The Catholic Church has a wisdom about sexuality derived from Scripture and natural law (good common sense) that too few Catholics know and live. Sexual Common Sense features publised articles by Janet E. Smith, an author and expert on Catholic Ethics, that make clear the common sense teachings of the Chuch on sexuality. Addressing issues from abortion to contraception and bioethics Sexual Common Sense will arm you with information and insights that will help you both live out and spread the Churchs' teachings.
Pro-Life activist Dr. Janet Smith debated the dissenter Dr. Charles Curran in front of a packed Dallas audience in 1994. I think the debate is well worth a focused listening because Dr. Smith and Dr. Curran are widely recognized as the top proponents of their respective positions on the contraception issue (at least in the US), and it's a rare occurrence indeed to hear two figures of their stature debating each other live.
In Part One, Dr. Smith and Fr. Curran give their presentations and rebuttals.
The field of bioethics amply illustrates that morally, ours is a pluralistic culture. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., in his book Moral Acquaintances: Methodology in Bioethics undertakes to assess the strengths and limitations of the reigning methods of bioethics and to propose methods that will enable bioethics to operate better in our pluralistic times, methods based on the concept of moral acquaintanceship, a concept that attempts to build on values or principles opposing theories might hold in common.
It is not until very late into the book that Wildes makes explicit his understanding of bioethics it is: “a discipline that resolves moral controversies in medical research, experimentation, clinical treatment, and health care policy. As a field of inquiry seeking to resolve moral controversies, bioethics has sought agreement or consensus with a zeal reminiscent of the knights’ search for the lost chalice. Each method in bioethics attempts to establish as much agreement as possible, and different methods legitimate themselves, in part, by their ability to articulate agreement.” Had this definition appeared earlier in the book, it would have save some readers much frustration and confusion, that is, those who operate with the understanding that bioethics is a subdiscipline of ethics, that it is the attempt to discern what is the moral action in a given situation (in the health care arena) and what reasons justify that action. This definition explains the curious categories Wildes uses to evaluate various theories; that is, for instance, he regularly faults an ethical system, here called a method, for not achieving a consensus in a pluralistic culture.
Just as like cannot attract like in magnetic fields, homosexuality is contrary to natural law
Our culture tends in many ways to be skeptical; many, if not most, people today doubt that there is any truth upon which all individuals can agree. We are also relativists, thinking that morals are relative to a culture or even to an individual. In general, we don't believe we can know for certain that any actions are intrinsically immoral. In fact, our legal system prohibits actions traditionally understood to be immoral, such as murder and theft. Our laws, in fact, limit human behavior in many ways -- mandating, for example, that our children be educated or telling us which drugs are legal or illegal. These laws are based on a combination of what we believe is moral and what is beneficial/harmful for human beings.
Skepticism and relativism are very much behind the tendency of our culture to accept same-sex unions. Add in the fairly universal acknowledgement that human beings need to love and be loved, and it has led many people to come to the conclusion that homosexual unions should be tolerated and even approved. It seems arrogant to insist that homosexual unions are wrong and cruel to deny a segment of the population the opportunity to love and be loved.
Cowdin and Tuohey argue that certain trends in ethical theory and moral theology warrant a rethinking of Catholic principles; they further argue that a proper rethinking would justify certain sterilizations. Essentially, they argue that were the Church to respect the proper autonomy of medicine, it would allow sterilizations. They find that the documents of Vatican II require respect for the autonomy of sciences and culture but maintain that in some of its ethical judgments the Church has not accorded medicine such respect.
Here I am going 1) to challenge Cowdin and Tuohey’s understanding that the Church has derived its moral laws independent of consultation with medicine and that it treats medicine simply as a source of technical expertise. I am also going 2 ) to challenge their understanding of autonomy and show that the Church never permits the kind of autonomy they request for medicine. I am particularly going 3) to challenge their understanding of the principles of totality and double effect as “dispensations” from the moral order. Finally, I will argue 4) that they have provided no grounds to cause the Church to reconsider its condemnation of all sterilizations.
