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WashPost's Sally Quinn Finds No Pleasure in Church's Teaching on Masturbation

Ken Shepherd's picture

Sister Margaret Farley probably would have had Sally Quinn's respect when she endorsed same-sex marriage in her 2006 book Just Love, which has recently been denounced by the Vatican as unsuitable for use in Catholic theological or moral instruction due to its various departures from Church teaching.

But by golly, it's the Church's rebuke of Farley's defense of masturbation that Quinn thinks is her ticket to convincing her audience that the Church has lost its mind. From her June 7 On Faith blog post "Fifty Shades of Catholicism" (emphases mine):

Masturbation, says the Vatican “is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and approving gay marriage would show approval of “deviant behavior.”

Is masturbation where they really want to throw down the gauntlet? How many priests, bishops or cardinals could stand with a hand on the Bible and swear they have never masturbated?

Is the human body not to be admired? Why shouldn’t our own bodies give us pleasure? The contorted thinking of these celibate men is causing the church to lose followers, including many women.

There are those faithful who would criticize Sister Margaret for writing what she did, suggesting that if she couldn’t follow the doctrine of the church she and all other rebellious nuns should just quit and start a church of their own --an idea that has some merit. But the idea of sticking it out and fighting from within also has appeal. And remember: If women had more power in the church, none of these frivolous attacks would be happening.

Of course, the Church isn't arguing that clergy have never transgressed by masturbating, and in fact, that's the whole notion of sin. As fallible, sinful human beings, we are called to recognize, repent of, and refrain from sinful behavior. Nor is the Church teaching that sexual pleasure is in and of itself wrong, something Quinn would know if she actually engaged the Church on its teachings by researching its catechism.

Based on Jesus's teaching that the sixth commandment -- Thou shall not commit adultery -- is violated in the heart when one lusts after another, the Church's catechism explores the call of Christians to chastity and breaks down what that looks like vis-a-vis sexual lust, masturbation, pornography and other sexual practices that run afoul of Christian sexual ethics.

You'll see from the following excerpt (emphases mine) that the Church's concern is not primarily with forbidding sexual pleasure but rather directing the enjoyment of sexual pleasure towards its God-ordained, God-glorifying ends within the union of holy matrimony. Secondly, you'll notice a fundamental ethical concern for not sinning against other human beings by misusing the good gift of sex that God has given humans to enjoy in marriage:

2336 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."123 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.124

The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.


The integrality of the gift of self

2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,134 who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

The various forms of chastity

2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on Christ,"135 the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single."136 Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence:

There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.137

2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

Offenses against chastity

2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.140 Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.

2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

The long and short of it is abstaining from masturbation -- as well as pornography, which usually aids in same -- is ultimately about loving our neighbor and loving God by honoring Him with our bodies. That's the teaching and tradition of the Church which Sister Margaret Farley most certainly should be aware, as a professor emerita of Christian ethics and a sister who has pledged fidelity and obedience to the Church's teachings.

Quinn, a professed agnostic, takes it upon herself to rebuke the Church for doing its job by defending its doctrine. That's all well and good, but if she's going to do so, she should try to address the material with more substance and less pedestrian bluster.


#1 No, Sally, masturbation is

No, Sally, masturbation is where YOU want to throw down the gauntlet, because you think it's an easy one to ridicule.

Sin is not decided by the frequency with which it occurs in the population.

And Christ never promised that His Church, being populated by human beings, would be perfect.  He only promised that it would endure.

#2 Sally Quinn and a host of

Sally Quinn and a host of others prove time and time again that just because the sheepskin says you graduated from college doesn't necessarily mean you know a damn thing about anything.

Pick up a book and READ IT!

Great article Ken, as always.

God Bless.

'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church'

#3 living on easy street

None of these people have a clue what religion is. They seem to think it's a social club.

OK so let's say someone approaches the church and they truly want to commit themselves to a life of selfless charity to the church and its teachings. If the church has already set the bar so low to accommodate people who are not going to commit fully then what is this poor fellow going to do? How will he even be challenged? The so-called outdated teachings that the uncommitted want changed so that they feel comfortable are there for a reason, to elevate those who wish to take the path of faith, discipline and reaching beyond the self.

