Tag Archives: homosexuality

The Gay Closet as a Place of Sin

My colleague Advocatus Diaboli sent me a link some days ago to a post at Jesus in Love, about a new book (“Dark Knowledge“, by Kenneth Low) which argues that Jesus was homosexual and sexually active, but closeted – and that was the reason for his trial and execution. AD asked me for my opinion. Before getting to my response, I share some key extracts from Kittredge’s post:

Dark Knowledge” by Kenneth Low uses rational arguments to disprove much of the conventional wisdom about Christ. According to Low, Jesus was not heterosexual, not celibate, and not happy with his own identity.

Low presents evidence that Jesus must have been homosexual because he was an unmarried man who surrounded himself with men, including John, his beloved male disciple and sexual partner.

-Jesus in Love

 

Kittredge quotes from Low directly:

In His childhood, Jesus Christ came into His awareness of being the Son of God. His magical authority and other attributes were given to Him as His birthright. As He came into sexual awareness, He discovered Himself to be a homosexual. His awareness of being the Son of God precluded any possibility of denying His sexuality out of some external concern and He began to be sexually active. He was evidently discovered to be a homosexual by people in His hometown and He must have been sharply rebuked and ostracized. He left Galilee and wandered on an endless soulful sojourn seeking a reconciliation of His divinity with His homosexuality. (p. 276)

-Jesus in Love

Toby Johnson, the author of Gay Spirituality and Gay Perspective and a former editor of the “White Crane” journal of gay spirituality, has also written about Dark Knowledge. He summarizes the thesis proposed by Dark Knowledge:

When Low considers Jesus as homosexual, it is as secretive, shamed and closeted, what a homosexual would have thought of himself in an intensely and threateningly homophobic and misogynistic society. His townsfolk would have ignored his teachings because they knew too much about him. He’d have been an embarrassment to his family. The Apostles would have been reluctant to admit they knew him if this fact came out. In this reading of the story, Jesus’s homosexuality isn’t an item of pride, but rather the source of a spiritual crisis that forces him to develop an interpretation of virtue and goodness that isn’t just conformity with Jewish Law, since he himself can’t conform.

(In his review, Johnson praises the originality of the presentation and the  manner  in which Low re-imagines the life of Christ. He concludes by noting that he is sceptical of Low’s conclusion, but finds the book stimulating, and a good read nevertheless).

I stress that I have not read the book, and will not even attempt an assessment. However, I was interested in my own strong reaction to the book’s conclusion as presented in Kittredge’s review, and where that response led me. That reaction was  to the whole concept, that Jesus might have been actively “homosexual” – but closeted. We have virtually no real evidence on Christ’s orientation or sexual practice. There are reasonable arguments that he may have been (in modern terms) homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual in orientation, and it is possible to believe that he was sexually active, or celibate. We may speculate, but we just don’t know. I’m comfortable with any of the possibilities – homosexual and sexually active, heterosexual and sexually active – or entirely celibate. I don’t believe that it really matters. But the one possibility that I have not considered before, and immediately rejected out of hand in an instinctive, visceral reaction, is the one presented by Low: that Jesus was both homosexually active, closeted and ashamed. Why did I react so instinctively?

Somewhat surprised by the intensity of my response, I tried to dissect it. My conclusion came fairly rapidly: Low’s idea flatly contradicts a core belief of standard Christology, that although fully human, Jesus Christ was without sin. If he was without sin, what could he have to be ashamed of?

And that was where assessing my own response became really interesting to me. In going from a standard, conventional belief, that Jesus was without sin, to my conclusion, that this makes it impossible for him to have been a closeted, sexually active gay man, I had made an automatic assumption, that I was previously unaware of. That assumption, was that to be closeted and sexually active, is inherently sinful. But where is the sin? I have made it clear in numerous posts that I do not believe that homosexuality in itself is inherently sinful ( but some forms of inappropriate use of it may be). So if there is sin implied by the assumption, it must lie in the proposition that Jesus was closeted, and ashamed.

Is that a sound assumption? My short answer, which I present before the full reasoning, is yes – the closet is a place of sin (but with an important qualification, which I will get to later).

Before getting to a full consideration of just why I felt so strongly that the closet is a place of sin, I first reflected a little more on the nature of Christ. I have shared before, how my Religious Education classes at school included a lengthy period locating and memorizing Biblical texts on the theme of “God is….” (examples being “God is love”, “God is mercy”, “God is justice”, “God is light”, “God is life”, and more). A key one here, was “God is truth”.  If God is truth, and the closet is (by definition) a lie, then God/ Jesus in the closet is a logical impossibility. That doesn’t necessarily imply that there is sin in the closet, but the idea prepared the way for more, after some thought on the nature of sin.

