07Dec SCRIPT + AUDIO – ACP Zoom: Papal Teaching on Same-Sex Relationships: A Battle Against Reality with Luca Badini Confalonieri

Audio of the ACP Zoom Presentation “Papal Teaching on Same-Sex Relationships: A Battle Against Reality” with Luca Badini Confalonieri on Monday 6th December 2021.

Link to Audio: (Luca starts at 8 mins 18 seconds in)

https://soundcloud.com/user-211747038/luca-badinii-acp-meeting-dec-2021?si=a86c707155cd46bbac24f31a69cbdd60

 

 

Script of Luca’s presentation: (This script was updated, with slight additions, on Wed 8 Dec 2021)

Papal Teaching on Same-Sex Relationships: A Battle Against Reality

Thank you all very much for being here, thank you Gerry for your kind introduction, and thank you Liamy Mac Nally for the invitation, it is wonderful to be able to share with you what we’ve been up to here at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, and to hear your insights, questions, and suggestions on what is arguably the most important topic driving the alienation of young Catholics from the institutional church.

As Professor Gerard Loughlin beautifully put it not so long ago, “the moral question of homosexuality is no longer about its acceptability, but about the [Catholic] Church’s opposition to it, about the [Catholic] Church’s homophobia”.

My goal today is to provide a critical assessment of the papal teaching on same-sex relationships, and this I feel comfortable doing, because I’ve been coordinating for a couple of years now an interdisciplinary panel of academics to evaluate the official arguments behind the papal condemnation of same-sex relationships.

The conclusions have been set out in a research report, and then summarised in a so-called Academic Statement, both of which were launched in early May and are freely available online.[1] Thanks to the generosity of volunteers from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, the full report (about 50 pages, or 35k words) has been translated into German and Spanish; while the academic statement (itself about 3,500 words, or 9 pages long) is available in 10 languages, including Chinese, with Filipino to come soon.

And for those of you want instead a 5 minutes “summary of the summary”, you can read the article I wrote for the Irish Times, entitled “Cry for justice from gay Catholics must not be ignored,” which was published on the first of June and is free to read on their website.

Now, before I get into the meat of the argument, let me remind you that while I will be dealing primarily with the papal objections to same-sex relationships, those are shared largely by many conservative Christians. While I was researching what other Christian churches had published on the topic of same-sex relationships, I came across the 2017 report “An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage” of the Theological Forum – i.e. the research department – of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In it, I found a passage which praised as a “most perceptive theological move” the following insights:

the central issue in this long-running debate […] is not – as it has so often been portrayed – […] ‘homosexual vs heterosexual’ but ‘procreative vs non-procreative’. And we have to determine how we evaluate non-procreative unions.[2]

A very good point indeed. Please keep that insight in mind, as re-emerge regularly in what follows.

So, let me quickly rehearse the arguments in support of those papal condemnations.

The first kind is the argument from “natural law”. It purports to be a philosophical argument accessible to and verifiable by everybody, regardless of their religious faith.

The second kind of argument is the one from authority: it consists simply of appeals to selected biblical passages.

[The Natural Law argument: every act of sex has procreation as its natural finality]

Let’s start with the Natural Law argument first. As it happens, the crucial tenet for condemning same-sex relationships is taken from the earlier papal condemnation of contraceptives in the 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae. Its reasoning can be summarised in the following three points:

1) The biological “laws of generation” show that every act of sexual intercourse has procreation as its natural finality;

2) God established those biological laws;

3) Hence, human beings cannot interfere with those laws; and so they can never hinder procreation as one of the natural finalities of sex. Doing so would be “intrinsically evil,” that is, always immoral regardless of the intention of the agent, the circumstances of the situation, or the consequences of the action. So people must always keep their sexual acts “open to procreation”.

This argument underlies not just the condemnation of contraception but also the one of same-sex relationships. In effect, the two main documents on same-sex people by the CDF, that is Persona humana in 1975 and Homosexualitatis problema in 1986, both have at their heart the affirmation that same-sex unions are immoral because they lack what both of them define identically as “an essential and indispensable finality” of each sexual act, namely procreation.

The justification for why procreation should be regarded as an essential and indispensable finality of each and every act of sex is not repeated, but it was explicitly stated in Humanae vitae: it’s because biology shows that to be the case.

Why the Natural Law argument is wrong

Such an affirmation is mistaken on many levels. First and foremost, this is because the biological “laws of generation” show no such thing: in the vast majority of cases, sexual acts are biologically incapable of procreation: and if most of them lack the capacity to procreate, how can it be said that each and every one of them has procreation as its natural finality or goal?

Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan put it more elegantly in his criticism of Humanae vitae: the relationship between insemination on the one hand and fertilisation, implantation and ultimately procreation on the other is statistical and relative, dependent as it is on the fulfilment of numerous conditions. If it were not so, every act of insemination would result in a conception.[3]

As noted, this means that the vast majority of acts of heterosexual intercourse have neither a biological capacity nor a finality for procreation: and, in that respect, they are identical to non-heterosexual sexual acts.

On this very point, Humanae vitae is in direct contradiction not just with biology 101 but, and this is less well-known, with the Doctrinal Commission of the Second Vatican Council. That commission had rejected an amendment proposed by a group of 109 bishops, which asked for the introduction in a conciliar document of the affirmation that each and every act of sexual intercourse is, and I quote, “in itself apt to the generation of offspring” – essentially the same expression later used by Humanae vitae. The commission rejected this with the following pithy one liner: “Not all acts tend to generation, see for example sterility, and the infertile period [of the menstrual cycle].”[4]

But the mistake of Humanae vitae that was obvious to most people, I suspect, was its insistence that sex must always be open to procreation. Any person who has an even passing acquaintance with sex knows that the reasons people have sex are varied, and reproduction is a very, very minor one indeed.

Or put differently: the biological fact that the vast majority of acts of sexual intercourse has zero chance to result in conception is in itself the expression of an evolutionary development.

What I’m referring to is that it is distinctive of the evolutionary development of highly intelligent animal species that sexual intercourse moved away from the relative biological determinism of the reproductive hormones, whereby animals only mate during the female oestrus.

Already in many higher primates, and most obviously in the homo sapiens, sexual intercourse broke away from the biological determinism which limited it to the oestrus, and by the same token it evolved purposes other than the mere transmission of the genotype: namely, sexual pleasure, the development and maintenance of pair-bonding, and a whole host of other purposes equally to do with socialization. Such an evolutionary development of the purpose of sex has been summarised in the slogan “from procreation to recreation”.

In other words, sex in humans is a form of expression, a language, a “carrier of meaning” (as Bernard Lonergan would put it) whose purposes and goals are as varied as those required by our social nature. The Vatican insistence that sex must always be open to procreation is a reductionist, impoverished understanding of sexuality which is barely adequate to describe animal sexuality.

And to reiterate: those social “finalities” of sex are precisely what differentiates human sexuality from that of most (although not all) other animals. The Vatican insistence that sex must always be open to procreation is a reductionist, impoverished understanding of sexuality which is barely adequate to describe animal sexuality.

Crucially, the expansion of the finalities of sex from procreation to socialisation applies not only to heterosexual sexuality, but also to same-sex sexuality.

Granted, papal teaching is wrong in affirming that each and every act of sexual intercourse has procreation as its natural finality. But can we at least say that biological procreation must be essential to marriage as a whole, so that same-sex marriage must be excluded?

Again, we know that is not the case. Catholic theology and Canon Law maintain that the capacity for biological procreation is not even necessary for sacramental marriage: the Code of Canon Law solemnly states that “Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage” (can. 1084 §3). Plenty of heterosexual couples marry sacramentally despite biological procreation being impossible for them. So it is entirely contradictory for papal teaching to condemn same-sex unions as lacking the capacity to procreate.

So let me end this section by quoting from our own Academic Statement:

[Pope Francis in Amoris laetitia] observed that “procreation” and “motherhood” are not solely “biological realities”[5], and they “are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love”[6]: such fruitfulness can also be expressed through adoption, or simply by contributing to society. Both non-heterosexual and heterosexual relationships are capable of that kind of fruitfulness.[7]

Because this is the heart of the problem, isn’t it? Remember the insight from the report by the Presbyterian church of Scotland, that the issue is not same-sex vs hetero relationships, but how to evaluate “non-procreative unions?”? Well, our statement makes the point repeatedly that all we ask for is consistency: it is to morally evaluate same-sex unions the same way we do heterosexual unions. If sterility is not an impediment for the latter, why should it be for the former? If companionship, love, etc. are good for the latter, why can’t they be good for the former? If a heterosexual couple may forego children to better focus on contributing to the common good and society in other ways, why can’t a same-sex couple do the same? And if, conversely, a heterosexual couple unable or unwilling to have children want to contribute to the common good by adopting, why can’t a same-sex couple? As the Academic Statement put it:

The criteria for morally evaluating same-sex relationships and sexual acts should be the same as those used for morally evaluating heterosexual relationships and sexual acts.

