A constant theme during the 2014 and 2015 synod assemblies on marriage and family, and of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation that followed it, was the importance of listening, and accompaniment for families in unconventional situations. This certainly applies to same-sex couples, but it also applies to families with LGBT members. These ideas are coming into increasing prominence, following the recent publication of Fr James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge”.
In London, the LGBT Catholics Young Adults Group have arranged a workshop to do exactly this.
A day workshop for Catholic family members of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. We hope that listening to input from both Mgr Keith Barltrop, chaplain to the LGBT Catholics Westminster, and the experiences of other family members of LGBT people, will enable those taking part to truly walk with their LGBT family members and accompany them on their journey.
Suggested donation of £10 which will include lunch.
As Australia faces a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, we are seeing a steady stream of articles arguing the “yes” or “no” case. Many on the “no” side are prone to citing the Bible or appealing to “biblical values”. But what does the Bible actually say about human sexuality and homosexuality in particular?
What follows represents a summary of critical biblical scholarship on the issue. Critical biblical scholarship draws on a range academic disciplines including literary criticism, archaeology, history, philology, and social science to offer the most plausible, historically grounded interpretation of the Bible. It is not simply a matter of personal belief or citing official church doctrine.
Australian scholars are among leaders in the field when it comes to sexuality and the Bible. William Loader has written several books on the matter and this Anglican collection of essays is also excellent.
When it comes to homosexuality there are, at most, six passages of the Bible that are relevant. So what do these passages say?
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is well known. This is where the terms “sodomite” and “sodomy” originate, and it has long been associated with biblical condemnation of male homosexual sex. It is, however, actually about gang-rape.
In this story, the men of Sodom seek to rape two visitors (who are actually angels). Their host, Lot, defends them and offers them protection in his house, but offers his virgin daughters to be raped in their place.
It is a deeply problematic and complex story that warrants an article of its own, but what is clear is that sexual violence and rape is harshly condemned, and so God destroys the town with sulphur and fire. Despite the linguistic history of the word “sodomite”, Genesis 19 has nothing to say about homosexuality or mutually consenting adults of the same gender expressing their desire and love.
Two of the laws of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) seem more pertinent. They call a man lying with another man instead of his wife an “abomination”.
We should note first that the imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male. It is not describing what we would understand to be a sexual orientation. We might also note the inherent sexism here: women apparently don’t have the same desire or their sexuality is deemed too insignificant to be worthy of comment.
Again, we need some context. Yes, this verse clearly condemns adulterous homosexual sex in calling it an “abomination” (to’ebah), but here some of the other things also called an “abomination” in the Bible:
Egyptians eating with Hebrews;
having an image of another god in your house;
sacrificing your child to the god Molech;
having sex with your wife when she is menstruating;
taking your wife’s sister as a second wife; and
Banned likewise is wearing mixed-fabric clothing, interbreeding animals of different species, tattoos, mocking the blind by putting obstacles in their way, and trimming your beard.
As you can see, there is quite an assortment of ancient laws, some of which seem to make good sense (such as no child sacrifice) and others of which the majority of Christians no longer keep (such as eating pork and wearing a wool-silk blend).
To claim one set as timeless truths while ignoring the others is patently hypocritical and goes against the grain of the text itself.
These two verses in Leviticus are the sum total of what the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) says about same-sex activities. The remainder of the biblical references occur in the New Testament, written between approximately 50 and 110 CE in the context of the Roman Empire.
The attitudes and norms of Graeco-Roman culture are critical in understanding these texts. In Graeco-Roman society, there was an acceptance that men might be attracted to other men. Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner.
In educational settings, several ancient authors comment on the male-male mentoring that often included pederasty (sex with boys). The main ancient objection to male-male sexual activity was that one partner had to take the “woman’s role” of being penetrated.
In a patriarchal society, to be masculine was to be the active partner, whereas to be passive was deemed feminine and shameful.
These attitudes find their way into the New Testament in various forms. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 list a wide group of people who will not “inherit the Kingdom” without changing. Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.
Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).
The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.
The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.
In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses is as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.
It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se. As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarises:
Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.
We need to put all this in perspective. These are six verses out of more than 31,000 verses or roughly 0.016% of the text. In contrast, the Bible contains more than 2,000 verses about money (and related issues of greed, wealth, loans, and property), and more than 100 specifically on one’s obligation to care for widows.
In other words, monitoring and proscribing human (homo)sexual activity is not a particular concern of the Bible when compared to the overarching demand for justice, economic equality, and the fair treatment of foreigners and strangers. For certain Christian groups to make this the decisive Christian issue is simply a misreading of biblical values.
