Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
March 20, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Is the Catholic Church’s traditional sexual morality too rigid? Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s flock is certainly being led to think so.
In December, the website of the Archdiocese of Vienna led by Schönborn published a new presentation of the Ten Commandments. It included a commentary on the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” that could be interpreted to justify everything from masturbation to pornography and prostitution.
The article concludes — openly invoking Pope Francis’ solicitude for sinners — that refusing communion to the divorced and remarried “seems very questionable from a theological point of view.”
Whether Cardinal Schönborn is personally aware of the text is a moot point. But he is responsible for it insofar as it purports to present the teachings of the Church under the official heading of the Catholic diocese of Vienna – and has been online for more than three months.
It says the Sixth Commandment “appears at first sight to be clear and unequivocal.” But things are not so clear-cut. “From the start, it is at the basis of the Catholic understanding of marriage and at the same time provides an irrefutable argument against divorce. But this leads to losing sight of one fact: the Ten Commandments, like all rules and laws, respond to specific social challenges and are products of their time. In order to clarify the original intention of the Sixth Commandment, it is necessary to consider the context in which it was born.”
The context is given by Deuteronomy 22:22, which the text calls “very instructive:” “If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman.” The text goes on to comment the Bible quote: “The woman is guilty of adultery because she has betrayed her marriage; the man, because he has intruded into another’s marriage. If a woman had sexual relations outside of her marriage, she was always an adulterer. A married man, on the other hand, only committed adultery if he had relations with another married woman.”
On the other hand, a man who had relations with a woman who was neither betrothed nor married was legally obliged to pay a fine and marry her and would not be allowed to divorce her, Deuteronomy also says, which isn’t getting off lightly …
The diocese’s text continues: “This way of treating man and woman in a way that seems to us unjust should be considered from the viewpoint of patriarchal social and family order that was the order of Israel. Since the married woman was, in the broad meaning of the word, a possession of her husband, adultery constituted an offense with regard to his right and his property. Moreover, the wife’s sexual fidelity provided the husband with a guarantee as to the legitimacy of his offspring. Thus, the Sixth Commandment was at first a norm destined to protect the perpetuation of the bloodline, social order and the idea of justice.”
Saint John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, writes about this:
“On the basis of the analysis which we have previously carried out regarding Christ’s reference to the ‘beginning’ in his discourse on the indissolubility of marriage and on the act of repudiation, the following is evident. He clearly saw the basic contradiction that the matrimonial law of the Old Testament had hidden within itself by accepting actual polygamy, namely the institution of the concubine, together with legal wives, or else the right of cohabitation with the slave. Such a right, while it combated sin, at the same time contained within itself, or rather protected, the social dimension of sin, which it actually legalized. In these circumstances it became necessary for the fundamental ethical sense of the commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ to also undergo a basic reassessment. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ revealed that sense again, namely by going beyond its traditional and legal restrictions.” (August 20, 1980.)
This true, Catholic perspective does not appear at all in the text officially published by the archdiocese of Vienna. The text instead proposes to “translate the Sixth Commandment for today:”
“Since the social organization of the people of Israel is radically different from ours, the outlawing of adultery must ever be re-translated for our time, so as not to lose its relevance. For a long time, the tradition of the Church has attached to this Sixth Commandment all things pertaining to sexuality, and it collectively considered all sex acts outside of marriage as mortal sins.
“Such an interpretation does not stand up to the results of exegesis nor to the quest of theological ethics for a differentiated evaluation.”
This is a long way indeed from the presentation of the Sixth Commandment by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says:
“Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: ‘You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
“The tradition of the Church has understood the Sixth Commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.” (N° 2336)
The archdiocese has a different vision. Under the heading: “No depreciation of sexuality,” it continues:
“Under its present formulation, the Sixth Commandment does not intend to make a general negative judgment on sexuality, nor does it justify the global prohibition of acts such as masturbation, pornography, prostitution, etc. It cannot even serve to justify easily the indissolubility of marriage, but on the contrary assumes a right to divorce that also existed in Israel.”
So, does the archdiocese go on to say that the Catholic Church teaches that all these things are grave evils? Not at all. It muddles the issue by continuing:
“Having respect for the marriage of others. The present relevance of the prohibition of adultery resides much more in the protection of marriage as a community of faithful love in a community formed by a man and a woman with equal rights.
“This is the request that it addresses to the man and to the woman: firstly, it recalls the constant respect one must have for the marriage of others, in which one should not intrude. On the other hand, it invites the spouses to keep in mind respect for their own marriage and wants to keep them from carelessly putting it at risk.”
So, can they put it at risk with all due care?
The text then speaks of marriage as a “precious sign of love” in which “God’s love for mankind, full of tenderness, becomes visible.”
But “can men love as God loves?” To that question, the answer is consistent with the new morality of Amoris laetitia:
“Confronted with such strong words, one is prompted to ask: Is that not asking too much of man? Can man love like God? Surely, man is the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27) who is Himself love and fidelity, but man is not the model.
“To be a man is to be imperfect and capable of failing – in marriage as well; the opposite of ‘man’ would be ‘perfect.’ The Pope, the bishops and their theological counselors, being aware of the fact, are looking for a humane solution for those who are called the divorced and remarried, that is, persons who consider their sacramental marriage to have failed and who are committed in a relationship with another partner, a union from which other obligations derive.
“Excluding them – as was done up till now – from the sacrament of the Eucharist by referring to Jesus and his concern for mankind seems very questionable from a theological point of view. Christian marriage is an ideal towards which spouses walk together, the Sixth Commandment guides them and the love and fidelity of God give them the motivation to walk this road.”
Clearly, the Archdiocese of Vienna favors giving communion to adulterers.
But it goes one step further, subtly raising doubts about the validity of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality by suggesting that masturbation, pornography, prostitution and the like need to be re-evaluated and cannot be deemed to be prohibited by the Ten Commandments, these being relative to time and place.
While the text on www.erzdioezese-wien.at does not openly say that these acts are not gravely sinful, it does introduce the general idea that they should not be rejected as such because the Church has a positive vision of sexuality. It is the sort of relativism that helps people to make excuses for themselves or even imagine that they are doing right, since nothing is openly and clearly said about sex outside of marriage.
For the record, the presentation of the Fifth Commandment on the archdiocese’s website – “Thou shalt not kill” –adopts a very different approach, explaining that all murder of innocent human life is forbidden and adding Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to show that not only murder is wrong but also “abusing and degrading fellow human beings, even through calumny and intimidation.”