Category Archives: Sexuality and gender

Coming Out –  to Parents

Coming out can be scary – especially to parents in a religious family

I found it possible, only because I knew that the nature of my family, was that we took it for granted that we would stick together, no matter what (I’d already seen this, with a couple of younger siblings). I had no real fear of rejection. Also, I was already in my 30’s, after a patently unsuccessful (opposite-sex) marriage. There was no way that my parents could suggest that for me, being gay was “just a phase”. So, for me, coming out in the end was no big deal – but even so, the prospect was  scary.

Of course, the reason it didn’t happen until my 30’s, was that  earlier, I had simply bottled it. I have a very vivid memory of walking home from university one day, thinking about an obviously gay couple on campus, and reflecting on how good it would be to be settled in a nice home with a loving manI – and how impossible to admit to that, in my Catholic family.

Instead, I simply avoided the problem. I refused to confront or deal with the truth of my natural orientation, and entered instead into what turned out to be a completely inappropriate, ultimately destructive marriage. Others who have avoided coming out to family, have made other destructive choices: leaving home, or even suicide.

The healthy thing to do, while young or later, is to embrace the old biblical adage, “the truth will set you free” – and come out to parents. But, as stated up front at the beginning of this post, that’s not easy – especially when young. That’s why a post by Susan Cottrell, at Freed Hears, is so welcome. She is the mother of not one, but two gay children, and regularly dispenses sound advice to LGBT Christian families.

Here’s a summary of the four steps she recommends for LGBT kids contemplating coming out to parents. (Read the full post at  Freed Hearts)

How To Prepare for the Potential Hurricane of Coming Out!

  1. Take Care of You.
  • Make a plan. If you’re in a position of risk—you’re still living at home, or your parents are paying for your college—then consider that carefully. It can be soul crushing to wait until you’re beyond your parents’ support before you come out, so you have to weigh the risk.
    1. Take Care of Your Family.
    • Give them some time. Because here’s the deal: they did not go through all the preparation that you did, so their heads may be spinning. They’re afraid: for you, for them, and for what this might mean. They’re likely to be running the program the culture or the church has installed in them. They don’t yet understand God’s full love and inclusion. If you can stay calm—even if they’re not—it will help you… and them.
    1. Recognize that your parents’ response reveals them, not you.
  • In other words, if they say terrible things to you, hateful, vicious words, that is because that is their worldview, NOT because you deserve it.
  • Remember the Truth About You! No matter how your family reacts, they do love you. They just may be so clouded with fear that they’ve lost sight of that. But it’s still true.

Read more at Patheos – Freed Hearts

Oz Priest, on the Christian Case for Gay Marriage

“Fr Dave” is yet another Australian arguing strongly in favour of legal recognition. His argument is that it the Christian thing to do: same sex marriage, like any other, contributes broadly to social stability, and provides a stable environment for raising children. (For those who dispute this on the grounds that children need a mother and a father, see the observation by cartoonist David Horsey, at Seattle PI:

Today, a couple of inebriated knuckleheads who happen to be boy and girl can impulsively get hitched any day of the week at a chapel in Las Vegas. A straight man or woman who has repeatedly failed at marriage can try, try again. The moral fiber of America will only be enhanced when two men or two women who have faithfully shared their lives for decades are finally allowed to do the same.

But back to Fr Dave, in Australia:

Why every Christian should be in favour of gay marriage.

Yes, I’m serious.

Yes, I realise that the majority of the world’s Christians are opposed to gay marriage and I recognise that many of those who most vocally oppose gay marriage do so in the name of Christ. Even so, this misunderstanding is easily resolved.

For Christians understand that marriage is an institution with a purpose. Others may believe that it was just a good idea that our forebears came up with on a lonely night, or that it evolved mystically out of our apparent need for soul-mates, but Christians believe that marriage is a God-given institution, designed to serve the good of the community, and this gives us a very straightforward way of assessing the validity of any proposed form of marriage.

Let’s be clear about this: from a Christian point of view, marriage is an institution designed to serve two social needs:

  1. marriage contributes broadly to social stability; and
  2. marriage provides a stable environment for the nurturing of children.

This may seem all very unromantic (as is the case with so much “biblical” thinking) but, in truth, I can’t see many people outside of the self-obsessed, chakra-balancing spiritualist fringe – Christian or otherwise – seriously contesting this, and a brief look at history confirms that it is the social purpose of marriage that is at the core of the institution.

The biblical record, certainly, is unambiguous in this regard. Sometimes marriage was monogamous while at other times multiple partners were involved. Sometimes marriages were arranged and at other times people were free to choose partners for themselves. The form of the institution varied, but the God-given role that marriage plays in the community has remained constant – increasing social stability and providing a safe environment for the nurturing of children.

If this is the case then the only questions Christians need to concern themselves with when it comes to the issue of gay marriage are these two:

  1. Would gay marriage lead to greater social stability?
  2. Would a married gay partnership be likely to provide a more secure environment for the nurturing of the children of a gay couple than an unmarried one?

I think the answer to both these questions has to be “yes”. If marriage entails faithfulness and long-term partnership, then allowing gay persons to marry will have to contribute something in both of these areas, even if the success rate of gay marriages turns out to be as dismal as heterosexual ones.

