In his useful review of Catholics theologians’ work on homosexuality, James Keenan organises his material in three broad divisions: critical reaction, specific moral theological investigations, and power, language, and experience. “Experience” then is formally included in the third of these divisions – but in fact, the importance of experience is a recurring theme throughout.
For instance, under critical reaction to the CDF’s 1986 Pastoral Letter, he includes the complaint by Mary Segers that the Letter “succumbs to the tendency to focus on homosexuality as a male phenomenon and to ignore completely the experience of lesbian women.” By ignoring women’s experiences, the Letter overlooks “the many diverse forms of human friendship and affection which bind people together in relationships and communities”. But it was not only women’s experience, with the diversity of their relationships that was ignored. Men’s experience and relationships were also ignored, with the emphasis on a relentless focus on genital acts. The experience of being a gay man is not simply a matter of sexual attraction and genital obsessions, but also a matter of relationships. The dominican theologian Gerald Moore puts it precisely in “A Question of Truth”, noting that a same – sex attraction is more about who one “takes delight in”, than who one has sex with, and the Baptist gay theologian does even speak of sexual orientation, but of “affectional” orientation.
Keenan also includes in his discussion of critical reaction, the observation by J. Giles Milhaven that it is not only gays and lesbians whose experience is ignored, but that of all loving couples:
“Catholic theologians are only beginning to recognize that there is a number of different kinds of couples who out of their personal lives make the point to the teaching Church. They say to the Church: sex is important for the two of us. You do not take its importance into account in your teaching. You must not know it.”
To this, the only possible response can be of course they “must not know it”. How could they, having taken vows of celibacy for themselves, have any personal experience of loving sexual relationships on which to base that understanding?
In the second division of his analysis on, on “moral investigations”, Keenan begins by noting that the judgement on the moral acceptance of homosexuality requires a judgement on whether it is “good and “normal”, and lists several theologians who have concluded that while not matching the ideal of heterosexual marriage, for some individuals, same – sex relationships should be judged as subjectively good and normal – for them. This then, raises the challenge of addressing the paradox of general norms that insist that such relationships are wrong – but subjectively, in particular lives, they may be good. To resolve this conflict,
many moral theologians have accepted the responsibility to examine the morality of the lives of gay and lesbian persons and have used one of three traditional resources: biblical theology, natural law, and theological anthropology.
But to examine the lives of gay and lesbian, requires an awareness of the experience of those lives. This is especially important in the approaches from natural law, for which an important concept is that what is “natural” is that which leads to human flourishing – and to discern what leads to human flourishing for gay and lesbian people, we need to listen to their experience:
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