A Double Standard or Just Plain Lack of Formation and Catechesis?

By Therese Ivers, JCL

For thousands of years, society held men less responsible for the sin of fornication.  Men “sowing their wild oats” was a “given” in society as opposed to the woman who was shamed because she was “damaged goods”.  The Catholic Church has always held that men and women are equally responsible for the sin of consensual fornication and adultery.  Today, we have an interesting societal phenomenon growing, in which women committed to perfect chastity are being held to a lesser standard of chastity than men who are committed to perfect chastity.  Along with this reversed double standard is the fueling of a false sense of scandal when public unchaste acts of women are discussed vs. those of men.

The practice of perfect chastity requires of both men and women from refraining from all unchaste acts, whether by themselves or with others.  Men and women who are formed for the reception of holy orders or profession of the vow of perfect chastity in continence in consecrated life are given years of formation to better understand this commitment.  The practice of perfect chastity is not limited to avoiding the sins of fornication, adultery, and sodomy.  Sins against chastity are multiple and include thoughts, words, and deeds.

When a person who is publicly committed to a life of perfect chastity in the Catholic Church (or who is otherwise a viable candidate for such a public commitment) has publicly acted in an unchaste matter and continues to defend that act, the very fact of doing so is the matter of scandal.  It is the very act against chastity that is the matter of scandal.  Pseudo scandal occurs when people wrongly attack those who discuss a public scandal, as if it were a sin against charity to discuss a public and scandalous matter. It is not a sin to discuss a public scandal.  The sin lies within the person who created the scandal to begin with.  They are the ones who sinned against charity of good example to the world by sinning against, in this case, perfect chastity.

The new double standard comes into play between the difference between the treatment of priest-scandals and those pertaining to consecrated virgins.  Take for instance, the scandals of the priest-pedophiles, priests who have been caught out soliciting for sodomous acts, and even the case of the priest wandering about a closed elementary school in his birthday suit [see here and here].  The news covered these scandals and numerous commentaries by Catholic theologians, laypersons, and others have discussed the public violations against chastity by ordained men.  The men have been disciplined, often laicized or required to do penance.

Then you take the cases of consecrated virgins.  For some reason, bishops and the faithful have been reluctant to require the same perfect chastity of them as they do of the ordained.  Consecrated virgins publicly state their resolve to remain in “perfect chastity” during the Rite of Consecration. They have the same or greater responsibility for exercising perfect chastity, in the sense that being a virgin is to embody all that is taught about virginity in a direct way.  However, the formation for fulfilling their obligation created by their consecration [not vow] is not standardized and often greatly lacking.  This, combined with a general ignorance of the vocation on the part of the hierarchy and laity alike contribute to the non-enforcement of perfect chastity of the consecrated virgins. Take the following as examples of this overlooking by the hierarchy and faithful of violations against the practice of perfect chastity by these women consecrated by God and who are required to be a model of not just chastity but virginity.

Last year, a woman who wrote about the unchaste love she experienced in taking off her top with her photographer [see here; warning: graphic images] was “consecrated” as a virgin [the validity of said consecration is in question due to the violation of the regulation that candidates must not have lived in public violation of chastity].  Giant blown up displays of the photograph of the said woman and others are displayed in galleries in countries around the world, and she is seen sans top with a scarf draping half of a private area [see here– warning: graphic images].  She is in a pornographic “art” collection objectifying the human female body in the name of showing people that women can be sexy despite having mastectomies.  This “art” collection in the galleries and in a book, includes fully nude women, many in provocative stances and some clearly lesbian.  The photographer was right when he said in shock on the news that he couldn’t believe a consecrated virgin would agree to be included in this collection [see this video of the photographer explaining her photo at the art gallery– warning: graphic images].

Another woman, a consecrated virgin, and professor of theology at a Catholic seminary, chose to promote nude photographs of athletes on her Facebook page in the name of artistic appreciation of the body.  Promotion of the dignity of the human bodies requires that they be clothed on this earth except for serious and moral reasons.  Photography and film of naked bodies for the delectation of the viewers is not a proportionate reason to unclothe.

While the violations are clearly scandalous in themselves, it is interesting that while those in holy orders are usually swiftly disciplined, some of those in consecrated virginity have not been [neither of the two highlighted above have been publicly rebuked by Church authorities or publicly retracted their support for their stances].  Both clerics and virgins are in public vocations in the Church and both are subject to discipline and oversight by the Church authorities.

Sometimes it takes public pressure for Church authorities to do the right thing.  We see this highlighted in the numbers of priests who got away with the abuse of minors until the bishops were confronted by lawsuits and public clamor to do what they should have done in protecting the faith and morals of their flock, and holding people committed to perfect chastity accountable for their actions.  The outcry is not forthcoming for consecrated virgins who publicly violate chastity by encouraging unchaste actions or participating in them themselves.

Perhaps a large part of the deafening silence is because many women are taught to “be nice”.  They are imbued with the false sense that to even discuss a scandal is sinful and “scandalous” or a “lack of charity”.  They do not realize that the scandal is in the violation of chastity and that the lack of charity is in the person who committed a public violation of chastity by the very fact that she is supposed to uphold a life of virtue.  When confronted with a public violation, they flee from discussion of it because of the discomfort they feel about condemning the violation because it may hurt the feelings of the violator.  They effectively do what the bishops and fellow priests did with the clerical abuse of minors, namely, they participate in the cover up of objectively sinful [and public] actions.

When will this double standard cease?  Let’s pray that it happens soon and that women be held by the Church to the high standards to which they profess.

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