Saturday, July 9, 2011

JP II vs. Freud: A Throwdown of Sexual Philosophies!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Tonight, we'll have a semi-brief but ultra-exciting lesson in philosophy that I hope will provide some illumination on the Catholic-Christian philosophical view of human sexuality, particularly applied to priestly celibacy, and the way that this view differs markedly from certain modern psycho-analytical theories. Stick with me -- it'll make some sense, I promise. Let's begin!

Many Catholics I know have shared with me that they feel that, if only Roman Catholic priests could regularly be married, there might not have been nearly so many abuse scandals and other examples of infidelity to their priestly vows. I heartily disagree with this view, but I am glad that it has caused me to examine what might be at the root of such an idea.

First, many people see that priesthood certainly has the potential of being a very isolating and lonely life. These people also recognize that every person (priest or lay person) has a deep need for human companionship and more importantly, for communion with others and with an Other. I think that people, in a good way, see marriage as a means to bring about an interpersonal communion and an intimacy of emotion and relationship. They see some priests living isolated and lonely lives, and (not realizing that there are other means of communion and fellowship for priests) they wish that those priests could get married.

But that's where the praiseworthiness sometimes ends, and the strange thinking begins. When people hear that Father so-and-so committed such and such grievously immoral action, they link it back to that idea that marriage brings about communion, and see the lack of marriage as the root of Father so-and-so's problems. "What Father did was really terrible," they might think, "but who could really blame him, being so lonely and all? If only he could have gotten married." This is clearly erroneous thinking -- there are people who commit grievously immoral actions who are priests, married, and single people. There are also a great many people who remain faithful to their vows in the context of priesthood and marriage. How?

I would suggest that those people who remain faithful to their vows, in the context of priesthood, marriage, or any other vowed life, do so because they are in some way aware of (and are living according to) .... the personalistic norm.

[The WHAT?!?!]

The personalistic norm, defined by Karol Wojtyla (a.k.a. Blessed John Paul II in his book Love and Responsibility) confirms that "the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love" (41). Negatively, this principle "states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end" (41).

In other words, the basis of human love is a communion between persons, who treat each other with love and mutual respect, and who do not use one another as objects or solely as a means of their own pleasure. This makes sense clearly within married love, where a husband and wife are called to be gift to one another in the context of the marital act. But how does this apply in the context of the celibate life? And why do so many believe priestly celibacy to be at the root of particular indiscretions of some priests?

My guess is this: most people (Catholics included) base their thoughts and assumptions about human sexuality more on the 'libidinistic interpretation' of the sexual urge more than on the Christian interpretation of the sexual urge. The 'libidinistic interpretation' concerns use of persons, while the Christian interpretation is based on the personalistic norm. Again, this is based on JP II's writings, but lemme give you a super-simplified version here.

The 'libidinistic interpretation' of the sexual urge is based on Sigmund Freud's idea that the sexual urge is primarily an urge to enjoy. Thus, man is depicted by pshychoanalysis only as a subject, and as a means to someone else's end -- namely, pleasure. This interpretation ignores the inner life and inner self of man, and is "very closely related to the utitilitarian standpoint in ethics ... [which concerns] the treatment of persons exclusively as the means to an end, as objects for use" (LR, 63).

In the Christian interpretation of the sexual urge, man, who is "capable of rising above instinct in his actions ... in the sexual sphere as well as elsewhere" (LR, 46), excercises the dynamics of his freedom which the will possesses, allowing the "sexual urge [to] transcend the determinism of the natural order by an act of love" (LR, 50).

Read that last paragraph again!

And one more time.

It is within this context that both a married or a vowed celibate person can use their sexuality to give a gift of self to the community -- that as human persons, we have the power (by the grace of God) to "transcend the determinism of the natural order by an act of love"! We are not mere animals, who must act according to selfish instincts only. A sign of a mature human being is this ability to excercise freedom in transcending the pull of every base, natural urge that comes along and instead, being selfless and considering others.

This fidelity and selflessness is not easy, and in fact is not possible but for grace, which reunites us with the spark of goodness, truth, beauty, charity, and communion by which and for which we were all created.

"There is no need to be dismayed if love sometimes follows torturous ways," Blessed John Paul II assured us. "Grace has the power to make straight the paths of human love." (LR, 140).

Peace and all good,


  1. An excellent blog! Thank you so much, Leslie.

  2. Thanks for this Leslie, it's a good reminder. I knew all this already, but do priests need to be reminded? Again, it harks back to them staying in a community where they have support and love. I know Sr. Briege McKenna used to do a workshop with priests, but I don't know if she does that anymore.

  3. I looked up Sr. Briege online, and she still does priest retreats! praise God!

  4. Thank you both for reading, and for your comments and encouragement. Yes, we all need a supportive and loving community to live the life of faith! I'll look up Sr. Briege, as well. Peace!