Now I appreciate that any number of Christian people will object at this point with words like “abomination” and “unnatural” – claiming that the Bible teaches clearly that all homosexual activity (including that between consenting adults) is an obscenity before God. My contention at this point is simply that even if this were true it wouldn’t detract from the value of gay marriage. For the issue here is not whether homosexual activity is desirable or undesirable or morally offensive or anything of the sort. The only questions that should concern Christian people are these two:

  1. Will this form of marriage serve social stability?
  2. Will it make things better or worse for the children involved?

If the answer to these two questions is positive then we Christians have no basis for objecting to gay people having access to the institution of marriage, regardless of how some of us might feel about such people and regardless of whether we judge such persons to be immoral or otherwise.

Personally I think we Christians need to get over what is going on in other people’s bedrooms, but if we are going to make pronouncements on what we deem best for the community, let’s do so on the basis of rational argument and biblical principle.

Related articles

 

An Intersex Mayor Speaks

For Intersex Awareness Day yesterday, the internet was awash with numerous posts on the subject. One that I particularly liked was by Tony Briffa, an Australian writing about “My experience as the world’s first openly intersex Mayor“. Briffa writes candidly about life as an intersex person, one who is “intersex and am therefore not exclusively female or male”, and the difficulties presented by being perceived sometimes as male, sometimes as female.  The simple physical fact is, that Briffa was born with some male parts, but a primarily female body.  The social facts of living as partly both, is a different matter entirely – not simple at all.

In LGBT groups, we sometimes come across discussions about a possible need to expand to LGBTI, to provide explicit inclusion of intersex people, just as gay groups earlier expanded their own terminology to make explicit inclusion of lesbians, bisexual and trans people. One response to that, is to leave that decision to the intersex community themselves: it is known that many intersex people do not want to be lumped together with the LGBT community, as their problems and issues are of a different kind entirely. (But then, much the same can be said about transgender people – their issues are not about sexual orientation). In this respect, I note that Briffa does write, at one point early in the story, of having  “felt very comfortable in the LGBT community, and I could openly discuss who I am and being intersex”.

However, it remains true that the issues are entirely different. It would be completely wrong for me as a gay man to even remotely attempt to describe the experience of an intersex person, and I’m not about to do it.

Read it for yourself, at Intersexday,org – where no doubt you can also find many other useful posts, to learn more about an important but widely misunderstood part of the human population.Y

(October 26th was Intersex Awareness Day. Fourteen days later, November 8th will be Intersex Day of Solidarity)

 

Intersex Challenges Binary Theology (& Politics)

Just sometimes, when a baby is born the answer to “Is it a girl or a boy?” the answer is simply, “No”. A small but significant proportion of people have bodies that just do not fit into that binary divide of either male or female.  There are few firm estimates of the number of intersex people, because definitions vary. By one narrow definition, the proportion of the population who are intersex is 0.018%. In a world population of 7.6 billion, even this lower estimate is still an awful lot of real people – something like 1.4 million. A broader definition puts the proportion at 1.7%, or as many  as 129 million, worldwide.

For Intersex Awareness Day, I share links to some previous posts on intersex. First, there’s the story of How a Woman Became a Dominican Priest, and Teacher of Moral Theology. Sally  Gross was assigned male at birth, and as an adult became a Catholic Dominican priest and a teacher of moral theology in England. However, Sally was in fact intersex, with internal organs primarily female. When this became known, it led to a decision to transition – and the forced expulsion from the priesthood. Later, she returned to her native Cape Town, where she founded Intersex South Africa.





Continue reading Intersex Challenges Binary Theology (& Politics)

Resource: “A Catholic Conversation About Homosexuality”

With his Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on the importance of pastoral accompaniment, discernment, and the interior forum for church responses to LGBT Catholics. The document also speaks of the importance of accompaniment and pastoral care for the families which include those LGBT people. But what does this mean, in practice?

The response to Fr James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge” has shown that there is widespread hunger for this accompaniment – but also reveals the extent of public ignorance. Martin’s book focuses on just one simple part of church teaching, on the need for “respect, compassion and sensitivity”, but quite deliberately does not dig more deeply. There is a dire need for material which does indeed take a broader canvas, suitable for use in parish groups.

Fortunate Families, the USA group for the parents and families of LGBT Catholics,  has just such a great “resources” page, structured primarily for the Catholic families and friends of LGBT people, but also immensely valuable for anyone who simply wants to know more about the facts, without the polemics.

One of these valuable resources is an 8 part series,  “Let’s Talk About Homosexuality“, which is described as a “Catholic conversation” on the subject, for

• Parents of gay and lesbian children: parents still in the closet, alone with their secret; parents out of the secret; struggling with their questions, their fears, their faith.
• Parents of young children: moms and dads seeking information and insight for their own parenting role as teacher and counselor.
• Family members who may be struggling to deal with the hurtful stereotypes that exist within both society and their Church.
• Gay and lesbian people who may be searching for some sign of understanding from their Church.
• Anyone who is curious about homosexuality and  wanting to learn more.

