Tag Archives: Vatican

Sexual Science and the Vatican: John Paul II Institute Upgraded

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.

We shall have to wait and see.

Related Posts

Charamsa Alleges CDF Attempts to Undermine Francis’ Papacy

Continuing with my free translation of gay theologian Monsignor Charamsa’s interview in Religion Digital.

Msgr Krzysztof Charamsa
Msgr Krzysztof Charamsa

Is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith one of the main pieces of resistance in the Curia to the Franciscan spring ?

Undoubtedly . The Congregation is experiencing its darkest period. What matters most is to keep our hidden taboo: homosexuality and sexuality in general. With spring Francisco, the congregation has a new enemy. Along with gays, there Pope Francisco. Along with homophobia a ‘Francisco-phobia “appears. The contempt for the Pope in the Congregation is huge. For the things I’ve heard about the Pope Francisco in the Congregation, it should be denounced for offending the primacy of Peter. In the past, we destroyed careers of theologians who reflected with respect and intelligence on new ways of exercising the primacy. Now the Congregation is against the Pope and his primacy in an irrational way.

Several people who work in the Congregation are simply fundamentalists and their intellectual level is not as high as the presumption of being “saviors of this criminal world.” Inside there is no possibility of discussion. Personally, I have no doubt that the Prefect of the Congregation, in a dignified and honorable way, should resign after my coming out. To save the situation, the Congregation should be closed by the Pope to begin a renewal of its methods of promoting the faith in the Church. Today the Inquisition remains . It is devoid of reason and full of paranoid emotional arguments as openly expressed by Cardinal Sarah.

See also the full series:


The Vatican’s Gay Anxiety  

David Berger is a Catholic (lay) theologian who was fired from a prestigious teaching post because he is openly gay. As such, he has a special insight into the significance of the Vatican theologian Msgr Krzysztof’s coming out as gay and partnered. He shared his views in an interview with Frankfurter Rundschau.

This is my own free translation:

The Catholic Church can no longer avoid the debate over gay priests. 


The gay theologian David Berger talks in an interview about the outing of gay clergy Krzysztof Charamsa and about homosexuals in the Vatican. However, Berger leans against blessings for homosexual couples.

Mr. Berger, the Vatican summarily dismissed – in secular terms – the gay theologian Krzysztof Charamsa after his coming out . Was this grasping at crisis management?

In an attempt to demonstrate strength, the apparatus showed in truth its weakness and its vulnerability. The great legal tradition of the Catholic Church, of which we might actually be proud, in this moment is worth nothing any more, after the outwardly hostile attitude towards homosexuality is exposed as living a lie.

Continued at The Queer Church Repository

Understanding the Vatican Surrender to Italian Civil Unions

In Italy, the Catholic parties in the Senate are mounting a fierce battle to stave off the government’s introduction of civil unions for same – sex couples, but the Vatican appears to have decided not to back them – and allow the legislation to pass.

The report at Il Giornale notes that this is an apparent paradox, but shows how in fact, it is not. Some may find this news surprising, but it is not unexpected: I wrote about the possibility myself, in this post. To understand how this has come about, we need some clarification of key points.

Gay marriage

First, it is not true (as Gay Star News has claimed) that the Vatican has decided to “back” civil unions. That would be unthinkable, for a deeply conservative curia, and a major synod on protecting marriage and family is imminent, and where the question of LGBT ministry is already shaping up to be a major hot potato.  All that has happened (if the report is sound), is that the Vatican is facing some uncomfortable facts, and is beating a strategic retreat. If some form of legal protection is inevitable, it will not damage its reputation by fighting a losing battle. In stepping back, it hopes it will be left with the lesser of two evils. Continue reading Understanding the Vatican Surrender to Italian Civil Unions

Il Giornale Reports that the Vatican Is Ready for Civil Unions!

Gay Star News reports that the Vatican could be ready to support civil unions, and also step – child adoption, based on an Italian language report, in Il Giornale.

