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Panel Defines, Defends Traditional Sexual Morality

"Lovers are just lending their bodies to the other person. That's the difference between marriage and fornication..."

Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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STEUBENVILLE, OH—"I was worried we might not have many people here tonight with such an arcane subject—sex and marriage," teased Dr. Patrick Lee, director of Franciscan University of Steubenville's Institute of Bioethics, introducing the panel at the October 15 discussion on defending traditional sexual morality.

Speaking to a standing room only crowd, he said, "Obviously, Catholics have a rich heritage of teaching on sex and marriage. Everyone knows we hold these very countercultural positions, so we need to be equipped to go out there and defend them."

Dr. William E. May, the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., opened the discussion with a rapid fire delivery of the basic nature of marriage.

Citing St. Thomas Aquinas' maxim, "We offend God only if we act contrary to our own good," May argued that the basis for all human morality must be desiring and working for our good and the good of our neighbors. "Your heart must be open to the integral flourishing of yourself and other human persons."

True love, then, is not merely romantic love, but love that desires the good of the other. Speaking of people in extra-marital romantic relationships, May asked, "Have they given themselves to the other person? Do they love this other person or do they love the experiences they are getting from them?

"Pleasure is not a real good of the human person," said May, author of Marriage: The Rock on Which The Family Is Built, since harmful actions could be sources of pleasure. "Pain isn't evil, it's just a warning.

"I say lovers are just lending their bodies to the other person. That's the difference between marriage and fornication—marriage is a bond, which no further choices can destroy. It changes your identity, and enables spouses to love each other with conjugal love. The man gives himself to his wife in a receiving sort of way, and the woman can receive the man in a giving sort of way."

The next panelist, Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, focused on the difficult role of lay Catholics who try to bridge the gap between the Church's sexual teaching and the culture.

"The starting point," Monahan said, "is that the Church's teachings on sexuality are intrinsically attractive and are a call to joy."

After initially working in marriage preparation for Catholic couples for 10 years, Monahan went to work for USAID, a federally funded humanitarian aid group, in the Office of HIV/AIDs as an abstinence advisor.

"They thought I was crazy to believe in abstinence," said Monahan. "The second day at a meeting they mentioned the US government is the largest distributor of condoms in the entire world. Our taxpayer dollars are funding more contraception than anywhere else in the world. All the staff were so excited that was still the case—under the Bush administration."

After recounting other tales of the culture wars, Monahan offered encouragement. "The new evangelization truly is being ushered in. Just live as God's calling you to live. The enemy wants us to live in misery, and to live in sexual sin is to live in misery. To live in the freedom of God's plan is joy, and as Teresa of Avila said, 'If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.'"

Lee, who holds the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Chair of Bioethics, finished off the panel presentations with a philosophical response to same-sex marriage advocates.

"The key to the debate is understanding what the nature of marriage is as an intimate type of union," said Lee, coauthor of Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics. "You can observe in every society a certain type of relationship: men and women committed to sharing their lives with each other on the bodily level, the emotional level, and the spiritual level, in a kind of union which would be fulfilled by conceiving, bearing, and raising children together."

Though other sorts of relationships can meet certain portions of the description, only marriage fits the definition fully. Lee discussed the definition in each of its two major parts—the unitive and the procreative elements of marriage.

Lee described the unitive aspect, saying, "Marriage in its fullness does involve that bodily, biological union that is brought about by sexual intercourse. When a man and a woman mate, they complete each other in a true biological union. Each animal organism, male and female, is mostly complete on its own. But one function requires the other gender to complete: reproduction."

The procreative follows logically from the unitive aspect. "If the couple has consented to share their lives together in the kind of union that would be fulfilled by conceiving and raising children, then the sexual intercourse concretizes the union they have consented to. If a marriage is not consummated, then in principal it could be annulled."

Even if a couple is infertile or just don't have children, Lee explained, "they become biologically one by performing the kind of act that predisposes them to produce a child…On the one hand, marriage is intrinsically oriented to procreation because it is fulfilled by children. But if the couple does not have children [after having had intercourse in a way that was open to new life], their marriage is still intrinsically good."

Lee concluded, "Since same-sex couples cannot form the kind of union that would be fulfilled by conceiving and raising children, they can’t have the union of marriage."

The event was cosponsored by the Institute of Bioethics and Franciscan University's student-run chapter of the Love and Responsibility Foundation, Love Revealed.

For more on the Institute of Bioethics, see

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