My understanding of sin, is it is that which turns us away from God, keeps us from being the best that we can be. As John McNeill regularly reminds us in his books, St Ireneaus taught that “The glory of God is humans fully alive” – and by extension, I see sin as that which keeps us (or by our agency, others) from that glory, of being fully alive.  There is abundant evidence from academic literature, from anecdotal evidence, and from my own experience, that coming out is a process of growth, of becoming more fully alive . Remaining in the closet obstructs that growth, denying that process of growth. The closet keeps us from that – hiding us from that full glory of God.

If God / Jesus is truth, the closet is a lie. By hiding our own truth, we are denying the example of Christ.

God is love. Where is the love in the closet? “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the familiar text, but that implies that we must, indeed, love ourselves. Can we truly love ourselves, accept ourselves in all that we are, while denying an important part of who we are?

God is justice. Is there justice in the closet? Is there justice, in a situation where the 80 or 90% of adults are able to rejoice publicly in their loves, and invite friends, family and parishioners to celebrate an affirmation of those loves in church weddings – and some of us feel constrained to hide our loves, or even to avoid love altogether, out of fear?

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I explored my understanding of God, and of sin, it seemed to me clear that the closet restricts our approach to God, in these various aspects. Impeding our access to God, the closet is a place of sin.

But this was a troubling thought. I have often argued for the value of coming out, in church and in the world, but with an important qualification. This must always be only as far as we are able.  Sometimes, for personal reasons or by reason of external circumstances, we may not be able.  If the closet is a place of sin, as I concluded, what does this say of those who, for whatever reason, find that they are not able to come out?

That led me to some further thoughts on the nature of sin.

First, we must consider the particular circumstances and motivations of someone who is closeted. To take an extreme example, for most Catholic priests, coming out would be reckless, endangering their careers and ministry as priests. In such circumstances, staying within the closet in pursuit of a greater good is morally acceptable, and not sinful.

Next, we must consider that there exists both personal and social sin. If it is true that the closet is a place of sin, that does not necessarily imply that a closeted person is in a state of sin – the sin could lie in the social circumstances (of church doctrine and law, for instance, or the possibility of real and severe penalties). In that case, the sin could be social, not personal.

Now,  a little disclosure. The trigger that led to all of the above was in an email from AD, which by chance I read at 3 am one morning (no, that’s not my usual time for correspondence). The thoughts I have shared above, were buzzing around in my head for some hours later. They are based on perceptions, and half – remembered school lessons, not any deep knowledge or training in the relevant theology. The argument needs further testing and thought, but I have shared the ideas simply because they have substantially shaken me up. I am certain there will be flaws, in either the assumptions, or reasoning. I welcome responses from any one willing to pick holes in my thesis.

Gay Bishop Charles Otis, on Homosexuality and Faith

Bishop Gene Robinson is  the best known openly gay bishop, but there are many others. Bishop Otis Charles, who came out in 1993 after his retirement from full time ministry, is one of them.  He is also legally married: he and his husband held a ceremony in San Francisco in 1993, then wed legally in California in 2008.

While still serving as Bishop of Utah, he did not disclose in own sexuality, but did advocate openly for a relaxation of the barriers to ministry in the Episcopal Church. As a result, Utah came to be seen as a relatively liberal place of refuge for gay men and lesbians in the Episcopal Church.

Otis Charles and Husband, 1993

This year’s Sundance Film Festival, features a documentary film about that other, better known gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.  ” Love Free or Die“, which also includes reference to Bishop Charles, will  be screened on Monday January 23rd, and preceded by a worship service on Sunday 22nd.   QSalt Lake has a piece on Bishop Charles, illustrating the dramatic contrast between the conditions for gay clergy when he was first ordained in 1951, and those prevailing today:

After 60 years in the clergy, including 40 years as an Episcopalian bishop, Otis Charles, 85, was one of three openly gay bishops within the faith, he said. Although, when he first entered seminary in the 1950s homosexuality was not talked about, let alone embraced, by many in the church.

“I never would have imagined how far we’ve come – in the church and in general. It’s a different world. I never would have imagined, when I was first entering seminary, that I would be able to be married to my husband and enjoy all the benefits that come with that,” Charles said. “In my lifetime I’ve seen the onward movement from being outside of the movement into the ongoing life of the community in ways that I never would have imagined.”

–  QSaltLake

We must remember though, that we have not arrived at this place of moderate tolerance without a great deal of preparatory work, by a great number of people. Bishop Charles was one of the pioneers:

The path to arrive as a happily married, accepted bishop was more than three decades in the making; the issue of openly gay clergy members was first raised in 1976 during a general assembly where Charles testified about the need to accept gay clergy members, although he was not open about his own sexuality. In 1979 he was a member of a coalition of leaders who signed a letter in opposition to the newly enacted policy prohibiting gays and lesbians from being ordained into the ministry.

Charles, along with eight members from the Utah delegation, opposed the church’s new position, which led to Utah having a liberal reputation.

“We were kind of a place of refuge for gay or lesbian individuals who wanted to be ordained and their home bishop wouldn’t accept them or recognize them,” Charles said. “The authorities in the diocese of Utah supported more than one such person. And so the dioceses in Utah have a spirit of openness for a long time.”

–  QSaltLake

There also, quite obviously, many barriers to overcome, especially in the Catholic Church – but I will leave those out of this post. For now, let us simply celebrate Bishop Charles, Bishop Robinson, and the other pioneers on the road to LGBT inclusion in church. I look forward to this documentary film becoming more widely disseminated.

Bishop Gene Robinson (right), Mark Andrew at their civil union, 2008

[Correction:

An earlier version of this post stated that the documentary film “Love Free or Die” is about Bishop Otis Charles, but in fact it is primarily about Bishop Gene Robinson].

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Homosexuals and the Catechism

Many people believe that the Catechism teaching on homosexuality is well known: in effect, you can be gay, just don’t do gay (which makes as much sense as saying you can be left-handed, just don’t write left-handed – but I’m not getting into that, today).

 2357 Homosexuality ……. has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved

What those “many people” overlook, is another, equally important line in the Catechism, which has been far too frequently ignored by people who should know better, such as some of the  Catholic bishops and Vatican bureaucracy). That line demands that we must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. ……

Lesbian and gay Catholics would do well to take careful note of this line, memorise it, and quote it every time they encounter hostile, orthotoxic Catholics quoting the previous line. There are good grounds for challenging the statements and conclusions in the hostile line (the claims about Scripture are disputed by many modern Bible scholars, the claim from “natural law” debatable), but no grounds that I am aware of for challenging the line on respect, compassion and sensitivity.

Even where lip-service is paid to this important Catholic teaching, the full implications are often ignored.  At America blog last week,  Fr James Martin SJ expanded on the significance of the line, and what it implies, in a lengthy and valuable post.Even before he gets to the important part, he makes a welcome observation about some more familiar words – in which the Catechism describes the inclination as a “trial”. This is usually presented as a trial which is intrinsic to the condition, for which the proposed remedy is to endure it with fortitude, to “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition”. But the experience of gay men and lesbians is that the difficulties do not arise from the orientation itself, but from the hostility of the church, and heteronormative social conditions. (For some people, the oppression also arises from internalized homophobia, induced by external oppression).

…..while some gays and lesbians may not appreciate having their situation described as a “trial,” the Catechism reminds Catholics that being a homosexual in many modern cultures is still fraught with difficulty.  It can be a painful struggle for a gay person to accept himself or herself as someone loved by God.  As most of us know, bullying, beatings and, in rare cases, murder, is often part of being a gay or lesbian teen.  As a result, the rate of suicides among gay teens is significantly higher than it is for straight teens in our country.  In other parts of the world the situation is more dire: in some countries homosexual activity can bring imprisonment or execution. 

The really important part of the post, is where he digs into the line on respect, compassion and sensitivity, to explore what a genuine observance of this would mean. I share some extracts below (only extracts. Read the full article at America blog)

Respect

There is more to respect, he reminds us, than just the negative sense of refraining from denigrating them, or treating them as second-class citizens, or even just acceptance. These, he says, are the bare minimum. (And even that low bar, I suggest, is one that some Catholics and Catholic bishops fail to meet).

So, what is really required by “respect”?

One of the hallmarks of respecting a person, for example, is listening to him or her.  If a child interrupts an adult, or fails to listen to a teacher, the child may be told, “Show some respect.”  You would scarcely say that you respected a person if you showed no real concern for what they said, or, likewise, for their personal experiences.  So, to show real respect Catholics need to listen carefully to the experiences of gays and lesbians.  Indeed, I think one reason for the fraught nature of the church’s relations with gays and lesbians is an absence of listening.  (On both sides.)

 What would it mean for the church to listen to the experiences of gays and lesbians?  First, it would mean willingly and honestly listening to what it is like to grow up as a homosexual child and adolescent.  It would mean paying attention to the voices of young people who feel persecuted or who are bullied.  It would mean taking seriously the heightened threat of suicides among gay and lesbian youth, which is, after all, a “life issue.” It would also mean listening to what it is like to be an adult gay or lesbian, particularly within the church.  That would mean another, more difficult, kind of listening: trying to understand the widespread feeling among many gay and lesbian Catholics that their own church doesn’t “respect” them.  Then it would mean asking the difficult question: “Why is this?” 

 Compassion

We may think we know what is meant by compassion, but Martin points out that in its scriptural usage and etymology, the meaning is far stronger than everyday use. From the

To suffer with gays means to be with them, and to stand with them, in solidarity.  It means to be, and to be seen to be, on their side, battling “every sign of unjust discrimination.”  It means sticking up for them when others mock or belittle them.  It means reaching out in ways that might move us beyond our comfort zones.  It might mean finding ourselves mocked as a result.  It means aligning ourselves with them. That’s what Jesus did, after all.  Even more than that, it means showing the kind of love that Jesus shows for those on the margins—a special kind of love.

It’s hardly necessary to point out that the extraordinary efforts of some Catholic bishops to oppose marriage equality, are in direct contradiction to standing “in solidarity” with us.

