The Catholic Laity/Bishops Disconnect on Sexuality, Homosexuality

The evidence of a gulf in thinking on homosexuality (and sexuality more generally) between the formal position of Vatican orthodoxy and the  real beliefs of ordinary Catholics is clear. To make sense of this. we need to consider two key questions: the compelling, established evidence that such a gulf exists, and the more tentative evidence that the oligarchy is starting to catch up.

In this post, I simply present a summary of the main findings on the belief of real Catholics, with some commentary and supporting links. Later, I will report on commentary elsewhere, and expand on the signs of the change that must come from the bishops’ oligarchy – and is just starting to do so.

The extent and growth of the Catholic / Oligarchy disconnect on homosexuality

Several major opinion polls have demonstrated the existence of this disconnect, with last week’s Washington Post/ABC poll on gay marriage just the latest of several. (see for example, here and here). Most of the time, the views of the Catholic subsample get just a line or a paragraph, but now we have a much more detailed analysis from the Public Religion Institute, digging into the detailed data from earlier research, and released as a report called Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues.

These were the key findings:

Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall.

Nearly three quarters of Catholics favour either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

This really should not surprise. Catholic tradition is strongly supportive of families. There is no reason at all why Pope Benedict’s recent address on this theme cannot be applied to all families, in keeping with the firm commitment of Catholic orthodoxy to inclusion and justice for all marginalized groups. Going back into older Catholic history, there was also an established tradition of liturgical rites for blessing same sex unions, and recognition of the spiritual value of what St Aelred of Rievaulx called “spiritual friendship” between male couples.

Defining same-sex marriage as a civil marriage dramatically increases support among Catholics.

If marriage for gay couples is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall”, Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28%, from 43% to 71%. A similar pattern exists in the general population, but the Catholic shift is more pronounced.

Catholics have a strong commitment to marriage as a sacrament, based on its connection with raising children, and do not see civil marriage as having any validity in the eyes of the Church. On that basis, the only significant difference between same sex and opposite sex civil marriages is the gender of the participants – a clear case of discrimination. There can be no valid religious argument for opposing what the Church itself sees as a purely legal  arrangement between two people.

Beyond same-sex marriage, Catholic support for rights for gays and lesbian people is strong and slightly higher than the general public.

Nearly three quarters of Catholics favour laws that would protect gay and lesbian people in the workplace; 63% of Catholics favour allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6 in 10 (60%) of Catholics favour allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt.

There are really two distinct issues here – discrimination, and adoption. Even formal Catholic teaching is opposed to what it describes as “unjust” discrimination against LGBT people. The problem is only that the CDF gets itself into an eggdance over attempting to present some discrimination as “just”, and opposing legal protection against discrimination, on the spurious grounds that we can all avoid discrimination by simply hiding our orientation – by remaining in the closet. In this, they are contradicting their own reminder that we should “speak the truth in love”, and that “the truth will set you free”.

Adoption is not a matter of discrimination against gay or lesbian people, but one of the rights of children. The only issue of importance should be, what is best for the child in need of adoptive parents. Frequently, the best available parents for some kids will be gay. To exclude such potential parents on arbitrary grounds limits the possibilities for the full flourishing of that child.

(See also: Catholics Support Gay Adoption.The Fallacy of the Church Push Against Gay Adoption)

Compared to the general church-going public, Catholics are significantly less likely to hear about the issue of homosexuality from their clergy, but those who do are much more likely to hear negative messages.

Only about 1 in 4 Catholics who attend church services regularly say their clergy speak about the issue of homosexuality, but nearly two-thirds of this group say that the messages are negative.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important characteristics of Catholicism are not matters of sexual puritanism, but a commitment to justice and service on the one hand, and to developing a personal relationship with the Lord, through prayer and sacramental practice, on the other.

Compared to other religious groups, Catholics are significantly more likely to give their church poor marks on how it is handling the issue of homosexuality.

Less than 4 in 10 Catholics give their church top marks (a grade of either A or B) on its handling of the issue of homosexuality.

How can it be otherwise, on this or any other matter of sexuality, when the teaching is developed and disseminated by those who are not supposed to have any practical experience of loving sexual relationships, to those who do?

Seven in ten Catholics say that messages from places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

In Catholic tradition, suicide is one of the gravest of sins. How grave a sin is it to lead another to suicide, either by promoting ideas of self-contempt, or by indirectly promoting or condoning youthful bullying?

Catholics overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.

Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of Catholics disagree that homosexual orientation can be changed. Less than 1 in 4 (23%) believe that it can.

The majority Catholic view here is in fact close to generally accepted Catholic orthodoxy, which teaches that we must pay full attention to the findings of science. These findings, as reflected in the determinations of professional bodies in the fields of medicine and psychology, and in numerous field studies in animal behaviour, are that for some individuals and for some animal species, homoerotic sexual attraction and expression is entirely natural. Formal Catholic teaching has not yet grasped this nettle, but sooner or later it surely must.

A majority of Catholics believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin.

Among the general population, less than half believe it is not a sin.

Of course such relations, in themselves, are not necessarily a sin – any more than sexual relations between any two adults are necessarily sinful. That rather depends on the context. Many theologians, and what appears to be an increasing number of bishops, now recognize that what matters is the quality of the relationship. If this is committed, permanent and faithful, then the sexual relationhip is no more sinful than that within marriage.

Even the orthodox position, which insists unambiguously that even within such a loving same sex relationship sexual expression is a grave sin, nevertheless agrees that this is not so in every case. There is always recognition of the primacy of conscience. Where gay or lesbian couples in sexual relationships do so after a full process of conscience formation on the matter, and have reached a decision in conscience that their relationship is not sinful – then there is no sin.

My Related Posts:

True Catholic Belief.

Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.

Say It Again, Loud and Clear This Time: CATHOLICS SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE!

Catholics Support Gay Marriage; Homosexuality “Not a Moral Issue”

http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/new-report-catholic-attitudes-towards-lgbt-issues#comment-199262

http://www.publicreligion.org/research/?id=509

http://www.publicreligion.org/objects/uploads/43/Catholics_and_LGBT_issues_2011_FINAL.pdf

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to .    and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

 

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