The staid, conservative Roman Catholic Church of the nineteenth century is no more. It has been rocked by one confrontation after another. Recently it has experienced a shaking of the foundations on which its moral teaching rests, and the cause is a book on sex.

Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, a product of the Catholic Theological Society of America, was written by a five-member committee after two years of study and meditation. Its major theses challenge the accepted teachings of the church for centuries, and it is quite likely to keep the Vatican lights burning late at night as the moral theologians of the Curia wrestle with its implications.

Several preliminary observations are in order. First: the Catholic Church has never really been monolithic. There has never been total unanimity on all questions. The infallibility of the pope, the immaculate conception of Mary, and Mary’s assumption into heaven are examples of church teachings that have never set well with some of the faithful.

Second: expressed opinions radically different from those of the hierarchy have often been minority views that were repudiated by the vast majority. This caution is important, for the book in question could be only a flash in the pan. However, in view of the source, it may be more than that. Moreover, the people who hold these views are likely to infiltrate academia and convince their colleagues and students over a period of time.

Third: Human Sexuality is a derivative of the contemporary scene. Christians everywhere have been forced to give attention to sexual matters because of revolutionary changes in the mores of American and European society. There is a battle going on, and it is steadily intensifying. It directly ...

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