “common good” means. People must have their basic needs met in order to live full moral lives. Economically, society has to look out for families. What cannot be done at the local level must be done higher, but it is also wrong of government to usurp the power of localities or of private organizations to do good. This is why many Catholics interpret libertarianism as the most convenient ally of subsidiarity (though many also mistakenly equate the two).

“Abortion kills the common good.”


As Francis Cardinal George, OMI, put it:

The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.

“Common good” implies an understanding of “the good.” If society is fundamentally at odds with the Natural Law, then that has to be the priority of the “common good.” If “common good” presupposes Natural Law and understands money as a means to the end of promoting a moral society, and if subsidiarity is seen as government existing to support the family, we can see on the one hand why “old school” liberals are right about the “social safety net,” but we can also see why “family issues” must take priority over everything else. It matters to everyone when states declare that “husband and wife” must be replaced by “spouse 1” and “spouse 2” (or more). It matters to everyone when divorce is presented as an easy out to marital difficulties, and vows supposedly made under oath are easily broken. It matters to everyone when children, as C. S. Lewis warned in The Abolition of Man become reduced to property and status symbols of their parents.

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4 responses to “They’re not just “Pelvic Issues”

  1. Your essay makes many good points with which I agree. However, the Catholic Church comes across to the modern world as being very controlling in the sexual area. It invokes its authority to condemn actions that are not condemned in Scripture. How does the Church control its members? By controlling their sexuality. The clergy’s sexuality is controlled by the celibacy requirement. The married laity’s sexuality is controlled by the micro managing of all bedroom activity by the Church’s “teachings”.

    The Catholic Church’s sexual pessimism comes from ancient pagan schools of thought that entered the Church in the time of Augustine.

    Personally, I do not think that the range of expression of the sexual love between the spouses ought to be so tightly controlled by aged, joyless, celibate males. It is about power and control.

    • 1. The Bible is very clear: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
      2. What makes you think celibates are necessarily joyless? And who better to teach about chastity?
      3. It’s not about “pessimism.” It’s about keeping sacred things sacred.

  2. In response:

    1. The Bible does not say that sex within marriage is solely for procreation. There are sex positive verses within it as to the lovemaking of the spouses.

    2. Joyless? Because they give evidence (with their many prohibitions and rules) of an animosity to the pleasures of the marriage bed. The Catholic Church glorifies suffering – we all know that! Thus, pleasure is suspect, and we do not really deserve any in our lives. (I am a Catholic.) Chastity? Withholding sex from one’s spouse is a sin that we do not hear of often in Catholic churches. The clergy takes a vow of chastity and celibacy and poverty, etc. (Priests were forbidden to marry at the Second Lateran Council in the mid 12th century. At Trent, 400 hundred years later, married men were forbidden from becoming priests.) Married laity take marriage vows and forsaking all others does not mean they must feel as second class citizens because they make love within their marriage. (If you read the Gospels, you will see that Jesus does not talk poorly of the married state.) Please read the Church’s view of marriage back in scholastic times (the 11th through the 13th centuries). I dare say that happily married Christians are the ones best to speak on marriage. Why? Because they actually have the experience of being married. Chastity has been the fig leaf that the Church hides behind when it come to married sexuality – and this leads to your third point . . ..

    3. We actually agree in part here. Yes, let’s keep sex sacred within the covenant of marriage, and do justice to the dignity of married persons! To correct Pope John Paul II, when a husband desires to make love to his wife, he is not guilty of lust, and his wife is not being “objectified”. Lust is unlawful sexual desire that can lead one to commit fornication or adultery. Too many times the Catholic Church has tried to condemn all sexual desire (and all sexual expression) and people are no longer buying it. Pessimism? Do this simple exercise. Hold you arms out in front of you with your hands apart say 14 to 16 inches. This is the range of latitude that God allows for us in the marriage bed. (The moral nihilist would have his/her arms opened as wide as possible.) Now, move your hands closer towards each other leaving only 2 or 3 inches between them before they would touch. That is the degree of freedom the Church allows married persons in their marriage bed. The fact is that God (when you consider Scripture in its proper context) trusts married persons more than the Catholic Church trusts them. The Church got this sexual pessimism (that sex is so corrupting that no one can handle it without becoming morally degenerate – unless he/she follow all the Church’s absurd manmade prohibitions) from ancient pagan schools of thought (the Gnostics, the Stoics and the Manicheans). Thus, the burden placed on the married state is not authentically Christian. (If only the Church correctly understood and respected the unitive aspect of the married couple’s lovemaking.)

    GodsGadfly: The issue ultimately is not one of Church authority. The issue here is one of the abuse of Church authority. The Catholic Church was never given license to abuse its authority. But, since the time of Augustine, the Church has tread very heavily upon marriage.

    If you ever visit my blog site, please click on the link on the right hand side bar on Christian marriage (a call to pastors to speak out on the importance of the sexual love of the spouses – which is written by a courageous Christian marriage blogger).

    Please take the last word as it is always difficult to debate those Catholics who do not know the history of the Church and its positions when it comes to sexuality. Western civilization does not yet have a healthy, mature and rational view of, and respect for, married sexual love mainly because of the Catholic Church. However, many Catholics are now reading the essays and articles of the very many Christian marriage bloggers and are seeing that the Catholic Church’s promotion of celibacy and poor view of the married state is but self serving self promotion (and to borrow from Pope Francis, “an authoritarian elitism”). Please see the Council of Trent’s anathema for those who dare to suggest that marriage is equal in God’s eyes to the celibate state. I am done. Best wishes.

    • Thanks for elaborating a bit more. I *am* familiar with the history and the development of doctrine, though I see it through a different lens.
      1) I’m the first to say that Trent’s insistence on procreation as “only” is unbiblical, and have often argued that we should distinguish the “purposes of intercourse” from “the purposes of marriage.” God tends to keep me humble with computer, job or health setbacks any time I seem to make a huge advance, and many years ago I had a brief email exchange with an official from the Pontifical Academy for the Family who validated my theory on the development of doctrine in this regard. One of those aforementioned setbacks happened before I could continue or do anything with the exchange, and those emails are, if they still exist, buried somewhere in an Outlook file. It would take me some effort to recreate the case ?I made.

      2. Nonetheless, while that development in my thought helped me to overcome my traditionalist qualms about NFP, I stand 100% behind the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, as well as her teachings on culpability.

      3. Thanks for explaining a bit more about where you’re coming from, and I do hope you continue visiting, commenting, etc. I suspect we agree more than not, even on the topics herein.

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