________________________________________

Permission is granted for you to download and print this copyrighted series for your personal use, for parish study groups, for adult education programs, for ministry support, for future reference.

Structured as an adult education program to be placed on a parish website over a period of eight successive weeks, it could equally well be adapted for use in a discussion group meeting weekly (or monthly) – or for personal study, over eight sessions, at any frequency you choose.

Grouped into 3 major parts, the weekly instalments, with their main focus areas, are:

Part 1: Common Questions about Homosexuality

Week 1: Common Questions about Homosexuality

  • Segment 1: The Basic Stuff
  • Segment 2: Scientific Perspectives

Week 2: Common Questions about Homosexuality (Cont.)

  • Segment 3: Social Perspectives
  • Segment 4: Family Perspectives

Part 2: Putting a Human Face on Homosexuality: Gays, Lesbians and Parents Share Their Stories

Week 3: Putting a Human Face on Homosexuality

  • Parents Talk of Their Experience

Week 4: Putting a Human Face on Homosexuality

  • Gay and Lesbian Persons Talk of Their Experience

Part 3: Moral and Pastoral Considerations: Official Teaching and Other Catholic Voices

Week 5: Moral and Pastoral Considerations: What the Church Teaches

  • On Homosexual Orientation
  • On Human Dignity
  • On Discrimination and Social Justice
  • On Homosexual Acts
  • Chronology of significant documents on homosexuality issued by the Vatican and U.S. Bishops’ Conference.

Week 6: Moral and Pastoral Considerations: Other Catholic Voices

  • So What Are We To Do?
  • The Role of Conscience

Week 7: Moral and Pastoral Considerations: Other Catholic Voices

  • Shared Thoughts on Vatican Documents

Week 8: Moral and Pastoral Considerations: Other Catholic Voices:

  • The Question of “Finality”
  • “A Biblical Understanding”
  • Can Teaching Change?
  • One Last Question

These pages were put together some years ago, well before Pope Francis’ papacy, but they remain valuable. Read them at Fortunate Families, download them, discuss and distribute them.

 

Cardinal Wuerl: Married Gay Catholics “Not a Great Problem”

While Pope Francis and several leading cardinals have shown a welcome emphasis on pastoral accompaniment for LGBT Catholics and others in unconventional situations, it is disgraceful that others continue to insist on legalistic excuses for exclusion. The appalling directive in Madison diocese about church funerals for married lesbian or gay Catholics, and the recent firing of yet another teacher at a Catholic school not because she is gay, but because it became she was about to marry, are just the most recent examples of this.

Yet these practices, far from upholding Catholic teaching, are in fact contravening it.  As Fr James Martin SJ has repeatedly pointed out, it is unreasonable to claim that such sanctions are required because people are acting in conflict with Catholic doctrines, when they do not apply equivalent sanctions to people acting in conflict with other Catholic doctrines. This selective treatment is plainly discriminatory, and directly contradicts the Catechism requirement to treat lesbian and gay Catholics with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” – and also the directive against unjust discrimination.

This point was made very clearly four years ago, even before the more pastoral tone introduced to the church by Pope Francis, by Cardinal Wuerl of Washington. I reproduce below a post from my archives, originally written in April 2013, as pressure for marriage equality was building across the USA – and some bishops were fiercely resisting.

***********

It’s been obvious for a long time that as equal marriage becomes increasingly inevitable, as ordinary Catholics show their direct support for all Catholic relationships and families without discrimination on sexual or gender grounds, the bishops will be forced to consider ways to respond to the changing realities on the ground.  Cardinal Dolan’s admission that the Church needs to be more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics but doesn’t know how, has drawn widespread commentary. Somewhat slipping under the radar, even though it does point to part at least of a workable response, is this, from Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Cardinal Wuerl – Wikipedia

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, explained Sunday that gay Catholics who marry their partners may remain part of the Catholic Church even though the church will not recognize their marriage. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Wuerl explained this is similar to how the church treats Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

“We do that same thing with people who are married, divorced and remarried,” Wuerl said on the church’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. “We say, you know, you’re still part of the family, but we can’t recognize that second marriage… and it’s never been a great problem.

– Talking Points Memo

(emphasis added)

The high profile campaigns by bishops and their orthotoxic camp followers against gay marriage, and the extensive publicity to the language used about homosexuality, especially the description as an “intrinsically disordered” condition, leads many of us to assume that Catholic doctrine is especially discriminatory towards us. In fact, this is not so. In its insistence that every genital sexual act must be open to procreation, Catholic doctrine on sexual matters is equally disordered, to all.

The problem comes in the application, in pastoral practice. Although the Catechism and other documents are clear that artificial contraception within marriage, sexual relationships before marriage or after divorce and masturbation are all considered “grave sins”, “intrinsically disordered”, or “great evils”, in practice in most parishes there is a great deal of pastoral sensitivity displayed on these matters. For some reason, it is specifically same – sex relationships that arouse the ire of the Catholic right, who may not approve of other sexual transgressions, manage to bite their tongues and refrain from judging those who trangress, or the priests who welcome them in their parishes.

