05Jan Church’s teaching on homosexuality needs re-evaluation

On a recent Frontline programme in answer to Pat Kenny, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin seemed hesitant to accept the current Pope’s contention that ‘ Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil ; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as a moral disorder’ and that ‘ homosexuality must be seen as an objective disorder’ . In a sense you wouldn’t blame the Archbishop at being taken aback when this statement was read out to him . The sentence is taken from a letter entitled ‘Homosexualitatis Problema’ that was sent to all the Bishops of the Catholic Church from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 1st October 1986, signed by the then Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger and its secretary Archbishop Bovone and subsequently approved by the then Pope John Paul II who ordered it to be published.

The Ratzinger letter was in response to an earlier Vatican declaration in 1975 which noted the distinction drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and homosexual activity which was described as ‘intrinsically disordered’. However, in the discussion that followed this 1975 Vatican declaration, Ratzinger complained that ‘an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, ,some going so far as to call it neutral or even good’. So the 1986 C.D.F. letter penned by Ratzinger was a strong reaction to the positive development of the understanding of homosexuality on psychological, sociological and theological levels within the Church . As in so much Roman theology tendencies, inclinations, activities are seen as ends in themselves and not part of the human person and a means of the perfection of the human person. While parts of Ratzinger’s letter is pastoral, the overall tone is very condemnatory. Especially reprehensible is his comments in Section 10 that ‘when such a claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground , and irrational and violent reactions increase.’ For the then Cardinal Ratzinger it seems that homosexuality is the harbinger of ‘distorted notions and practices ‘ and increased violent and irrational behaviour in society.

It is time for a thorough theological root and branch re-evaluation of being gay, lesbian or trans –gender in the Catholic Church of today .

However, the Vatican and Pope Benedict are not for turning. On January 3rd the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols under pressure from the Vatican has ordered the ending of the ‘Soho Masses’ that were set up by his predecessor to provide for the pastoral care of gay Catholics and their families and to rub salt into the wound of intolerance the Archbishop has given over the Soho Church to the Ordinariate which was set up by Pope Benedict for Anglicans who have left their Church of England because they refused to accept gay clergy !

Is there any hope for those of us who believe that change is essential in our Church that ‘semper reformanda est ‘?

11 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    Thank you, Brendan, for highlighting this issue. Yes, I totally agree with you that “It is time for a thorough theological root and branch re-evaluation of being gay, lesbian or trans –gender in the Catholic Church of today. ”
    Re the Gay masses in Soho. I wasn’t surprised they ended but if you believe, as I do, that being gay or having a same-sex orientation is perfectly normal in some humans (as it is normal in a percentage of animals in the animal kingdom) then there should be no need for “gay” masses. That’s a great sadness that there was ever a need for separate masses. We are all equally loved by God and we should all worship together.
    Reading something lately about the native American people who celebrated same sex unions with as much joy, maybe even more joy, as they celebrated different sex unions. To think that we tried to “civilise” these people when they had much to teach us too.

  2. Darlene Starrs

    Oh, there are lots of things in life that could probably be labelled as “intrinsically disordered”. I’m sure I’ve acquired that label just by “revealing” my spirituality and theology in certain circles. What I do believe, is that God ultimately makes order out of any of our disorders! I like to return to scriptural images……..there is Jesus, preaching on the hillside. Who do you suppose was sitting there? Everyone! We know from the scripture, that only God knows anyone’s heart, and that is what God is concerned with………our heart. I understand from a practical point of view, the Institution, considers itself, a teacher of morality, and so it wants to create guidelines around behavior, but whatever or however, they want to write their theological legislation, it must make sense, and it must be compassionate. Naturally, the reference to “check the log in your eye, before looking at the stick, in mine, does come to mind”. Again, ultimately, who is, and who is not, a part of the Communion of Saints, the Church, that begins here on earth, and moves into eternity………is with the Authority of the Son. We, on earth, are to Love, The Lord Our God, With Our Whole Heart, Whole Mind, And Whole Soul, And Love Our Neighbor As Ourselves.

  3. Teilhard

    I am astonished! The letter written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986 about homosexuality when he was prefect of the CDF was antagonistic to everything known at that time in the fields of psychology, sociology, and modern theology. Now, 27 years later, it is antiquarian and an anomaly to scholars of the 21st century. It is as outdated in the modern world of science and research as is the theory supported by the Catholic Church when it condemned Galileo. Simply put, it is an embarrassment to rational people who are educated in the living sciences. The more serious problem is that like the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up, those without benefit of secular education are the likely victims of this misinformation. They will needlessly suffer guilt and personal disharmony due to the backwardness of the RCC. At what point do thinking people merely throw up their hands and walk away, “enough is enough”!

    We don’t need the pruning shears and clippers for this teaching, we need a powerful chain saw! A back-end loader may also be helpful. Outdated and anachronistic teachings such as this are the cause of the RCC losing credibility in the modern world.

  4. Elizabeth

    I’m not sure there should be SoHo masses – if Christianity means anything at all everyone should be welcome at all masses. Jesus was a rebel and outside of his society and could be considered to be ‘intrinsically disordered’ as a Jew.

    I think ‘If Jesus was here today what would he do?’ is a good test for nearly everything.

    I think Jesus would celebrate 2 people who love each other be they a man and a woman or two men or two women. Why wouldn’t he? There is nothing at all in the New Testament to suggest he wouldn’t approve.

    Again I think it comes down to souls collected: two people of the same sex aren’t naturally going to make new souls for the never-ending struggle against other religions.

    To put it in a modern way: It’s no skin off the Pope’s nose if two men love each other and want to express that physically. It harms no one.

