Amoris Laetitia – Goodbye to “Objectively Disordered”?

During the two sessions of the family synod, there were many reports of an emerging consensus among the bishops of a need to move away from the hurtful language of the past, concerning lesbian and gay people, and matters of same-sex orientation. By the time of the 2015 synod assembly, even the archconservative Charles Chaput came to acknowledge that the term “objectively disordered” had, in his words, “outlived its usefulness”.  (For others of course, such words never had any usefulness, but were downright offensive and intensely hurtful).  I’m pleased to report that while the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) has little enough to say specifically about lesbian and gay people, there is no reference at all to “objectively disordered”.  I think we can take it that this disordered language has now been banished, for ever.

Another feature of unhelpful language in the past, has been the scrupulous avoidance of the kind of language that gay and lesbian people use about themselves, such as the very words, “gay” and “lesbian”, and “sexual orientation”. Instead, Vatican documents up to now have used terms such as “same-sex attraction”,  and homosexual “tendency” or “inclination”.  So, it’s also good to note that in Francis’ document, the very brief specific reference to lesbian and gay people includes (alongside one use of “same-sex attraction”, the words “homosexual orientation”.

This should be no big deal, but in the context of the Catholic Church’s habitual glacially slow pace of change, it is.  This is the first time in Vatican documents, that the words “homosexual orientation” have been used. Indirectly, this acknowledges that this is something given, something innate, as we know from the findings of the sciences (biological and social). This is a pronounced improvement on the previous usages, of “tendency”, or “inclination”, with their connotations of mere temptation, or of something transitory.

Existing Church teaching commands that “homosexual” people should be treated with sensitivity (as well as compassion and respect). Sensitivity demands great care with language, a theme that came up frequently in reports on the synod proceedings. This is one sign that indeed, the language is changing – finally!

250. The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception. During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.

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