So, Cardinal Wuerl’s recognition that married gay Catholics are in a position no different to those who have remarried after divorce, “and it’s never been a great problem”, is a helpful step forward. It’s not been a great problem not because the documents approve, but because in most parishes, the formal rules are ignored, and a more sensitive, pastoral welcome applies instead. I hope that married gay and lesbian Catholics will take Cardinal Wuerl at his word, and take their places in Catholic parishes alongside other married couples – and expect the equal treatment, without encountering “great problems”, that the Cardinal has given them grounds to expect.

Italian Celebrity Funeral: Church and Homosexuality

ROME LETTER: IS NOT the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexuality represents both a “grave depravation” and an “intrinsic disorder” a total hypocrisy? That oft-posed question has been doing the rounds in Italy in recent days following events at the funeral of the popular singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla.

The debate was sparked by the fact that a moving and emotional funeral oration was given at Dalla’s funeral in the Basilica of San Petronio by his 31-year-old partner/companion/lover, Marco Alemanno. Total hypocrisy, screamed commentators who suggested the semi-state basilica funeral and the lover’s oration had been tolerated not only because Dalla was a practising Catholic but because he was famous, successful and private about his sexual orientation.

Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla

“Lucio Dalla’s funeral represents a very clear example of what it means to be gay in Italy today. You go to church, they grant you a funeral and they bury you according to the Catholic rite, just as long as you don’t say you are gay,” said television presenter Lucia Annunziata.

“Marco Alemanno embodied in a church and in a totally public ceremony all the dignity of love between men. However, you would have to ask yourself how many less famous Catholic homosexuals, less protected by the charisma of their art, would have been able to feel themselves so fully members of their community.

“We would like to think that Marco’s brief oration for Lucio has established a precedent. For those homosexuals who are not Catholic, church teaching on the subject does not matter a damn, they could not care less. But for Catholic homosexuals, it is a huge problem. And it is to them that the thoughts of all decent-minded people turn, when we see Marco Alemanno praying for his ‘man’ beside the basilica altar,” commented writer Michele Serra.

-full report at The Irish Times.

I don’t for a minute believe Dalla had special treatment from the Church because he’s a celebrity. There must be thousands of gay couples, constantly, who get similar respectful treatment within their own parishes. The only special treatment here, is by the news media. His celebrity status makes him newsworthy – not a different class of Catholic. What we lose sight of, in the media hype over stories like that of Barbara Johnson, is that they hit the headlines precisely because they are newsworthy. Unless they are celebrities, like Dalla, the only reason they are newsworthy is that they are exceptional. For every horror like the denial of communion to a woman at her mother’s funeral, there are far more that go unreported, because they are so ordinary. Even Johnson, in precisely the same circumstances, in the same parish, was given the communion on a previous occasion – at her father’s funeral. That was not reported, because it was normal.  There are countless same – sex couples all over the world, worshipping and fully accepted in their parish communities. In my own life back in Johannesburg, my partner and I served openly as a couple on the parish pastoral council, without any comment or reaction at all. I am certain that in the many similar cases around the world, if one half of a gay or lesbian couple were to die, the parish community would respond in precisely the same way they would to any other couple – even if there is not celebrity status involved.

This story supports an increasingly strong perception I have that notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of Catholic bishops to legally recognized gay marriage, and regardless of  the widely – publicized horrors perpetrated by some individual priests and bishops, there is a major shift under way in the Church towards tacit understanding and acceptance of loving and faithful same – sex relationships – exactly as there is tacit understanding and acceptance of the role of conscience in contraceptive use by married couples.

I am attempting to put together two parallel series of posts on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s Baltimore address last week on the need to reform the whole of Catholic sexual teaching, heterosexual and homosexual, and on James Alison’s extended interview that I have previously referred to only in part.

Once I have done that, I will be able to substantiate more fully what I offer now only as an assertion:

The times, they are a-changing.

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What Gay Catholics Have Done: Parish Ministry

In his report on the New Ways Ministries’ 2012 conference  From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, Chuck Colbert summarized the main addresses, but also presented some questions by participants – and their reasons for attending. The reason given by one couple also offers insight into how they approach being lesbian and Catholic back home, in their parish:

Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.

“What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,” said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.

Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.

In proposing the idea, she explained, “We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, ‘Where have you been?'”

The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but “more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.”

“Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,” she explained, while readily acknowledging, “struggling mightily” with “clericalism and the hierarchy.”

“The church is our church,” said Hoag, explaining why she stays. “Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.”

New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us “a shot in the arm” to keep up our work in ministry.

Oppose Catholic Employment Discrimination

In North Carolina, a Catholic bishop is arguing in court that the church must have a fundamental right to fire LGBT Catholic employees who exercise their legal right to marry.

Lonnie Billard, left, with husband Richard Donham (pic – New Ways Ministry)

A bishop has claimed that the diocese over which he presides would be “irreparably damaged” if it is unable to fire church workers at will.

Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina, made his remarks while being deposed in the federal workplace discrimination court case of Lonnie Billard, who was fired from Charlotte Catholic High School in 2014 when his engagement to a man became public.

Jugis said in the deposition that continuing to employ church workers who advocate against or violate “fundamental moral tenets” of church teaching would be a cause for “scandal.”