Lest readers think the Bible is against sexuality generally, there is an entire biblical book devoted to celebrating human sexual desire. Written in the style of a Mesopotamian love poem, the Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), speaks positively of both female and male sexual yearning.
Serious Christians cannot ignore the Bible. They can, however, make sure that they interpret it with all the tools available to them, that they examine their own biases, and stop over-simplifying the issues.
The Bible offers a wide variety of marriage arrangements, many of which we no longer condone. It never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly.
It does, however, give us an ethic to guide how we treat one another: an ethic based upon God’s generous love and a profound concern for justice.
Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright says he believes there’s a valid “common good” argument for the government to legalize same-sex “marriage”. In a September article for Aurora, the diocesan magazine, he drew a clear distinction between whether it “squares with Catholic teaching”, or “is a good practical rule for people living in this society at this time”.
Bishop Wright makes clear that the Catholic church cannot recognise same-sex unions as marriage “except in the limited sense of a marriage according to Australian law”. But, he continues, that is a distinction that the Australian church already accepts, in other situations.
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.
In August 2018, Ireland will host the next World Meeting of Families. On indicator of how the tone for than assembly will differ sharply from the previous one in Philadelphia, is the prominent role played by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, in preparatory workshops and conferences. At one conference last month, he was careful to point out that the WMF should pay attention to ALL families, not just the conventional ones described in Vatican doctrine.
Last week, he was in Limerick, speaking to the Irish Institute for Pastoral studies. Introducing his talk, he was careful to reassure his audience that, considering the doubts expressed in some quarters that, “Yes it is Catholic – and the pope is Catholic”. After Schonborn had presented the document, at the pope’s request, to the media, Francis asked him, “Is it orthodox?”.. The reply was an unequivocal “Yes, it is orthodox. It is fully orthodox.” He continued,
Does Pope Francis question the indissolubility of marriage?
The answer is no.
Does he teach the classical teaching on marriage and family?
The answer is yes.
So, the issue is not one of changing doctrine, but of reaffirming a neglected strand on teaching, on the importance of prudence and discernment in pastoral application of the teaching.
In Australia, the postal vote plebiscite on marriage equality has become nasty, with numerous reports of an increase in homophobic violence. Conversely, those on the other side complain of an increase in anti-Christian hostility.
It is pleasing therefore, to note that at least one Australian bishop has introduced some pastoral sanity, in a letter to his diocese (Paramatta, in West Sydney). In it, he calls for “respect”, from both sides. That is basic to Catholic teaching (but sadly, too often ignored), and is at the heart of James Martin’s celebrated book on the church and LGBT Catholics. Bishop Long goes further, however, making a key point that is usually overlooked in these discussions: there is a fundamental distinction between civil marriage, the subject of the plebiscite, and sacramental marriage – matrimony .
Just as the introduction of legal divorce made no difference to Catholic Church practice, the proposed introduction of same-sex marriage in civil law, will not make any difference to the Catholic sacrament of matrimony.
I appeal to all Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta to conduct this dialogue with a deep sense of respect for all concerned, and for the opinion and decision that each person is free to make.
It is important to remember from the very outset that the postal survey is about whether or not Australians want the legal definition of civil marriage changed to include same-sex couples. It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.
At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo makes an intriguing claim about Pope Francis – that he has made ” a declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”. He bases this on an extract from a conversation between the pope and a French sociologist, one of a series of 12 which will soon be published in book form.
Extracts from these conversations, including the one referring to civil unions, have been published at Crux:
“Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman… we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.’ Lets not play with the truth. It’s true that behind it there is a gender ideology. In books also, children are learning that they can choose their own sex. Why is sex, being a woman or a man, a choice and not a fact of nature? This favors this mistake. But let’s say things as they are: Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term. Lets call unions between the same sex ‘civil unions’.”
DeBenardo’s response at Bondings 2.0 is to read this as an endorsement of civil unions:
For the most part, this section is not surprising. On many occasions, Pope Francis has stated his opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay people. And he is also on the record for being negative towards new understandings of gender identity, though positive about welcoming transgender people.
What’s new here, however, is his declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples. Although many church leaders have suggested supporting such an arrangement in recent years, Pope Francis has never, as pontiff, stated his endorsement of civil unions so flatly.
Is this really a ” declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”? I’d love to think so, but I’m not convinced. As I read the passage quoted in Crux, all he has done is make a statement about language. As a simple statement of fact, he obviously recognises that that these same-sex legal partnerships exist. He does not want them to be described as marriage, and would prefer them to be called civil unions. That does not imply that he supports them.
