Some time ago when I was still a conservotrad Catholic, I read Raymond Arroyo’s fawning biography of Mother Angelica (which I would actually recommend if you want to understand the history of the culture war divisions within the Catholic church in America) and came a curious passage in which she said that she basically considered herself to be asexual and had never had much interest in the opposite sex. As a fellow asexual, I was hoping for some further exposition on this matter, but I was disappointed; as soon as that statement was thrown out, the book went back to discussing Mother Angelica as culture warrior. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I doubt that many people who are of Mother Angelica’s generation ever spend much time parsing out their sexual identity, as millenials are apt to do.
Some threads on the Catholic Answers Forum on asexuality indicate that most conservotrad Catholic don’t know what to make it, although some seem to interpret asexuality to mean that it could be a sign that one has a vocation of some sort:
As one would expect from the gang at Fish Eaters forum, some think it’s a “disorder,” others think it means a vocation, and most don’t seem to what to think about it:
There haven’t been any official or even any semi-official statements (e.g., off the cuff remarks to reporters, speeches, interviews) from the pope on asexuality either. In a way, I’m not surprised that the Catholic church, an institution that takes a perverse sort of pride in being behind the times, would not have anything to say about asexuality, especially since it doesn’t recognize the concept of “sexual orientation” in the first place. But as I think about the example of Mother Angelica shows, I think that the people who really enjoy the priestly or religious life and don’t have any problems with the celibacy requirement are those who would fall somewhere in the asexual camp.
It’s not hard to see why an asexual would feel at home in the priestly or religious life: you can devote your life to study, service, evangelization or whatever the charism of your particular order might be, your celibate state will be lauded as a sign of holiness, and living in community provides a substitute family. Conservotrads like to obsess over the so-called “lavender mafia” in the hierarchy, but I have to wonder whether there might have been an “sex-repulsed asexual mafia” in the early church period that imposed their personal dislike of sex onto the development of Christian ethics. I’ve always read Jerome as a sex-repulsed asexual, which would explain why he would say things like the only positive aspect of marriage was that it created more virgins (in comparison, Augustine of Hippo, Origen, and Tertullian seem more like self-hating heterosexuals). Although the Catholic church is trying to make itself seem more sex-positive by touting John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” (i.e., the metaphysical awesomeness of heterosexual married sex), the traditional ideal was that as many people as possible ought to aspire to be asexual in practice by being priests, monks, or nuns. Even the Holy Family that is held up as the standard that all Catholic families should aspire to, consists of a married couple whom we are told never have sex. (this is particularly odd, since Josephite marriages are outlawed under the current canon law, despite being extremely popular during the days of early Christianty).
However, I eventually concluded that Catholicism isn’t really the place for an asexual. Post-Vatican II Catholicism is really stressing the “vocation of marriage,” perhaps because of dwindling interest in the priestly and religious life. Even traditionalists, who do push the idea of priestly and religious vocations to their children, are obsessed with heterosexual marriage and babies, presumably as a reaction to the widespread use of birth control among rank-and-file Catholics and the rise of LGBT rights. Since the Catholic church doesn’t recognize sexual orientation as such, openly identifying yourself as anything is looked down upon in conservotrad circles. This is why so many of the posts on the Catholic Answers Forum threads on asexuality are like, “Why does this need be to a ‘lifestyle’? You’re just single, okay? Don’t try to be special about it.”
I think that the concept of asexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation contradicts the belief prevalent among many conservotrads that states that the effects of original sin are such that everyone is walking around with their proverbial pants on fire (i.e., concupiscence), which is why society needs stringent rules regulating sexual behavior. However, celibate asexuals, particularly those who openly identify as non-religious, throws this narrative into question. While Catholic teachings say that everyone who is not heterosexually married should be celibate anyway, the idea of someone being perfectly content to be perpetually celibate as their default position is problematic, since said teachings imagine that people should be struggling with concupiscence as Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis. Supposedly, the only people who haven’t struggled with concupiscence are the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and the church isn’t going to admit that a secular asexual could possibly have the same “heroic virtues” as those two. To admit the existence of asexuality would be admitting that the nature of original sin and human nature in general as defined by the Catholic church is off. About ten years ago, I read an article that was posted on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) about a Catholic priest who flat out said that humans couldn’t be asexual for this very reason.
To me, the refusal of the Catholic church to acknowledge the existence of asexual people is symptomatic of a larger problem with religion in general, of not wanting to change teachings as new information becomes available. The church’s use of the phrase “person with same-sex attraction” rather than gay or lesbian is indicative of its refusal to buy into modern discourse on LGBT rights. That may make conservotrads feel morally superior that they aren’t buying into “modernist” notions of gender and sexuality, but it means that the church is voluntarily opting out of having anything relevant to say on the topic by not even using the standard terminology. If the church doesn’t recognize asexuality, then it doesn’t recognize me, and that’s not an institution worth supporting.