-New Ways Ministry

What is truly scandalous, is when church bishops ignore both the Gospels’ clear message of inclusion for all, and the Church’s own teaching on the primacy of conscience and the importance of social justice – including employment justice.


Continue reading Oppose Catholic Employment Discrimination

Sex and Catholics 3: Vatican II and Modern Specialists

Chris Morely continues his guest post series on Natural Law: Part 3

Vatican II and incorporating modern specialist expertise

Part 1 dealt with the Natural Law.

In Part 2 we considered the male and female perspectives of Natural Law and the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, and recent learning from experts in evolution.

Here in Part 3, we move on to the Church’s stated position on considering outside expertise and some particular examples – insights from human psychology, secular liberal philosophy, and modern Christian moral theologians, including a Pope. We assess how well the Church’s sexual behaviour teaching copes with the various critiques and its response.

postage stamp showing Vatican 2 Council

Vatican II

The 2nd Vatican Council directed the Church to look beyond its well established traditions and scriptural interpretations and take account of the expertise available from various fields of learning in the modern world, and use these external insights to review and update its teachings of the Truth, as appropriate.

However this directive appears to be ignored more than followed.

The Church’s most recent formal statement is the 1986 letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In paragraph 2, this tells us:

However, the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith and is consciously motivated by the desire to do the will of God our Father. The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.

This is not a satisfactory response to the Vatican II instruction to learn from outside expertise. The key passage is: ‘we can learn from scientific discovery’ but our position means we can ‘transcend the horizons of science and .. be confident that [the Church’s] more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions’.

In other words, we are correct already and simply don’t need to consider anything else or change our teaching as a result of any scientific discovery: “[the Church’s] more global vision does greater justice … “.

Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith office at the Vatican

Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith office at the Vatican

Unchanged since 1986 but outside expertise moves on

While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not changed its position on the treatment of lesbian and gay people since 1986, much new information has been gathered on the history of homosexuality, its nature and causes, biblical and theological perspectives, and from the empirical sciences.

In many areas covered by the Congregation’s pastoral guidelines, Catholic culture has made major advances (Curb & Manahan, 1985 [14]; Francoeur, 1988 [15], 1989 [16]; Gramick, 1983 [17], 1988 [18]; Nugent, 1984 [19], 1992 [20]). Those are just the first eight years worth of publications from around the time of its publication in 1986, and very much more has been published since.

The tension between the unchanging formal fixed Church view of homosexuality and the changing worldview, is evident when John R. Quinn, Archbishop of San Francisco, replied to the Curia’s 1986 letter on the pastoral care of homosexuals, with clear frustration:

We cannot fulfill our task [as pastors and bishops] simply by an uncritical application of solutions designed in past ages for problems which have qualitatively changed, or which did not exist in the past. (Quoted in Gramick & Furey, 1988, p. vii)  [13]

He was writing this from San Francisco as thousands of gay men in his city, significant numbers of whom were Catholic, already had HIV infection and were dying of AIDS, before any effective treatment was available. The world for lesbians and gay men had very significantly changed.
Project in San Francsisco to gather people's HIV stories from the last 30 years

 

No change: a comfort blanket

Plainly the field of sexual morality is one where the Church is reluctant to incorporate external expertise and the weight of modern moral theological and scriptural opinion, preferring instead to keep its comfort blanket of familiar traditions and teachings wrapped tight round its fist.

Catholic theologians are vulnerable when speaking out on these themes: some have been disciplined and others have lost their jobs. Debate and scholarly exploration of ideas is inhibited and closed down. The Church gives little sign of active, responsive listening.

It would be a firm but accurate criticism to say that the Church is being disrespectful to lesbian and gay Catholics by apparently not listening and responding to the wealth of new information and insights available in the 25 years since 1986, contrary to her own Catechism’s instruction to be ‘respectful, compassionate and sensitive’ to lesbian and gay people (in paragraph 2358).

 

Now it is time to turn our attention to some of the secular experts’ work that ought to have an impact on the Church’s thinking and teaching about sexual morality.

Psychologically natural forms of human sexual expression
Among the disregarded modern secular perspectives is that offered by Thomas Nagel ¹, who denies Aquinas’s central presupposition, that in order to discover what is natural in human sexuality we should focus on what humans and lower animals have in common. Using this approach, Aquinas concluded that the purpose of sexual activity and the sexual organs in humans was procreation, as it is in the lower animals.

bonobo couple

Aquinas considered animal behaviour so here’s a contented bonobo couple

 

Nagel, by contrast, argues that to discover what is distinctive about natural human sexuality, and so be able also to work out what is unnatural or perverted, we should focus instead on what humans and lower animals do not have in common. We should emphasize the ways in which humans are different from animals, the ways in which humans and their sexuality are special.

Thus Nagel argues that human sexuality, whether strictly procreative as required by Aquinas, or expressed in various other ways, is explained by human psychology. For it is human psychology that makes us quite different from other animals, and hence an account of natural human sexuality must acknowledge the uniqueness of human psychology. We have been created with and have evolved with proportionately massive brains compared with all other animals, and this makes us quantitatively and qualitatively different and our human psychology is expressed in distinctly human sexual behaviours.