Much ethical theory has recognized that the very importance of the attempt to live an ethical life lies in the fact that in acting the individual forms herself or himself either for the better or for the worse. That is, each and every human act, each act stemming from the deliberate choice of the human agent determines the type of human being an individual is, or in other words, the kind of moral character which an individual has. Then, in turn, the moral character which one has influences what decisions one makes. For those who share this perspective, one of the foremost questions to be asked by the moral agent in determining the rightness or wrongness of an act is: What kind of person will I become if I do this act?
Ethical reasoning of this sort is distinguished from other kinds of ethical inquiry because it focuses on the agent; it is variously known as ethics of the agent, ethics of virtue, or ethics of character. This is not to say that those who are concerned with an ethics of character are not also concerned with other means of determining the rightness or wrongness of an act. An ethics of character can be combined with nearly any means of evaluating an action. Yet, for an ethics of character the question of the effect of an act upon the character of the agent is one of the primary considerations taken into account in evaluating whether or not an action is moral.
When Veritatis Splendor was issued, many in the media responded as though the encyclical were written with the purpose of reiterating the Catholic Church’s condemnation of contraception, in spite of the fact that contraception merits a mere mention in the document. Clearly, Veritatis Splendor was not written to reiterate the Church’s condemnation of contraception; rather it was written to establish that some views of the school of moral theology known as "proportionalism" are in conflict with magisterial Catholic moral teaching. Nonetheless, there was something right about the common perception, since it was largely because of Humanae Vitae that theologians challenged the concept of intrinsically evil actions. The proportionalist claim that contraception is not an intrinsically evil action, seems to have been the impetus for challenging the concept of intrinsically evil actions altogether. Much of the debate has centered on the proper way to describe and define moral actions. Elsewhere I have made my assessment of the proper understanding of the object of the moral act and how circumstances and the intention enter into the proper evaluation of the moral action.
Here I wish to explore another terminological dispute, the dispute over the understanding of the term “intrinsic evil.” It is certainly problematic that proportionalists deny that there is any action that is intrinsically evil – i.e., any action that ought never to be done no matter how much good might result. Yet, it is also of key importance that proportionalists do not seem to have the same standard as the tradition for determining what makes any action evil, not just what makes intrinsically evil actions, intrinsically evil. This problem has been obscured in the debate over whether or not there are intrinsic evils. A review of how proportionalists responded to Veritatis Splendor should help us see that the differences between the magisterium and proportionalists is not only about the concept of “intrinsic evil” or the “parts” of the moral act, but also about how proportionalists and the magisterium value such goods as procreation and human life. This paper is largely an attempt to clear away the debris of the debate concerning intrinsic evil and move it in the direction of considering the very nature of the goods of procreation and marital union and their relation.
Much of what I have to say here about premarital sex is drawn from studies done in the United States. I suspect the US is fairly representative of Western, industrialized nations. And since most the world seems eventually to “catch up” with the United States, what I have to say is likely more broadly applicable. The recent attempts at Cairo, Beijing, and Istanbul of the United Nations, the US and other Western European countries to export western sexual mores to third world countries through population control programs, suggest that we have reason to fear that what is true in the US may soon become true everywhere.
In the United States, the media and opinion makers have finally come to recognize that unwed pregnancy is a major source of social chaos in our culture. Every few weeks, some columnist in the newspaper or news journal writes an editorial bemoaning the problem of unwed parenthood. The evidence is overwhelming that children raised in households headed by a single parent are much more prone to sexual abuse, drug abuse, crime, and divorce, for instance. Their health is poorer; their academic achievement is poorer; their economic well-being is less than that of children who are raised in two-parent households. In every way, children raised in single parent households seem to have a few strikes against them as they forge their way through life. (I do not want to suggest, of course, that all children raised in single parenthood households are doomed. I simply want to report that Catholic Church teaching, the teaching of most religions, sociological research, and perhaps common sense are at one in recognizing that children fare better when raised in a household with two parents.) The number of single-parenthood households has risen dramatically, due, of course, largely to unwed pregnancy and divorce.