The Catholic Theological Society of America will propose next month a new concept of sexual behavior that would make Roman Catholics responsible for determining their own sexual behavior code.
The impending statement, it was learned yesterday, will be sharply at odds with traditional Catholic taboos on contraception, homosexuality, extramarital sex, masturbation, sterilization, artificial insemination and childless marriages.
The society, an organization of lay and ordained scholars, is not part of the hierarch and has no legislative authority within the church. But the influence of its members is considerable, both in the teaching of future priests and as scholars whose role is to refine and interpret church doctrine in the light of contemporary life.
The statement is expected to generate controversy between the theologians, who tend to be in the forefront of church scholarship, and the bishops, who uphold tradition.
Conflict also is brewing within the CTSA. A group of tradition-oriented theologians is preparing a rebuttal, even before the statement is publicly released.
The statement, entitled "Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought," declares that "wholesome human sexuality is that which fosters a creative growth" in individuals.
In contradiction to orthodox Christian teaching, the theologians conclude that while the Bible sets forth some admonitions regarding sexual behavior, it cannot be the sole source of sexual guidelines.
The theologians urge the church to "get away from a theology of sexuality . . . in terms of the individual act," and instead "get to the human values involved."
The heart of the proposed new view of sexual morality is contained in seven principles or values. Every sexual act, the theologians maintain, should be "self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving and joyous."
They argue that the final decision as to whether an action is moral or immoral should be made by the individual in the light of these "basic principles," rather than according to a code set by church authorities.
In their statement, the theologians discuss a range of sexual questions, from masturbation to "swinging." The statement neither condones nor condemns any activities, but encourages individuals to decide for themselves whether an act is moral in terms of the seven principles.
While the proposal would eliminate moral absolutes in favor of human values, the results likely would not be too different."When you apply the basic principles, you would be hard-pressed to conclude that adultery is morally justified," said John Kirvin, spokesman for Paulist Press, publishers of the statement.
Because the statement is not to be published until June 20, theologians who drafted it declined comment on it.
Father Charles Curran of Catholic University observed that the society's impending statement "doesn't say any-that individuals [theologians] haven't been saying. But up to now the bishops could say there were only one or two way-out people saying these things and dismiss them." The backing of the society, he indicated, would give the ideas more clout.
An introduction to the impending statement notes that "there has been a serious discrepancy" between what the church teaches on sexual morality and the practice of the faithful. A study last year, for example, estimated that more than 80 per cent of Catholic couples use contraception, though it has been outlawed by the Vatican.