Aquinas and the Church have ignored these brain and psychological differences from animals.

 

 

Mutual Attraction single record 45rpm

Mutual Attraction – Nagel argues that psychologically healthy sexual relations have both mutual interest and mutual arousal

Mutual sexual interest and arousal
Nagel therefore proposes that psychologically healthy natural human sexual interactions, are all those in which each person responds with sexual arousal to noticing the sexual arousal of the other person. In such an encounter, each person becomes aware of himself or herself and the other person as both the subject and the object of their joint sexual experiences. If mutual arousal and interest is not present, Nagel describes this as perverted, or in Aquinas’s terms, unnatural.

Psychology, not organs, not bodily responses
Nothing in Nagel’s psychological account of the natural and the perverted refers to bodily organs or physiological processes. That is, for a sexual encounter to be natural, it need not be procreative in form, as long as the requisite psychology of mutual recognition and arousal is present. Whether a sexual activity is natural or perverted does not depend, in Nagel’s view, on what organs are used or where they are put, but only on the character of the psychology of the sexual encounter.

Thus Nagel disagrees with Aquinas that homosexual activities, as a specific type of sexual act, are unnatural or perverted, for oral and anal sex may very well be accompanied by the mutual recognition of and response to the other’s sexual arousal.

Boswell pointing out that Thomas Aquinas was responsible for homosexuality being made a grave sinThomas Aquinas         1225 – 1274

Thomas Aquinas emphasised the sin in homosexual acts

The change from Aquinas’s judgemental natural law response to every activity that is not strictly procreational, toward an amoral psychological account such as Nagel’s, represents a more widespread modern trend. Aquinas’s moral or religious judgments are replaced by acceptance of behaviours as part of the normal range of human sexual expression, or by medical or psychiatric judgments and interventions. ²

 

There is no requirement for the Church to accept the specific sexual behaviour conclusions Nagel reaches (mutual interest leading to mutual arousal, whether married or not, followed by any consensual sexual behaviour), but there is a need to address his insight that exploring the perspective of what is different, special and unique about people compared with animals is illuminating. We have a highly intelligent human psychology not found in animal-kind. What does that mean for considering what are appropriate sexual behaviours and relationships for humans? Does it not suggest that human sexual behaviours are likely to be more complex and nuanced?

Could not Nagel’s insights be combined with the unitive, and consensual sexual behaviour be acceptable if that is within a marriage or the lesbian and gay equivalent?

 

Secular liberal sexual philosophy
Modern secular liberal sexual philosophers now emphasise the values of autonomous choice, self-determination, and pleasure in arriving at moral judgments about sexual behavior, in contrast to the Aquinas tradition that justifies highly restrictive sexual morality limits by reference to Natural Law, God and scripture as the source of those limits.

The secular liberal finds nothing morally wrong, or non-morally bad, about either masturbation or homosexual sexual activity. These might be ‘unnatural’ in the sense of being solitary or less common, but in many if not most cases, they can be carried out without harm being done either to the participants, or to anyone else.

For the secular liberal, anything done voluntarily between two or more people is generally morally permissible. A sexual act would be morally wrong if it were dishonest, coercive, or manipulative, and Natural Law theory would agree with that. However Aquinas would instead start by saying that anything that is not marital vaginal sex open to procreation is fundamentally wrong because it is ‘unnatural’ and against God’s purpose, and no amount of good intentions or other justification can ever eradicate that fatal flaw in any alternate sexual activity.

sex and power in alphabet bricks

 

Modern liberal Catholic moral theologians and others
Modern liberal Catholic moral theologians such as Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler ³, and Sister Margaret Farley [4], and Dr James B Nickoloff [5], Bishop Geoffrey Robinson [6], James Alison [7], and Joshua Allen [8], all put a high moral value on consensual sexual activity only within committed permanent relationships, whether heterosexual marriage, lesbian and gay marriage, or lesbian and gay civil partnerships. Within such committed relationships, the emphasis is not on particular sexual acts and what body part goes where, but far more on its unitive value, consent and doing no harm.

spouse A is always for spouse B

commitment

Contemporary liberal Anglican, Episcopal and other liberal Christian moral theologians generally share this moral restriction on the use of human sexual faculties to those within committed permanent relationships.

In contrast, contemporary orthodox and evangelical Christian theologians are doctrinaire with tradition and biblical interpretations, decidedly hostile to any homosexual expression, and strict about limiting sex to within married heterosexual relationships, and they oppose adultery and divorce.

It is notable that a great deal more effort is put into condemning any homosexual activity whatsoever, than ever appears to be the case in relation to the much more frequent moral misbehaviours of heterosexuals which demonstrably harm others, such as adultery and divorce. In psychological terms this looks like a near pathological anti-homosexual obsession, scapegoating and displacement.

Oftentimes the Magisterium and others within the Catholic Church lurch into this same condemnatory response to homosexuality, forgetting their Catechism duty to treat lesbians and gay men with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’. Condemnatory sermonising that disregards the Catechism instructions on respect, compassion and sensitivity does not engender respect for the Church among those hurt by this. Frank acknowledgments of error and apologies for the unnecessary offence caused are decidedly rare and this is also un-Christian. Expecting lesbians and gay men to always turn the other cheek in the face of such Church misbehaviour is unreasonable. Such mistreatment, especially when repeated, is psychologically damaging to mental health and well-being.

