Msgr. David Q. Liptak
Q. A recently issued book about the Christian ethics of human sexuality prompts the question as to whether there are solid, contemporary books available on this subject. Could you recommend any?
A. Probably the best recently published book on the ethics of human sexuality is, in my judgment, Catholic Sexual Ethics, authored by the late Father Ronald Lawler and Professors William E. May and Joseph Boyle, Jr. (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998). Father Lawler, who died in 2003, once served as Rector and professor at Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell; Dr. May teaches moral theology at the Pope John Paul II Institute For Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.; Dr. Boyle serves on the philosophy faculty of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Father Lawler’s theological works are still studied widely. All three names rank among the most respected theologians in North America. (I had the privilege of working with Father Lawler for several years; and I know Dr. May personally. I use their book as a text in seminary courses in bioethics and contemporary moral problems.)
Catholic Sexual Ethics reflects the very latest insights which theology can provide in traditional Catholic doctrine. This means that all the marvelous approaches to understanding the subject which were articulated by Pope John Paul II have been incorporated therein: the Holy Father’s “Theology of the Body,” especially his unforgettable series of catechetical instructions on the subject (Pauline Books, 1997); also the epoch-making book, Love and Responsibility (Ignatius, 1993).
Catholic Sexual Ethics rests, too, on some of the monumental Magisterial documents of our times: Gaudium et Spes of Vatican Council II (1965); the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997); Humanae Vitae, by Pope Paul VI; Familiaris Consortio, by John Paul II (1981); Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), also by John Paul II; the “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” (1975) and “Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person,” (1986); both by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1986); and more.
Catholic Sexual Ethics is so excellent a text that other books on the subject can (indeed should) be measured by it. There are, of course, several other recent manuals that can be recommended; e.g., Handbook on Critical Sexual Issues by Fathers Donald McCarthy and Edward Bayer (Pope John Center, 1983).
If marriage is the focus of study, then probably the best available volume is Professor William E. May’s Marriage, The Rock on Which the Family is Built (Ignatius: 1995). I use this text also in sacramental theology class at the seminary; it is a superb compendium. Again, there are others that can also be recommended; e.g., Father Cormac Burke’s Covenanted Happiness (Ignatius, 1990). But nothing, in my mind, surpasses Dr. May’s work on marriage