Sexual Science and the Vatican: John Paul II Institute Upgraded

News from Rome is that the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family has been upgraded, to the Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science. Much of the news commentary about this, has focused on the addition of “theological” to the name. I’m more interested in the addition of “science”.

What is immediately clear from the announcement, is that there is an important broadening of the institute’s field, from just moral and sacramental theology, to include much more of the real world:

With the decision of making it a theological institute, Paglia said, the pope enlarges its scope, from being focused only on sacramental and moral theology, to one that is also biblical, dogmatic and historic, and that keeps under consideration modern-day challenges.

Paglia said that, at this moment, the body of professors working at the institute will remain, with new faculty being added to respond to the enlarged curricula. Among other things, he said, the history of the family will be explored, as well as the many scientific aspects of the family, from anthropology to bioethics.

That alone is to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed, is Pope Francis’ recognition that marriage and family need to be studied in the context of the real world:

We do well to focus on concrete realities, since the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history, and through these the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family.

Faithful to Christ’s teaching we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows

The question in my mind, is whether this newly minted interest in science and concrete realities of families, will include serious consideration of queer families and the science of sexuality. Some years ago, the theologian James Alison wrote that it was an exciting time to be a gay Catholic – because science was demonstrating convincingly that a same-sex orientation was entirely natural, and non-pathological. In time, he believed, the church would be bound to adapt.

As yet, there has been no meaningful sign of the church is indeed taking account of that science. (Indeed, the Vatican’s attacks on so-called “gender ideology” amounts to an outright attack on the science of gender). In his analysis of the range of LGBT discrimination practised by the Vatican, Krzysztof Charamsa, writing with inside information as a former senior official, notes that far from assessing the science, theologians at the CDF were in effect prohibited from consideration of either the science or the theology of homosexuality.

There was in fact a time when the CDF did pay careful attention to the science. Sadly, that was way  back when the science still regarded homosexuality as a form of mental illness to be subjected to “cure”. Later, it was Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF who dispensed with attention to science, and replaced it with what he saw as the higher truth of the truth from Holy Scripture (more accurately, his own interpretation of that truth).

It is possible of course, that with this new development, things will improve. Pope Francis has replaced Pope Benedict XVI as bishop of Rome, Benedict’s protege Cardinal Mueller is no longer head of the CDF – and just as the John Paul II Institute has been newly upgraded to a theological institute, the importance of the CDF for the understanding and Catholic responses to marriage, family and sexuality has in effect been downgraded.

We shall have to wait and see.

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