 

Aquinas-lite, a contraception OK variant of Natural Law
Natural Law is still alive and well today among some contemporary philosophers of sex, even if the details do not exactly match Aquinas as now taught by the Church. John Finnis [9] [10] comes very close to a traditional Catholic or orthodox evangelical position. He does not require all vaginal intercourse within marriage to be open to procreation, so contraception is acceptable to Finnis.

However he invokes God and argues that only vaginal intercourse within marriage avoids ‘disintegrity’. Only in marital vaginal sex, as intended by God’s plan, do the couple attain a state of genuine unity: ‘the orgasmic union of the reproductive organs of husband and wife really unites them biologically.’ He says ‘all extramarital sexual gratification’ is morally worthless, even if it is vaginal intercourse within a committed relationship, because the body is then just a tool of sexual satisfaction and, as a result, the person undergoes ‘disintegration.’ ‘One’s choosing self [becomes] the quasi-slave of the experiencing self which is demanding gratification.’

Contraception - worth talking about

This is almost indistinguishable in practice from Aquinas. This is Aquinas-lite, ignoring Aquinas’s expectation of vaginal sex being for procreation and the contraception ban in In Humanae Vitae. Finnis appears to have conceived this framework to justify maintaining the hegemony of the current orthodox Catholic and evangelical Christian vaginal intercourse-only model for marriage. Finnis’s language is marginally different to Aquinas: ‘disintegrity’ and ‘disintegration’ being his terms to condemn all other sexual activity in place of Aquinas’s ‘unnatural’ or the 1986 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faiths’ choice of the word ‘disordered’. It doesn’t feel any less damning to have that Finnis’s choice of words applied to you.

 

Love’s the thing
Pope John Paul II, wrote a sexual morality text book as Karol Wojtyla [11], and said that allowing oneself to be used sexually by another makes an object of oneself, and consent alone is not enough for this to be morally acceptable. ‘Only love can preclude the use of one person by another’ (p. 30), since love is a unification of persons resulting from a mutual gift exchange of their selves.

Note, however, that his idea that a unifying love is the key component that justifies sexual activity (in addition to consent) has an interesting and ironic consequence: gay and lesbian sexual relations should also be permissible if they occur within loving, monogamous homosexual marriages (which is the position advocated by the theologians Patricia Jung and Ralph Smith [12]).

I heart unifying

unifying love

However at this point in any discussion, defenders of the view that sexual activity is justifiable only within heterosexual marriage (such as Finnis and Wojtyla), commonly resort to Natural Law to rule out homosexual marriage, and to God to rule out all homosexual activity.

This only works if their Scripture interpretations are sound. Demonstrate that traditional scripture interpretations against homosexual sex are unsound, as many scholars have, and they’ll try a flip to quoting Church Tradition. But as many scholars have shown, there was no continuous Christian tradition of homosexuality being a sin, until shortly after St Thomas Aquinas arrived and made it so. The homosexuality is an ‘unnatural vice’ tradition is late (over 1200 years after Jesus) and it was invented, and it stands tottering on shaky Natural Law foundations. [There is a continuous Church tradition of some kind of sexual sin from the earliest days. Sorry I distorted what I meant to say. See Terence’s comment at the end and my response. And Part 4 includes the history of the sexual sin in some detail, and describes how Thomas reinforced this and codified it in the Church’s theology.]

 

So the holes in the Catholic Church’s defence of its current Natural Law and sexual morality teaching are becoming really obvious. When the Natural Law arguments are under significant sustained critique, they turn to what they say ‘God says’ to rescue their argument. Impasse is often reached soon after this: if you don’t believe (as a secularist), or you’re a Christian who sees the loving Jesus of the Gospels welcoming all people including lesbians and gay men especially when in committed unitive relationships in place of a punishing God, or if you don’t accept the Church’s interpretations of scripture, there is impasse.

 

Changing Church views

There are signs and sounds of creaking tectonic plates that indicate the Catholic Church is tending to be less dogmatic than it has been in the past and is edging towards finding a fresh way to represent the Truth in its teaching. Terence has posted about how the Vatican hasn’t officially repeated the ‘intrinsically disordered’ phrase recently; and about the nuanced language coming from the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark in the pastoral letter about civil gay marriage, and in the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent reconfirmation of the Soho Masses pastoral ministry for lesbians and gay men.

Significant moral theologians of all sexualities have continued to voice concerns about the Truth of the sexual morality teaching from the Church.

1943 hanging sign in the South of the USA for the segregated waiting room for coloured people

1943 hanging sign in the South of the USA for the segregated waiting room for coloured people

Human cost of waiting

However while waiting for these tectonic plates of sexual morality teaching to shift, the human cost, which is born by lesbians and gay men and not the Church, is significant. We should remember that slaves continued to suffer too in the very slow repositioning of the Church on the slavery issue. The Church should avoid imposing a similar lengthy human cost on further generations of lesbians and gay men.