Sensitivity

For Martin, this requires that in dealing with gay and lesbian people, the Church must recognize that our experience has often left us feeling hurt and scarred. This requires going out of our way to listen, and to take great care in the presentation of overall teaching. There is an imbalance, he observes, in the way that teaching on homosexuality is often presented only in terms of “thou shalt not” (the hostility of line 2358), but not the “thou shalt” – to say nothing of the careless speech like that of Cardinal George, and the Ku Klux Klan. What is important, is not only what is said, but how it will be heard.

This imbalanced is not matched in dealing with other groups, and applicable (equally disordered) sexual teaching:

This way of proceeding has always struck me as surprising.  It would be as if the first thing that a priest said to a group of married Catholic couples at a retreat was not “Welcome,” but “No extramarital sex!” Or if a group of Catholic business leaders was greeted at a luncheon by a bishop who said, “No unfair wages!”  Or if a group of Catholic physicians was told at the beginning of a conference, “No abortions!”  Gay people sometimes feel as if the “thou shalt nots” are the entirety of the church’s teaching on who they are.  Because sometimes that’s all they hear. 

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Trouble in Adelaide over Anglican gay clergy.

For months, there have been simmering tensions in Adelaide’s Anglican Church community over the unresolved matter of gay and lesbian clergy. A newly appointed bishop says that he has no problem with homosexual priests – as long as they don’t engage in homosexual activity.
This is the formally proclaimed policy of his church, but it is untenable – it makes no more sense than to say “It’s all right to be left-handed, just don’t write left-handed”. (Left-handedness is in fact a good analogy to homosexual orientation. Both are entirely natural, regularly occurring, non-pathological conditions affecting a small but significant minority of people).

ADELAIDE’S new Anglican Bishop supports homosexual clergy as long as they follow church guidelines that forbid gay sex.

The Venerable Dr Tim Harris will be ordained tomorrow as Bishop for Mission and Evangelism at St Peter’s Cathedral.

His newly created role is essentially to help recruit and retain worshippers and establish new parishes in the Diocese of Adelaide.

The appointment comes in a period of unrest for the church. Reverend Ali Wurm, an openly gay priest from St Bede’s parish at Semaphore, quit her post in June after ongoing “persecution” from within the church about her sexuality. Days earlier the first female Dean of Adelaide, Sarah Macneil, resigned less than two years after taking up the post.

The resignations came amid tensions in the diocese on how to respond to a global moratorium imposed by the church on same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships.”

Earlier, two priests had resigned, with claims of harassment on the grounds of orientation.

The resignation of Semaphore’s St Bede’s Reverend Ali Wurm comes as the Dean of Adelaide, Sarah Macneil, also announced she would step down.


Tensions within the Diocese of Adelaide about how to respond to a global moratorium imposed by the church on same-sex unions and the ordination of clergy in same-sex relationships – as well as the handling of the turmoil by Archbishop Jeffrey Driver – are believed to be factors in the women’s departures.
All Souls of St Peters’ Reverend Andy Wurm, Ms Wurm’s brother, confirmed pressure over many years about her former same-sex relationship was a key factor.
“A major reason for her resignation was the persecution she felt as a result of her living arrangements and sexual orientation,” Rev Wurm said.

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A Silver Lining to Avila’s Nonsense on “Satanic” Origins of Same-sex Orientation.

The extraordinary fiasco over comments by an advisor to the US bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative would be the stuff of high comedy, if it were not so tragic. (Indeed, much of the commentary from the secular LGBT blogosphere has been hilarity at the nonsensical nature of his claim that homosexual orientation has a Satanic origin).

The tragedy is that someone so appallingly ignorant on both the scientific evidence, and on orthodox Vatican teaching, should have been formally employed by Church bodies in the first place. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that the orientation is entirely natural, regularly recurring in both humans and the animal world, and is entirely non-pathological. The Vatican accepts this, and also states clearly that the condition is in no way sinful, and that the Church deplores violence or malice directed at those with a homosexual inclination, in either speech or action. Instead, we should be treated with dignity, understanding and respect.

Avila’s theology is deeply flawed, an several useful on-line commentaries point out. (See Bill Lindsey for instance at Bilgrimage, with an extensive set of important links, and valuable commentary of his own, on the outdated and damaging views expressed by Avila – and expressed in marginally less offensive manner by some bishops themselves. Personally, I could not face wading deeply into the depths of Avila’s idiocy – but I am fascinated by the aftermath.

The silver lining in the tragedy is more interesting: the remarkably swift response by the Church, both at diocesan and national level. The archdiocese of Boston was the first to response, withdrawing the offending article from the publication in which it first appeared. Now, he has resigned from his position as adviser to the USCCB sub-committee on marriage. This swift response mirrors earlier corrective action by bishops in Canada and Texas to homophobic speech and actions by priests. Together with other indications from different regions and sectors of the Church, I believe the conclusion is now inescapable: the Catholic Church is undergoing a fundamental change in stance on homosexuality and gay relationships.

