Category Archives: Catholic_Church

Moral Judgements and “Intrinsically Evil”: The Subjective Perspective

Professor Alain Thomasett SJ of Paris University began his paper to the German French and Swiss bishops’ study day for the 2015 family synod, with a reflection on the concept of “intrinsically disordered” acts, and  the difficulties which it raises for many Catholics in making moral judgements.

This is the section on the importance of taking into account the subjective context of the person and her/his story, in my own translation from the original French text

The issue of intrinsically evil acts

The interpretation of the doctrine of acts known as “intrinsically evil” seems to be one of the fundamental sources of the current difficulties in the pastoral care of families, as it largely determines the condemnation of artificial contraception, the sexual acts of remarried divorcees and of couples in stable same-sex relationships. It appears to many to be incomprehensible and seems pastorally counter productive. If it rightly insists on objective benchmarks necessary for moral life, it neglects precisely the biographical dimension of existence, and the specific conditions of each personal journey, elements to which our contemporaries are very sensitive and which contribute to the current conditions for the reception of Church doctrine. Several arguments point in the direction of greater integration of the history of the people.

The subjective side, the need for discernment of the situation and the place of conscience

a) The final report of the Extraordinary Synod itself acknowledges this difficulty (no. 52), because it poses a “distinction between the objective situation of sin and mitigating circumstances, as ‘the accountability and responsibility for an action can be reduced or even eliminated’ by various ‘psychological or social factors’ (Catholic Catechism No. 1735).” According to this doctrine, although the objective evil remains, it can be mitigated (Veritatis Splendor, No. 81.2), subjective responsibility can be reduced or even eliminated. An objective disorder does not necessarily produce subjective guilt. To state it more clearly, the intent and the circumstances can influence the objective qualification of the act, and secondly, they are necessary to determine the moral responsibility of the subject who must decide and act according to conscience.  All Catholic moral tradition calls for discernment that takes into account these different elements for a moral judgement that is  left in the last resort to the conscience of the people. Vatican II recalled the primacy of conscience which must be the judge of last resort (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n ° 16.50). (Note 1)

b) Individuals and couples often face conflicts of obligations which force them, when it is impossible to satisfy all values ​​at once, to choose after deliberation to prioritize the most important duty.

In practical situations, discernment is needed: for example if openness to life and the preservation of marital and familial equilibrium conflict with each other. The pastoral notes of nine episcopates after Humanae Vitae (including those of the French , German and Swiss  Bishops for 1968), also go in this direction; in cases of conflicts they refer to the judgment of conscience and responsible parenthood, repeating the arguments of the Council. Must this not restore to its place the conscience of the people? This in no way removes the need to form the conscience,  but demands that conscience not be replaced.

c) A biographical perspective and narrative forces us to think that moral evaluation is not about isolated acts, but about human actions inserted into a history.

A single act, isolated from its context and the history of the subject who may be responsible (which the term intrinsically means) is not yet a human act but an element of assessment which must be completed to be judged. A homicide is a gesture, a physical act. To make a human action involves determining who is the author and to understand the reasons and circumstances that led to this action. Is it self-defence, an accident, a crime of passion, a murder, premeditated or otherwise. Likewise, do not be too quick to call a sexual act of contraception ‘intrinsically evil! Paul Ricoeur and the contemporary philosophy of action remind us that an act can be assigned to an author who can be held accountable solely through the medium of narrative.

This is the set of elements of the story that can give meaning to action, and therefore qualify to evaluate it (Note.2). This is the judgement of conscience that ultimately can carry it. Moral standards describe acts. Conscience must judge an action. The objectives ethical guidelines given by the Church are only one element (admittedly essential but not unique) of moral discernment which must take place in conscience. We must give a fair place to moral standards and conscience to avoid giving the impression that conscience is reduced to blind obedience to rules that are imposed on it from outside. To omit this would reduce Christian ethics to a pure moralism, which Christians moreover reject overwhelmingly and justifiably. (Note 3) 

Notes:

1 “Only the conscience of the subject can provide the immediate norm for  action (…) Natural law can not be presented as an already established set of rules imposed a priori on the moral subject, but it is an objective source of inspiration for his eminently personal, approach to decision making.” International Theological Commission, “In search of a universal. ethic A New Look at Natural Law, Rome, 2008, No. 59. See also GS 50.2: “This judgement  is ultimately that of the couple themselves who must decide it before God

2 See, among others, Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as another, Seuil, 1990, especially Chapter 5 and 6.

3 For further details, see Alain Thomasset, “In fidelity to the Second Vatican Council: the hermeneutic dimension of moral theology”, Journal of Ethics and Moral Theology, No. 263, March 2011, p. 31-61 and No. 264, June 2011, p. 9-27

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“Don’t Talk About Us, Unless You Talk With Us”: It’s Happening.

A major impediment which has historically restricted the ability of the Catholic Church to properly implement it’s own instruction to treat gay and lesbian people with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” has been that far too long, bishops have refused  even to meet with our people. There is abundant evidence that is now beginning to change.

