WashPost's Sally Quinn Finds No Pleasure in Church's Teaching on Masturbation

Sister Margaret Farley probably would have had Sally Quinn's respect when she endorsed same-sex marriage in her 2006 book Just Love, which has recently been denounced by the Vatican as unsuitable for use in Catholic theological or moral instruction due to its various departures from Church teaching.

But by golly, it's the Church's rebuke of Farley's defense of masturbation that Quinn thinks is her ticket to convincing her audience that the Church has lost its mind. From her June 7 On Faith blog post "Fifty Shades of Catholicism" (emphases mine):


Masturbation, says the Vatican “is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and approving gay marriage would show approval of “deviant behavior.”

Is masturbation where they really want to throw down the gauntlet? How many priests, bishops or cardinals could stand with a hand on the Bible and swear they have never masturbated?

Is the human body not to be admired? Why shouldn’t our own bodies give us pleasure? The contorted thinking of these celibate men is causing the church to lose followers, including many women.

There are those faithful who would criticize Sister Margaret for writing what she did, suggesting that if she couldn’t follow the doctrine of the church she and all other rebellious nuns should just quit and start a church of their own --an idea that has some merit. But the idea of sticking it out and fighting from within also has appeal. And remember: If women had more power in the church, none of these frivolous attacks would be happening.

Of course, the Church isn't arguing that clergy have never transgressed by masturbating, and in fact, that's the whole notion of sin. As fallible, sinful human beings, we are called to recognize, repent of, and refrain from sinful behavior. Nor is the Church teaching that sexual pleasure is in and of itself wrong, something Quinn would know if she actually engaged the Church on its teachings by researching its catechism.

Based on Jesus's teaching that the sixth commandment -- Thou shall not commit adultery -- is violated in the heart when one lusts after another, the Church's catechism explores the call of Christians to chastity and breaks down what that looks like vis-a-vis sexual lust, masturbation, pornography and other sexual practices that run afoul of Christian sexual ethics.

You'll see from the following excerpt (emphases mine) that the Church's concern is not primarily with forbidding sexual pleasure but rather directing the enjoyment of sexual pleasure towards its God-ordained, God-glorifying ends within the union of holy matrimony. Secondly, you'll notice a fundamental ethical concern for not sinning against other human beings by misusing the good gift of sex that God has given humans to enjoy in marriage:

2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God's plan strictly: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."123 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.124

The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

[...]

The integrality of the gift of self

2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,134 who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

The various forms of chastity

2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ,"135 the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single."136 Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence:

There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.137

2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

Offenses against chastity

2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.140 Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.

2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

The long and short of it is abstaining from masturbation -- as well as pornography, which usually aids in same -- is ultimately about loving our neighbor and loving God by honoring Him with our bodies. That's the teaching and tradition of the Church which Sister Margaret Farley most certainly should be aware, as a professor emerita of Christian ethics and a sister who has pledged fidelity and obedience to the Church's teachings.

Quinn, a professed agnostic, takes it upon herself to rebuke the Church for doing its job by defending its doctrine. That's all well and good, but if she's going to do so, she should try to address the material with more substance and less pedestrian bluster.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters