As we wait for Pope Francis’ formal response to the bishops’ synod “Assembly on Marriage and Family”, it’s worth looking back and taking stock.
Many lgbt Catholics voiced disappointment with the assembly proceedings and report, because they had so little to say about same-sex relationships. Others saw this relative silence as a positive sign, concluding from it that the bishops realize that the whole issue of homosexuality requires deeper study. However, there is at least one reason why the report, when it comes, will be worth close attention from gay Catholics: Francis’ conclusions on divorce will have resonance for us, too. Continue reading Waiting for Francis – Divorced and Remarried, Same-Sex Couples→
It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with Lifesite News, but for once (possibly the first time, ever) I do. Aquinas’ concept of “Natural Law” needs to be far better understood – and that includes by the writers at Lifesite. Taken seriously, natural law theory is supportive, not condemnatory, of committed same – sex relationships, for those whose natural affectional orientation is towards the same sex.
To illustrate, I reproduce below the Lifesite argument in full, interspersed with added emphasis and a bare minimum of commentary. All that is required, to see my point, is to read it from the perspective of someone with a natural, God-given same-sex affectional orientation, in the full knowledge that natural and social sciences are both clear that such an orientation is entirely natural, non-pathological, and found in every human society throughout history and in every geographic region, and also in every branch of the animal kingdom.
A quick primer on the natural law as it comes under attack at the Synod
The Instrumentum Laboris of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which was published in June 2014 and served as the agenda for last year’s synod, contained many problematic texts on the subject of the natural law. Paragraph 20 stated:
“In fact, what underlies the relationship between the Gospel of the Family and the natural law is not so much the defence of an abstract philosophical concept as the necessary relation which the Gospel establishes with the human person in the variety of circumstances created by history and culture.”
and paragraph no. 30 stated:
“The language traditionally used in explaining the term ‘natural law’ should be improved so that the values of the Gospel can be communicated to people today in a more intelligible manner. In particular, the vast majority of responses and an even greater part of the observations request that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the ‘order in creation,’ which could permit a rereading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world.” (No.30)
These paragraphs, and others like them, indicate an extraordinary confusion about the reality of the natural law and the relationship between the natural and supernatural orders.
(Are they really objecting to reference to the Bible, in consideration of natural law? Or does their understanding of natural law trump Scripture?)
None of the more recent synodal documents make any reference to the natural law. The Relatio Synodi of the Extraordinary Synod and the Instrumentum Laboris of the Ordinary Synod make no reference to this fundamental underpinning of the Church’s understanding of human morality.
In his book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?experienced Vatican journalist Edward Pentin revealed that Cardinal Baldisseri told Cardinal Burke that “Natural law doesn’t mean anything anymore”.
(No, he didn’t. What he said, was that in popular understanding, based on responses to the questionnaire, “Natural law doesn’t mean anything anymore”. In that, he was absolutely correct.)
Is Cardinal Baldisseri correct?
It is our conviction that the Church’s traditional understanding is accessible to all people in all ages. In this post we will present a short overview of the natural law according to the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas, the common doctor of the Church. We will begin by examining the nature of law itself; we will then be able to proceed to discuss the natural law in particular.
St Thomas tells us that “the rule and measure of human acts is reason”. This means that in order for an act to be truly human, it must accord with right reason. Man is distinguished from an animal, a plant, or an inanimate object because he alone “is master of his actions”. The plant instinctively grows towards the light, the animal instinctively flees from a predator or pursues its prey, but man is able to reason and make free choices.
(“Right reason” is certainly informed by the findings of science, which tells us
that natural and social sciences are both clear that such an orientation is entirely natural, non-pathological, and found in every human society throughout history and in every geographic region, and also in every branch of the animal kingdom. – see above)
Law, as we saw above, is the “rule and measure of acts” in those situations where “man is induced to act or is restrained from acting.” If all human acts must accord with reason then it follows that all the laws that govern human acts must also accord with reason.
It is on these grounds that St Thomas can assert that a command only has “the nature of law” if it is “in accord with some rule of reason.” Indeed he teaches that “a law is nothing else but a dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler.”
It follows from this that all “laws” that are contrary to reason, such as those which permit abortion, are not true laws.
(and also all “laws” formulated by celibate abstract theologians, which ignore the patent findings of science, on the nature of human sexuality)
Law is always ordered to the common good. We have seen above that law must always accord with reason. St Thomas teaches that reason is principally ordered towards man’s final end, which is happiness. Therefore laws must be ordained principally to human happiness.
(and that must include the “human happiness” of sexual and gender minorities)
Every individual man forms part of a social whole; he is an imperfect part of a perfect society (the Church and the State are both perfect societies because they possess all the means to achieve their ends and are not subject to any higher authority in their sphere). Therefore law must be principally ordained to the good of the social whole, that is, to the common good.
God has created all things by His divine wisdom and, by His divine providence, He directs everything that He has created to its proper end. This divine reason, “the very idea of the government of things in God”, has, says St Thomas, “the nature of law.”
This law, which directs all things in the universe to their proper end, is the eternal law. The lawgiver is God and His eternal law has been promulgated by His Divine Word for all eternity.
The eternal law, which directs all things to their proper end, also directs man to his proper end. Yet man, because he possesses intellect and will, is able to freely choose to act or to refrain from acting. How then does the eternal law direct man to his end?
As stated above, all things in the universe are ruled and measured by the eternal law. It follows from this that all things “partake somewhat of the eternal law”, that is, “from its being imprinted on them” so that from this “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.” We can see this in the way that plants respond to external stimuli, or animals to their instincts, or any object to the laws of physics.
(Or those with a natural same-sex orientation, to others of the same sex).
Man’s rational nature must also be imprinted by the eternal law if man is to have “natural inclination to [his] proper act and end.” This imprinting of the eternal law on man’s rational nature is nothing other than a share of the “eternal reason” of God.
This participation in the “eternal law” is called the natural law.
Are the precepts of the natural law self-evident?
The first precepts of the natural law are self-evident. All men and women have the natural moral law “written in their hearts” to which their “conscience utters its own testimony” (Rm 2:15). “There is in every man a natural inclination to act according to reason.” The first principles of moral action are habitually present in the human intellect.
The first precept of the natural law is: “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided”. All the other precepts of the natural law follow from this. These other precepts are ordered in accordance with the order of the natural inclinations.
(“Good is to be done” – and love is always good. We also know from Genesis 2 that “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a companion”).
Firstly man shares with all created things an inclination to preserve his own being; “whatever is a means of preserving human life and of warding of its obstacles, belongs to the natural law.”
Secondly, there are those fundamental aspects of our being that we share not just with our fellow human beings but also with non-rational animals, “such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth.”
(Gay and lesbian also share the desire (and need) for sexual intercourse – and often, to raise and educate children.)
Thirdly, there are those things which pertain to our rational nature; “thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law.”
All of the precepts of the law of nature form just one natural law because all flow from the first precept: good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.
The natural law, as explained above, deals with those things to which human beings are inclined naturally.
All human beings share the same fundamental human nature. Therefore, as regards the general principles underlying human thought and action, “truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all.”
The application of the general principles may vary according to the concrete circumstances in which men act, but the first principles themselves remain inviolable. Evil can never be done so that good results; the end never justifies the means.
The natural law, as we have seen above, is the imprinting of the eternal law on rational creatures. This law has remained the same since the very moment that the first rational creatures were created by God. It is “altogether unchangeable in its first principles.”
(For naturally gay and lesbian people, opposite-sex attraction is most certainly NOT “imprinted” on us, as rational creatures. Quite the contrary).
Laws may be added above and beyond the natural law, for example human laws that seek to serve the common good in concrete circumstances, but these laws can never negate the natural law.
(and that includes equal marriage laws, which evidence shows, improves the common good).
Is it possible for the natural law to cease to exist in the heart of man?
The first principles of the natural law can never be removed from the hearts of men. They remain forever “written in their hearts” (Rm 2:15).
On particular occasions however “reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion” and, as far as secondary precepts are concerned, “the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions… or by vicious customs and corrupt habits”.
(And the “evil persuasions, vicious customs and corrupt habits” that have “blotted out the natural law from the human heart” include ignorance and prejudice about and towards the sexual “other”, )
First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their lives – and that includes, too, the fact that like all people, they are sexual beings – to be recognized.
– moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff
Finally, an influential, mainstream Catholic theologian has faced the elephant in the room. More and more cardinals, bishops and others in the Catholic church have come to accept that same – sex couples deserve to have legal recognition of their relationships. Some have said so publicly, many more now agree, but are keeping their opinions firmly to themselves. Some have said they see positive value in such civil unions, others are more reluctant, seeing them merely as something to be accepted as a lesser evil than full marriage. But in all the many observations on the subject I have seen, there’s one crucial point no-one has yet dared mention publicly: can the Church accept that couples in such same – sex legal, committed and loving relationships, may express their love sexually?
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, has “rebuked” the country’s largest lay group, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), for its call for a change in Church teaching.
It will be no surprise that the call has been criticized by the German bishops. In addition to greater acceptance of divorced and remarried Catholics, the position paper calls for Church blessings for same – sex couples. What is notable, is that the call was made in the first place, that Cardinal Marx’s rebuke includes the conciliatory statement that ““necessary theological debate” and dialogue on both subjects would be helpful”, and that Marx praised the ZdK’s position paper for its many “theological and socially significant statements on the family”.
When the Family Synod was first announced and ever since, the Vatican and others have insisted that the intention was to debate and refine pastoral practice – not to change or even discuss doctrine. It’s becoming clearer than ever though, that there is a growing awareness that the need for doctrinal change will have to be seriously addresses, whether at the synod, or later. Cardinal Marx’s acknowledgement that theological dialogue with lay people is an impressive example of that.
In a remarkable document published by the Swiss Bishops Conference, it is noted that in Switzerland, there is strong support for the recognition of same – sex relationships, including blessings of such partnerships.
Following a comprehensive national consultation with the nation’s Catholics, in which more than 6000 people participated, the Swiss Catholic bishops have reported that Swiss Catholics want to see blessings for same – sex partnerships, and also a change in the teaching on communion for divorced and remarried people.
