At first reading, many lesbian and gay Catholics could be disappointed with Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). There’s little enough about us to start with, and what there is, seems to do no more than restate the familiar but badly neglected platitudes about “respect”, and the need to avoid violence and persecution. Right up front in its opening pages, the document restates the mantra of the family as consisting of one man and one women, and children – and the purpose of marriage as intertwined with procreation. Later, there is yet again, a firm restatement of opposition to gay marriage. Above all, there is absolutely no hint of any change in the hurtful established Catholic doctrines on sexuality.
At the heart of the disordered Catholic teaching on homosexuality, is the claim that the inclination is disordered, because it is “against nature”, and idea that has its roots in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on natural law. This understanding of the orientation is contrary to modern findings from science, and also in conflict with much of the current trends in theological and exegetical research.
In the very first paragraph of the book’s section on homosexuality, Oliva sets out the core of his case:
Christian communities and the faithful manifest today diverse understandings of homosexuality, which can move away – sometimes quite radically – from the current teaching of the Magisterium. St Thomas did not develop a theory of homosexuality and, like all his contemporaries, when he discusses the various forms of lust, it includes the sin of sodomy. However, we find in his work, in a reflection not primarily of a moral order but of metaphysics, a brilliant intuition, of naturally “against nature”, that can explain the origin of homosexuality.
From the general principles of his doctrine, we will develop this intuition of Thomas to its logical conclusion, to develop new perspectives of understanding of homosexuality and integration of people and homosexual couples within the Christian community. We want to offer new answers to the questions posed today by the pastoral care of homosexual persons. The present study, which may appear anachronistic in style, is intended to show that a welcome change from the Magisterium concerning homosexuality and the exercise of sexuality by homosexual couples not only corresponds to current anthropological, theological and exegetical research, but also to the development of an especially Thomistic theological tradition.
By “naturally against nature”, is meant that while for humanity in general, it is against nature to have sexual relations with the same sex, Saint Thomas recognizes that for some individuals, an inclination (which we would call an orientation) to the same sex is entirely natural. Oliva is not the first to spot what he calls this “brilliant intuition” in Thomistic teaching: Boswell pointed it out years ago, in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (pp 326 and 327, in my edition). However, he goes much further than Boswell, in reconciling this natural same-sex orientation with Aquinas’ unequivocal rejection of “sodomy”, and thinks through the implications.
Oliva shows how Aquinas distinguishes between impulses which are purely of the body, and those of the soul. The sins of sodomy (which in his thinking include much more than just same-sex intercourse), are rejected because they are purely physical, and spring from mere lust. However for people with a natural same-sex orientation, same-sex relationships are come from the soul, not from the body. As such, they are inherently good. The really important distinction in sexual ethics then, is not that between same-sex and opposite-sex activities, but between those of lust, simple physical self-gratification, and those of mutual self-giving in love.
From these observations of Aquinas, Oliva goes on to spell out the theological implications for the modern world, with our vastly expanded understanding of the nature of human sexuality, and taking account of theological developments since the Middle Ages in which Aquinas was working. His conclusion is that for homosexual people, the Church should approve of loving same-sex relationships (including their sexual expression), and while not equating them with heterosexual marriage, these relationships are sacramental, and should be offered Church blessings.
In an interview with the Times of Malta, Gozo bishop Mario Grech has some important and helpful observations about the Church’s welcome for same-sex Catholic couples. These included a statement that “of course” gay couples in civil unions are welcome in Church, and that gay couples accompanying adopted children through baptism, communion and confirmation are “most welcome”. This is of course standard Catholic teaching. As Bishop Grech puts it,
This is already happening and is fully accepted by the Church. The child or baby should not be held accountable for their parents’ deeds, decisions or way of life. Why should the Church deny the opportunity for same-sex parents wishing to give a Christian formation to their adopted children?
In one of the more interesting developments after the Synod family assembly, the Indonesian bishops have held their own, local synod to share the message of the synod with the local community – and to listen to the struggles of local families.
Of particular importance for LGBT Catholics, is that Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, who attended the synod, stressed the clear message from the assembly that all people deserve respect – and that includes “homosexuals”.
