Morality and moralizing are different 

Published on: 12:30 am, April 4, 2016 Story By: Adolf Washington (Matters India)

Bengaluru: Thirty eight years after Professor Bernard Haering came out with a three- volume ‘Free and Faithful in Christ’ a vacuum is being felt as far as a complete, consistent, coherent and up-to-date presentation of Christian Moral Theology is concerned. The long overdue re-thinking and re-presentation of moral theology is met by Capuchin Father Andrew Anil Sequeira’s latest 6-volume Living Christian Life (published by Claretian publications).

The series addresses the present problems of scientific pre-occupation and post-modern human mentality and explains Conscience, Sin, Marriage, Sexual Morality and bio-medical moral problems in a way understandable to people of all faiths.

The 72-year old priest recently allowed Adolf Washington of Matters India to interview him. Ordained in 1972, the much loved formator, moral theologian, erudite scholar, multi-linguist and a soft-spoken gentleman tells, “I think, there is an exigency of re-looking and overhauling the formation imparted in the seminaries. Formation has to be a matter of ‘lived experience’ and not merely giving information or an exercise of indoctrination. Above all, formation has to be ‘on-going’; no one should think that with seminary formation, formation as such is in any way complete or done and over with!”

Excerpts from the interview:

Matters India: You have been in the era of six popes and are professor of Moral Theology for 35 years. Pope Francis has been very explicit in asking the world not to ‘moralize’ too much. Do you choose to differ?

Father Andrew Anil Sequeira: A lot of water, therefore, has flown under the bridge! There is a difference between ‘morality’ and ‘moralizing’; the former enables us to live our identity as moral persons; the latter is an exercise of preaching the rightness and wrongness of each and every human moral issue, even when unhelpful to living human life here and now.

Beyond your classroom lectures on moral theology do you think morality is an issue of concern among priests and religious given the mounting scandals among priests and religious?

The vacuum that I mentioned in the sphere of moral theology has persisted for too long. Not a little uncertainty and insecurity have been created as a result, when it comes to live morality. Even the basic moral values like honesty, sincerity, truthfulness, altruism etc. are not taken seriously. If priests and religious do not take them seriously, what can we expect from others? The reported scandals among them are truly tragic, since they are to lead others by example. I am inclined to agree that moral theology actually taught has something to do with it. Morality is not something to be merely taught; it is to be lived.

Priests have been accused of pedophilia and other sex scandals. Do you see an anti-Catholic propaganda in these allegations?

It is rather difficult to give an objective assessment regarding the extent of pedophilia among priests and religious going by the media reports. In some countries like the US, there might be some anti-Catholic propaganda but I do not think it is there everywhere. The media has a tendency to exaggerate things, and this case is not an exception.

No religion in the world is so ‘bookish’ on moral theology like Catholicism. Do we need a religion to establish the meaning of ‘guilt’?

With his books

With his books

The statement, moral theology in Catholicism is ‘bookish’, derives from the confusion that exists between ‘morality’ understood in the proper sense of the word and ‘obedience to laws’ insisted upon earlier. Experience of guilt is a universal human phenomenon; religion plays its part here only to some extent; much depends on actual socialization, formation and indoctrination of humans.

Isn’t there a difference between faith and religion?

There is a difference between the two, though they are intimately related. Faith is a principle relationship. Religion is an ‘organized effort on the part of humans to acknowledge and live the faith’; It takes into consideration in particular, the belief of life after death.

The global media reports a nonchalant response to Pope Francis’ suggestion to include women in the ‘foot-washing’ ritual. (The Syro-Malabar Church even pulled-up a priest for washing the feet of women saying they did not issue a diktat yet). Your comments.

Our society is to a great extent still ‘sexist’! ‘Washing of the feet’ is a symbolical gesture indicating the ‘service’ to be rendered by Christians. Gender as such has nothing to do with it. Service is to be rendered to all irrespective of class, caste, gender, status.

The world is waiting for the October Synod on the Family. What pronouncements do you look forward to if you are not a priest and not a Moral Theologian?

The post-synodal exhortation on family, I would like, affirms clearly the nature of marriage, that it is a ‘sacred vocation’, a covenant and not a contract, a ‘sacrament’ understood of course rightly and not in the traditional sense of the word! It should underline why meaningful sexual activity is possible only within the scope of marriage that is inherently destined to founding a family. It must also highlight the role of the married people in the matter of witnessing to the life of Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what the Church dictates, people are going their way on co-habitation, same-sex marriages, spouse-swapping and still having the support of a largely secular-minded society. Would moral theology books be shelved into oblivion?

The specific issues of co-habitation, same-sex marriage etc. need some elaborate explanation. (I have done it in the book on Marriage). Humans can seek a life of fulfillment that accords fully with their nature and dignity, understood in a holistic sense. They can also seek some immediate, ephemeral and less than ‘human’ satisfaction of all the urges and emotions. We would like to encourage the former discourage the latter. It is because the latter does not help us to be really humans.

You are an acclaimed professor and writer. 20 years down the line who would be your listeners and readers?

Humans who would like to live a life of total personal fulfillment as ‘human persons’ would always be there to listen and read. If someone opts to do otherwise, the responsibility is his/hers. Ultimately we need to respect human freedom.
“If the fear of hell doesn’t change you, at least let the love of God change you.” How do you understand this familiar echo?

This is a statement that describes morality in terms of reward and punishment! As such it makes sense only to children, not the adolescents and much less the adults! There is a need of out-growing this statement. It should happen at least in the case of adults.

You have also been in seminary formation. From visible trends, many priests and religious turn out to become contrary to what they were in formation years. What’s going wrong in the formation?

I think, there is an exigency of re-looking and overhauling the formation imparted in the seminaries! Formation has to be a matter of ‘lived experience’ and not merely giving information or an exercise of indoctrination. Above all, formation has to be ‘on-going’; no one should think that with seminary formation, formation as such is in any way complete or done and over with.

If celibacy or virginity becomes optional, how would you see the future of the Catholic Church? Our history tells us that it was not a binding rule.

Celibacy or virginity is not a matter of law! Understanding it in this way is the real problem. Celibacy is a ‘witnessing to the fullness of Jesus Christ’! There is a need to develop a right theology of celibacy or virginity even as that of marriage. They are the two states of life in the Church, necessary for the Church to witness to the fullness of Jesus Christ, in the sense, witness to his incarnational and eschatological dimensions. Priesthood is not, strictly speaking, related to celibacy, because it is not a state of life; rather a ministerial service. There is however no doubt that celibacy assists priests greatly in rendering priestly service, while they give witness to the eschatological dimension of Christ.

The strife for power, pelf and positions is all too evident in the church hierarchy. Give us a response away from the mundane Biblical quotes.

That is where the hierarchy goes terribly awry! It is time we returned to the understanding of Gospel authority and power.

There is sufficient evidence that Pope Francis’ thoughts and opinions are not well received by some cardinals, bishops, priests and even laity. If you were a lay person what would you agree or disagree?

With his superior general

With his superior general

Pope Francis, as I see, is clearly telling us that we need to return to the Gospel way of life! Living the Gospel in its fullness is not easy! Be sure, everyone who reminds us to do this will be ‘crucified’! I think, the Pope is ready for it!

With age an experience, you have lived Vatican I and Vatican II, how do see the Church of Vatican III?

For another universal Council of the Church, at Vatican or some other place, I personally think, the time is ripe. There has been so much of progress and rethinking with regard to Christian doctrine. We could harvest the fruits of our labor and bring Christian doctrine up-to-date. Councils are after all meant to help Christian living.

Moral theology is more the preserve of scholars and seminary formation. Laity prefer to go on guilt-ridden trips’. Your comments

Moral theology in the right sense of the term is an aid to live Christian life; It is also meant for humans to live the ‘human life’ as humans. Scholars and seminaries should form themselves as persons in that sense so that they may in turn help others, more by example than words!

Pope Francis’ statement “who am I to judge?” is still doing the rounds. Doesn’t it cast a huge shadow on moral theology itself? How do you read his statement for laity?

Pope Francis had said it in a specific ‘context’! It is not fair to universalize it for every issue or context! It is wrong to drag it and quote it as a panacea for every issue!

Who defines sin?

A person’s conscience.

Then why do you need canon law? Even the Mosaic Law was mocked by Jesus.

Sin has several meanings. We Christians follow the one of Christian revelation. It is not wholly correct to say that it is defined by a ‘person’s conscience’. Nor is it defined by moral theology unilaterally. Jesus certainly did not want to mock Mosaic law. His only intent was that it be fulfilled. It is fulfilled by agapic love.

What is easier, to be Catholic or to be a human?

We are all to be ‘human’ in the first place. Catholic faith is undoubtedly a help to become human.

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