Proposed: A Papal Encyclical on Sexual Ethics

I intend to write a series of posts (one every week or two) detailing what a papal encyclical on sexual ethics might contain. Each post will cover a particular topic in sexual ethics. I will cite each existing teaching of the Magisterium and its level of authority, and note whether the teaching needs clarification or a more definitive promulgation. If there are common questions or doubts among the faithful on a particular topic, I’ll discuss whether the answers are already implied by the current teaching of the Magisterium, and what a new document might explicitly state as the answer to the question or doubt.

I say ‘our discussion’ because I am inviting other Catholics to join me in this discussion, especially by writing their own posts and articles on the topic. As for the comments in this blog, constructive comments are welcome. But especially in this set of posts, any comments merely arguing against existing Catholic teaching will be unlikely to survive the comment moderation process. The document HS is hypothetical, but the Church’s teaching on ethics is not.

However, I also believe that it is inevitable, sooner or later, that a Pope or an Ecumenical Council will respond to the fact that a large majority of Catholics are living in objective mortal sin by committing many various grave sexual sins without repentance, and by believing heretical ideas on sexual ethics. And since the Holy Spirit guides the Magisterium, the response will just as inevitably be to correct and condemn these grave sins. Though we are discussing a document which is certainly, at this point in time, hypothetical, it is also almost as certainly inevitable.

Extent and Nature of the Problem

Very many Catholics do not believe and do not follow the teachings of the Catholic Church on contraception, on abortion, on artificial procreation (e.g. IVF), on pre-marital sex, on homosexuality, on same-sex ‘marriage’, on unnatural sexual acts within marriage, on masturbation, on lust, and on the different roles given to men and women by God in the family, society, and the Church, especially the teaching that only men can be ordained as priests and bishops.

To make matters worse, more than a few theologians and many online commentators have distorted the teachings of the Catholic Faith on sexual ethics in a myriad of different ways. They distort the meaning of intrinsic evil and the moral object, to the effect that intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts, which are truly always gravely immoral, are said to be moral with some intentions or in some circumstances. Some of these persons distort the meaning of direct and indirect, so that direct abortions are justified by being called indirect. Some persons justify the direct and voluntary use of contraception in various ways. Some claim that unnatural sexual acts are moral within marriage, on the basis of various spurious claims and explanations. As a result of this type of doctrinal error, whereby the teaching of the Magisterium is accepted in a severely distorted form, rather than being explicitly rejected, a comprehensive magisterial document on sexual ethics would also need to reaffirm specific teachings on sexual ethics as well as the more general teachings of the basic principles of ethics, especially on intrinsic evil and the moral object.

Another serious problem pertaining to sexual ethics in the Church is the strong widespread promotion of a distorted version of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, especially as re-imagined by Christopher West. There are many serious problems in West’s version of theology of the body. Any papal encyclical on sexual ethics will need to address the many errors in the work of West and his imitators.

Possible Reaction to HS

The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae is widely ignored, and widely contradicted in word and deed, by the Catholic laity. Even many priests and religious have essentially abandoned this encyclical and its teachings. But if a Pope were to promulgate a teaching document on sexual ethics in general, the result might be much worse. And this would likely be true even if such a papal encyclical contained nothing more than what the Magisterium already teaches on sexual ethics. For many Catholics have essentially rejected, in mind and heart, the ethical teachings of the Church on sexuality. And many Catholics are living in direct contradiction to those teachings.

Though the Catechism and other magisterial documents already plainly condemn various sexual sins, I believe that the media, as well as the more secular-minded Catholics among us, would give much more weight, and react much more strongly, if a papal document were to present the ethical teachings of the Magisterium on sexuality. Also, placing all of the definitive teachings of the Magisterium on sexual ethics in one comprehensive document would tend to produce more of an effect on the same crowd.

But what would happen if a papal encyclical not only reiterated the clear and definitive teaching of the Church on sexual ethics, but also answered further questions and cleared up recent doubts that some persons have raised? And what would the reaction of the laity be if a Pope were to prohibit from reception of holy Communion all those Catholics who do not believe, or who do not live according to, definitive Catholic teaching on sexual ethics?

In response, perhaps many Catholics would leave the Church, rather than adhere to the teachings of the Magisterium on sexual ethics. Perhaps enough Bishops and priests would join them, so that they would attempt to form a schismatic Church. It is difficult to know the beliefs of many of the Bishops, since most do not write theology; their views on many questions of faith and morals are not known by the faithful. And the same is true for many priests; many sermons contain little or no doctrinal content. But it is well-established that, among the laity, most persons who call themselves Catholic, even most persons who attend Mass regularly, believe or act contrary to the teachings of the Church on sexual ethics.


The poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ is being ravaged from within by many false teachers, and from without by the influence of sinful secular society. Perhaps a large majority of persons who consider themselves to be Catholic have committed many objectively grave sexual sins, without repentance or confession. If the Magisterium does not address this problem by reaffirming and clarifying the eternal moral law as it applies to human sexuality, the Church is in grave danger of losing many of Her members. For no one can live a life filled with grave sexual immorality and still be a true disciple of Christ.

{13:4} May marriage be honorable in every way, and may the marriage bed be immaculate. For God will judge fornicators and adulterers.

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