  5. Anthony

    In an ideal world we shouldn’t indeed need the Soho mass. However self-acceptance as well as community acceptance for gay people is evolutionary and we are not there yet. Gay people really benefit from worshipping with those whose very presence in church mirrors an acceptance that has been lacking when it mattered most in their lives. The wounds are still raw for many and psychological well-being is very fragile with some. We are not yet at the stage where we can assume support is not needed.

  6. Mary Cunningham

    Brendan Butler has highlighted a critical issue. Mary McAleese asks in her book Quo Vadis (2012 p.157) “Could church teaching on homosexuality be the new psychological child abuse issue of the coming decade?”

    A reassessment of church teaching on sexuality is of paramount importance. Is there any hope of reform and essential change in light of overwhelming evidence that being gay is not an ‘objective disorder’?
    May I answer a tentative ‘yes’and make the following suggestions to church authorities;

    Begin a non adversarial process of open listening, learning and dialogue.

    Re-evaluate the silencing of those whose writings on this topic are grounded in a theology of a God of compassion.

    Be not afraid, trust the Holy Spirit to make the New Evangelisation credible and truly grounded in the spirit of the gospels.

    With respect I ask you to read the interview with James Alison, link below.
    One line from this interview is quoted here
    “The silence of those in positions of influence in the church who know, or have a strong suspicion, that being gay is a nonpathological minority variant in the human condition drives me crazy, far crazier than I am driven by any loud-mouthed purveyor of hateful nonsense”.


    Mary Cunningham

  7. Con Carroll

    I make no apologise for been out as a gay person. I am also a member of a small Franciscan Community of women and men. to look at a person who is gay, becomed fascinated on this aspect of the person’s life. one is missing the bigger picture. there can be no place for homophobia among those who call themselves Christians. homophoba kills people.
    I see no clonflict with my life as a person who is gay. and Spirituality. what I do have a problem with is those who deny their sexuality to engage in degrading verbal. written statements against people who do, getting on living their lives
    please dont tell me. that those who were close to Jesus. were white hetrosexual. sexual attractive women and men, who would appear in Vanity Affair. Vogue Magazine
    we can’t seperate our sexuality from our Spirituality. if we believe the Gospels and the life of Jesus. we should be standing in solidarity with people who are alienated. in a open. welcoming and inclusive manner
    having read the Archbishop of Westminister points of view, in the Guardian. Thursday 3 January 2013. about the Soho Mass in London. it is my hope that people will not enter into negative comments. that we respond in a manner as mature educated people. alot of women, and men who are gay/lesbian have alot to offer in Spirituality

  8. John

    I would be interested in hearing from Brendan et al. as to their views on chastity. Do they regard this as a virtue as the Catholic Church teaches and, if so, what would they mean by it? What do you think of the 12-step approach used by EnCourage the homosexual group which seeks to live by the Church’s teaching on chastity?

  9. Stephen Edward

    Elizabeth says: “I think Jesus would celebrate 2 people who love each other be they a man and a woman or two men or two women. Why wouldn’t he? There is nothing at all in the New Testament to suggest he wouldn’t approve.”
    Jesus didn’t say anything about child abuse or incest, so are we to take it that he would approve? He DID mention the punishment meted out to Sodom and Gomorrah and He certainly didn’t seem to disapprove of it (well He wouldn’t, you must believe that He himself punished them if you are a Catholic!). Saint Paul directly, specifically and strongly condemns homosexuality. To pretend that we can make our own decision on this matter is ludicrous.

  10. Tony Butler

    For a while in the early 1960’s I served for a short time in the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick St., London. It is the church wehre the ” Soho Masses ” take place. It is my memory that this church was never closed for Catholics during the days of persecution in England due to it being part of the Embassy of Portugal. Now the Masses for gay Catholics there are coming to an end – on the instructions of the Arcbishop of Westminister. I believe it was pressure from the Vatican rather than the Archbishop’s personal pastoral decision. His wish is that gay Catholics be part of their own worshipping, celebrating parish community and whilst that is indeed a wonderful hope and vision for gay Catholics, it is difficult for many gay Catholics to feel they belong or even have some sense of ownership in their parishes when they have been told, their parents have been told, their siblings have been told, that they are “intrinsically disordered” by reason of their sexuality.

    Of course this terminology also applies to the gay priest celebrant who presides at the parish liturgy and indeed at the gay bishop of whatever diocese who ordained the gay priest! This terminology is not accepted by any sensible thinking man or woman. Indeed it is words like these that have led so many gay men to suicide, blackmail, harassment, and the dreadful havoc of depression and mental breakdown; men, non-ordained and ordained.

    God the Creator becomes the God of blessings with the creation of life. All of us, men and women, are called to live out our lives in the most authentic way possible and we are blessed again when we are received into the community of the People of God, called by name, signed with the Sign of The cross and anointed as ” Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King.” We are indeed blessed into the Christian journey as long as the question of homosexuality as part of one’s identity is hidden, denied and occasionally in very sad cases to deny one’s sexual orientation by demonising, making fun of, discriminating against, penalising, silencing and eventually exiling gay men, because of their very sexuality. It has been a charade and a denial and game playing that devalues all of us.

    To quote The Tablet, ” The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is being reassigned to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which exists to provide for the spiritual needs of ex-Anglicans. So one group of exiles is being replaced by another” (Tablet 5 January 2013). Perhaps it is time for a caucus for gay Catholics to have a voice as we look “Towards An Assembly”, a group consisting of non-ordained and ordained.

  11. Association of Catholic Priests

    Thanks to Brendan Butler for highlighting this issue that continues to blight our Church. Surely, in Christ there is neither homosexuality or heterosexuality. Con’s (No. 7) contribution was particularly useful.

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