The importance of this is that it is impossible to show genuine compassion or sensitivity for any people unless you understand the realities of their lives –  and it impossible to acquire that necessary understanding  unless you speak to them, or to people who share their experience.  Far too often in the past, we’ve read of embarrassing apologies from people insisting that words they may have said “were not intended to offend” – which immediately displays their lack of sensitivity, arising from ignorance of how the words would be heard.

Brendan Butler, from We are Church Ireland, Dr Richard O'Leary, from Faith in Marriage Equality, and Jim O'Crowley, from Gay Catholic, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh.
Brendan Butler, from We are Church Ireland, Dr Richard O’Leary, from Faith in Marriage Equality, and Jim O’Crowley, from Gay Catholic, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. (Picture Irish Central)

Fortunately, there have been numerous examples in recent years of lesbian and gay Catholics in many regions of the worlds having discussions with local bishops and cardinals, and even with some highly influential members of the Curia, and with at least two members of Pope Francis’ “inner cabinet” of nine cardinal advisors (Cardinal O’Malley of the USA, and Cardinal Gracias of India).

Some of these have been publicly reported, some have not. It is clear though, that the number of such meetings has been increasing, and are being held with increasingly influential figures. The latest of many such reports comes from Ireland, where the Primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Eamonn Martin, met with representatives of three different gay faith groups.   Continue reading “Don’t Talk About Us, Unless You Talk With Us”: It’s Happening.

WHY Our Stories Matter

I wrote yesterday about the new attention some theologians are paying to “narrative theology”, which draws on people’s life experience in their real world situations as a source for theological reflection. The importance of this was highlighted in the Rome study day for selected bishops from Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, when a third of the programme (and two of the six papers) were devoted to it.

One of these papers, by Prof Dr Alain Thomasett SJ of the University of Paris, had the title Taking into account of the history and biographical developments of the moral life and the pastoral care of the family”.  In this paper, Thomasett tackles head on the challenge presented by what Catholic doctrine  describe as “intrinsically evil” sexual acts, and the difficulties this doctrine presents for many Catholics in real life situation. This difficulty certainly troubles gay and lesbian Catholics, but not only them. (Thomasett also refers directly to those who have divorced and remarried, who will be a central focus of the Synod, and to married couples practicing contraception). The key to resolving the problem, he argues, lies in making a firm distinction between objective judgement of the acts, and the moral culpability of the people, which can only be assessed in the context of their particular situations and purpose. Continue reading WHY Our Stories Matter

Narrative Theology: The Value of LGBT Lives

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on a number  of LGBT  Catholics, and Catholic family members of LGBT people, who will be attending the September World Meeting of Families. Included in the report was a link to an Equally Blessed blogsite, at which these people share their stories.  One of their number, Debbie, writes “I ordered an official World Meeting of Families sweatshirt, and then colored the the logo in rainbow.  It looks great.”

Rainbow WMF

These stories, and all our stories, are immensely valuable, in the continuing development of both moral and pastoral theology as it affects LGBT Catholics.

One sign of just how important these stories are, is graphically illustrated in the texts of the papers delivered to the recent Rome study day of leading bishops and theologians from Germany, France and Switzerland, in preparation for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family in the Contemporary World*.   Continue reading Narrative Theology: The Value of LGBT Lives

The Trouble With “Catholic Teaching” on LGBT Issues

I am often accused by orthotoxic Catholics of being a “heretic”, because I supposedly challenge and publicly dissent from “Church teaching”. I dispute this: there are most certainly certain, isolated elements of the teaching that I dispute – but this dispute arises from a deeply Catholic starting point, and placed firmly within Catholic tradition.

The difficulty with what my accusers describe as “Catholic teaching” as it affects lesbian and gay people, is that what is popularly presented and widely known, is extremely selective, and viewed solely in the context of genital acts. The full teaching however, is more complex. It is well known that it is dangerous to quote isolated biblical verses out of context, and the same principle applies to single paragraphs of the Catholic Catechism.

For example, I have written previously about some of the inherent contradictions within teaching specifically about homosexuality, (On transgender issues, there is useful information at The Catholic Transgender, especially how the position of the Church is sometimes misrepresented). But even without grappling with the complexities of inherent contradictions and misrepresentations, there is much helpful material in the Magisterium that deserves to be better known.

To help Quest members understand some of the more helpful elements in the formal Catholic teaching that affects our lives, we have for some time wanted to put together a compilation of “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)” about that teaching. At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo has a report on just such a list of FAQ’s that appeared for a time on the website of the Archdiocese of Louisiana, before mysteriously disappearing, when the archdiocese concluded that it was somehow “unauthorized”. The oddity is that the bulk of the material comprises extracts from standard documents of the Catholic Church, or accurate summaries of the material, put together in what DeBenardo describes as a “masterly” and pastorally sensitive manner.

It is unfortunate that Louisiana has now removed such a valuable resource. However, New Ways Ministry have reproduced the content at their own site – and we at Quest can take advantage. The material deleted from the Louisiana website now forms the foundation of our own page of FAQ’s, which in time will be updated with more up to date material – especially with the guidance from Pope Francis, and the results of the 2015 Family Synod in Rome.

( A version of this post has been cross-posted at the website of Quest, the British association for Lesbian and Gay Catholic).