The archbishop said that one of the main points of the synod is that all people deserve respect, forgiveness and mercy.
“The pope said many times that every individual — whoever they are: divorced couples or homosexuals — must be respected,” he told ucanews.com.
This should not be worth noting, but it undoubtedly is. Although it is clearly stated in the Catholic Catechism that homosexuals should be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion”, this is one rule which is widely ignored by many Catholic bishops. For Indonesia, we also need to consider the context.
As an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, this is not a good place to be gay or transgender. At the national level, there is no direct criminalization, but there is also no protection from discrimination, prejudice, or outright hatred, and some discriminatory laws apply (for example, on the age of consent). At the provincial level, it is worse. Provinces have the power to outlaw homosexuality in their areas, and some have done so. In Aceh, province, gay sex can be punished with 100 lashes of the cane. Popular sentiment is hostile, often stoked by religious authorities, both Muslim and (up to now), Catholic.
That is why Archbishop Hardjoatmodjo’s reminder that homosexuals deserve respect, while totally consistent with standard Catholic teaching, is notable as one of the first concrete example of how the Synod assembly on marriage and family, could be leading to improved pastoral sensitivity to LGBT Catholics (and in the longer term, to actual changes in doctrine).
At the Bishops’ Rome assembly on marriage and family, the German Archbishop of Berlin, Heiner Koch, was the “relator” for the German language small discussion group. He has always been a notable supporter of LGBT inclusion, and serves on the German bishops conference as chairman of the Commission for Marriage and the Family.
Back in Berlin, he had some important words about the synod assembly, which should offer some assurance to those worried that there was insufficient attention paid to our concerns. Pointing out that some cultural and political reasons for the resistance, especially from African and Eastern bishops, he insisted that Catholic discussions about homosexuality must continue (and implied that the German bishops will certainly take this forward).
The original report at the Austrian source Kathpress is in German. This is my own free translation, assisted by Google translate and the people of the Duolingo crowdsourcing language community.
(Note: this translation will be updated, as and when the Duolingo text is improved )
Archbishop Koch: Still a great need for discussion of homosexuality
Berlin, 10.27.2015 (KAP / KNA) The Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch sees a great need for discussion of the issue of homosexuality still remaining in the Catholic Church. It is therefore important to remain in conversation together on this issue,
African and Eastern bishops especially have expressed very restrictive views about homosexuality at the Synod. Some put forward positions for which there had been vigorous opposition. “Our German representatives said clearly that we do not share this judgement and cannot abandon our ideas on human dignity”, stated Koch, who is also family bishop of the German Bishops Conference..
At the same time Koch pointed out that in addition to cultural differences, political constraints sometimes make dialogue more difficult: “In many totalitarian states there are far-reaching consequences if you speak out in public about, for example, treating homosexuals as human beings.
The German representatives at the Synod had clearly stated that dealings with homosexuals was a relevant subject to the Church, according to Koch, The concern was on homosexuals who live in committed partnerships. “This is a reality that has to be evaluated much positive for us,” said the archbishop. Also brought up, were pastoral issues about how parents should deal with the homosexuality of their children.
In a joint press conference on the Family Synod with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton issued an apology to the LGBT community, that this important issue had not been properly addressed. (Previously, during the synod itself, Bishop Doyle had criticised the synod for the same point).
He (Bishop Doyle) also apologised that the Synod had not had time to deal with the issue of homosexuality. “I’m very sorry for the LGBT good people who were looking to the synod for something. It was really hard for people of same sex attraction. It wasn’t blocked. There was just so much to deal with.”
It’s also worth noting that his words of apology included “LGBT good people“, echoing a recurring theme from a number of bishops.
It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with Lifesite News, but for once (possibly the first time, ever) I do. Aquinas’ concept of “Natural Law” needs to be far better understood – and that includes by the writers at Lifesite. Taken seriously, natural law theory is supportive, not condemnatory, of committed same – sex relationships, for those whose natural affectional orientation is towards the same sex.
