The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology

The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology

The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology

The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology


Two principles capture the essence of the official Catholic position on the morality of sexuality: first, that any human genital act must occur within the framework of heterosexual marriage; second, each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life. In this comprehensive overview of Catholicism and sexuality, theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler examine and challenge these principles. Remaining firmly within the Catholic tradition, they contend that the church is being inconsistent in its teaching by adopting a dynamic, historically conscious anthropology and worldview on social ethics and the interpretation of scripture while adopting a static, classicist anthropology and worldview on sexual ethics.

While some documents from Vatican II, like Gaudium et spes ("the marital act promotes self-giving by which spouses enrich each other"), gave hope for a renewed understanding of sexuality, the church has not carried out the full implications of this approach. In short, say Salzman and Lawler: emphasize relationships, not acts, and recognize Christianity's historically and culturally conditioned understanding of human sexuality. The Sexual Person draws historically, methodologically, and anthropologically from the best of Catholic tradition and provides a context for current theological debates between traditionalists and revisionists regarding marriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and what it means to be human. This daring and potentially revolutionary book will be sure to provoke constructive dialogue among theologians, and between theologians and the Magisterium.


The authors of this book, Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, write as Catholic theologians who both are married and are very familiar with the Catholic tradition. The book accepts the classical understanding of faith and reason, recognizing especially the importance of human reason in developing sexual marital morality. The authors ground their understanding of sexuality in a more personalistic and relational understanding of natural law theory. They enter into a dialogue almost exclusively with other Catholic authors who have been dealing with these issues. On the basis of their natural law theory, they propose a renewed Catholic anthropology that serves as the basis for their positions on marital morality dealing with contraception, cohabitation, and the process of marrying, homosexuality, and artificial reproductive technologies.

There is no doubt, especially in light of extensive media coverage, that the pedophile scandal has been a traumatic experience for the Catholic Church in the United States. But another crisis that has received much less media attention might in the end have more lasting effects on the life of the Church. I refer to the fact that the vast majority of Roman Catholics do not follow the teaching of the hierarchical Magisterium of the Church with regard to aspects of marital morality. In this book Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler cite sociological statistics to show that 75 to 85 percent of Catholics approve of contraception for married couples despite the official teaching. Many Catholics also disagree with other aspects of Catholic sexual teaching with regard to marriage.

This problem came to the fore with Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which taught that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life. The pope grounded his teaching in the inseparable connection willed by God and unable to be broken by human beings of the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive and the procreative. Thus, every marital act must be open to procreation and be expressive of the loving union of husband and wife. As a result of this teaching, the hierarchical Magisterium has condemned artificial contraception for spouses, artificial reproductive technologies that do away with the conjugal act, and homosexual genital relationships.

Pope Paul VI referred to the “lively debate” set off by his encyclical, but it has truly been a crisis, with many Catholics leaving the Church because of it and others . . .

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