Same-sex couple Ariel Owens (R) and his spouse Joseph Barham walk arm in arm after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California. Same-sex couples throughout California are rushing to get married as counties begin issuing marriage license after a State Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriage.  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP  = FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS AND TELEVISION USE ONLY =
Same-sex couple Ariel Owens (R) and his spouse Joseph Barham walk arm in arm after they were married at San Francisco City Hall June 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California. Same-sex couples throughout California are rushing to get married as counties begin issuing marriage license after a State Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex marriage. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP = FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS AND TELEVISION USE ONLY =

I’ll be attempting an English translation as early as I can – but meanwhile, here’s the opening of the GSN report:

Could the Vatican be ready to back civil unions as the ‘lesser of two evils’?

New reports have suggested the Vatican could be ready to back civil unions for gay couples as the ‘lesser of two evils’.

The Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), the assembly of bishops in Italy, are reportedly ready to reluctantly support a move towards equality.

Their hand is being forced as the European Court of Human Rights has said that as a major European country, Italy must provide same-sex couples with some form of union.

With the courts allowing a marriage between a trans woman and a cis man to stand, it appears the more conservative organizations are desperate to stop same-sex marriages from happening.

According to the Giornale, The Vatican and the CEI would give a green light to civil unions and also step-child adoption.

While many bishops would prefer same-sex couples to have no rights, the newspaper suggests that if couples are denied civil unions for much longer it will only lead to the courts forcing the country to pass full marriage equality.

‘Given the rulings of courts both here and across the world giving rights to gay and lesbian couples and their families, to approve civil unions would represent the “lesser evil” against the risk that of being forced to extend marriage to same-sex couples,’ they say.

– more at Gay Star News

via Could the Vatican be ready to back civil unions as the ‘lesser of two evils’? | Gay Star News.


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Heterosexual Acts, Loving Homoerotic Relationships

One of the nastier tricks of Vatican rhetoric, especially as displayed in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, is the uneven manner in which (approved) heterosexual relationships are described in terms of “conjugal love”, while (condemned) homosexual relationships are simply not mentioned, and the word “homosexual” is used only in terms of homosexual persons, “acts” (assumed to be genital), and “condition”.

The unfairness and lack of validity of this could be  quickly and easily demonstrated simply by reversing the procedure. How easy it it would be to lament the condition of the heterosexual male, intent only on self-indulgent sensual gratification, as demonstrated in the ubiquity of prostitution and pornography. Or, we could consider the one-sided nature of the institution of traditional marriage, marked by patriarchal domination, an expectation that male sexual needs should always be met, a disregard for the need (or sometimes even the possibility) of female sexual pleasure, and sometimes even domestic violence and marital rape.

Domestic Violence: Heterosexual Acts?

It would be easy, but I’m not going to go there. I am quite willing to accept that there must be many sound heterosexual relationships really are founded on genuine loving partnerships, based on equality of the partners. Logically, I am sure it is quite as possible for heterosexual marriages to be as emotionally healthy for both partners as homoerotic relationships.

Instead, I want to look at the other side of the comparison, at the quality of the love found in so many male couples, love which the Vatican resolutely fails to acknowledge.

Dugan McGinley (“Acts of Faith, Acts of Love“) discusses many of these relationships, as recounted in the autobiographical writings of a selection of gay male Catholics – and ex-Catholics. Reading these accounts, I was struck by how much these relationships are fully characterised by the intensity and quality of love and mutual giving to the other, and even to their partners’ families. These “acts of love” are quite as much “homosexual acts” as the merely genital acts with which the Vatican is obsessed.

Fenton Johnson, for instance, in “Geography of the Heart” describes how he made a fully conscious and deliberate decision to commit his life in love to his partner Larry, even in the full knowledge that Larry had AIDS, and would soon be dying a slow and difficult death, with all the implications that would bring in difficulties and burdens imposed  on himself. In accepting the responsibility, Johnson finds that the quality of his love draws him closer to God:

My deciding to take care of Larry as he goes through this is in part a religious decision – a decision to thank the power,  or powers,  that have granted me life. And it’s a humanistic decision, – a storing up, I can hope, of grace; if I stand at someone’s side during this hard portion of his journey, perhaps, I can hope, I will have someone to stand by me when my time arrives, be that one or five or fifty years away.

