As we close out the week that began with the celebration of the Epiphany, we do so by offering a reflection on transgender issues by James and Evelyn Whitehead which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter. The authors, whose lifetime of work on sexuality and relationships has been a gift to the chruch, reflect that in the past year they have had their own “epiphany” about transgender people:
The past year has brought us deeper appreciation of the experience of transgender members of the human community. Mentored by a Catholic sister who has dedicated her life to ministry among transgender persons, we have been instructed by the witness of these often vulnerable members of the body of Christ. Their life stories carry a common theme: an abiding sense of “disconnect” between their inner sense of self and the evidence of their body. In their deepest awareness, gender identity (who I know myself to be) has been in conflict with the social role their physical anatomy suggests (who others expect me to be).
Their essay is a good introduction to some of the issues that transgender people face, which are often remarkably similar to those that lesbian and gay people face because of the common thread of feeling pressure to conform to an identities which are not their true ones:
“In attempting to conform to the expectations of their parents, spouses and children, transgender persons often struggle to override this sense of disconnect. Some enter into marriage, hoping this will suppress the daily reminders that they are not as they appear. Many more put effort into presenting a ‘false self’ to the world, to protect against being discovered for who they really are. But the price of this unnatural effort is high. Alcohol and drugs offer false comfort along the way; suicide begins to appeal as an exit from this distress.”
And like many lesbian and gay people, many transgender people experience their transition to their true selves as a spiritual journey:
“. . . [M]any report a profound shift in their spiritual lives, as they turn from the condemnation of a judging God (‘You are going to hell’) to the embrace of a God of paradox and extravagant love. This harrowing transition leads many to a confident embrace, at last, of ’the person God always intended me to be.’ “
The Whiteheads point out that unfortunately many church leaders do not have the knowledge–or the motivation to acquire knowledge–about transgender people:
“Many Catholics regret that official statements of the Catholic church continue to support rigid notions of human nature, especially in regard to male and female gender. Here church leaders, consciously or not, continue a strategy that distances them from the genuine experience of many active church members. Official statements often mention the extravagant conduct of sexual exhibitionists or drug-addicted sex workers as typical of transgender persons. Hiding in plain sight are the many mature transgender Catholics in our own parishes. To remain willfully ignorant of, or contemptuous toward, this part of the human community exhibits a startling lack of compassion.”
They close with a prayer that should be offered by all Catholics:
“Let us pray that in the months ahead each of us — whether transgender or otherwise — may experience the grace of epiphany. May we meet one another in shared humanity, ready to move beyond hesitancy and suspicion on all sides. In the grace of these encounters we are likely to be surprised; we may at first feel uncomfortable. But these, perhaps, are marks of an epiphany. And if we stay alert, we may soon recognize here the splendid diversity of the body of Christ.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
via « Bondings 2.0.
Comments calling same-sex marriage “morally defective” by retired Scottish Archbishop Mario Conti are the latest in month-long attacks by Catholic prelates responding to British and Scottish government plans to legalize marriage equality.
Writing in The Tablet against the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill during a period where Scottish officials gather public input, Archbishop Conti said:
“…it is unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed profoundly unwise for political action to do quite the opposite, namely to attempt through the law, by equating homosexual unions with heterosexual marriage, to render moral what is in itself morally defective.”
Previously, the English bishops have spoken forcefully against government plans to legalize marriage equality in England and Wales. Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell wrote a harshly-worded letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in early December questioning Catholics’ ability to trust him and making a comparison that Cameron is equitable to the anti-Christian Roman emperor, Nero.
Other instances since then include:
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham’s warning that not adhering to traditional gender roles as a result of marriage equality laws would have unforeseen consequences for society;
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster declaring, in a letter read during Masses, the government’s move as undemocratic, “shambolic,” and something that would make George Orwell proud;
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury using his Christmas homily to compare the British government’s efforts on marriage equality to Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.
Such unwelcomed messages at Christmas time distort the holiday for many, evident in comments by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, to The Guardian:
“’We do think it’s very sad that an archbishop should sully the day of the birth of Jesus by making what seem to be such uncharitable observations about other people. Some of us are mindful of Luke 2:14, which reminds us that Christmas Day is a day of peace and goodwill to all men. Perhaps Archbishop Nichols should have spent a little more time in bible study.’”
The pending legislation for England and Wales is expected to be voted on this coming spring, with Prime Minister David Cameron recently reiterating his support for full marriage equality while promising sufficient religious liberty safeguards.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
via « Bondings 2.0.
A transgender teacher is suing a Catholic high school in Queens, New York, saying that he was fired after teaching there for more than 30 years because of deciding to begin to live out a female gender identity.
Mark Krolikowski, ABCNews.com reports:
“In a lawsuit, Mark Krolikowski, 59, alleges that after 32 years of teaching at St. Francis Prep in Queens, N.Y., and receiving numerous accolades for his work including leading students in a musical performance for Pope Benedict XVI, he was fired last year after the parents of a ninth grader complained about his appearance.
“Krolikowski remains anatomically male and routinely wore suits and neckties to school where he taught music, social studies and a class on human sexuality. He also wore earrings and manicured his nails in ‘a feminine style’ according to court documents.
“In 2011, Krolikowski was summoned to the office of the principal, Brother Leonard Conway, where he revealed that he was transgender and that he intended to start coming to work dressed as a woman. According to Krowlikowski’s lawsuit, Conway told the teacher that being transgender was ‘worse than gay’ and that he could no longer appear at public events if he planned to begin appearing as a woman.”
According to the New York Post, the controversy over the teacher’s gender identity arose when a parent complained to the principal about the teacher’s appearance:
“. . . a parent took issue with his look and reportedly went to school officials. The subsequent questions from his bosses forced Krolikowski to tell then-Principal Leonard Conway and assistant principal Patrick McLaughlin he was transgender, court papers state.”
The Post also reports that Krolikowski agreed
“. . . to tone down his appearance by losing the earrings and feminine nails, Krolikowski said he got stellar evaluations during the 2011-12 school year. Despite this, Krolikowski claims his bosses called him insubordinate in June 2012 for allegedly continuing to go ‘his own way,’ according to court papers.
ABCNews.com provided a comment from St. Francis’ Prep’s view of the case:
” ‘His employment was terminated for appropriate non-discriminatory reasons,’ said the school’s attorney, Phil Sempervivo.”
A group of current students and alumni have come to the defense of Krolilowski with a petition on Change.org, supporting the teacher and asking the school to offer an apology. In part, the petition states:
” ‘Mr. K,’ as he was affectionately known by most of his students, had worked for SFP [St. Francis Prep] for over 30 years and was always himself: funny, eccentric, loving, and accepting. Ask anyone who had him and they will rave about his stellar teaching and friendly demeanor. In a school in which many of the faculty can often be bossy and tyrannical, Mr. K created a warm and welcoming environment for all his students and their peers.
“However, his long track record of spectacular teaching seemed to carry no weight when a lone parent complained about his ‘feminine’ appearance back in 2011. Mr. K, for as long as we have known him, has always donned several gold hoop earrings, dyed hair, fashionable (but appropriate and professional) clothing, and well-manicured nails. This was never an issue amongst his students or their parents until that one student’s mother complained to the school.
“This is a disgusting display of discrimination and must be acted against and apologized for. While we do not expect Mr. K to return to Prep, we do expect the school to apologize for its behavior and its ultimate decision to expel such a valued member from their staff. In a school that preaches love, respect, and acceptance, we are appalled to see that their lessons come with hateful fine print.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
via Bondings 2.0.
There has been a huge public fuss this week about the supposed “closure” of the Soho Masses, which has kept me very much on the hop, in an attempt to present a more positive image (I think a more accurate one) that this is not just an end, but a new beginning, and one that has at least the potential to be productive, and possibly and expansion, of our present ministry.
But time has been short, and I’ve been anxious not to go publicly into the very real disadvantages and risks that this move could entail – or how we can best avert them. One risk that I have referred to in some emails to the SMPC core community, is that of finding ourselves simply co-opted to implement the Vatican agenda, and thereby corrupted in our personal integrity. I have also alluded to what I see as a crucial imperative to do some deep, creative thinking on exactly what we do with this new opportunity – and suggested that this include some significant implications for Quest.
This was no more than an allusion – I’ve simply not had time to cover everything that needs to be said in anything like the depth that was required, nor do I want all of my thinking to be on public display at Queering the Church, which is closely monitored by some conservative bloggers, determined to uncover and expose my heresies and demonic influences. But now is a time, and this a suitable place, to elaborate. Continue reading Soho Masses: Can We Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time?
The popular Soho Masses for the LGBT community in London, England, will be coming to a close after six years because of a new pastoral plan for LGBT people that the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster has issued. But the ministry to LGBT people will continue. The archbishop has moved the LGBT ministry to a London Jesuit parish, under a new model of service and organization.
London’s Catholic Herald has printed the entire text of the pastoral plan by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. In the section on why he is ending this successful pastoral program, he states:
“At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church [Warwick Street], it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
” . . . I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass.”
The new pastoral program will begin in Lent of 2013.
For many years, Archbishop Nichols has been criticized by traditionalist Catholics for permitting the Masses. Indeed, the Vatican has also questioned his reasoning for establishing the liturgies. For some, his decision will surely be viewed as capitulating to these pressures.
However, England’s Terence Weldon, who blogs at “QueeringTheChurch“, and who is a regular participant at these Masses and a member of the Pastoral Council there, has a different point of view. He is optimistic that this decision is not an ending, but a moment of transformation for the community. He sees the archbishop’s plan as an opportunity for growth for the burgeoning community. On his blog, he wrote:
“The real issue here is not simply one of a ‘gay Mass,’ but of the wider issue of effective Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the ‘Soho Masses’ may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.”
The Soho Masses Pastoral Council issued a statement on January 3rd, welcoming the archbishop’s directive. The following are excerpts:
“The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer.
In this we have become victims of our own success, in terms of the number of people who have joined the Eucharistic Community of our congregation. This means that, while the body of the church in Warwick St. is still adequate to our number, the lack of other facilities in the 18th Century building has become a limiting factor in organising social and pastoral activity and prayer, in particular for elderly, infirm or disabled people.
“We therefore look forward with much anticipation to the opportunity of using the greater space offered by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and, since we have kindly been relieved of our responsibility of organising the Mass, to respond positively to the Archbishop’s challenge to develop our pastoral work in this ‘new phase’ of our peripatetic existence.
“The Masses at Farm Street will, clearly, continue to be at the heart of our life in communion, and of our pastoral activity, and we look forward to participating fully in them. . . .
“Our only reservation regarding the transfer of base is that our title becomes somewhat of a misnomer, in that we shall be in Mayfair, rather than in Soho. However, given the value of the title Soho Masses we shall continue to use it.”
I attended the Soho Masses when I was in London in the summer of 2012 for the World Pride celebrations. I found them the liturgy to be very traditionally Catholic, and I met many people afterwards who said that coming to this Mass community was their way of returning to Catholicism after a period of alienation. Many of the participants were heterosexually identified people with no connection to the LGBT community, but who had heard that the spirit at these Masses was welcoming and rich. In one sense, all theological arguments aside, I imagine that this decision will probably feel very much like a parish closing or consolidation to some.
Even if there are better days ahead, I am sure it will be a difficult transition for many, and I will keep them all in my prayers, and ask you to do the same.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
via « Bondings 2.0.
While we are still in the season of looking back at 2012 while we jump right into 2013, we’d like to mention proudly that New Ways Ministry’s Co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick was named as one of the top ten pro-LGBT faith voicesof 2012 by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)! Additionally, we are delighted that two other Catholics made the list: Barbara Johnson, the lesbian who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral; and Dominic Sheahan Stahl, the gay man who was disinvited as a commencement speaker from his high school alma mater.
Sister Jeannine Gramick
In naming Sister Jeannine, GLAAD stated:
“Nuns were a big deal in 2012, and the LGBT community had a great ally in Sister Jeannine Gramick. She was one of the most visible pro-LGBT Catholic voices as Maryland adopted marriage equality and through the ballot process. She spoke about Roman Catholic hierarchy to MSNBC, and created a video series on The Daily Beast to discuss faith and life, including LGBT issues.”
Of Barbara Johnson, they said:
“While Barbara Johnson was grieving the loss of her mother, the presiding priest stated, “I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.” This blatant lack of pastoral care to an LGBT person captured the attention of the nation.GLAAD worked with Barbara to tell her story and to shine a light of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s internal persecution of LGBT people.”
Dominic Sheahan Stahl.
GLAAD praised Dominc Sheahan Stahl:
“When Dominic Sheahan Stahl was uninvited from speaking at the Sacred Heart Academy graduation for being gay, the graduating class, which included his younger brother, rallied around him. They formed #LetDominicSpeak and worked with GLAAD to express their support for the alum. They formed an inclusive graduation event, in which the entire graduating class, as well as 600 people listened to Dominic give his speech, of which, GLAAD produced a video. Dominic has gone on to establish a “Live Through Love” foundation to raise scholarship money for LGBT students.”
To view the entire list, which includes luminary leaders from other denominations and faiths, click here.
Bondings 2.0 followed the work and activity of all three of these leaders in 2012. To search for their stories, type in their names into the “Search” box in the right-hand column, and all the relevant posts about them will come up.
We are proud of our co-founder, Sister Jeannine, and of these two lay leaders! We are grateful for all the work that the three of them have done to make our world and our church a more welcoming place for LGBT people and their families!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
via « Bondings 2.0.
We left two issues on one side for reconsideration later, near the beginning of Part One, evolution and the female perspective. In this part we’ll critically reassess the male perspective, before considering the seriously missing female views, and then move on to examine what needs to be incorporated from our understanding of evolution.
The Church and Aquinas’s sexual morality teaching comes from a male, patriarchal perspective. It is explicitly so and starts from the use by men of the penis and its supposed proper, natural and moral purpose. We are told nature allows us to deduce the sexual purpose of the penis is for inserting into the vagina for depositing semen for the purpose of procreation. This is backed up by another natural purpose idea, that the male and female sexual bodies are designed to be ‘complementary’ and only with the vaginal use by the penis do human bodies fit ‘naturally’.
Added to this is a significant element of Bible and Christian tradition used to justify and reinforce the very restricted view of acceptable human sexual behaviour. There’s only one plain dish available in the Catholic sexual cafe, even for married couples.
Why does the Prostate Gland have feelings?
Before we consider female perspectives on the Church’s and Aquinas’s teachings on sexual morality, we should briefly pause to deal with another male sexual organ, one which is internal, the prostate gland; this produces some of the fluid within semen¹.
Neither the Church nor Aquinas have ever considered this male sexual organ. It plays an integral part of the male reproductive role, and although it is hidden, it has one highly significant characteristic.
The prostate surface, although internal, is rich in nerve endings and when stimulated this is highly pleasurable. Some people call it the male g-spot. Its surface is not stimulated during Aquinas-approved vaginal penetration. Neither Church nor Aquinas considers its surface sensitivity.
Most gay men know about the prostate’s surface sensitivity from experiences of anal sex: the prostate surface is stimulated by contact with a penis in the anus. There is no biological reason in procreation to justify the design of the prostate gland to incorporate sensitive surface nerve endings.
It appears deliberately designed by God, evolution and nature, to make anal sex pleasurable for homosexual men.
Female perspectives on the Catholic Natural Law of sex
– the Clitoris
Let’s turn to the Aquinas’s and the Church’s teachings and consider these from a female perspective.
Females are distinguished with their own sexual characteristics and possess a clitoris and this is visible. But, despite being visible, it is completely ignored by Aquinas and the Church. It is as if the clitoris doesn’t exist. (Adjacent to the clitoris in most, but not all, women are the female-only Skene’s glands² the equivalent of the male’s prostate; these contribute to vaginal lubrication.)
The significance of the clitoris in natural law terms is that it has no necessary purpose in procreation. It is not required to achieve the fertilisation of the egg, nor to accommodate penetration.
However friction on the clitoris produces pleasure, and pleasure is its biological purpose.
The Christian theologian Professor Christine Gudorf concludes that the existence of the clitoris in the female body suggests that God intended that the purpose of sexual activity was as much for sexual pleasure for its own sake, as it was for procreation. Therefore, according to Gudorf, pleasurable sexual activity, apart from procreation, does not violate God’s design, is not unnatural, and hence is not necessarily morally wrong, as long as it occurs in the context of a monogamous marriage (Gudorf, Christine. Sex, Body, and Pleasure, Reconstructing Christian Sexual Ethics, 1995 p. 65)³.
Aquinas: females are ‘defective’ males
It is profoundly shocking to modern sensibilities and our sense of gender equality to read Thomas Aquinas’s description of women as the product of a ‘defective’ male seed– he has a male-centred view of creation and life, one where women are naturally subordinate and secondary to men.
We now know a rather contrary account, from scientific human biology, that the true nature of humans is that the female is the standard human prototype, and boys are a natural variant which develops male characteristics from female foundations in the womb.
Adam comes from Eve, is biology’s complete rewriting of the Genesis human creation myth.
Such a fundamental misconception by Aquinas of the nature of female and male, and one that excludes any female perspective, underlies Aquinas’s thinking, reasoning and conclusions.
This raises further doubts about the appropriateness of relying on Aquinas’s ideas and conclusions for the Church’s teaching on sexual morality.
Other female perspectives on Aquinas and the Church’s teachings 
Women with or without children, who are economically dependent on their husbands, may find themselves in the position of having to engage in sexual activity whether they want to or not, for fear of being abandoned, or physically, or psychologically abused; these women may not be engaging in sexual activity fully voluntarily. The woman who allows herself to be bullied into sex by her husband worries that if she says “no” too often, she will suffer economically, if not also physically and psychologically.
– ‘giving yourself’ in marriage: is this perpetual consent? What about rape?
Does ‘giving yourself’ in marriage mean that wives [or husbands] always and every time have to have sex if their partner wants this? Can there be no rape in a Catholic marriage?
Aquinas and Christians traditionally saw a married woman as her husband’s property, for sexual use as and when he wanted. This view swung towards female autonomy only in the 19th and 20th centuries, but very slowly. It was as late as 1991 that marital rape was made a crime in England and Wales.
Many women complain they still lack real sexual autonomy equivalent to men in marriage.
– coercive pressure is morally wrong
The presence of any kind of pressure at all is seen by some women experts as coercive and means there is no voluntary participation in sex, making that sex activity morally objectionable. Charlene Muehlenhard and Jennifer Schrag discuss this in “Nonviolent Sexual Coercion”.
They list, among other things, “status coercion” (when women are coerced into sexual activity or marriage, by a man’s wealth or occupation) and “discrimination against lesbians” (which discrimination compels women into marriage or into having sexual relationships only with men) as forms of coercion that undermine the voluntary participation by women in sexual activity with men.
– are some pressures uncoercive, or morally acceptable?
Some people counter this by saying either that some forms of sexual pressure are not coercive and do not appreciably undermine voluntariness, or that some pressures are coercive but nevertheless are not morally objectionable.
Both these views seem indistinguishable from a male heterosexual apologia for using sexual pressure for the purposes of coercion, and as an excuse or justification for maintaining the present male power advantage to secure sex when a male wants this.
These can only be assessed fairly with the benefit of the views of the more vulnerable person in that situation. Personally, I’d prefer to trust the judgement of relatively vulnerable women facing this situation and say such coercive pressure is morally wrong.
– women’s health and well-being
Consider the situation of women concerned for their future health and well-being (her body’s capacity to gestate, give birth to and nurse a child), her age and the mental and physical resources available to nurture a child / another child through to adulthood. Aquinas and Catholic teaching ban all use of artificial contraception and abortion. Repeated childbearing is physically demanding on the woman’s body, and childbirth is often hazardous without significant affordable medical, obstetric, or midwifery care being available. Maternal death was common among women until the early decades of last century (affecting at least 1 in 10 women) and it is still common in much of the developing world.
Aquinas’s and the Church view ignores this female health and well-being perspective: when you married you ‘gave yourself’ to your husband. If you die in pregnancy, from childbirth, or postpartum, or of exhaustion, or cannot cope with a disabled child, that’s just the life of a Catholic wife.
It is hard to conclude that women would arrive at the same conclusion as Aquinas and the Church on the consequences of always procreative sexual activity, when it is their lives and health that are at risk. The reality that most Catholic women (over 90%) use ‘artificial’ contraception when this is freely available and that some have abortions, despite the Catholic bans, demonstrates that sex that is always open to conception is not most women’s normal, natural choice.
Women’s sexual activity preferences
The sexual activity allowed to married women and men by Thomas, vaginal penetration open to procreation, is limited. The different attitudes to sexual activity stereotypically found in men and women go unrecognised. A husband of the ‘wam bam thank-you mam’ type, single-mindedly focused on his penetration and his orgasm, would be perfectly acceptable in Thomas’s prescription. That’s not likely to be welcomed by many wives as serving their sexual needs and wishes well.
The needs of women, who typically prefer loving attention to become receptive, are not considered or recognised. Kissing and cuddling are OK, but fingering or tonguing arguably amount to ‘unnatural’ sex because these are not necessarily making “use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted” but“by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation” are rendered “unnatural vice”.
Certainly a husband fingering or tonguing his wife to orgasm, masturbation, is “unnatural vice”, even as a warm-up to penetration. And getting much more adventurous than the “missionary position” risks going off-piste for “not observing the natural manner of copulation”, making it “unnatural vice”.
Scepticism: the prostate, clitoris, and transgender people
Today we cannot be at all confident, as Aquinas and the Church were, that God’s plan can be discovered by a straightforward examination of the obvious male and female sexual body parts. The natural law examination and consideration of natural purpose completely missed the clitoris and the surface-sensitive internal male prostate, both of which demand proper respectful consideration from the Church.
Then there is the rich diversity in the bodily and hormonal expressions of gender differences seen in the variety of transgender people  . The Church’s current view of transgender differences is ignorant, unscientific, disordered and un-Christian. I will leave transgender issues aside because of their complexity, my lack of expertise and because it is not central to the argument about mainstream male and female sexual expression. It is a vital issue to the people affected, and because the Church’s understanding and teaching in this area is also defective, transgender expressions of sexuality deserve respectful, considered, and separate assessment. I hope to return to this at a later date when I have become better informed.
Evolution and natural sexual expression
At the beginning of Part One in this series, we also mentioned and put to one side (along with a female perspective and the ignored male and female sexual organs), the issue of evolution. Evolution was not considered by either Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas in their development of Natural Law in relation to sexual morality, simply because neither was aware of it.
Aristotle, as mentioned earlier, believed the world had always existed as it was, while Aquinas inherited the Biblical creation account of life’s origins. What do we now know from evolution about the development of gender diamorphism, sexual differences and behaviours? How might this modern understanding influence our response to Aquinas and the Church’s teachings about sexual morality?
Life evolved from primordial slime and found evolutionary advantage in two genders because this is highly effective at mixing genes and especially in producing advantageous adaptations. Evolution has the additional advantages of recombinational DNA repair and through processing a very large brain. There are two significant issues with large brains, the first that our babies are born very immature (to be able to pass through the pelvis) and need a very long period of nurturing by adults, not necessarily the parents, to gain size and reach sexual maturity, and secondly humans, with the high intelligence that comes from having a big brain, have more complex forms of social organisation and interaction than any other creature.
From observing animal species, evolution has taught us that species providing extended parental care after the birth of their offspring have the potential to overcome the sex differences in parental investment (the amount of energy that each parent contributes to each offspring), and this can lead to flexibility in, and even the reversal of, gender roles.
-promoting hybrid vigor.
Advanced complexity results in gender role flexibility
Humans evolved as the most advanced placental mammal, posse
Gender stereotypes and ignoring sexual behaviour diversity
A great deal is still not fully unexplained about the diversity of human behaviour and we must be wary, firstly, of explanations that invoke stereotypical gender roles and secondly, realise how individuals who do not fit the norm and popular narratives are routinely ignored.
Aristotle and Aquinas are a warning to us of this because both expressed a patriarchal view of human society and gender interactions.
Homosexuals and transexuals are good examples of being omitted from the mainstream story society tells itself about male and female human nature, and have been persistently denigrated in the Christian and Abrahamic traditions. Yet there are other human societies where homosexual and gender-role-defying people are prized, as shamans, healers and notably as religious exemplars.
Contemporary evolutionary biologists see diversity as ‘natural’
The work of contemporary evolutionary biologists, like Joan Roughgarden, is illuminating. She sees the tremendous diversity in human and animal genders and sexualities, not as something that has to be explained away to fit the dogma of binary gender and sexual selection, but as the “natural” order of things, and this perspective is gaining wide acceptance. Her book, The Genial Gene is a fascinating alternate vision of the evolution of sex.
Competition between the sexes is no longer at the centre of natural selection, but is replaced by social forces in families and communities of animals.
Her theory of social selection fills many of the gaps in theories of sexual selection, from explaining the existence of homosexuality, transexuality and other intermediate genders and sexualities, to the mathematical impossibility of females being able to calculate genetic superiority in nearly identical males, and the lack of a correlation between secondary sex characteristics and fitness.
Evolutionary biology’s lessons for society and the Church
The Church needs to reflect on the emerging understanding that evolution has handed humans a unique and diverse set of cards, and with our huge intelligence, we should be very wary of the simplistic ‘natural’ behaviour analysis and strictly limited gender roles and acceptable sexual morality, as found in Aquinas and the Church’s teaching of Natural Law for sexual behaviour.
Instead the available evidence and current evolutionary biology understanding tells us the Church is surely in error about the beauty seen in the diversity of God’s human creation, as expressed through human evolution and development.
Church and external expertise
What does all this signify and how do we incorporate this wealth of knowledge into an appropriate view of the diversity of expression and ‘proper’ use for the human sexual faculties in the 21st century?
There is a vast wealth of external expertise in many fields, that the Church has not fully opened its eyes and mind to in the fields of gender and sexual expression. The Church cannot discern the Truth it should transmit properly and broadcast this to the world, if it continues to ignore large parts of modern understanding and insights about sex and relationships. It undermines people’s faith in the Truth the Church teaches, to ignore and not publicly address such contemporary human knowledge and insights.
Involve, Consult, Reason, Explain, Persuade lay people
The Church needs to persuade, reason and explain its sexual morality teachings for these to be publicly credible, especially because this is in an area of life where the Church has lost, through the clerical sexual abuse scandal, much of its moral authority in sexual matters.
When it does not do so, as it did not for contraception in Humanae Vitae, the bulk of the faithful simply decides to reasons things out for itself and decides in the light of its own informed conscience. More than 90% of Catholics use contraception that the Church teaches is forbidden.
Sexual morality is an area where the lay faithful have experience and some expertise, unlike celibate clergy bound by promises of chastity. The disconnect between Church and laity in sexual morality accounts for much of the moral relativism about which the Church complains so bitterly. It has the potential remedy in its own hands.
Scepticism about Aquinas’s competence to discern Truth from the natural world
It is time for the Church to embrace a healthy scepticism about the Truth of Aquinas’s prescriptions for human sexual behaviour based on his attempt to discern the intentions of God from his simplistic understanding of biological evidence in the natural world. Natural Law, with the addition of misapplied historical tradition and scriptural interpretations, appears unfit for transmitting God’s Truth for proper human sexual expression in committed relationships.
Next Post: 3: modern specialists
The next post, third in this series of four, will consider some of the modern specialist knowledge and insights into sexual behaviour and morals that are now available. For example people are endowed with large brains and great intelligence, and are capable of a complex range of subtle behaviours, but the Church appears to disregard significant insights of psychology in human sexual expression.
Both Catholic and secular modern moral theologians are often highly critical of the Church’s teachings on sex and relationships because the understanding of natural law and scriptural interpretations are flawed and inadequate.
Does the Natural Law teaching of the Church on sexual morality stand up to the modern insights of psychology and the criticisms of moral theologians and ethicists?
footnotes and sources
 http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/ Philosophy of Sexuality
http://www.iep.utm.edu/natlaw/ Natural Law
http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H16 Consent is Sufficient – specific
http://www.iep.utm.edu/sexualit/#H17 What is voluntary? – coercion
 Sexual Diversity and Catholicism : toward the development of moral theology; Professor Patricia Beattie Young with Joseph A Coray, editor(s), 2001, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA
- Natural Law Part 1: Sex and Catholics introduced the Natural Law.
- Natural Law Part 2: Gender perspectives and evolution considered the male and female perspectives of Natural Law and the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, and recent learning from experts in evolution.
- Sex and Catholics 3: Vatican II and Modern Specialists considered examples of the world’s expertise in science and learning relating to the Church’s sexual morality teaching and assessed the Church’s teaching in the light of these critiques, and its response.
- Sex and Catholics 4: More Weaknesses in Natural Law considered more expert criticism of the use of Natural Law and Church’s sexual morality teachings about homosexuality and critically assessed what is called “New Natural Law” and its treatment of homosexuality.
Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)
- “Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas
- Aquinas: Homosexuality “Naturally Against Nature”
- Is Aquinas’ Natural Law Gay-friendly?
- Aquinas, In SUPPORT of Same–Sex Relationships.
- “Sacramental” Same-Sex Unions?
- Natural Law, in SUPPORT of Committed Same -Sex Relationships
- The Distorted Tradition of Natural Law
- “Take Back the Tradition”: Why Catholic LGBT Doctrines Must Evolve.
- John Corvino Responds to “New Natural Law” (Book, and Video)
- Catholic Moral Theologian, on How Existing Teaching Could Support Same – Sex Couples.
- Sex and Catholics: the problems in Natural Law (queeringthechurch.com)
- Natural Law, Pure Reason and Vatican Jargon. (queeringthechurch.com)
- Robinson 1: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together(queeringthechurch.com)
- “Against Nature?”: Exclusive HETEROsexuality, and HomoPHOBIA.(queeringthechurch.com)
In the CDF Hallowe’en Letter, possibly the most offensive and damaging element was the labelling of the homosexual orientation as “intrinsically disordered” – but just what does “disordered” in fact mean? Science has shown from mental health and from animal biology that it is entirely natural, and not in any scientific sense disordered. Defenders of the Vatican line respond to this criticism of the label by insisting that it does not mean what it appears to do in common speech. It has, they say, a specifically theological sense, which the critics are ignoring. My question then becomes, “Just what does ‘disordered’ mean, theologically?’ “
Beyond meaning simply that it is not ordered to procreation, which we can counter (and Bishop Robinson has done) by demonstrated that much else in human and animal sexuality is likewise not ordered to procreation, I have not yet worked out just what this supposed deep theological meaning might be. The Catholic theologian James Alison has now illuminated this for me. If I understand him correctly, I don’t understand the theological meaning of the term – because there is none, that makes any theological sense. The use of the term is itself disordered.
In his long interview for Vox Nova, Brett Salkeld asked Alison about this term. The interviewer first described how he had once forced Lifestyle News to retract a claim, widely assumed but rejected by mental health professionals, that the term refers to a psychological disorder, and asked Alison for his own views on the “origins” of homosexuality. Instead, Alison responded by addressing the meaning (or rather, the absence of any meaning) in the term “disordered”.
The heart of Alison’s reasoning here, is that either the term means something, and or it does not. If the former, and it does mean something, then it should be possible to understand it at least by analogy with other conditions described in other contexts as “objectively disordered”. In that case, we should be able to deduce a meaning for “disordered” by a clear statement of just what it is that is its opposite – what is meant by the “ordered” condition, against which the supposedly disordered condition of homosexuality falls short? The Vatican theologians have conceded that the condition is entirely natural, and so not disordered in this sense – but they have also not offered any clear statement of what meaning it does have. And so, we are forced to reject the first possibility, that the term means something.
We are forced then to turn to the other possibility, that the term has no meaning “in any reality that can be measured”. It is simply a verbal construct used by those theologians to get to the conclusions they want to reach. This leads Alison to describe it as “unstable” in meaning. He points out that in traditional Catholic theology (and Alison is a very traditional theologian), “the acts flowing from a neutral or positive inclination could not be intrinsically evil”. Any moral judgement on this inclination must depend on their use. From this it follows that if the homosexual orientation is morally neutral (which is agreed), then the judgement that homosexual acts that follow naturally from that orientation are disordered does not logically follow: it makes no more sense that to say that it’s OK to be left-handed, just don’t write left-handed.
Here are the question that led to Alison’s observation, and two extracts from his response. (The full interview has been published in two instalments at Vox Nova, and at James Alison’s website)
7. Some time ago I engaged in a lengthy e-mail exchange with the editor-in-chief of Lifesitenews because one of their articles had claimed that it was the teaching of the Catholic Church that homosexuality was a psychological disorder. After much wrangling, I was successful in getting them to edit the article. It is not Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a psychological disorder. In fact, my reading of the Catechism is that the official stance on this question is one of agnosticism. We don’t know the causes of homosexuality. What do you think the Church’s position is on this question? What are your beliefs about the origins of homosexuality? What factors strike you as the most important? What are your thoughts about homosexuality that has roots in sexual trauma or other aspects of a broken past?
I’m so glad that I wasn’t involved in your discussion with Lifesitenews! To judge by what you say, I think that I would simultaneously agree and disagree with both of you. Personally I think that the current teaching of the Roman Congregations in this area is of unstable meaning. The Congregations both insist that the inclination itself must be considered objectively disordered, and yet fight shy of committing themselves to a sense in which this claim has incidence in reality. Well, either their claim means something, in which case it enters into the realm of that which can be studied and understood by analogy with other objective disorders, having as its backdrop a clear claim about the proper order by comparison with which it is some sort of defect. Or, on the other hand, the claim has no incidence in any reality that can be measured, and is simply the verbally necessary logical ground which the CDF must stake out if it wants to maintain that the acts flowing from the inclination are intrinsically evil.
This would be a consequence of their knowing that in Catholic Theology, acts flowing from a neutral or positive inclination could not be intrinsically evil, but would be good or bad according to use. So, in the one case, the claim would be falsifiable by the human sciences, and in the other, we would be obliged to derive our understanding of what is from what is forbidden, or “can never be approved”, a voluntarist position smuggled in by the back door, and the claim would be something like a de facto defection from Catholic teaching concerning grace, nature, faith and reason as set out with admirable clarity by Pope Benedict in his Regensburg address.
My own belief is that being gay is a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, and that an appropriate analogy is left-handedness, which also, as it happens, used to be regarded as some sort of defect in a normatively right-handed humanity. I’ve arrived at this position having, as an educated amateur, followed the studies and arguments back and forth over many years, and notice that this position is tending to be confirmed massively the more that we know and see of gay people who are able to live their lives openly. I hope I would be open to any emerging evidence that my view was wrong, though I’m aware how easily any of us can become locked into convenient self-deceptions and self-reinforcing ideological cocoons. Like all other educated amateurs gathering what I can from disciplines in which I have no expertise, what I know about the aetiology of same-sex desire is regularly being updated as the field advances, and I’m sure that we are in the early days of scientific knowledge about such things.
As part of my personal history, I should say that I remember my own relief on realizing that not all searches for causality are helpful. Part of my motivation in the search for a cause of being gay earlier in my life was the need to find “something that has gone wrong that I can put right”, and it was good, spiritually fruitful, to discover that the question: “what went wrong in where I came from?” is actually not a useful one. More helpful is to ask: “how can I enrich where I’m going starting from where I am, however this has come about?” I wish I could find the reference, but I remember a quote from St Augustine, tired of nit-picking arguments about the finer details of Original Sin, insisting that “it’s not where we come from that is important, but where we are going” or words to that effect.
Books by James Alison:
- Theologian James Alison: Same – sex Unions Are Not Second – Best.
- Should Two Left-handed People Be Permitted to Marry?
- James’ Alison’s Catholic Football Match.
- Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments
- Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”, “God’s Purpose”
- Robinson: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together
- Bishop urges change in all church teaching on sexual relationships
- ‘Theology as Survival,’ an interview with James Alison. (commonwealmagazine.org)
- Theologian James Alison on “Objectively Disordered” and What Drives Him Crazy (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- God Hates South Paws (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)