Let's talk about sex: – ex-Limerick abbot's book calls for national discussion

'We are in the middle of a sexual ethics tsunami' - Fr Mark Patrick Hederman

Donal O'Regan

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Donal O'Regan

Let's talk about sex: – ex-Limerick abbot's book calls for national discussion

Thought provoking: Fr Mark Patrick Hederman of Glenstal Abbey Picture: Press 22

“EVERY or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion.”

These are the masterfully-crafted words of the former Abbot of Glenstal, Fr Mark Patrick Hederman, who has written a new book. In The Opal and the Pearl the monk challenges the Catholic Church on sex and calls for a national discussion on sex, celibacy and ethics. 

Fr Hederman told the Leader he was inspired to take pen to paper because the Church, as well as everyone else, must begin by understanding and accepting that “we are in the middle of a tsunami where sexual ethics are concerned”.

In this brave new world, sex addiction is on the rise, pornography is a click away, dating apps can be downloaded to your phone, sexting and affairs almost seem ‘de rigeur’.

“This chaos has been multiplied by the advances in technology which give everyone everywhere global access to whatever you’re having yourself and there is no protection against such universal intrusion. There is no going back to anything we had in the past.

“We have to examine cultural sign-posts and weave our way forward towards a more acceptable and comprehensive ethics which will persuade those in search of a more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle of its authenticity and reliability,” said Fr Hederman.

There is no going back to some punitive regime of imposed discipline, he says. 

“Young people in search of some spiritual significance in life will only be persuaded by what they perceive to be worthwhile and convincing - not by preaching or authority.

“In such a maelstrom, artists are the people most likely to sketch the contours of such a new lifestyle. Already Donal Ryan is doing us all a huge service by describing so accurately the whirlpool in which we find ourselves. History moves in violent swings from one extreme to another. Ireland has taken a gigantic leap from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century without even a break for half-time.”

Picking up on President Michael D. Higgins’ call for a new Irish ethics, the Benedictine monk, aged in his early 70s, examines sexuality in the lives and writings of Joyce, Heaney, Iris Murdoch and Yeats and delivers a searching critique of the Catholic church’s “monosexual stance”. 

Referencing the gay marriage referendum he calls for a broader look at sex

"Now that we have legislated for gay marriage and accepted the fact that sexuality does happen for reasons other than procreation; now that we also recognise that some of the most heinous sexual crimes have been perpetrated within the ‘sanctity’ of marriage; it is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour. 

“Every or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion,” he writes.

He is not proposing that the Church end celibacy for priests.

He is proposing that the Church take a realistic appraisal of all its attempts to regulate the sexual lives of twenty-first century liberated human beings.

“The Church can only propose. Like every great religion on the planet, Christianity knows that certain people are called to have a monogamous relationship with God and many such great religions have splendid and intricate disciplines by which such a relationship can be achieved and maintained. Only a few will ever take up this challenge successfully and fulfillingly. It should never be [or have been] prescribed for every person wishing to be a priest or pastor, which can be a very different vocation, and one perfectly capable of being accomplished by those who are married.”

The Opal and the Pearl is out now.