There has been around 750 years of pain so far since Thomas Aquinas facilitated the first declaration that homosexuality is a sin. The Church’s continuing strictures are significant pressures that reinforce and give authority to lesbian and gay discrimination in law and other mistreatment, they encourage the avoidable spread of HIV/AIDS, and they provoke suicides, especially among lesbian, gay and questioning teenagers.

Sinful delay

It has been suggested by theologians that the Church can sin. Sins against slaves and against lesbians and gay men, for not working with due speed to resolve these issues, should be on the Church’s and Magisterium’s conscience, as should those relating to failures to effectively address clerical child abuse. Failing to effectively address clerical child abuse scandalises the world and is a cause of further doubt to Catholics and the world that the Church is speaking the Truth about the proper expression of human sexuality, when the Magisterium’s own involvement in and response to clerical sexual abuse has been so wanting and disordered.

 

Next Time: Part 4:  More holes and weaknesses in Natural Law exposed

Next time, in the final segment, we’ll consider a further range of experts, referenced in Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s chapter on Homosexuality and Natural Law. We will conclude with a detailed examination of Thomas Aquinas’s homosexual deception, where he suppressed elements from Aristotle, and mis-stated others, and became a prime cause of the Church making homosexuality a grave sin for the first time.

 

Further Reading and References

For a thorough study of the approaches to Human Sexuality by the Catholic Church, this is particularly useful: Catholic Culture and Sexuality, by Robert T Francoeur, 2005.

It contains a section ‘Dealing with Homosexuality’.
Robert T. Francoeur, PhD, is co-editor of the international award-winning Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (Francoeur & Noonan, 2004a), compiled by 280 experts reporting on all aspects of sexual attitudes, values, behaviors, and relationships in 62 countries on seven continents. Trained in Catholic theology, human embryology, and sexology, Francoeur is also recent editor of the Complete Dictionary of Sexology (Francoeur, et al. 1995.and Sex, Love and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century (Francoeur, Cornog & Perper, 1999).

¹ Nagel, Thomas. “Sexual Perversion”, in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3st edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 9-20. http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H10

² Soble, Alan. Sexual Investigations. New York: New York University Press,1996. (chapter 4)

³ Salzmann, Todd and Lawler, Michael. “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology” Georgetown University Press, 2008 http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/sexual-person

[4] Farley, Margaret. “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics”, Continuum, 2006
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/623342.Just_Love

[5] Nickoloff, James. “ ‘Intrinsically Disordered’ :Gay People and the Holiness of the Church” Bannan Institute, Santa Clara University, 2009 http://www.scu.edu/ignatiancenter/faculty/fellowships/upload/f_09_Intrinsically-Disordered.pdf

[6] Robinson, Geoffrey. “Christian Basis for Teaching on Sex: Sexual Relationships: Where does our Morality come from?” Address to New Ways Ministry Conference, March 2012 http://www.bishopgeoffrobinson.org/Christian%20Basis%20for%20Teaching%20on%20Sex.pdf

[7] Alison, James. Theology as Survival: an interview with James Alison by Brett Salkeld, 2012 http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng67.html

[8] Allen, Joshua. Gay Marriage, Natural Law, and Civil Law: Understanding the Locus of Debate; De Libris Arbitrium, Center for Morality in Public Life, January 2011 http://www.cfmpl.org/reviews/2011/01/20/gay-marriage-natural-law-and-civil-law-understanding-the-locus-of-debate/

[9] Finnis, John. “Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation” Notre Dame Law Review 69:5 (1994), pp1049-76.

[10] Finnis, John and Martha Nussbaum. “Is Homosexual Conduct Wrong? A Philosophical Exchange,” in Alan Soble, ed., The Philosophy of Sex, 3rd edition. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, pp. 89-94.

[11] Wojtyla, Karol [Pope John Paul II]. Love and Responsibility. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981.

[12] Jung, Patricia, and Ralph Smith. Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993.

[13] Catholic Culture and Sexuality, by Robert T Francoeur, 2005.

[14] Curb, R., & Manahan, N. (Eds.). (1985). Lesbian nuns breaking silence. Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press.

[15] Francoeur, R. T. (1988). Two different worlds, Two different moralities. In J. Gramick & P. Furey (Eds.), The Vatican and homosexuality: Reactions to the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons.” New York: Crossroad.

[16] Francoeur, R. T. (1989). New dimensions in human sexuality. In R. H. Iles (Ed.), The Gospel imperative in the midst of AIDS: Toward a prophetic pastoral theology. Winton, CT: Morehouse Publishing.

[17] Gramick, J. (Ed.). (1983). Homosexuality and the Catholic Church. Chicago, IL: Thomas More Press.

[18] Gramick, J., & Furey, P. (Eds.). (1988). The Vatican and homosexuality: Reactions to the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons.” New York: Crossroad.

[19] Nugent, R. (Ed.). (1984). A challenge to love: Gay and lesbian Catholics in the Church. New York: Crossroad.

[20] Nugent, R., & Gramick, J. (1992). Building bridges: Gay and lesbian reality and the Catholic Church. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.

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