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SMC speaker explores Catholicism, sexuality

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, March 9, 2006

Speaking in the Saint Mary’s Student Center Wednesday as part of the Theology on Fire series, religious studies professor Phyllis Kaminski said the Catholic Church values sex as a powerful expression of love in the context of a committed relationship.

“Sex is good,” Kaminski said in her lecture titled “Catholic Women and Sexuality: Passion, Power and Prudence.” “Sex is also powerful so we have to be careful – not so much out of fear of pregnancy, violence or AIDS or STDs, but because sex is holy.”

She said the Catholic tradition emphasizes chastity as a virtue and practice. Chastity is not the same thing as abstinence, she said.

“Chastity calls us to integrate our sexual desires and needs into all of our life in way that values, esteems, and respects our own dignity and that of others,” Kaminski said.

While the Church Magesterium has made progress clarifying its teaching on sexuality through documents such as Pope John Paul II’s 1997 “The Theology of the Body” and Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical “Deus est Caritas,” Kaminski said it nevertheless has a “credibility problem” when it comes to pleasure and the body.

Church officials have a lot to say on moral sexual conduct, but less on professional or financial behavior, she said. Sexuality has become the make or break point on whether an individual is a good Catholic.

“In a broken world where for many women sex is painful and its consequences political, we need to attend to the political as well as the personal and cultural dimensions of sexuality,” Kaminski said.

When it comes to issues of sexuality, Kaminski said, women must use their conscience to make prudent decisions.

“By that I mean the process by which you use your own reasoning ability, the sources of divine revelation, the Church’s teaching and guidance, the wise counsel of others and your own individual and communal experiences of grace in a sincere effort to choose wisely and well,” she said.

In the question and answer portion of the lecture, junior Allison Beyer said the most holy woman in Church tradition is the Virgin Mary, leaving married women without a model for their vocation as wives.

Kaminski said virginity was not an important point in the early Christian Church, but rather this was something that developed later in history. Mary is celebrated for centering herself on her responsibilities to God, she said, and in that sense “can be a model for all women.”

Senior Jenny Robbins said there are many serious couples today who feel they are in a committed relationship and respect the holiness of sex.

Kaminski said many couples say they are open to the future possibility of children in their relationships, but due to financial constraints, professional pursuits or illness, they are not always in a position to get pregnant.