I am not sure what exactly the focus of the big meeting planned for February 2019 at the Vatican will be, but I hope that there is actually a forum and quorum for the issues of relationships as evolving and dynamic, and not static. We need to have language which articulates respect for each person, and that people are never to be treated as an object.
Most of the theology of sex and sin when we were young centered on single acts, not on relationships. For more than 40 years, we have had theologians who are Teilhardians in the assessment of progress of human culture and well-being. We have been able to discuss the theology of marriage, and of good theology in general, as a deepening conscious integration of the love of God, and the knowledge that goes with that love of God. Thus, the issues of honesty, vulnerability, respect, compassion, tenderness, humor, caring, generous listening, accountability, forgiveness, boundaries, self-esteem, etc, which were never covered in discussions about moral theology in the past, are now at the forefront of how we should be able to form good healthy relationships in safety with other people— not just sexual intimacy but emotionally satisfying friendships, spousal relationships which mature over time, parent-child relationships which also mature over time, and other kinds of interactions which may contain emotional, spiritual and physical components of intimacy.
I think it is a good time for us as a church to retire the wrong thinking which got embodied in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” as a proscription against birth control. Sensible family planning decisions need to be left to the conscience of the couple, as they plan their lives and take on the burdens of parenthood. I think we need to address how to include gay people in a respectful way, which recognizes that sex is part of intimacy and love relationships of many kinds. We need to have informed theology which leans on modern psychology and the best spiritual guidance about being a healthy human being. We need to aim at protecting people from STDs and traumatic side-effects of having a sexual event which is disrespectful and not loving, such as incest, rape, abuse of a minor, sexual assault, etc. We need strong proscriptions against sex trafficking, and concerted efforts all over the world to provide shelter for people who are at risk for this modern slavery. I believe this is actually something our Church should be doing. I certainly hope that international agreement will happen in making sure there are always 2 adults when children are present, to lessen the risk of a child being injured or taken advantage of in any way. We need to have strict protocols in place, to protect children from sexual predators. We also need to do ongoing surveillance and rigorous assessment to keep pedophiles from having access to children; and to protecting our schools and parishes, with reasonable oversight of committees which include laypeople and parents. Since sexual assault is a crime, we also need to be sure that predators go to jail, and are not promoted or hidden within the church. We need to have full cooperation with the law and the police.
We also need to have credible pastors, who are attempting to live their own vows in a healthy and humble way. For this reason, I am even more hopeful that we will now move to have the clergy have the option of marriage, and also that women will be given a wider role in pastoral care.
Maybe this time, in which my friend Tim’s daughter Katie has embarked on the vocation of becoming a Poor Clare, can be a time of great growth in the Church, equivalent to when Galileo said that the movement in the heavens is such that the earth rotates around the sun.