- 1. Everyone who is married to one person but is having sexual intercourse with another commits adultery (e.g., Mark 10:11).
2. Everyone who commits adultery is in a state of grave sin (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
3. Everyone in a state of grave sin who receives the Eucharist sins by profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27).
4. Everyone who is married to one person but is having sexual intercourse with another and receives the Eucharist sins by profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
The central pages of Bonandi’s essay in Teologia examine precisely what seems to be the weak point in the current rules: the point in which they impose, for admission to communion, the renunciation of sexual relations between the two partners, while permitting them to live together, share an emotional relationship, support one another, and raise their children together. With this—Bonandi writes—“it seems that Catholic doctrine ends up by recognizing the liceity, in a second relationship, of many aspects that characterize marriage, with the sole exception of sexual relations.”Correct, but this is because adultery, which is a sexual act, is morally wrong, while providing emotional and financial support for one’s illegitimate children and the person with whom one has produced them is not morally wrong but rather morally obligatory. One might have expected a moral theologian to grasp that distinction. Magister continues:
But this seems to contradict the Church’s teaching on the inseparability of the “ends” of marriage, the unitive and the procreative: “the first of these would seem to be licit, even obligatory, to pursue even in a relationship following a failed marriage, but not the other.” “Consistency would require”—Bonandi continues—“that the couple’s second relationship be declared illicit in its concrete totality of affection, cohabitation, sexual relations, generation and education of children, and thus that the mere fact of living together should in any case prohibit, as long as it lasts, access to the sacraments. Or, that another path be sought.”And, of course, that path leads to readmission to Communion. Now, to see that Bonandi’s argument is fallacious one need only strip it of the fancy language: He’s saying that if it’s right for a man to support financially his illegitimate children and the woman who bore them, to love them, to share in their education, and live under the same roof with them, then it’s right for him to go on committing adultery and producing more illegitimate children with the new woman. Because he has an obligation to mitigate the harm committed by the earlier sin, he may go on sinning in the future. For tightness of reasoning, Bonandi is no Thomas Aquinas. More specifically, Bonandi argues that there are two ends of marriage—the unitive and the procreative—and if the Church permits the divorced and remarried to pursue one of these ends (the unitive), “consistency would require” that the Church also permit such persons to pursue the other (the procreative), and so to have sexual intercourse. But these “ends” are not the ends of “marriage,” no matter what theologians or popes may have carelessly said; they are the ends, rather, of marriage acts, that is, of sexual acts. In contemporary Catholic moral doctrine, a sexual act is licit if, among other things, it is appropriately ordered to these two ends; that is, it is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of the moral liceity of a sexual act that it be of a kind that is (a) fit to produce a certain kind of emotional intimacy between the spouses, and (b) fit to be procreative. Thus sexual acts incompatible with either the unitive end (some people mention in vitro fertilization) or the procreative end (e.g., masturbation) are morally wrong. The reason, incidentally, that adulterous sexual acts are wrong is that, while they may be ordered to the unitive end, they are incompatible with the procreative end because an adulterous relationship is not a reasonable one in which to rear the children that the act may produce. Bonandi takes these ends, which govern the moral quality of sexual acts, and converts them into norms governing human relationships generally: For Bonandi, if a relationship is fostering the unitive end, then that relationship may (perhaps ought to) foster the procreative end as well. The implications of this are rather shocking. For if, as Bonandi says, a man and a woman sharing a life together and rearing children are pursuing the unitive end and so may pursue the procreative end as well, then a widower who invites his own mother into his home to assist in the rearing of his children will be pursuing the unitive end with her and so may have sexual intercourse with her as well, which is worse than absurd. In truth, we pursue the unitive end with different people in different ways all the time. This does not license us to pursue the procreative end as well. This is enough to dispose of Bonandi’s innovative theology. More deeply, however—and this is a mistake common in contemporary theology generally and not peculiar to Bonandi—we should be clear that the unitive end and the generative end are not on a logical or moral par. Despite some recent loose talk, the entire Christian moral tradition down to the 1960s attests to this. In fact, until the most recent times, the Church consistently taught that there was one end of marriage—the procreating and rearing of children. The close relationship between the spouses was not an end on a par with this end; on the contrary, such a relationship, important though it is, exists for the sake of that end because such a relationship provides a suitable setting in which to procreate and rear children. Sexual acts do indeed tend to create emotional intimacy between those who engage in them, just as natural sexual acts tend to produce children, but these two effects are not morally equivalent. That a sexual act be procreative in the order of nature (i.e., that it be the kind of act that, if nature cooperates, may result in procreation) is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of its moral liceity. There is no analogue regarding emotional intimacy. Even people in loveless marriages may licitly enjoy sexual intercourse with each other. As Elizabeth Anscombe once noted, we ought not say that “the pleasant affection which exists between a happy and congenial pair is the fulfillment of the precept of love.” We ought not to give out a teaching, she says, that is flattering to those lucky in their marriages but irrelevant or worse to the unlucky. Conversely, non-procreative sexual acts very often create emotional intimacy between those who engage in them. If the two ends were really on a par, then, since people in loveless marriages may licitly have procreative but non-unitive sexual intercourse, it would seem by parity of reasoning that other people might have unitive but non-procreative sexual intercourse as well. But we know that this is not so, for it would license all manner of illicit sexual activity, if only it be sufficiently unitive, which sometimes it is. Rather, the normative significance of sexuality arises from its natural connection to the transmission of human life—its “procreative end,” if we must use such language—and it is this procreative end that does all the work in sexual ethics. Treating the unitive end as being on a par with the procreative is a theological error, and it encourages other errors, too, including Fr. Bonandi’s.
(Access contributors’ biographies by clicking here .)