Sacrifice of Gender and
Sacrifice of Sexuality
by George Desnoyers
Many times the [Catholic] Church has required sacrificing sexuality in order for one to be deemed holy. Some famous examples are: the requirement of priestly celibacy, the forbidding of methods of birth control other than the rhythm method (thus requiring many married couples to abstain during part of each cycle), and the development of the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity. Although these are probably the most famous examples, the first book I recommend below mentions several other examples - some quite shocking to most modern ears.
At other times, the Church required (or requires) not the sacrifice of participation in sex acts, but the acceptance of gender roles as the Church defined (or defines) them. The most famous example of this is the requirement that priests be males. Since this has nothing specifically to do with abstaining or limiting sex, a better way to think of this is as a limit placed on gender, or a sacrifice of gender. Again, this is a famous example, but there have been many other cases in which genders have been limited, or placed under restrictions, by the Church. To acquiesce to an unreasonable limit that a church places on gender is to “sacrifice gender” because some of the possibilities for realization or accomplishment that properly belong to the gender are sacrificed. Let me add that, in the case of the male-only priesthood, it is not only women who are sacrificing gender. ALL the members of a church who acquiesce to its unreasonable gender-limiting requirements for the purpose of maintaining good standing, or qualifying for that church's version of "holiness," have participated in sacrificing gender.
Sacrifice of gender isn't seen only in churches; it occurs in other institutions too, and sometimes still by society in large. But, given the lofty claims of truth and goodness that churches make to individuals, and the respect that churches purport to have for human life and dignity, sacrifice of gender by churches is especially repugnant.
It is possible for a single sacrifice to properly be considered both a sacrifice of sexuality and a sacrifice of gender. An example of this would be the Catholic Church’s prohibition of homosexual behavior for an individual who is homosexually inclined. Obviously, the abstinence from homosexual sexual activity would constitute a sacrifice of sexuality. But this could also be viewed as a sacrifice of gender by anyone who believes that the sexual behavior sacrificed on account of a person’s gender would not be improper to the gender.
The best source I know of on the subject of sexuality and gender in the Catholic Church is out of print, but can usually be found on bookfinder.com. It is a wonderful little book called Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church. The cost for a used copy is normally well under ten dollars, but I would strongly recommend the book if it cost fifty dollars. As you may guess from the title (taken from Mt. 19:12), the theme is developed around those areas in which the Catholic Church has required people to sacrifice sexuality and/or gender in order to maintain holiness, or presumed holiness. The author is Uta Ranke-Heinemann. The book, an international bestseller, is comprehensive, scholarly, educational, and an absolute joy to read. You will find it hard to put the book down, and will frequently quote it. WARNING: if you are a Roman Catholic, do not get this book unless you are somewhat open-minded and able to face historical facts embarrassing to the Catholic Church.
Another good source is Rome Has Spoken - A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements, and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries, edited by Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben. This book contains important quotes of Popes, Councils, and notable Church leaders through the ages. Eighteen topics important to our age are covered, only some of which involve sexuality and gender. The eighteen topics are: Democracy in the Church, Women in the Church, Married Clergy, Sexual Intimacy and Pleasure, Contraception, Infallibility, Primacy of Conscience, Scriptural Interpretation, Religious Freedom, Ecumenism, The Jewish People, Slavery, Theological Dissent, Divorce and Remarriage, Copernican Theory and Galileo, Evolution, War and Peace, and Usury. The book is well organized. Each chapter ends with a thoughtful essay on the chapter's topic. The essays summarize the developments in the areas covered, and include insightful comments about trends, where we are, and where we are headed. The last time I looked, this wonderful book was still only $19.95.
I am not related in any way to
the author or publisher of either book recommended above.