In her Toronto Star column of December 14, 1990 pro-abortion, anti-life columnist Doris Anderson seized with delight on one of the recent scandals in the Catholic Church in Canada.
The atrocities against boys at Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland, she declared with complete conviction, are the direct result of centuries of misguided teaching in the Catholic Church. The Church’s efforts to promote celibacy have been mostly unsuccessful and have exacted a terrible price in human misery.
The remarkable thing is that Anderson finds support for this view in Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God, written by a supposedly Catholic theologian in Germany, Dr. Ute Ranke-Heinemann.
It has been a best seller in Germany, and is now appearing in an English translation.
According to it, Jesus enjoyed women and probably was married. “But he certainly was the first and last friend women in the Church ever had,” Dr. Ranke-Heinemann surmises.
The villain in the story is St. Augustine, who “denigrated women as unclean airheads and temptresses.” He is also supposed to have declared “that there was to be absolutely no sexual pleasure in normal relations between married people except to procreate.”
When Dr. Ute Ranke-Heinemann says that Jesus was probably married, the German theologian immediately disqualifies herself as someone to be taken seriously, even if her book has sold 300,000 copies.
In St. Augustine’s view, the marriage of man and woman is or ought to be a counter-part of Christ’s love for His Church. In Book Nine of his Confessions, Augustine describes very movingly a conversation he had with his mother near the end of her life, in which the two of them seemed to attain for a moment an insight into the eternal Wisdom. The harmony between them was complete, and she was no more an ‘airhead’ than he was.
In a Catholic wedding, the bride and groom are exhorted to cleave to each other and become one flesh.
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II pays many tributes to women.
They begin with his book Love and Responsibility, written in 1960 – long before he became Pope – and continue with his statement of 1981 on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, and two 1988 exhortations on the lay faithful and on the dignity and vocation of women. One paragraph from the statement on the laity reads as follows:
Making reference to Pope John XXIII, who saw women’s greater conscience of their proper dignity and their entrance into public life as signs of our times, the Synod Fathers, when confronted with the various forms of discrimination and marginalization to which women are subjected simply because they are women, time and time again strongly affirmed the urgency to defend and to promote the personal dignity of women, and consequently, her equality with men.
The contention that the Church despises women, a staple of feminist propaganda, is completely at odds with the truth.
Catholics are doing it too
The gross errors in Doris Anderson’s potted history of the conflict between sex and celibacy in the Church would take pages to refute.
Still it is worth stressing that a striking feature of the present situation is that similar criticisms are being made by Catholics themselves.
For example, when Star religion editor Michael McAteer returned from the recent synod on the formation of priests in Rome, he did not feel that he had summed up the proceedings adequately until he had consulted with Joanna Manning, one of the moving spirits behind the Committee for Concerned Canadian Catholics (CCCC), who, of course, had not been to Rome at all.
“Sadly,” she said, “our bishops are not listening to what church members today are saying.”
According to Manning, the bishops had “totally disregarded” a call for a serious questioning of mandatory celibacy arising out of an investigation into the Mount Cashel affair. Previously, she had accused the Church of turning against the weak and powerless, and had attacked the Pope himself:
We wonder about the credibility of a pope who criticizes clergy in Latin America for being too involved in politics on the side of the poor, and then gets up to his neck in the Noriega affairs, who jets into Africa to lecture on the evils of contraception, or who lays down God’s will for women without ever listening to women themselves, she said.
On November 13, 1990, she issued a statement on “Accepting the ‘feminine in God’,” which was published in the Toronto Star on the page next to the editorials.
Over the past year the Star has published a number of articles by CCCC members attacking celibacy as well as the Pope.
Ms. Manning accused the Church of blatant sexism, ruthless authoritarianism, and covering up an issue poisoning the arteries of the Body of Christ.
In similar vein, Dr. Ranke-Heinemann said that her book was written because she was tired of the “hair-splitting nonsense of the white bachelors of the Church who are defining sexual intercourse.”
“Why not leave to people how to live their sexuality?” she asked.
Libel and calumny
On publication of her book in America, New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor declared that the firm of Doubleday was acting as a “purveyor of hatred and scandal and malice and libel and calumny.”
In a column entitled “A Seed of Hatred” in the weekly Catholic New York, the Cardinal accused Doubleday of “Catholic bashing” and said that its request for a comment on the book by him was preposterous. He said that he had read only the dust jacket, and declined to read more.
According to a news story in the New York Times, the dust jacket says that “Dr. Ranke-Heinemann proves that for most of its 20 centuries the Catholic Church (as the principal voice and institutional focus of worldwide Christendom) has been cruelly manipulating and mutilating the sexuality of believers.”
It adds that “the Church has denigrated sex, degraded women and championed a perverse ideal of celibacy.”
The several hundred bishops attending the October 1990 synod in Rome meanwhile gave overwhelming support to the traditional doctrine of celibacy, regarding it as a profound ‘Yes’ to God.
At the same time, they paid plenty of attention to an issue related to the Mount Carmel situation; the holiness of priests, and their proper formation.
They were heartened by the fact that the number of seminarians has risen by over 50 per cent in the last decade, but worried that these men have been inadequately prepared before entering the seminary. One bishop even said that he is being asked to ordain “nice pagans.”
The remarkable thing about Catholic dissenting opinions is that formerly they used to be the stock-in-trade of the church’s enemies. Dr. Ranke-Heinemann has forfeited her authority as a Catholic theologian. She was the first woman to occupy a chair in Catholic theology at a German university and was using it to distort and falsify Catholic teaching on sexual matters.
She herself described the dust-jacket account of her book “as generally accurate”; one can well understand therefore, why Cardinal O’Connor refused to read the book.
There is no excuse for a theologian to declare that the Catholic Church has denigrated sex.
For example, the Second Vatican Council stated that “the sexual activity by which married people are intimately and chastely united is honourable and worthy and, if done in a truly human fashion, it signifies and fosters the self-giving by which the couple gladly and gratefully enrich each other.”
Thomas Cahill, director of religious publications at Doubleday, complained that he and several other Catholic editors felt defamed by Cardinal O’Connor. He claimed that Eunuchs was not anti-Catholic but a “highly critical book from the loyal opposition.”
He might have reflected on the very careful definition of “Catholic loyalty” given by Cardinal Henry Newman in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874). It was his rule to obey both Queen and Pope, but he would give absolute obedience to neither; conscience came first.