Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?

Concluding his three arguments against the traditional sexual theology of the Catholic Church, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson makes a very short, simple point: the emphasis on that teaching, on the physical acts rather than on the relationships between the persons, is the wrong way around.

The documents on homosexuality are particularly bad in this respect, demonstrating a marked asymmetry between same – sex and opposite – sex sexuality, regularly contrasting same – sex “genital acts” with ” loving conjugal relations”. But as several married heterosexuals have pointed out, the fuss over gay marriage as impossible because it is not procreative, is also offensive to them, especially the women, because it reduces them simply to the status of baby makers.

Third Argument

The third argument is that the teaching of the Church is to far too great an extent based on a consideration of what is seen as the God‐given nature of the physical acts in themselves rather than on how such acts affect persons and relationships. And it continues to do this at a time when the whole trend in moral theology is in the opposite direction. I shall return to this point.

We are left with the fact that the Catholic Church is propounding a teaching that only a minority still accepts, especially among the young. Western society as a whole has rejected this teaching and gone to a position that is in many ways an opposite extreme. Few people, it seems, are left to argue for a middle ground between the two extremes. It is this middle ground that I now wish to explore.

 Nearly two years ago, Cardinal Christoph Shonborn of Vienna made the important observation that it was hight time that the Catholic Church moved beyond its obsession with genital acts in its treatment of homosexuality, and instead moved on to consideration of the quality of our relationships. No bishop of the church has yet contradicted him, and several more have followed his example, either by explicit words of their own, or by demonstration in their pastoral practice.

This has been further demonstrated in episcopal responses to gay marriage. Some bishops, notably Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, have openly recognized the value of civil unions or partnerships as an alternative to full (civil) marriage, or have actively promoted the value of deep same – sex friendship.  More generally, amidst all the strong attacks on gay marriage by Catholic bishops in the UK, US, Latin America and elsewhere, the only attacks I have seen have been on attempts to take on the name “marriage”, or to create in lawrecognition for marriage – like status.  I have not seen any criticism, by any bishop anywhere, on same -sex relationships (as does this  In a Catholic Herald article week, Vincent Nichols actively promotes the value of such deep friendships).

What Bishop Robinson has done, is to take this shift in emphasis for same – sex relationships, and point out that the same shift is needed for all relationships. The implications for sexual theology are profound, paving the way for an entirely new theology of relationships which finally cuts the damaging anchor in the unjustified insistence that all sexual expression must be open to procreation, and instead places relationships at the centre of the theology.

That foundation, for (hetero) sexual theology, is what I will get to next in this series, before getting to its implications for same sex theology.

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2 comments for “Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?

  1. Chris Morley
    March 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Here’s a link to the article Archbishop Vincent Nichols wrote about Love and Friendship for the Catholic Herald this week: http://www.rcdow.org.uk/archbishop/default.asp?library_ref=35&content_ref=3725

    It is based on an article by Cardinal Basil Hume: ‘A note on the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning homosexuality’, in April 1997 (pdf)
    http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/content/download/22477/143711/file/Teaching%20of%20the%20Catholic%20Church%20on%20Homosexuality_1997.pdf

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