(I would stress here the change is on of stance, not position. Church teaching remains unchanged:  orientation is morally neutral, genital acts are sinful. What has changed, is a shift in emphasis, from an obsession with the acts, to greater emphasis on the pastoral response, to avoiding offensive speech, and a corresponding increase in priority for the “dignity, respect and understanding”, which has been so badly neglected until recently).

Among several news reports on Avila’s sudden resignation, the best I have found is from the Washington Post.  Here are some extracts:

A policy adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative resigned on Friday (Nov. 4), a week after writing a column that blamed Satan for homosexuality.

Daniel Avila had been an on-staff adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage since June.

Unofficially, Avila referred to himself as the “bishops’ marriage guy” and represented the USCCB’s stance on marriage in Washington.

Avila also apologized in a statement on Wednesday. “The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it clear that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity,” he said.

“I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused,” Avila added. Avila also said that his column did not reflect the opinion of the Catholic bishops and was not authorized before publication. The USCCB has not taken an official position on the causes of homosexuality, Walsh said.

Among the interesting items in Bill Lindsey’s piece, are some suggestions that the swift ecclesiastical response has been triggered in part by the work of progressive activists groups and writers.  Perhaps the bishops are finally beginning to take note of the polling evidence that shows how far they are out of step with the Church on issues of human sexuality. It may not always seem like it, but queer Catholics are slowly gaining influence in the Church. (Avila’s resignation came swiftly after gay rights groups had called for Avila’s ouster. Coincidence?).  In the Washpost article, I particularly liked the response by  Marianne Duddy-Burke, of Dignity:

“I think it’s appropriate that he has resigned,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church.

“I would hope that the bishops will follow it up with some significant action of repentance to demonstrate that they understand the harm that he has done to LGBT people and our families.”

 The Washington Post.

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Separation of church and state in marriage?

“It isn’t exactly a movement — more of a blogosphere hubbub.
In solidarity with his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, one well-known evangelical pastor in Minneapolis is taking a stand. As long as his state won’t confer upon homosexuals the legal right to marry, Tony Jones won’t sign a marriage license. He will officiate at a Christian ceremony, what he calls the “sacramental” part of marriage. But he refuses to act as an agent of the state.
“Will you join me,” he asked colleagues online last year, “and refuse to legally marry people?”
In July, Jones made his point personally. He remarried, but this time only sacramentally. “I consider my marriage 100 percent valid,” he told me.

-read the full report at  The Washington Post

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"The Sexual Person"

I have just completed a first reading of “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)
“, by the Catholic theologians Todd A. Salzmann and Michael G. Lawler.  I stress here, “a first reading”, as I have no doubt that this will be for me one of those foundational texts that I return to again and again.  After just an introductory acquaintance, I have no intention of attempting here any kind of formal assessment or review, but I do want to share some preliminary thoughts, some of which I propose to expand into full posts a little later.
The constantly evolving, ever-changing  Catholic tradition.
Whatever it is that Vatican spokesmen mean when they refer to the Church’s “constant and unchanging tradition”, it cannot be what the plain English words appear to mean. Across the full range  of sexual ethics, Catholic tradition has changed constantly. This is not only an historical fact, it is also inevitable and in fact demanded by the Magisterium itself. I particularly like the words of a certain Joseph Ratzinger, which highlight the importance of identifying and correcting the “distorting tradition” in the Church:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”


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The Distorted Modern Teaching on Marriage and Procreation

The often repeated claim that marriage and sexual intercourse exist primarily for the purposes of procreation, is simply fallacious. It is clear from the Magisterium itself that there are several purposes to both. The additional claim by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” that every sexual act must be open to the production of new life, is in fact a distortion of clear earlier statements that the requirement is for the marriage to be open to procreation – not every single sexual act.

The bizarre parallel claim in Humanae Vitae that marriages which are sterile, or which deliberately avoid pregnancy by “Natural” Family Planning, raise serious doubts about the validity of the simultaneous insistence that homosexual activities are necessarily prohibited as not open to procreation.

The Distortions of Natural Law

“Natural law” is widely used as a pretext for the condemnation of homosexual acts, but the concept itself is poorly understood.  Salzmann and Lawler present extensive evidence that a more accurate reading of the concept is in fact supportive of sexual activities between men or between women, in specific circumstances, for people who have a homosexual orientation.

The Distortions of Scripture

It is by now well established that numerous scholars have shown that the traditional use of a half dozen verses from the Bible as clobber texts to condemn all homoerotic acts is based on distortion, relying on misinterpretation, mistranslation, or plain misrepresentation. “The Sexual Person” summarizes these familiar critiques, concluding that the most important feature of the very limited Biblical references to homoerotic acts is that they simply do not take account of the existence of a homosexual orientation as we know it to exist. Recognizing such an attraction, the authors submit, leads to the conclusion that the references to “unnatural acts” in Romans must imply that for people with a natural homosexual orientation, sexual activities with others of the same sex are entirely natural, and so not condemned by Paul.
On the other hand, attempts to force us into heterosexual marriage are indeed attempts to enforce what for us are “unnatural acts” – and so condemned by Paul.

