RELIGION

The wrath of Rome

A priest’s views on sex upset the Vatican

D’ARCY JENISH February 15 1993
RELIGION

The wrath of Rome

A priest’s views on sex upset the Vatican

D’ARCY JENISH February 15 1993

The wrath of Rome

RELIGION

A priest’s views on sex upset the Vatican

University professor André Guindon is trying to persuade the Roman Catholic Church that sexual intercourse should be viewed as an ingredient of human intimacy, not merely a function of reproduction. He wrote a book proposing that the church abandon its narrow definition of acceptable sexual practice and now he could be in serious trouble. That is because the 59-year-old Guindon is a Roman Catholic priest who teaches at Ottawa’s St. Paul University, a small, independent Catholic school that specializes in teaching Christian theology. He has aroused the wrath of the Vatican with his 1986 book, The Sexual Creators. Early last year, church officials in Rome issued an 11-page statement declaring that the book contains “serious and fundamental disagreements” with Church doctrine. At stake in the controversy is Guindon’s position as a teacher of Catholic theology at St. Paul’s, where he has taught sexual ethics since 1970. Last month, he issued a formal written response that the Vatican will review before determining what do to with him. Said Guindon: “Now we wait and see whether they are satisfied.” Unlike professors at secular universities, who can publish controversial ideas—usually without fear of the consequences—Guindon teaches at a university that operates under a papal charter empowering it to grant ecclesiastical degrees. It also makes him subject to the law of the church, which will decide, after reading Guindon’s defence, whether he has violated teaching on sexual matters. Experts in canon law said that the Vatican could declare him unfit to teach Catholic theology.

Some lay theologians accuse the church of suppressing both freedom of speech and academic freedom. Said Lisa Sowie Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College: “What they should be doing is making convincing arguments for their point of view, not trying to silence critics by the dogmatic use of authority.”

Despite church objections to his book, Guindon insists that he has not departed from Catholic teachings. He argues that the church should concentrate less on sexual practices and more on the overall quality of human intimacy. Guindon writes that heterosexual and homosexual couples can live according to Christian principles, provided they are united by love and commitment. Concludes Guindon: “Gay persons whose sexual language is fruitful in faithfulness to a partner . . . have indeed mastered the art of sexual love in a way which can only build Christian community. They celebrate love with a gratuity which testifies to

the fact that their love is Christian love.”

He said that current church doctrines stipulating that sexual relations can occur only within a monogamous heterosexual marriage, and that each sexual act must be open to the possibility of procreation, are too narrow and restrictive for contemporary society. “When you preach a sexual ethic based on marriage and procreation, you’re talking to a minority of people,” said Guindon.

But the guardians of Roman Catholic orthodoxy have not been persuaded. In their Janu-

ary, 1992, assessment of the book, church officials said that Guindon’s views on premarital sex, common-law relationships and the nature of marriage represent “a sweeping redefinition of the sacrament of matrimony.” They were even blunter in assessing Guindon’s views about homosexuality, saying that the author relied on “distorted interpretations” of the Bible when he cited examples of healthy homosexual relationships between biblical characters. Guindon argues that David, whom he describes as “the most celebrated hero of the Old Testament,” had a homosexual relationship with the son of a Jewish king.

Many conservative and mainstream Catholic theologians have also greeted Guindon’s book with skepticism. Rev. John Gallagher, superior-general of the Basilian Fathers and a former

theology professor at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, said that monogamous heterosexual marriage remains the cornerstone of Catholic sexual ethics because it contributes to the moral and social well-being of both partners. Rev. Michael Prieur, a professor of moral theology at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont., argued against redefining marriage, saying that it is “a divinely created institution between a man and a woman that cements commitment and responsibility.”

But many lay theologians not bound by church doctrine contend that Guindon has made an important contribution to Catholic thinking on sexuality. Gregory Baum, a former priest and currently a professor of social ethics at Montreal’s McGill University, said that in the mid-1970s Guindon developed the concept that human sexuality is a language used to express such things as joy, friendship and compassion. Baum said that Guindon’s ideas have led many Catholic theologians to think of sex as more than simply a physical act aimed at procreation. Added Sowie Cahill: “His idea of sex as a language has been widely accepted.

It’s used even by the Vatican.” In fact, she said that Pope John Paul II, in some of his writings about sex, has used concepts similar to Guindon’s.

Guindon said that his dispute with Rome has not diminished his faith. A native of Hull, Que., Guindon said that he decided to become a priest in the mid-1950s after completing two years of university. “At the time, it was one of the glamorous options if you were a FrenchCanadian,” he said. “You were either a doctor, a lawyer or a priest.” He eventually studied in Rome, obtained a doctorate, and became a respected theologian. But after a lifetime of quiet achievement, Guindon now faces an uncertain and potentially turbulent future.

D’ARCY JENISH in Ottawa