Humanae Vitae: Cracks in the Wall?

In the complex house of cards that is Vatican sexual doctrine, a key element at the base is that on artificial contraception. Remove that, or even just weaken it, and the entire edifice above teeters and collapses.

house-of-cards

That is because it rests on the dubious claim that every sexual act must be open to procreation. As Peter Steinfels points out in an important article at Commonweal, that “every” is unambiguous, admitting of no exceptions whatever:

And Humanae Vitae condemns any use whatsoever of contraception to prevent pregnancy—even as a “lesser evil … even for the gravest of reasons … even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” Nor, according to the encyclical, can “a whole married life of otherwise normal relations” justify such a single or temporary use.

Yet both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have admitted some limited exceptions, and both sessions of the Bishops’ Synod assemblies on marriage and family  carefully avoided reaffirming HV’s core insistence – that every sexual act must be open to procreation.

This is the way Church teaching has always evolved over the centuries – one small step, one minor adjustment, at a time – until the substance has changed so substantially that it becomes possible (according to temperament) either that change has come – or that teaching has “always” been thus. Herein lies substantial hope for LGBT Catholics. Once the umbilical cord tying every sexual act to procreation has been broken, it becomes possible to fully recognize the unitive value of sexual love between two people where procreation is simply not possible – and that includes the case where the couple are of the same sex.

So, let’s take a closer look at these cracks in the wall.

First, recall that some years ago, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that in the case of a (male) prostitute who used condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, this could represent a degree of responsible moral judgement. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but nevertheless, a crack in the wall.

Much more recently, Pope Francis has said that under the threat of the Vika virus, contraception might be justified, reminding us of the approval of contraception for nuns threatened with rape in the Congo. Again, not a ringing endorsement, but in direct conflict with the substance of Humanae Vitae, as Steinfels spells out:

Francis was not talking about an apparently proactive prevention of forced conception from rapes that may or may not occur.  He was not talking about prevention of transmitting a virus, parallel to HIV, from one marital partner to another.  He was talking about the prevention of pregnancy.

Leading up to the first Bishops’ Synod assembly on marriage and family, I was confident that there would be significant attention paid to Humanae Vitae, and the entire question of contraception. The evidence from the global consultation with lay Catholics was overwhelming – worldwide, the formal doctrine is simply not supported by people with real-life experience of marriage and family. I was surprised then, when that discussion simply did not happen. (So was Peter Steinfels, he notes).

For the second assembly, it was a little different – there were a few references to HV, but only in its support, which on a cursory reading I found disappointing. Steinfels sees it differently, noting that what is important is not so much what was said, but also what was not said. In this case, what was not said was any repetition of the irrevocable link between every sexual act and procreation. And what was said, included a new emphasis on the importance of “responsible” parenthood and family planning. To be sure, that was assumed to be by means of “natural” as opposed to “artificial” family planning, but that distinction is itself an artificial one, which in the long run, surely cannot stand the close scrutiny that is becoming inevitable.

Writing about the references to HV in the final document approved by synod fathers for Pope Francis’ consideration, Steinfels notes the crucial feature:

In sum, while some may assume that the “intrinsic bond” between conjugal love and procreation or the “inseparable connection” between the unitive and the procreative or “openness to life” must apply to each and every instance of sexual intercourse rather than a larger pattern of marital behavior, nowhere do the Synod fathers spell out that conclusion.  The bishops were surely aware that this is the nub of the contraception controversy. Yet not only in these paragraphs but in many others, they refused to repeat the linchpin of the official teaching.

 This is remarkable, especially in the context of something else that did get serious attention from Pope Francis, before during and after the synod assemblies: renewed emphasis on the importance of the sensus fidelium, on the “interior forum” in moral judgements, and on the primacy of conscience.

This was highlighted further much more recently, with the formal announcement of a new dicastery on laity and .family life, and a recent Vatican seminar on the assembly, in which bishops recommended much greater involvement of laity in the planning and conduct of future synods.

Step by step, inch by gradual inch, the voice of the people will increasing be heard on contraception – and that voice, the sensus fidelium, clearly does not support the core message of Humanae Vitae. Certainly, Catholics in general are overwhelmingly “pro-life” (including those already alive as well as the unborn), but that does not imply that this is applicable to every sexual act, nor does it negate the importance of personal conscience in decision taking.

Steinfels concludes his piece:

What Francis will say about contraception, if anything, is anyone’s guess.  I hope but doubt that it will be the straightforward treatment needed in my opinion to restore the church’s credibility.  But if he follows the 2015 Synod’s lead, the teaching on contraception is well on its way to quiet modification.

Amen!

cracks in the wall

 

African Church Moves Towards LGBT Inclusion!

That’s the Anglican church, South Africa.

