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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Gender and Sexuality

Written by: Cynthia Stewart

Despite their exclusion from the priesthood and the diaconate, women are allowed to serve the Church in many capacities. They are the backbone of the Church, performing some 85% of all parish work. Women take on roles of particular holiness as nuns who commit their lives to Christ through service in the Church, and there are now women serving on many Vatican commissions and councils, although their numbers are not large.

The Church's teaching on sexuality moves along conservative lines. The Church recognizes that all people are sexual beings, and Catholics believe that sexuality is a great and wonderful gift that allows humans to become co-creators of life with God. They also believe that this gift must be used properly, which means that the full genital expression of sexuality is reserved for those who have already sacramentally vowed themselves in selfless love to each other in marriage. It is the very sacredness of the sexual union that leads to this belief: such a sacred joining should not be made in a casual context, or one where the participants do not recognize the sacrality of their actions. All forms of genital sexual contact outside of marriage are forbidden, including adultery and pre-marital sex. Catholic teaching holds that marriage must take place between a man and a woman, meaning that all homosexual activity is considered disordered whether the state recognizes same-sex unions or not. Catholics believe that it is homosexual actions, rather than the fact of being homosexual, that is sinful, that God calls those who have homosexual desires to lives of celibacy and restraint.

The Church teaches that the sacred bonds of marriage, when properly understood, create a welcoming space for children to enter the family and the world. This means that the partners within a marriage need to be open to the gift of whatever children God wills to send to them. All artificial forms of birth control are banned, although this ban is widely overlooked among modern western Catholics. 

Study Questions:
     1.    Why are women excluded from the priesthood?
     2.    Why are women called the backbone of the Church, when they are denied inclusion within the priesthood?
     3.    How are sexuality and marriage combined within the Roman Catholic Church?
     4.    What does it mean to use sexuality properly? What is the role of birth control?
     5.    What does the Church teach about homosexuality?


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