Thursday, September 30, 2010

Part III of Response to Dr. Smith: "Repression"

In her article on Dawn Eden's masters thesis, Dr. Janet Smith says the following:

She does not argue that it is false that there was at one time and may be even now in some places, a tendency to teach the Church’s teaching about sexuality in a repressive fashion. I believe it would be difficult to contest that claim and in fact Eden notes West’s characterization “no doubt resonates with certain members of his audience” (ET, 63).

Let me note that when some ancient texts and moral theology textbooks were translated into English the portions on sexual morality were left in Latin. (e.g., Chapter 10 of Book II of The Instructor by: Clement of Alexander: and Part VI, Chapt III of A Manual of Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J.: That suggests some “repression” to me.

Not all teaching about sexual morality has been marked by repression and certainly such instruction was a misrepresentation of the Church’s magisterial teaching.
I noted this before in my previous response, but I would like to return to it for a fuller treatment.  As Steve Kellmeyer noted in his excellent analysis on this issue, there is nothing "repressive" about the fact that the universal language of the Church is used.  I would like to only point out a few more things.

As I noted in my previous response, let me again cite the preface to Fr. Slater's "A Manual of Moral Theology":

Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor. They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties ; they are intended to serve this purpose, and they should not be censured for not being what they were never intended to be. Ascetical and mystical literature which treats of the higher spiritual life is very abundant in the Catholic Church, and it should be consulted by those who desire to know the lofty ideals of life which the Catholic Church places before her children and encourages them to practise. Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life. This all, but more especially priests, should know.
Dr. Smith finds in these sources "tendency to teach the Church’s teaching about sexuality in a repressive fashion."  The author states that teaching the Catholic truth on morality is not his intended goal.  His intended goal is simply to point out, in a clear and precise manner, what is "right" and "wrong", so that priests may be better assisted in the confessional in assigning penance and sound spiritual advice.  For one who wants the "lofty ideals" about Catholic morality (including the truth about Catholic teaching on sexuality) the author recommends they go elsewhere.

This work certainly wasn't "repressing" the truth from the average lay Catholic, since it was never intended for the average lay Catholic to begin with.  A simple "fact check' in the preface would bear this out.  The work was not concerned much with presenting the Magesterium's truth about sexuality to an accessible audience, the audience was the parish priest who had a robust seminary training, which included understanding very complex and very technical concepts.  If the average individual went through Westlaw, they would understand few if any of the legal cases cited, and would draw few inferences of importance.  (Those they might draw would get them laughed out of a courtroom.)  To the trained lawyer who is skilled in understanding precedent and courtroom procedure, Westlaw can provide an inestimable benefit.  The same principle applies here.

Yet what of the fact that the teaching surrounding sexual morality is left in Latin?  This would be in a sense true, but incomplete.  The chapters Dr. Smith cites are dealing with something very specific:  sins against the 6th and 9th commandments.  Primarily, it deals with the sin of sexual impurity.  As noted before, this is not meant to give an in-depth teaching about sexual ethics, but rather simply pointing out what is wrong under pain of sin. 

One need not be an expert in Latin to figure out what the author is talking about.  The specific section Dr. Smith referenced is called "De Peccatis Consummatis contra Naturam."  In short, it is dealing with sins of sexual impurity that are contrary to nature.  Two of those sins are named as "De Sodomia" and "De Bestialitate."  Take one guess what those mean.  Does Dr. Smith really think Catholics need an in-depth presentation on why conjugal acts with animals are wrong?  Personally, I think that, in order to protect the modesty of pious ears, there should be as little talk about this as possible amongst faithful Catholics.  Speak about it as little as required, and no more.  About the only one who really needs to know how to handle these things when regards to the confessional is the priest.

Why is this?  I submit because we are dealing with something of the utmost sensitivity.   The manual also mentions that both bestiality and sodomy are punished severely under the Code of Canon Law. (The 1917 Code)  Whenever you cite the 1917 Code of Canon Law, expect there to be a healthy dose of Latin.  In the case Fr. Slater sites, canons 2357 and 2359 are mentioned, which outline specific penalties for individuals guilty of sins contrary to nature.

Ironically enough, for everything else that is not dealing with something contra naturam regarding purity, English is the language used.  The English talks about when a priest should or should not question a penitent regarding sins of impurity, mentions the intent of people engaging in these acts (as part of the measurement of the gravity of the sin)

Dr. Smith is an expert in classical languages.  One would have to think she at least read what she was citing.  This took but a few hours of fact checking.  As far as I'm aware, none of her supporters bothered to fact-check her on this.  Since Dr. Smith is an expert in classical languages, she should certainly know these circumstances.  In an essay over 6,000 words, one would think she would be able to spend a few hours fact-checking her work.  If a seminarian turned in something this shoddy, would Dr. Smith give him a passing grade?

What is the reader to make of this?  I do not think malicious intent is necessary.  Dr. Smith had a case of "Ready, Fire, Aim!"  So focused was she on refuting Miss Eden's thesis, she was looking for anything, anything, that might confirm her views. When doing this, people will frequently jettison discpline and fact-checking first, and to their peril.  So far, this is par for the course in those who have attempted to engage Miss Eden's thesis.  They have missed quotes, engaged in ad hominem, and engaged in anachronistic interpretation time and time again.  I repeat my call I made frequently at Sr. Lorraine's blog:  Let us focus on the evidence at hand in a calm and rational manner.  Let us reason together, and see who has the facts.

I think that's enough, and if my audience needs a shower after reading this, I completely understand.

To Part IV:  Where are we Now?

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