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Francis and LGBT Catholics: Lifesite News is NOT Happy (but I Am).

When Lifesite News is bothered, I’m generally happy – and they are concerned in a recent report about what they see as “confusing” signals from Pope Francis on gay relationships. There’s no need for confusion. On this and so many other issues, Francis’ signals are very clear indeed: he wants a Church much closer in spirit and in praxis to the Gospels and the example of Jesus Christ. This implies on the one hand, a real concern for the poor and marginalized of all kinds, and serious concern about the damage caused by the popular fixation with riches, greed and consumption. On the other hand, matters of sexual ethics and same – sex relationships feature no more strongly in his message, than they did in the teaching of Jesus Christ.

This is very, very different to the preoccupations of Lifesite News and similar allegedly “Catholic” groups, with their conviction that a puritanical sexual morality is central to Catholicism, so they are right to be concerned. From their distorted perspective, they should be.

From our perspectives as LGBT Catholics, we need to understand that while these issues are not central to Francis’ concerns, the signals he is sending out are distinctly encouraging, in so many ways. In addition to the words which have attracted so much positive publicity, there have also been a series of notable episcopal an curial appointments which will help to tilt the balance more in our favour. Lifesite very helpfully lists these/

Bishop Heiner Koch: Bishop Koch was appointed June 8, 2015 by Pope Francis as the new Archbishop of Berlin, and selected as one of the three delegates of the German Bishops’ Conference to participate in the upcoming October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family. Koch has said, “Any bond that strengthens and holds people is in my eyes good; that applies also to same-sex relationships.” In another public interview he said: “To present homosexuality as sin is wounding. … I know homosexual pairs that live values such as reliability and responsibility in an exemplary way.”

Cardinal Godfried Danneels: The retired former archbishop of Brussels was a special appointment by Pope Francis to the 2014 Synod of Bishops. In addition to wearing rainbow liturgical vestments and being caught on tape concealing sexual abuse, Danneels said in 2013 of the passage of gay “marriage”: “I think it’s a positive development that states are free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper: A few days into his pontificate Pope Francis praised one of Cardinal Kasper’s books, and then selected the cardinal to deliver the controversial keynote address to the consistory of cardinals advocating his proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion in some circumstances. This proposal led to the high-profile debate at the first Synod of Bishops on the Family. Cardinal Kasper has again been selected as a personal appointee of the pope to the second Synod and regularly meets with Pope Francis. Kasper defended the vote of the Irish in favor of homosexual “marriages”, saying: “A democratic state has the duty to respect the will of the people; and it seems clear that, if the majority of the people wants such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to recognize such rights.”

Archbishop Bruno Forte: The archbishop of Chieti-Vasto was appointed Special Secretary to the 2014 Synod by Pope Francis. He is the Italian theologian who wascredited with drafting the controversial homosexuality section of the infamous midterm report of the Synod which spoke of “accepting and valuing [homosexuals’] sexual orientation.” When questioned about the language, Forte said homosexual unions have “rights that should be protected,” calling it an “issue of civilization and respect of those people.”


Bishop Johan Bonny
: The bishop of Antwerp in Belgium has just been named as one of the delegates to the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family despite open dissent on homosexual unions. While being named as a delegate to the synod may not in itself constitute a major promotion, what is unique about Bonny is the extremity and clarity of his dissent. “Inside the Church, we must look for a formal recognition of the relational dimension that is also present in many homosexual, lesbian and bisexual couples,” he said in a December 2014 interview. “In the same way that in society there exists a diversity of legal frameworks for partners, there must be a diversity of forms of recognition in the Church.”

Father Timothy Radcliffe: In May,Pope Francis appointed the former Master of the Dominican Order as a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace despite his well-known support for homosexuality. Writing on homosexuality in 2013, he said: “We must ask what it means, and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” In a 2006 lecture he advocated “accompanying” homosexuals, which he defined as “watching ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord.”

 

Paraguayan LGBT Rights Leader Attends Papal Meeting, But Not All Are Happy

On Saturday, Simon Cazal, a Paraguayan LGBT activist was included in a gathering of representatives of civil society invited by the bishops to attend a meeting with Pope Francis.

The substantive importance of this meeting is slight. Cazal was just one specifically gay person out of 1600, with absolutely no discussion of LGBT issues. The symbolism however, is hugely important. This is just one example among many from recent years, of bishops in many countries showing greater openness to recognizing our existence, and in some cases listening to us about our experience and perceptions. Some of these meetings have been publicly reported, others have not – but not many years ago, such meetings were simply unheard of.

The Catechism promises “respect, compassion and sensitivity” for LGBT people – a promise seldom observed in practice, especially the “sensitivity”. Respect and compassion can be simply asserted, but sensitivity must be worked at, and demonstrated. The lack of sensitivity is on clear display in every apology, where someone says, “I did not intend to offend”. The only way to avoid giving unintentional offence, is to do develop an understanding of how the words will be heard – and that requires listening to the people affected, to really learn about their concerns and perspectives.

There’s an enormously long way still to go, but every journey begins with the first steps. The journey to full inclusion in the Catholic Church has at least begun,