(I would go further, and add that by extension, even enforced celibacy is unnatural, and so condemned by Paul, and also a contravention of natural law, properly understood).

The Distorted Teaching on Cohabitation

Perhaps the most eye-opening chapter of the book for me, was that on cohabitation.  I grew up with the clear understanding from my Catholic education, which I often heard repeated, that all sexual activity before our outside of marriage was expressly forbidden – and that marriage in effect commenced with the marriage ceremony, as solemnized in a Catholic Church, by a Catholic priest, in front of witnesses.  More recently, I have recognized that this idea of marriage as an obligatory sacrament, required before legitimate sexual intercourse, was a relatively modern one.
Until reading “The Sexual Person”, I did not realize quite how modern an idea it is, or how far it is flatly contradicted by the practice of the church for at least three quarters of Christian history, right up to the Council of Trent and even beyond.  Previously, the church wedding (if it took place at all) was not an event that began the process of marriage and legitimized husband and wife living together in a sexual relationship, but merely a public acknowledgement of a partnership that may have begun long before, with mutual consent consummated by immediate sexual intercourse. What today we would call “cohabitation” did not precede the marriage – it initiated it. It did precede the public wedding – but that was of no importance to the sacramentality of the marriage itself, or to the legality of the sexual relationshipthat accompanied it.
For most of Catholic tradition, it is then clear that any conception of sin in cohabitation before marriage was impossible – as soon as cohabitation began, the marriage commenced. Applying this reasoning to the modern situation, where (for good reasons) we accept the importance of a public commitment in a wedding ceremony, we should also recognize that marriage is a process, not a one-day event. The process begins with the private commitment to each other. As long as the cohabitation is part of a nuptial process leading up to marriage, and not a simple shacking up, Catholic tradition suggests that we should recognize and accept cohabitation prior to the wedding as part of the marriage, and so fully valid.
Gay marriage and Catholic Tradition.
Here I move on to more treacherous ground, but as I read in this book so many extracts from Church documents on our sexual lives and on marriage and family, I was struck by how little amendment is needed to extend church endorsement of the value of marriage, as sacrament and as an institution furthering both private and public good, to include same sex couples alongside all others.
The Theological Ferment Under Way.
“The Sexual Person” has made waves in the press, largely as a result of the US Bishops’ criticism of it. However, it is far from unique in highlighting the contradictions and failings of current orthodoxy on sexual ethics. It now becomes clearer than ever to me that there is a fundamental rethink under way. This has not yet broken through into major papal pronouncements or Vatican documents – but I am certain that they will soon start to do so. When they do, they will no doubt be accompanied once again by the comforting assurances that these new, more human and sympathetic understandings of human sexuality have been around for decades (as they have), and so form part of the “constant and unchanging Catholic tradition”.

La plus ça change…..

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Put Christ Back Into Christianity (2): His Exclusion From Church Teaching on Sexuality.

A remarkable feature of the CDF’s core document on homosexuality is the almost total absence of any reference to the words or example of Jesus Christ.  The CDF “Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” is the almost total absence of any reference to the example or words of Jesus Christ, on whom the Christian message is based. In the letter’s 18 paragraphs, there is precisely one specific reference to Jesus, right in the final paragraph, and it has nothing whatever to do with the Church’s sexual ethics.

The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32).

A fine recommendation, and one I heartily endorse. Whether the document itself includes too much truth, is another matter entirely.

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There is only one other rather vague and confusing reference to “the Gospels”, to which I will return later. Other than a handful of cursory references to the creation in Genesis, the story of Sodom, and Paul’s letters to Corinth and Rome, there is very little scriptural basis provided for the clear condemnation of homosexuality in the document – and the use of Sodom at least, is clearly false: there is no suggestion anywhere in Genesis, or elsewhere in the Old Testament, that the sin of Sodom had anything to do with homosexuality. The traditional use of Corinthians and Romans as arguments against homosexuality may also be misplaced. However, on these counterarguments, the CDF is clear:

…….. a new exegesis of Sacred Scripture (which) claims variously that Scripture has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality, or that it somehow tacitly approves of it, or that all of its moral injunctions are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to contemporary life. These views are gravely erroneous and call for particular attention here.

……

It is likewise essential to recognize that the Scriptures are not properly understood when they are interpreted in a way which contradicts the Church’s living Tradition. To be correct, the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that Tradition.

Despite repeated claims that church teaching is developed in full accord with the Scriptures, there is no serious attempt to demonstrate this, and no attempt to engage with the counter arguments. Instead, any interpretation which is contrary to their own view, is simply dismissed as ipse facto invalid.

Similarly, right up in paragraph 2 the letter claims that its conclusions are backed by the “more secure” findings of the natural sciences – a claim which most natural scientists themselves would emphatically reject.  Once again though, there is no substantiation provided for the claim. Note though, the important qualifier – “the more secure”  findings of science. The implication is clear – the extensive findings of science which do not support their view are simply dismissed as “not secure”.