It is of course possible that he does support civil unions. DeBenardo notes that “He did support civil unions as a compromise to his opposition towards marriage equality when he was an archbishop in Argentina.” This is true. As pontiff, there have also been numerous hints that he supports greater acceptance of same-sex unions, possibly including legal recognition and fuller participation for same-sex couples in the life of the church. It is quite possible that he does indeed support civil unions – but this is not spelled out in the text quoted. Sadly, all that is clear in the passage directly concerning the pope’s attitude to same-sex unions, is once again clear opposition to same-sex marriage.
And yet, it’s not all bad news. As in “Amoris Laetitia”, there are encouraging thoughts which are relevant for LGBT Catholics, while not referring to us exclusively or by name. First, there is an admission of value in the lay state.
“The lay state is a healthy thing. There is a healthy laicism. Jesus said: We must render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. We are the same before God.
This could well imply at least, respect for civil unions as a matter of law. Then there’s also an important observation about the place of the laity, in the church:
“But the Church is not bishops, popes, and priests. The Church is the people. And Vatican II said: ‘The people of God, as a whole, do not err.’ If you want to know the Church go to a village where the life of the Church is lived. Go to a hospital where there are many Christians that come to help, laymen, sisters… Go to Africa, where there are many missionaries. They burn their life there. And they make real revolutions. Not to convert, it was another time when we spoke of conversion, but to serve.”
All the available evidence is that ‘The people of God, as a whole” t do not agree with the Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, taken as a package. The absolute prohibitions on contraception, on sex before marriage, and on masturbation are widely rejected and ignored, not only in the West, but world-wide. Support for same-sex relationships is now widespread in many regions, and growing elsewhere. Many theologians and an increasing number of bishops understand the implication: the traditional doctrines on sex have not been “received” by the faithful. They must be refined – and surely will be, in time.
In Dublin next year, there is an intriguing opportunity opening up for LGBT Catholics. Are our advocacy groups paying attention?
For the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, USA based LGBT groups and their allies attempted to secure formal accreditation. Philadelphia however, is the seat of archconservative Archbishop Chaput, and they were deliberately excluded. In spite of this, the coalition established an informal, non-accredited presence, and did some great work making the case for acceptance and inclusion church, of queer families.
Just last week it was Cardinal Schonborn saying to an Irish conference in preparation for the World Meeting of Families, that all families need protecting – including queer families. Also last week, another senior cardinal effectively acknowledged in a newspaper interview, that gay marriage is not a major issue for the Catholic Church.
In a remarkable and groundbreaking statement, a prominent Catholic cardinal has acknowledged that protecting and strengthening “the family” can include protecting those headed by same-sex couples.
The Catholic Church is doing whatever it can to strengthen the family, including families often considered nontraditional, said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, the theologian who reviewed Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family.
“Favoring the family does not mean disfavoring other forms of life — even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families,” the cardinal said during a visit to Ireland, which next year hosts the World Meeting of Families.
For lesbian and gay Catholics, this is immensely significant, for several reasons.
Cardinal Schonborn is clearly close to Pope Francis, and has his respect, as shown by his prominent role in presenting the pope’s Apostolic Exortation “Amoris Laetitia (The joy of Love)”, following the Catholic bishops’ synod assembly on marriage and family.
On lesbian and gay inclusion in church, he has often been among the first to articulate positions which later became commonplace. Several years ago, he was the first senior cardinal to suggest that the time had come to stop focusing on homosexual genital acts, and to look instead at the quality of the relationships. At the time, there was speculation that he would be promptly rebuked by Pope Benedict XVI. When that did not happen, a series of other bishops quickly echoed Schonborn’s thoughts on this. Later, he further developed his thinking, by extending to support for legal recognition of loving and committed same-sex relationships, in civil unions. This new statement takes it one step further, in implicit recognition that in some countries (eg Ireland, where he was speaking). these legally sanctioned unions could include civil marriage. Given his track record of anticipating Church thinking, we should expect more bishops to start talking about respect for different types of families – including those headed by same-sex couples.
“Today, everybody can get married,” he said, but acknowledged “so many choose not to get married.” He suggested that the number of so-called irregular situations has increased enormously because the “framework of society has changed so much.”
Schonborn was in Ireland to address a conference, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.” In his remarks, he also noted that there have been times when large sections of the population (servants, for example) where not permitted to marry. Against this background, the Irish slogan “marriage for all” is just the logical extension of a long-term historical trend. Next year, Ireland will host the World Meeting of Families. It can be expected that with the “framework of society” having changed so markedly in the country, much of the discussion at the World Meeting of Families will at least consider all families.