To put this into some sort of context, we should note that on the one hand,South Africa ordained the first ever openly gay bishop some years before Gene Robinson in New Hampshire (that was Mervynn Castle, an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Cape Town). Much more recently,the same diocese appointed the first woman bishop.South Africa was also the first country, anywhere, to write LGBT protection into its constitution, the only African country to legislate for full marriage and family equality, and one of the first worldwide to do so. Institutional respect for LGBT inclusion and opposition to discrimination is now hard-wired into public discourse.

On the other hand, note that this resolution is moving “towards” inclusion, for lay Anglicans only, and does not address church weddings or even blessings for same-sex couples. This is also not surprising – respect for diversity is strong in law and in the political, business and professional classes – but there remains powerful currents of homophobia among the grass roots.

Still – progress is progress.

Religion News Service reports:

South Africa’s Anglican bishops move toward gay inclusion

South Africa’s Anglican bishops have taken an initial step toward including LGBT people as full members of their congregations with the passage of a resolution at a meeting in the Grahamstown Diocese.The resolution now goes to the Provincial Synod, the church’s top decision-making body, which meets later this year, said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town. Show captionAnglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba leaves a Pretoria hospital where Nelson Mandela was being treated on June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko *Editors: This photo may only be republished wtih RNS-SAFRICA-ANGLICAN, originally transmitted on Feb. 23, 2016. This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.“I believe its adoption by Provincial Synod would be an important first step signaling to the LGBT community that we … see them as welcome members,” Makgoba said in a pastoral letter dated Monday (Feb. 22).

Source: South Africa’s Anglican bishops move toward gay inclusion – Religion News Service

‘Crucial’ study of transgender children links mental health with family support 

Transgender children who are allowed to present their gender identity and change their names have good mental health outcomes, according to a study released on Friday and hailed as “crucially important”.

The study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, shows the positive impact family support can have on the lives of transgender children, a group long hidden from public view.

Researchers found normal levels of depression and only slightly elevated anxiety levels in transgender children who were supported by their families.

Such support included the use of pronouns that matched the child’s gender identity, calling them by the name of their choosing and, often, and allowing them to change their hairstyle and clothing to reflect their identity. Such children are also known as “socially transitioned” children.

Source: ‘Crucial’ study of transgender children links mental health with family support | Society | The Guardian

 

Gender and the tyranny of the ‘normal’  , Guardian cif

LGBT History Month (in Church)

In the UK, February is LGBT history month (unlike the USA, where this is October).  For LGBT History month 2014,  I will spoke at the University of East Anglia on “Saints, Sinners and Martyrs in Queer Church History: The continuing evolution of religious responses to homoerotic relationships“, as part of their LGBT History Week.

lgbt-history-month-2014-logo

I was in some distinguished company. Other speakers & topics in the series :

  • Music in Queer Fiction – Dr Clare Connors (3 February)
  • “Marriage is so Gay.” The battle for same sex marriage in the US and Britain: A comparative perspective – Dr Emma Long (6 February 2014)
  • Southeast Gaysia!: LGBT Heritage and Activism in the ASEAN Region – Yi-Sheng Ng (10 February 2014 )
  • Pitching Harmony: Thinking differently about the assimilation and difference debate – Dr Jonathan Mitchell (13 February 2014 )
  • “A Quiet Place”: Gay & Bisexual Classical Composers in 20th Century America – Malcolm Robertson (17 February 2014 )
  • The Homosexual Steamroller: Queer “Propaganda” through Literature – Dr B.J. Epstein (20 February 2014 )
  • Saints, Sinners and Martyrs in Queer Church History: The continuing evolution of religious responses to homoerotic relationships – Terry Weldon ( 24 February 2014)
  • Trans & Gender Variant History 1800s onwards – Katy J Went (27 February 2014 )

I’ve summarised the content of my talk as :

History contradicts the common assumption that Christianity and homoerotic relationships are in direct conflict. There have been numerous examples of Christian saints, popes and bishops who have had same-sex relationships themselves, or celebrated them in writing, and blessed same-sex unions in church. There have also been long centuries of active persecution – but recent years have again seen the emergence of important straight allies for LGBT equality, and a notable reassessment of the scriptural verdict.

To mark this month here at QTC,and also to help myself to prepare for this address, I republished at this site a number of earlier posts, revised and updated, on the history of LGBT people in church history. as well as some fresh material, in two series. Look out for the following (and possibly more):

People in the Church: The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs

  1. Before Christianity
  2. LGBT (Church) History: The Early Christians –
  3. Saints and Sinners in The Medieval Church 
  4. LGBT (Church) History Month: Martyred BY the Church
  5. The Renaissance Paradox: Gay and Gay – friendly Popes.
  6. Modern Saints and /Martyrs

The Distorted Christian Tradition on Sexuality:

  1. Marriage and Family
  2. Biblical Interpreation
  3. Natural Law

Recommended Books:

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