To illustrate, I reproduce below the Lifesite argument in full, interspersed with added emphasis and a bare minimum of commentary. All that is required, to see my point, is to read it from the perspective of someone with a natural, God-given same-sex affectional orientation, in the full knowledge that natural and social sciences are both clear that such an orientation is entirely natural, non-pathological, and found in every human society throughout history and in every geographic region, and also in every branch of the animal kingdom.
A quick primer on the natural law as it comes under attack at the Synod
The Instrumentum Laboris of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which was published in June 2014 and served as the agenda for last year’s synod, contained many problematic texts on the subject of the natural law. Paragraph 20 stated:
“In fact, what underlies the relationship between the Gospel of the Family and the natural law is not so much the defence of an abstract philosophical concept as the necessary relation which the Gospel establishes with the human person in the variety of circumstances created by history and culture.”
and paragraph no. 30 stated:
“The language traditionally used in explaining the term ‘natural law’ should be improved so that the values of the Gospel can be communicated to people today in a more intelligible manner. In particular, the vast majority of responses and an even greater part of the observations request that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the ‘order in creation,’ which could permit a rereading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world.” (No.30)
These paragraphs, and others like them, indicate an extraordinary confusion about the reality of the natural law and the relationship between the natural and supernatural orders.
(Are they really objecting to reference to the Bible, in consideration of natural law? Or does their understanding of natural law trump Scripture?)
None of the more recent synodal documents make any reference to the natural law. The Relatio Synodi of the Extraordinary Synod and the Instrumentum Laboris of the Ordinary Synod make no reference to this fundamental underpinning of the Church’s understanding of human morality.
In his book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?experienced Vatican journalist Edward Pentin revealed that Cardinal Baldisseri told Cardinal Burke that “Natural law doesn’t mean anything anymore”.
(No, he didn’t. What he said, was that in popular understanding, based on responses to the questionnaire, “Natural law doesn’t mean anything anymore”. In that, he was absolutely correct.)
Is Cardinal Baldisseri correct?
It is our conviction that the Church’s traditional understanding is accessible to all people in all ages. In this post we will present a short overview of the natural law according to the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas, the common doctor of the Church. We will begin by examining the nature of law itself; we will then be able to proceed to discuss the natural law in particular.
St Thomas tells us that “the rule and measure of human acts is reason”. This means that in order for an act to be truly human, it must accord with right reason. Man is distinguished from an animal, a plant, or an inanimate object because he alone “is master of his actions”. The plant instinctively grows towards the light, the animal instinctively flees from a predator or pursues its prey, but man is able to reason and make free choices.
(“Right reason” is certainly informed by the findings of science, which tells us
that natural and social sciences are both clear that such an orientation is entirely natural, non-pathological, and found in every human society throughout history and in every geographic region, and also in every branch of the animal kingdom. – see above)
Law, as we saw above, is the “rule and measure of acts” in those situations where “man is induced to act or is restrained from acting.” If all human acts must accord with reason then it follows that all the laws that govern human acts must also accord with reason.
It is on these grounds that St Thomas can assert that a command only has “the nature of law” if it is “in accord with some rule of reason.” Indeed he teaches that “a law is nothing else but a dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler.”
It follows from this that all “laws” that are contrary to reason, such as those which permit abortion, are not true laws.
(and also all “laws” formulated by celibate abstract theologians, which ignore the patent findings of science, on the nature of human sexuality)
Law is always ordered to the common good. We have seen above that law must always accord with reason. St Thomas teaches that reason is principally ordered towards man’s final end, which is happiness. Therefore laws must be ordained principally to human happiness.
(and that must include the “human happiness” of sexual and gender minorities)
Every individual man forms part of a social whole; he is an imperfect part of a perfect society (the Church and the State are both perfect societies because they possess all the means to achieve their ends and are not subject to any higher authority in their sphere). Therefore law must be principally ordained to the good of the social whole, that is, to the common good.
God has created all things by His divine wisdom and, by His divine providence, He directs everything that He has created to its proper end. This divine reason, “the very idea of the government of things in God”, has, says St Thomas, “the nature of law.”
This law, which directs all things in the universe to their proper end, is the eternal law. The lawgiver is God and His eternal law has been promulgated by His Divine Word for all eternity.
