Deus Caritas Est a “Shot Across the Traditionalist Bow”?

Deus Caritas Est a “Shot Across the Traditionalist Bow”? May 21, 2011

Apparently Father James Alison is not alone in his suggestion that Pope Benedict is quietly reshaping Catholic sexual ethics in a direction that will accept same-sex relationships.  Over at the Woodchip Gazette, a lengthy piece appears (which includes the quote in my title) that follows roughly the same outlines as Father Alison’s comments, but it is of more recent vintage and takes into account more of Benedict’s pontificate.  Also, given that the format is a lengthy exposition and not a Q & A session, it engages the material more fulsomely.

On the face of it, it appears to be entirely independent of Alison’s commentary, which, to me at least, is very interesting.  The Chipster, the author’s pen name, is not someone whose work I have read before, but is obviously someone who has read his share of Benedict and has a good sense of the Catholic tradition.  That two serious, intelligent Catholics should come to this conclusion independently says something, even if I’m not sure what.

I should like to note that my linking to the post does not constitute an endorsement of such views.  I think the author makes some good points and some bad ones.  His attack on the natural law, for instance, struck me as less than serious.  (In fact, at times it struck me as the kind of caricature I tried to dispel here.)  Nevertheless, it poses interesting questions to people on all sides of this debate in the Church.  Here is the Chipster’s own description of the thesis he advances:

We here at the chipstack would like to offer a contrary assessment. It appears to us that when the Benedict’s remarks are read — as they must be — within the context of Catholic terminology and tradition, what is astonishing is what the Pope did not say.

Parsed to its essence, the Pope made an effect-based sociological argument which even when indulged was not very convincing. However, he avoided making a sacramental argument which is surprising given that marriage is, after all, considered a sacrament. More surprising still, he refrained from making an argument based either on the so called moral natural law or on Scripture which are precisely the types of “corrective” contributions he has said the Church should make to the discussion of public policy.

When these omissions are read in light of Benedict’s other writings on eros, love and scriptural exegesis, it rather appears that he is fundamentally “rearranging” the Church’s doctrines on sex and, as a correlative consequence, positioning the Church for full acceptance of homosexual unions.

One final thing fascinates me about this piece and leads to my decision to bring it to you.  Like Father Alison, whose videos were hardly watched on Youtube, Chipster has not received a single comment.


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • Matt Bowman

    The idea that Pope Benedict is “positioning the Church for full acceptance of homosexual unions” is…well…nevermind. If someone doesn’t know what it is, then telling them what it is certainly isn’t going to make any difference.

  • What remains puzzling about Chipster’s argument, as with Alison’s, is that it requires we believe that the pope does not mean what he says. To make much of what is not said is always perilous, even if occasionally fruitful. To build an edifice on exclusions and omissions which, to be believed, necessitate the unsaying of what is actually said is, I think, too clever by half at best. In any event, it does not seem even remotely grounds for holding the claim to be credible.

    It’s a long article, admittedly, but one bit of sloppiness in it is the elision of marriage as such and marriage as a sacrament. The Church does not hold that the union of man and woman is, as such, in the fullest and most robust sense, a sacrament (as a means by which God both signifies his work of salvation in Christ and communicates those saving graces to those who receive the sacrament), even while natural marriage is, in its constitution, already and echo and anticipation of the mysterion of Christ and the Church. Not to refer to marriage as a sacrament, then, when speaking to whole societies, many if not most of whom are not Christian, does not seem, then, to require any special explanation.

    • The Church does not hold that the union of man and woman is, as such, in the fullest and most robust sense, a sacrament . . . .

      When was the first sacramental marriage?

      It seems to me that everything Jesus said about marriage was said before marriage could reasonably have been considered a sacrament. When Jesus spoke of divorce, he was clearly speaking of divorce within Judaism. There was no Christian, sacramental marriage at the time of Moses (or Adam and Eve).

      “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”