Church Needs Study of Human Sexuality: Catholic Sexual, Spiritual Institute Could Make Research Available to All. (Viewpoint)

Article excerpt

The foundation of the current crisis in the church has to do with a distressing lack of understanding of human sexuality. Even the most educated of Catholics don't understand the concept of healthy sexuality. Bishops have claimed they transferred abusive priests from parish to parish due to their own ignorance about pedophilia. Clergy have alleged that their seminary education arrested their sexual development, making them into priests who acted like adolescents. Some victims of sexual abuse have voiced concern that receiving cash payments from the church or seeing their abusers in police custody hasn't provided the healing they were expecting.

Still, many Catholics believe that human sexuality doesn't merit study. Jesuit Fr. James Gill, director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality, laments, "People who am involved in formation work in seminaries, religious communities and other educational institutions serving young Catholics do not take advantage of the opportunity we offer to deepen their understanding of sexuality. They inevitably say that they don't feel a need for more knowledge."

Although Catholic universities have traditionally avoided all but a perfunctory study of human sexuality, Boston College has commenced two years of scholarly investigation into all aspects of the current crisis. So many Boston Catholics showed up for the first evening of this program "to revitalize the church," that the event had to be moved from a lecture hall to the hockey rink.

Jesuit Fr. William P. Leahy, Boston College president, told the 4,000 assembled faithful, "The current situation calls for healing, and healing requires not only work of the heart, but also work of the mind."

While I laud Leahy's intentions, I would go further in seeking to dispel the monumental ignorance about human sexuality tragically affecting the Catholic church worldwide. I propose that the church commit to the study of sexuality and spirituality by establishing an educational superstructure. This institution would allow academics, mystics and those with practical wisdom to gather for months at a time to collectively research and explore topics crucial for the 21st century. Much of the learning process as well as the results of this research would immediately be made available to the whole church through the Internet.

Certainly Catholics would prefer to contribute to sexual education than to priestly abuse settlements. This whole interdisciplinary program would cost less than the athletic budget of Boston College or Notre Dame.

The educational superstructure I suggest as a model is the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. …