The eternal law, which directs all things to their proper end, also directs man to his proper end. Yet man, because he possesses intellect and will, is able to freely choose to act or to refrain from acting. How then does the eternal law direct man to his end?
As stated above, all things in the universe are ruled and measured by the eternal law. It follows from this that all things “partake somewhat of the eternal law”, that is, “from its being imprinted on them” so that from this “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.” We can see this in the way that plants respond to external stimuli, or animals to their instincts, or any object to the laws of physics.
(Or those with a natural same-sex orientation, to others of the same sex).
Man’s rational nature must also be imprinted by the eternal law if man is to have “natural inclination to [his] proper act and end.” This imprinting of the eternal law on man’s rational nature is nothing other than a share of the “eternal reason” of God.
This participation in the “eternal law” is called the natural law.
Are the precepts of the natural law self-evident?
The first precepts of the natural law are self-evident. All men and women have the natural moral law “written in their hearts” to which their “conscience utters its own testimony” (Rm 2:15). “There is in every man a natural inclination to act according to reason.” The first principles of moral action are habitually present in the human intellect.
The first precept of the natural law is: “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided”. All the other precepts of the natural law follow from this. These other precepts are ordered in accordance with the order of the natural inclinations.
(“Good is to be done” – and love is always good. We also know from Genesis 2 that “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a companion”).
Firstly man shares with all created things an inclination to preserve his own being; “whatever is a means of preserving human life and of warding of its obstacles, belongs to the natural law.”
Secondly, there are those fundamental aspects of our being that we share not just with our fellow human beings but also with non-rational animals, “such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth.”
(Gay and lesbian also share the desire (and need) for sexual intercourse – and often, to raise and educate children.)
Thirdly, there are those things which pertain to our rational nature; “thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law.”
All of the precepts of the law of nature form just one natural law because all flow from the first precept: good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.
The natural law, as explained above, deals with those things to which human beings are inclined naturally.
All human beings share the same fundamental human nature. Therefore, as regards the general principles underlying human thought and action, “truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all.”
The application of the general principles may vary according to the concrete circumstances in which men act, but the first principles themselves remain inviolable. Evil can never be done so that good results; the end never justifies the means.
The natural law, as we have seen above, is the imprinting of the eternal law on rational creatures. This law has remained the same since the very moment that the first rational creatures were created by God. It is “altogether unchangeable in its first principles.”
(For naturally gay and lesbian people, opposite-sex attraction is most certainly NOT “imprinted” on us, as rational creatures. Quite the contrary).
Laws may be added above and beyond the natural law, for example human laws that seek to serve the common good in concrete circumstances, but these laws can never negate the natural law.
(and that includes equal marriage laws, which evidence shows, improves the common good).
Is it possible for the natural law to cease to exist in the heart of man?
The first principles of the natural law can never be removed from the hearts of men. They remain forever “written in their hearts” (Rm 2:15).
On particular occasions however “reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion” and, as far as secondary precepts are concerned, “the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions… or by vicious customs and corrupt habits”.
(And the “evil persuasions, vicious customs and corrupt habits” that have “blotted out the natural law from the human heart” include ignorance and prejudice about and towards the sexual “other”, )
….why not also in any Catholic parish? Or play the organ? or teach in schools?
In most parishes in the West of course, they can (as I do in my own parish) – but there are far too many instances where they are penalized if they are honest enough about themselves and their relationships, to commit to their spouses in marriage.
An Openly Gay Man Read In Spanish at the Pope’s New York Mass
Former Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca, who came out in 2011, eclipsed many of the other big-name celebrities and politicians in attendance when he delivered the first Bible reading at Pope Francis’ Madison Square Garden Mass — in Spanish. Though he spoke for less than two minutes, Rocca’s presence reverberated throughout social media.
Particularly notable, is the content of the text he read, read from Isaiah 9:2:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
LGBT Catholics know what it is to be “walking in darkness” in the Church. Now at last, we can begin (but only just begin) to see a light dawning, for a new day of full pastoral inclusion in the life of our church.
