Synopsis of Subverting Catholic Sexual Morality

As a member of the Columbus Ohio Downtown Serra Club, one of my assignments as secretary is to write reports of luncheon talks for our newsletter. What follows is a report, using third person, on my own talk I wrote for our newsletter. The text of the full talk is in my previous blog post

A member of our club gave the talk at our first 2019 St. Charles luncheon meeting on January 11. Program chair Dan Tarpy introduced Charles F. Kielkopf with the following remarks relevant to the topic of his talk: “An Assumption in Moral Philosophy which is Subverting Catholic Sexual Morality.”

He was educated in St. Paul, Minnesota by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondelet and the Christian Brothers. After military service in the 11th Airborne, he returned to St. Paul and earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Mathematics from the University of Minnesota. From 1963 to 2000 he served in the Philosophy department of The Ohio State University. Professor Kielkopf’ s most recent books are: A Declaration of Dependence: A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair, 1997 and Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism. 2014*.

The assumption subverting Catholic sexual morality is that no sexual act by itself is morally forbidden. Whether or not a sexual activity is morally permissible depends on factors apart from what is done such as the circumstances in which it is done, the intentions of the actors and the consequences of the act. In short, the assumption holds that sexual acts are morally neutral. This assumption contradicts traditional Catholic sexual morality. Catholic sexual morality condemns homosexual acts and masturbation as intrinsically disordered. To say that homosexual acts and masturbation are intrinsically disordered is to say that there are no circumstances regardless of the intentions of the actors and consequences of the act in which homosexual acts and masturbation are morally permissible.

Professor Kielkopf pointed out that the assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual acts has had almost axiomatic status for the past fifty years in the moral theories taught in the major secular universities and some Catholic universities. Such moral theories rationalize the so-called sexual revolution beginning in the sixties. As a result, the moral neutrality of sexual acts is part of the conceptual framework of our culture. If it were not for the moral laws of nature written in the human heart referred to by St. Paul in Rom: 2:15, the assumption would be part of common sense.

The assumption subverts Catholic sexual morality because Catholics are participants in contemporary culture. It takes effort to hold to unfashionable stances and avoid being totally shaped by our surrounding culture.

Professor Kielkopf gave evidence that the language of some high clergy indicate that they may make the assumption.

Kielkopf cited use of “clericalism.” “Clericalism” is used to designate use of clerical status to coerce consent. So, instead of condemning McCarrick’s homosexual acts, he is accused of a misuse of power. Misuse of power is only a circumstance in which his homosexual acts were committed.

At the beginning of 2019 Catholics are rightly anxious about the prospect that moral thought assuming the moral neutrality of sexual acts will become dominant in our Church. If so, our Church will become only a frill in our culture which might occasionally be called upon to support some welfare policy. Our Church will have no basis to demand the dominant culture to pay attention to the meaning of life for individuals.

Secular moral philosophy’s assumption of the moral neutrality of sexual acts is really just part of an assumption of the moral neutrality of every act. Under this broader assumption, the role of moral thinking is to decide how to get the fairest division of pains and pleasures from acts. So, in principle, any kind of act may turn out to be right. If pains significantly outweigh pleasures a life is not worth living. It is right to terminate such lives.

Traditional Catholic sexual morality is part of a larger moral vision which holds that human beings have natural capacities such as sexuality, concern for beauty, concern for community, concern for truth and life itself. There is a good to be realized by each of these capacities. Morally right acts promote these goods. Acts which directly frustrate attainment of these goods are intrinsically wrong. The moral meaning of life for individuals is to form themselves to be the kind of people who promote these goods and avoid the intrinsically wrong acts. The full meaning of life for individuals is to live a morally meaningful life because that is what God created us for.

Professor Kielkopf noted that there is hope for Catholic friendly moral philosophies which can compete with the dominant Catholic unfriendly secular moral philosophies. An example he cited was the new natural law theory started by Germain Grisez.

As a final suggestion, Professor Kielkopf suggested that Serrans think about developing ways to find out the type of moral philosophy taught to seminarians and then try to ensure that they are taught moral philosophy which supports the Catholic vision.