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The Santier affair and the Church's inadequate sexual teaching

Asking young men to take their clothes off in the context of confession... This extremely serious act - which the Catholic Church of France euphemistically translated as "voyeurism" - is exactly what Bishop Michel Santier did when he was the director of a School of Faith and leader of a new community.One is initially stunned after hearing of such abuse and perversion. Then comes the anger.How can a priest and future bishop – who has taken post-graduate courses in theology and has received a "solid" formation in seminaries aimed at preparing the "ruling class" of Catholicism – fall into such confusion, mixing sin, nudity, undisclosed sexual attraction and religion?And then one thinks, not without a certain horror, that so much of the sexual abuse committed in the Church is a perversity that is sometimes based on a so-called spiritual vision of sexuality and the flesh, which questions the capacity to show, in the literal sense, an understanding of faith...Certainly, sexuality – that is, the relationship one has with his or her own body and that of another – remains a complex matter. Current events, from #MeToo movement to all the abuse cases, offer almost daily proof of this. There is no reason why the Church should be spared, especially since it has a long tradition of rigid morality where everything related to sexuality has been considered evil.But for more than half a century the Church has been indulging in a groundless rhetoric that has not favored - to say the least - a proper understanding of the sexual revolution and its implications that we are going through in the West. This is not the least of the paradoxes for an incarnate religion like Christianity!A certain "theology of the body", one that undoubtedly relies clumsily on the writings of John Paul II, has totally sublimated this relationship to the body. It has made sexuality a kind of ideal, sacralized by a vision of marriage (conjugality) that is often overly theoretical. It is a perspective that does not see all there can be in sexuality - dissatisfaction, failure, ambiguity, and, obviously, relationships based on power.Sexuality can also be a place of great violence, especially among clerics who undergo an imposed chastity and exploit the confessional and their sacramental power to satisfy certain desires.Here again we must be careful not to generalize. But why is there such an inability to speak of sexuality in its complexity, in its humanity, dare I say? Why make it a kind of sacred place, which opens the door to all forms of deviance?Here again the Church is not alone. Such a reflection cannot be done in a vacuum. On the contrary, the difficulty of holding a discussion about sexuality crosses all of society, one only has to see the way in which the pornographic industry has invaded the world of children.It is a pity that, in view of the controversies and internal divisions on questions of homosexuality, and more broadly on new sexual behaviors, the Church has deserted this field. Its moral teachings have not confronted human sexuality in its complexity, its lights and shadows.The apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, which Pope Francis published in 2016 following the two Synod assemblies on the family, opened the door to a more realistic vision, starting from people's real, lived experiences. But it is still far too timid.Isabelle de Gaulmyn is a senior editor at La Croix and a former Vatican correspondent.

Image Courtesy: Robert Stokoe,

By Isabelle de Gaulmyn | France


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