We usually think of the sexual closet and “coming out” as applying to lesbians and gay men, but there are many others dealing with the same issues – especially our parents. “Voices for Justice“, the magazine of Fortunate Families (a group of Catholic parents who have LGBT children) has printed numerous stories of people who have found themselves in closets of their own when their sons or daughters came out, terrified at the anticipated response of friends in their Catholic parishes to the news that they had raised people that would now be regarded (they feared) as unabashed and obvious sinners).
The current issue of Voices for Justice has one more of these. In common with so many others, it carries many useful lessons for parents of gay, lesbian or trans people, but these are also applicable to those of us who are ourselves in that LGBT community:
Coming out is challenging, but ultimately rewarding
Coming out is a process, not an event
The reaction from friends and co-parishioners is usually warmer and more supportive than we expect
Where priests or others have made offensive remarks, they can learn from our honest and frank responses.
Our son, Kieran, was a freshman at Rutgers University 12 years ago when he came out to our family. It was a shock to me, but not to my husband or Kieran’s older brother. Kieran’s disclosure did not cause us to love him any less; if anything, his courage and honesty made us love him even more.
However, I felt I had a big secret to keep. My husband and I were founding parishioners and were active in several ministries. After Kieran came out, I started investigating the Church’s official position on homosexuality. The more I read of intolerant and uncharitable policies, the more ashamed I felt of my church. It has been said that when a child comes out of the closet, the parents go IN, and this is what happened to me, most especially and particularly at church.
Thoughtless remarks of other people wounded me greatly. I was afraid to speak out because every time I talked about Kieran and Catholicism, I cried. The lowest moment was during a talk on Bible history, when a priest cited the book of Leviticus as proof that homosexuality was an abomination. I cried myself to sleep that night. During this period I was so hurt and angry about the thoughtless remarks and the “official” position of the Catholic Church, I seriously considered leaving the church for good.
My own “coming out” was a long process. First, I learned of a support group for LGBT Catholics and their families at nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in South Plainfield, NJ, and I began attending monthly meetings. These meetings became opportunities to share stories and to pray with Catholic gay people and their parents. When our group, now named “In God’s Image,” staffed a booth at the New Jersey Pride Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, I enjoyed handing out pamphlets to people surprised to see Roman Catholicism represented at the event. The other group members teased me because I was the one calling out to passers-by, “Yes, we’re the real Catholic Church!” In God’s Image also ran a parish fundraiser which enabled us to make a donation to the Ali Forney Shelter for LGBT youth in New York City.
I was asked to make a short presentation about our group after Mass in our hosting parish. I talked about the hurtful remarks and reiterated that my child, like every child God created, had a place in God’s heart and at the Lord’s table. As I talked, much of the hurt and anger I felt at the Church began to fall away. After Mass, many people came up to hug me and thank me for speaking. Speaking publicly was a big step out of my closet!
I also learned about Fortunate Families and began reading the newsletters. It was heartening to read how many Catholic parents of LGBT adult children were actively engaged in creating Catholic communities which welcomed their children. After hearing Mary and Joe Byers speak of their experiences reaching out to LGBT Catholics, and reading “I Wear a Rainbow Because” in the FF newsletter, I began to wear the rainbow pin every Saturday night when I served as a Eucharistic Minister.
Later on, I heard Deb Word, current President of Fortunate Families, speak about her experiences helping homeless gay teens. Deb said something that really caught my attention. She challenged parents to speak up when priests or bishops say or do something hurtful. Be respectful, she said, but be firm and informative about how and why you were hurt.
Not long afterward, I decided to take Deb’s advice and speak to my own pastor about the hurt I felt when he appealed from the altar for parishioners to sign petitions against New Jersey marriage equality. My pastor was distressed by the depth of my reaction to what, for him, had been merely an act of obedience to the bishop. He asked me if he could give my name to other parents of gay children, should they need support.
Recently Central NJ PFLAG asked me to speak about my experiences as the Catholic Mom of a gay son. That experience caused me to look back over the past few years and see how far I’d come in twelve years. I’m so grateful I’m no longer in the closet!