The primary foundation for the position of this Pastoral Letter was that of the earlier “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” of December 29, 1975, which covered a much wider range of sexual matters than just homosexuality, and which did include extensive notes and sources. The only source quoted for the short section on homosexuality was a single reference to Romans, and none at all to the words or example of Jesus Christ.

Instead of providing a solid argument from the Gospels which are the foundation of the Christianity, the CDF can do no more than make vague claims about the “unbroken continuity” of the constant and unchanging tradition, dismissing any analysis of scripture or science which does not support their own view. They also introduce some entirely unjustified and unsupported judgemental statements that homosexual expression is “disordered”, and essentially self-indulgent – totally ignoring the witness of gay men and lesbians themselves, who know that their relationships can equally based on mutual commitment and giving of self.

It is this conviction that homosexuality is no more than self-indulgence that is the only possible explanation I can think of for the rather cryptic reference to the Gospels in the 1986 letter:

“Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living”.

I really cannot see in how this makes any sense at all. There is surely nothing in the Gospels to suggest that heterosexual intercourse is the essence of Christian living (or where would that leave celibate priests?), nor is there any reason to suppose that homosexuals are in any way incapable of other forms of self-giving. (Their well-documented affinity for the service professions demonstrates the contrary).

However, it is not my intention here to engage with the logic of the letter itself – there is none. As James Alison has written to me,

Terry,
don’t allow yourself to get tied up by the pain of having to deal with nonsense! Sometimes nonsense is just that, and should be left alone. Mark Jordan makes a similar point in “The Silence of Sodom”.

big hug,
James

And very succinctly, James has just made my main point for me. Instead of focussing on the badly disordered, ill-informed and contradictory teaching of the CDF, queer Catholics are far better to go back to the original source. Put Christ back into Christianity – he is entirely excluded from “Homosexualitatis Problema”, except in some concluding remarks:

The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15).

Amen to that, Amen, Amen.

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Pope Benedict, on "Homosexuals".

When I wrote earlier about Benedict and gay priests, I was responding to some commentary by Andrew Brown, without access to the complete book from which he was quoting. Now that I have my own copy, I have found that my post inappropriately combined two independent responses by the pope to two different questions by his interviewer: one question on homosexuality, and one on gay priests.
I now revisit my original post to disentangle them into the two separate issues that they are, and expand on my original thoughts.
(The complete question and answer I reproduce at the end of this post. Later, I will revisit the section specifically on gay priests).

On homosexuality, Seewald’s question referred to the Catechism statement on “compassion, respect and sensitivity“, and its counterpart on “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered“. Seewald asked if these statements were contradictory.
I responded yesterday to Brown’s extracts from the pope’s response, noting in particular his complete misrepresentation of evolution as ordered to heterosexuality, and his entirely mistaken belief that “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” are a trial. I will say no more on these. Instead, I want to pick up on some other themes, identified in the French Jonathan & David press release:

Proclaiming himself the interpreter of God, he claims that homosexuality “is opposed to the essence of what God originally intended,” without knowing whether it is innate or acquired (p. 200). If by any chance, homosexuality was innate, how could God create some of his creatures in a condition so contrary to his will?

Indeed. It’s time for Benedict and his advisors to leave their theological ivory towers and enter the real world of human experience.

My own life, like that of the testimony of countless people I have spoken to or read, and the conclusions of professional psychotherapists and spiritual directors, is that when we who have what he persists in calling these “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” cease the attempt to bury them and come out to ourselves, and then to others, the experience is of an extraordinary feeling of honesty and truth, of having found who we truly are – as God made us. Benedict insists on the importance of the intrinsic truth of sexuality at the core of our being – but he is badly mistaken as to the nature of that truth. The fundamental problem with Benedict’s thinking here is that he shows absolutely no sign of ever having listened to the truth as spoken by real people in their real lives.
As I was re-reading the question and response today, I was struck by a new observation. In the often repeated Catechism command for “compassion, dignity and sensitivity”, Church spokesmen frequently talk around the first two – as Benedict does here, expanding on our right to respect. What tends to get overlooked is the third word, “sensitivity”. It is impossible to be sensitive to another’s concerns without having taken the trouble to understand them, to listen to them. Our priests and bishops may have all the good intentions in the world to offer compassion and respect, but how many of them have ever taken the trouble to listen to us, and our sexual experiences, outside the one-sided environment of the confessional? If they ever did, they would discover that the “trial” of a homosexual orientation is not the condition itself, as Benedict so arrogantly and mistakenly proclaims.
Rather, one part of the trial comes from the frequent experience of bigotry, discrimination and violence in the world at large, but also from the absence of dignity and compassion we so often experience in the Church. Most startling to me, is the realization that precisely while claiming to affirm the Catechism’s insistence on compassion, respect and sensitivity, he displays a flagrant disregard for the last of the three. As my reader Mark observed,

I think the Pope Benedict really needs some instruction on this topic. This is somewhat depressing. God give me strength.