So if you want to masturbate, fine, go ahead. That's your choice. But if you want to follow a religious path that is dificult but transformative then their are institutions who will guide you.

#4 Church to Seinfeld

Yes, there is something wrong with that "master of you own domain" thing.

#5 . yes, the Church teaches

. yes, the Church teaches masturbation is a sin which we must do everything within our power to abstain from. Does this mean that priests, bishops, practicing Catholics do not fall into sin? that we are perfect? Of course not! Amusing how illogical anti-Catholics are.

Again, if you do not like the Catholic teaching on sexuality, by golly, move on! create your own religion. But why attempt to force the Church to bow down to your personal opinions?

And as Ken Sheperd show, Sally Quinn is being extremely simplistic and ignorant in her article which most Liberals are in their anti-Catholic arguments.

#6 I'm not Catholic, but I know

I'm not Catholic, but I know where to go to find out what they officially teach. A simple Web search would bring up the passages I cited and Quinn could easily research this if she had the inclination to do so.


#7 Ken Shepherd, EXACTLY, if

Ken Shepherd,

EXACTLY, if you go to The Vatican website., put it in your language, go to Catechism and do a search for what you want to find.... boom! it is right there. It literally takes less than five minutes. If not, you can also go to New Advent Encyclopedia.

It is amazing how lazy Liberal "journalists" are.

What is also amusing is how Liberal "journalists" love to pontificate and tell us all what is moral and immoral. Yet, how they hate it when the Church teaches Her flock what She considers Moral and Immoral.

#8 Good evening LL

If they research the truth then they can't print their version of the truth. You know the truth is the truth, you know, but it isn't the truth truth, you know.


Jesus Loves You so much He died for you

#9 cocodrie, You speak the


You speak the truth! LOL

What scare me the most, though, is how many of these so called journalist actually do research find the truth, yet they still chose to publish their lies and half-truths? I think many more than we would like to believe.

Anyway, what is Sally Quinn's beef? If she doesn't like Catholic teaching on sexuality she doesn't have to be a Roman Catholic, right? I am unsure what the point of her article is other than for media to go after one of their favorite punching bags which they deem is not cool or in.

#10 LL

Sally and all liberals are at odds with christianty because christianity is based on moral absolutes and liberals cannot abide moral absolutes. Right now the catholic church is their whipping boy, but sooner or later a preacher will go astray and it will be his turn at the stake. As humans we all fail and they're waiting like the vultures they are.


Jesus Loves You so much He died for you

#11 So Ben Bradlee's mistress-turned-wife atheist comments

on Catholic Church teachings on morality? There's a hoot. She was the "other woman" whose career suddenly blossomed despite a deep lack of experience, talent and aptitude for journalism once she became the third Mrs. Bradlee. Seems like she puts her only faith in worldly things and has zero moral authority.

#12 I guess ol' Ben Bradlee must have run out of Viagra...

...or his ticker has become to weak, and Sally is now forced to, ah, fend for herself, as it were.

Sucks to be her, I guess.


Vote for the American in November

#13 ➚ It's a Mortal Sin

And that 10-yr old leaving the boys room needs to know he's going to Hell if he doesn't get his tail over to the Confessional.

#14 "Why shouldn’t our own bodies

"Why shouldn’t our own bodies give us pleasure?"

Its ridiculous to argue its our bodies giving us pleasure, the better part of arousal is mental. You're giving yourself pleasure, your body isn't giving it to you. The question she's asking sums up everything wrong with the modern view of sexuality -- irrational.

The traditional view of this is not that you're going to go to hell for doing it, but it shouldn't be looked at as a positive thing, its habit-forming like any other personal vice. Asking what's wrong with masturbating is like asking what's wrong with snacking on fattening treats when you have the munchies or whats wrong with watching a lot of junk on TV when you want to avoid work... Even priests have a midnight snack once in a while, and watch TV to avoid work, it can't be bad! Midnight snacking and watching TV is just our bodies giving us pleasure.

#15 Situation ethics, situation ethics

Situation ethics, situation ethics, wherefore art thou situation ethics?


Jesus Loves You so much He died for you

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