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Sexual Misconduct and what constitutes "Adultery"


Staff Writer

Catholic News Service - Washington, DC

  VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Questions about how far an extramarital relationship can go before it is a violation of the marriage bond make no sense from a moral point of view, a Vatican official said.

"If one is seriously trying to be faithful to one’s marriage, one does not ask, ‘How far can I go before I violate my marriage?"" said Father Frank Pavone, a U.S. official at the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Father Pavone and moral theologians in Rome, in interviews with Catholic News Service, said the questions raised by the media in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by President Bill Clinton are not at all unclear from a moral point of view.

Catholic teaching is clear in stating that "any kind of genital activity outside of marriage is a violation of the marriage covenant," Father Pavone said

Approaching the moral questions involved from the point of view of how far one can go before violating one’s marriage, he said, is completely backwards.

"It’s like not asking, ‘What can I do to please God?’ but, ‘How much can I do before I displease God?"" he said.

Some media reports about adultery have cited law dictionary definitions, but Dominican Father Francesco Compagnoni, a professor at Rome’s Angelicum University, said, "Adultery can be a juridical term where the meaning could be very different from its meaning in morality."

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church," says: "Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations—even transient ones—they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire. The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely."

Franciscan Father Gino Concetti, who writes about moral questions for L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said, "Adultery according to the Gospel is also of the heart, which means without distinction according to the type of sexual relations."

Sex, he said, is always more than a genital relationship and "every provocation which betrays the biblical concept of marital fidelity is a violation of those values which are part of every human person, that is, natural law," he said.


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