It is fundamental to scripture, to the Catechism, and to Benedict’s own theology, that we must live and proclaim the truth. It really is important that we as gay men and lesbians should speak the truth to Benedict and to others: for some of us, the attempt to live within Catholic orthodoxy is to deny the truth. The deliberate decision in conscience to deny that orthodoxy is not a sign of weakness, or sin, or of caving in to modern fads – but a basic act of honesty.

If they really want to display the sensitivity to which they pay lip-service, they need to find ways to listen.

********

The complete question was:

Homosexual practice has the status of a widely accepted form of life in the West today. Modernists even publicize its approval as a measure of a given society’s degree of progress. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated under your responsibility as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we read that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…. They must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s in their lives.” And yet the same Catechism contains the following statement:” Basing itself on the Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. Doesn’t this second statement somehow contradict the respect for homosexuals expressed in the first one?
Benedict’s full response on homosexuality, outside the context of the priesthood :
No. It is one thing to say that they are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.
At the same time, though, sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.
The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.

Recommended Books:
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Related articles

Does Benedict Oppose Gay Priests?

Andrew Brown thinks so, based on the relevant passage in Seewald’s book. I hesitate to comment with any conviction until I have read the full passage myself, but the published extracts are disturbing and important. Up to now, there have been some signs of a more rational approach to homosexuality under this papacy, but some of these views strike me as just wackadoodle. Benedict is widely acclaimed as a great and subtle theologian, but he could do with some lessons in basic facts of gender and sexuality.
For example:
We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species.

If he wishes to reason from evolutionary biology, he should read some evolutionary biologists. Joan Roughgarden, for instance. Both she and Bruce Bagemihl have shown that evolution is not purpose-driven for anything at all, least of all that of reproduction. Evolution is an arbitrary process, not a strategy, that works by creating diversity. Out of this diversity, heterosexual coupling and reproduction is one common by-product – but same sex coupling, same sex reproduction, and even adoption by same sex couples are also outcomes of that diversity. Furthermore, simple observation in the animal world also shows that in complete contradiction to Catholic doctrine, sexual diversity, even among opposite sex pairs, is by no means restricted to procreation. There is a great deal of non-reproductive sex too, for purposes ranging from group conflict reduction, through social bonding, to simple sexual pleasure. The animals, it is clear, pay scant regard to the Catholic Catechism.

This is the it that really winds me up:

“….  homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being.”
The clear implication here is that gay men are “estranged” from a proper sense of paternity.  Hoo boy! This betrays some really nasty ideas about the nature of priesthood, with its glorification of “paternity” over “maternity”. As any number of people have observed over the abuse crisis, the priesthood would be a great deal more caring if we allowed some more maternal qualities into it – but I leave the ladies to take up that theme. I am more concerned by the cock-eyed idea that gay men lack “a proper sense of paternity”. There are millions of gay daddies out there -just you try repeating this crap to their children (mine, for instance).  The presence of a strong sense of paternity is also amply demonstrated by the strong demand by gay male couples to be approved as adoptive parents, a demand which is confirmed by the strenuous and wrong-headed efforts by some Catholic bishops to prevent legislative approval for gay adoption. If there were no sense of paternity, there would be no demand, and no need to oppose the legislation.
The evidence from the real world is that gay men can indeed be fathers, some of them are so, others want to be so  – and the evidence from empirical research, not theological ivory towers, is that collectively they are at least as good as any others (even in some animal species). Some individuals are exceptional parents. The suggestion that their lack of a “proper sense of paternity” excludes them from the priesthood is just plain hooey.
Then there’s this:

If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him.
If he had made any attempt to investigate the real experience of these people with “deep-seated tendencies” he would surely known that the “trials” they experience are not based the orientation itself (which many impartial experts and many societies see as a source of spiritual strength), but the prejudice and homophobia they encounter – such as the profound ignorance displayed by Benedict himself.
The three statements I have commented on share an important characteristic: they are used to support major decisions of church discipline and sexual ethics, but are based on absolutely no actual evidence, none whatever. This is what gives theology a bad name.

“The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”

— Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason
Paine overstates his case, but the examples above show he has a point.
Benedict has often emphasized that theology needs to be based on both faith and reason. He is right – but I wish, oh how I wish, that he could apply his widely acknowledged powers of reason to something based on, you know, evidence, from science or anthropology. Ground it, in fact, in reality.
(Here are the full extracts quoted by Andrew Brown in the Guardian. Read the full article, with his useful commentary, at the Guardian “Comment is Free“)

“The Congregation for Education issued a decision a few years ago to the effect that homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being. The selection of candidates to the priesthood must therefore be very careful.
The greatest attention is needed here in order to prevent the intrusion of this kind of ambiguity and to head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.”
“Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman
And, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age …
Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.
Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway.”
“The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed … For, in the end, their attitude toward man and woman is somehow distorted, off centre, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken.”

“are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.”

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