In caring for my lover I came to understand the tautological relationship between God and love.  My lover’s love for me and mine for him made me into something better, braver, more noble than I had imagined myself capable of being. I was touched by the literal hand of god, for this is what love is, in a way as real as I expected to encounter in this life.

Earlier in their relationship, with the first visit to Larry’s family, they took a decision out of respect for the sensitivities of the family, that Larry would sleep in the family home, and Fenton would go alone to an hotel.  After Larry’s eventual death, he continues to see and offer support to Larry’s parents, and especially to his mother after she finds herself alone and widowed.

John McNeill has often written of the importance of his own partner, Charles, and how important each has been to the other in the differing kinds of support they offer, and the sacrifices they have made for each other.

Despite, this, McNeill performs his act of love without question; he is committed to Charlie for better or for worse.

John also makes an important, often overlooked consequence of the church distinction between homosexual “acts” (of the genital kind) and homosexual persons. For by focussing on single acts as isolated sins, and denying the possibility of relationships, the Church is paradoxically encouraging the precisely the kind of promiscuous lifestyle that they decry, and assume to characterise the “gay lifestyle”.

According to the pastoral practice of the church, a man could have gay sex one night and then be absolved for his “sin” in confession the next day. If, on the other hand, he fell in love and moved in with a man, he would be denied absolution until he broke off the relationship. This is how he experienced his own coming to terms with his homosexuality as a Catholic: “Ironically the church fostered promiscuity and felt that the enemy was not gay sex but gay love”.

The point, which Vatican documents simply ignore, is that “homosexual acts” are not purely genital,  but include, are even primarily, acts of love.  As McGinley repeatedly notes in his book, it is impossible to separate the homosexual “person” from his “acts”, or from the “condition” that makes him who he is.

What of those who have attempted to live fully within church teaching? Some few, especially some of the priests, have successfully accepted the charism of celibacy. However, as we know from St Paul, not everyone is granted this charism.  For those who do not possess it, compulsory celibacy is simply oppressive:

The intention is to promote  lives of virtue for gay people, but the effect of trying to live according to  church teaching on homosexuality is usually the opposite. For example, the church insists on life-long celibacy for gay people, even though they may not possess  the charism necessary for such a commitment. Without the charism, the requirement is no longer life-enhancing, but rather death-dealing. It relies on an artificial separation of doing and being gay, and transforms into a bare bones order of abstinence – a suffering to be offered up, a cross to bear. As (Andrew) Sullivan says, “Abstinence forever; abstinence always; abstinence not just from sex, but from love and love’s hope and the touch of a lover’s embrace. Abstinence even from recognition, acknowledgement, family.”

(Bear in mind here, that notwithstanding the official insistence that the Church condemns only the “acts”, and that the “persons” must be treated with “dignity, compassion and respect”, the actual practice of the church frequently confuses the two the moment that a “person” openly identifies as gay. This was the case with the Canadian altar server, who remains unable to serve because he is living openly with a man, even though he insists that the relationship is celibate.)

This denial of love which Sullivan describes has lead many men into destructive marriages, or to suicide, or to both. These too are described in McGinley’s book, but I will not go into them here.   Instead, I simply want to remind you of the significance of McGinley’s subtitle: that gay Catholic autobiographies are sacred texts. Indeed they are, and telling and sharing our stories are sacramental acts.

Vatican doctrine on sexuality is dry, abstract, entirely theoretical – and not based on sound premises. Telling our stories, speaking the truth in love, as the Vatican itself urges us to do, is the one simple thing that every gay Catholic can do to contribute (over time) to the building of a new, sounder and reality- based sexual theology.

See also


Johnson, Fenton: Geography Of The Heart

McGinley, Dugan: “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts

McNeill, John: Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal

Previous posts:

Excluded from God’s People?

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking