Whoever the new pope is, he will have the chance to address the 900-pound
gorilla staring down the Catholic Church, namely the constant sexual abuse
scandals. I am a Jew who wishes to see the Catholic Church flourish. I count
myself fortunate to have met Pope Benedict prior to his resignation and remember
his humility, graciousness and warmth. As I travel the world I am awed by the
global network of schools, orphanages and hospitals run by the Catholic Church.
No other world body even comes close.
But much of that is being eclipsed,
be it fairly or otherwise, by the seemingly never-ending sexual scandals that
bedevil the Church. Even in the brief interregnum between the announcement of
Benedict’s resignation and its taking effect, we witnessed the sudden
resignation of the leader of all Britain’s Catholics, who confessed to a 30-year
history of abuse.
The Jewish community is likewise not immune to sexual
scandals; in the New York area we recently witnessed the tragic story of a rabbi
found guilty of abusing a girl and being sentenced to 130 years in prison. This
followed several other stories of rabbis or religious Jewish teachers being
found guilty of child abuse.
When I published Kosher Sex in 1999, I did
so not in the hope of addressing sexual repression in religion. Precisely the
opposite was true. It was to a secular, mainstream, and sexually liberal society
that I offered a philosophy of how sex could recapture its power to induce
emotional intimacy. My purpose was to demonstrate how sex is a motion that
brings forth an even greater emotion, and that there are specific sexual
techniques, like eyes-open sex, that serve as emotional threads bonding husband
and wife to one another, as opposed to the empty physical experiences some
couples have today that lack both passion and intimacy.
But within a few
weeks of publishing the book I began receiving a steady stream of emails, nearly
always with pseudonyms, from very religious couples around the world, both
Jewish and Christian, asking for specific advice about curing sexual dysfunction
in their relationships.
They wrote to me because the answers they were
getting from their clerics often lacked a human dimension.
Christians were being told sex is mostly for procreation and many Orthodox Jews
were being told that nearly everything is forbidden in the bedroom. Both groups
were being misled. The Bible makes it clear in Genesis that sex is primarily for
intimacy rather than children: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and leave
his mother. He shall cleave to his wife [a clear sexual euphemism] and they
shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This pivotal idea is echoed in the Bible
having no word for sex other than “knowledge.” So why were religious couples
being consciously misled into believing that passionate sexual expression was
mostly circumscribed and that sex had to take place in the missionary position
in the dark? Fraudulent sexual teachings in religion have destroyed countless
lives and extinguished countless marriages.
Worse, false and repressive
piety may also be the cause of some of the aberrant sexual behavior we are
seeing in otherwise Godly men and women. Is clerical celibacy in the Catholic
Church one of the prime things that leads to abuse? No-one knows fully. Is
sexual suppression in some religious Jewish circles, that could never be
countenanced by Jewish law, the reason that more stories of abuse are emerging?
Nothing can be said for sure. There may be other, stronger forces at
But this is certain: sexuality strikes to the very heart of the
human condition. A healthy, positive and fulfilling sex life in marriage is not
a luxury but a necessity which the Bible recognizes in innumerable instances and
which forms the basic narrative of so many Biblical marriages, like the famous
story of Isaac being “sexually playful” with his wife Rebecca.
beyond the scope of this column to examine the many historical and theological
reasons that the Catholic Church made clerical celibacy obligatory rather than
optional about a millennia ago. Less so is my purpose to preach to another faith
about what their basic tenets ought to be. But it is my purpose to make clear
that any religion that bases itself on the Hebrew Bible cannot escape the
Bible’s healthy encouragement of carnal intimacy being the central staple of a
husband and wife’s loving connectedness.
When Kosher Sex was first
published I experienced severe attacks from some rabbinical colleagues who
thought the subject unseemly. But where were married couples supposed to learn
about sex? From a rabbi, or Hugh Hefner? From Biblical and Jewish sources or
Internet porn? Thirteen years later the book is standard issue for countless
religious Jewish and Christian couples who are marrying, even though the
religious market was not the readership for whom it was written.
is essential that more rabbis, priests and pastors start teaching their
congregants of the glories of sex in marriage and the need for physical desires
to achieve their fullest satiation within the confines of a loving and committed
relationship. A man who is in love with his wife and concentrates his fullest
erotic attention on her is living a holy life.
The tenth commandment
makes it clear that we are not to covet our neighbor’s wife which, by direct
implication, means we sure as heck ought to be coveting our own. We don’t need
more horror stories of husbands who are porn addicts or religiously committed
teachers and counselors taking advantage of their charges.
As the world’s
foremost religious figure, no-one can do more to address carnal repression in
religion than the new pope who, if he chooses to ignore the sexual crisis facing
the Church, will be abdicating his responsibility of leadership. Great crises
often bring forth great men and it is my firm hope that the new pope will, with
God’s blessing, rise to the occasion.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi”
whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just
published his newest best-seller, The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in
the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. He is working on his next relationship book,
Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.