Priest leader says Church likely to lose same-sex battle
08 January 2015 by Sarah Mac Donald
A LEADING IRISH priest has warned that opposing proposed same-sex marriage legislation is a battle the Church is “destined to lose”, writes Sarah Mac Donald.
Fr Brendan Hoban, one of the leaders of the Association for Catholic Priests (ACP), said: “If the Church had been generous in welcoming civil partnerships in 2010 we’d be in a stronger position to argue about the definition of marriage.”
He added that some of the arguments offered by official and non-official church bodies against the Irish Government’s proposed change “seem unconvincing”.
Or, to put it in the words of the correspondent who sent me the report –
“IT ALREADY HAS … IT JUST NEEDS TO ADMIT THAT!”
Not only is it now clear that the Church, in Ireland, the USA and elsewhere, has already lost its quixotic fight against marriage equality – it’s also at grave risk of losing whatever respect it still enjoys for its entire corpus of teaching on marriage and human sexuality, after displaying such abysmal ignorance of what marriage and committed relationships are actually about, in real life.
As LGBT Catholics, it is important to recognize that our counterparts have featured strongly in Church history, although modern bowdlerized versions thereof have airbrushed us out. To redevelop a sense of our rightful place in the church, it is important that we recover and take ownership of this history.From a range of sources, I am assembling a partial roll call of same sex lovers (not necessarily genital, but certainly intimate) in the history of the Catholic Church. There are many others. These are some that I have come across:
The story of David and Jonathan is well known from the Hebrew bible. It is not explicitly stated that there was a sexual relationship between them but the passionate language is certainly that of lovers.
“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soulof Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. “
Asher & Caleh.
Asher was a son of Solomon, Caleh a shepherd. By some accounts these were the two lovers in the frankly erotic love poem, the “Song of Songs”, widely used as a metaphor for the love between God and humanity. Usually presented as conventional heterosexual love, there is increasing recognition that the lovers were probably both men.
A translation by Dr Paul R Johnson directly from early texts includes the frankly homoerotic
“How delightful you are Caleh,My lover-man, my other half.Your pleasing masculine love is better than wine.The smell of your body is better than perfume.Your moustache is waxed with honeycomb.Honey and milk are under your tongue.The scent of your clothing is like the smell of Lebanon.”
A review of this book, posted on the Wild Reed, notes that:
“It gets to the heart of the question of whether the Hebrews and early Christians were fundamentally homophobic, or whether, as John Boswell has maintained, homophobia was a later addition. Johnson has consulted with many Hebrew scholars, who reluctantly concede the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation.”
The “Song of Songs” was recommended to me by a retreat director early in the most important, totally profound, retreat I have ever undertaken. She made no mention of gender in the recommendation, but I immediately interpreted the texts in same -sex terms. I believe that such reflections on this book contributed significantly to the powerful retreat experience that followed. I strongly urge my male readers in particular to read and pray over this marvelous homoerotic love poem.
Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law. Some people argue that there was also a lesbian relationship between them (which is not necessarily contradicted by the legal relationship). What really matters though, is the sheer quality of the devotion. Whether this was in any way physical, or purely emotional, is no the point. Theirs is an inspirational story of devotion and loyalty overcoming enormous difficulties fro women, which many women in our day still find helpful.
We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one. some people find the mere suggestion that this was a sexually intimate one positively offensive; at least one reputable biblical scholar (Kevin Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved” argues that it was indeed so). I find the idea certainly plausible without being offensive, but also irrelevant. There are other reasons for accepting that Jesus was at least gay – affirming, and that John represents a good role model.
-for more, continue reading at Queer Saints and Martyrs
St Aelred, whose feast we celebrate today, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott. He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron. From the website of Integrity, this Collect for the feast of Aelred:
The Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are well known examples of early queer saints. Polyeuct and Nearchos are not as familiar- but should be. John Boswell (“Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe“) names the two as one of the three primary pairs of same sex lovers in the early church, their martyrdom coming about half a century after Felicity and Perpetua, and about another half century before Sergius & Bacchus .
Like the later pair, Polyeuct and Nearchos were friends in the Roman army in Armenia. Nearchos was a Christian, Polyeuct was not. Polyeuct was married, to a woman whose father was a Roman official. When the father-in-law undertook as part of his duties to enforce a general persecution of the local Christians, he realized that this would endanger Polyeuct, whose close friendship with Nearchos could tempt him to side with the Christians. The concern was fully justified: although Polyeuct was not himself a Christian, he refused to prove his loyalty to Rome by sacrificing to pagan gods. In terms of the regulations being enforced, this meant that he would sacrifice his chances of promotion, but (as a non-Christian) not his life. Christians who refused to sacrifice faced beheading. When Nearchos learned of this, he was distraught, not at the prospect of death in itself, but because in dying, he would enter Paradise without the company of his beloved Polyeuct. When Polyeuct learned the reasons for his friends anguish, he decided to become a Christian himself, so that he too could be killed, and enter eternity together with Nearchos.