Homosexual relationships can be as life-giving and blessed as their heterosexual counterparts. They can fulfil one or more of human sexuality’s non-conceptive meanings, including pleasure, love, comfort, celebration, friendship, and companionship.[8]

What I’m going to do in the reminder of the talk is address the few biblical verses used by the Vatican in support of both its narrowly biological “procreationist” stance and the related condemnation of same-sex relationships.

What does the Bible say about sexuality in general?

As it is well known, the first creation story in Genesis 1 affirms that God created humankind “male and female,” and he proceeded to bless them with the words “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (vv. 27-28). This is interpreted by papal teaching as meaning that, in humans, sexual differentiation is for procreation.

However, there are grammatical, logical, and contextual reasons in favour of interpreting such words as a blessing rather than a command.

With regard to the grammar, the misunderstanding comes from the different uses that the imperative form can have in Hebrew in comparison to English. As scholars have pointed out, it is evident from a number of passages in the Old Testament, in Hebrew imperatives used within a blessing express the content of the blessing itself, rather than strict commands.[9] In other words, “The imperatives, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’, are […] to be identified as God’s blessing.”[10] As Andrew Schmutzer, the author of one of the most comprehensive studies on those Genesis verses observed,

Reading […] “Be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth” as a command to bear children is a worn out misreading, confusing the form of the text (grammatical imperative) with its function (genre of blessing). Genesis 1:28 is God’s blessing to accomplish, not humankind’s command to breed.[11]

Such a conclusion suggested by the grammar is supported by logic: in the words of David Daube, another OT scholar,

“the identical phrase [i.e. “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth”)] is addressed on the fifth day of the creation to fish and fowl, obviously not intended to become responsible for their reproduction. Here, too, not surprisingly, we read ‘and God blessed them’. It is a blessing, nothing else.”

Again, the same conclusion can also be derived from the broader context of the passage. A careful analysis of the entire story in Gen chapter 1 shows that the mention of the sexual differentiation and the fertility blessings serve a somewhat different insight, namely that the capacity for reproduction is “built-in” by God into all living things. This crucial point likely served a polemical intent. Phyllis Bird again:

For [the Priestly author], the power of created life to replenish itself is a power given to each species at its creation and therefore not dependent upon subsequent rites or petitions for its effect. The emphatic and repeated word which endows life with the means and the power of propagation undercuts the rationale of the fertility cult – and in yet another manner deposes and annihilates the gods; for the power to create life and to sustain it belongs to God alone, who incorporates the means of perpetuity into the very design and constitution of the universe.[12]

So Genesis 1 is silent on the other purposes of sexual differentiation beyond what we would call the merely biological. That is, it is silent about what papal teachings refer to as the “unitive” purpose and, more broadly, what is referred to as the “sociosexual” purposes of human sexuality which I have highlighted earlier. This gap if filled immediately by the second creation story in Genesis 2, which nicely complements the insights on sexuality of Genesis 1.[13]

The relevant verses are 18 to 24, and of those, the first and the last are the most important.

Verse 18 has God affirm “it is not good for Adam to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him”: this affirms two purposes of sexual differentiation: the overcoming of loneliness, and mutual help.

In turn, the crucial verse 24, widely regarded as a later addition,[14] is likely to refer to marriage specifically: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his woman, and they become one flesh”.

And here’s the point of attention: those passages of Genesis highlight the “unitive” function (i.e. fellowship, relationship, affective union/communion in love) as the only raison d’être distinctive of human sexuality.

Here is professor Richard Davidson, who in 2007 wrote a massive book entitled “Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament”, which is one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject. This is what he wrote about the seminal passage in Genesis 2 dealing with the purpose of sexuality:

[S]exuality cannot be wholly subordinated to the intent to propagate children. Sexual differentiation has meaning apart from the procreative purpose […].

The complete absence of any reference to the propagation of children in Gen 2 highlights the significance of the unitive purpose of sexuality. [B]y the “full-stop” after “one flesh” in v. 24, sexuality is given independent meaning and value. It does not need to be justified only as a means to a superior end, that is, procreation. […]

Sexual love in the creation pattern is valued for its own sake. […] For the biblical narrator […] “the communitarian, affective function of marriage takes precedence over the procreative function of marriage.”[15]

Looking beyond Genesis, nowhere is procreation mandated as necessary for sex or marriage in general. In fact, the Song of Songs explicitly praises pleasure as one of the purposes of sexuality, to which all should aspire. Such an eroticism is praised in itself, and not merely as a means to the end of procreation.

In summary, the Old Testament affirms:

1) firstly, that the purpose of human sexuality comprises companionship, mutual help, and physical pleasure. They are endorsed as morally worthy purposes of sex regardless of the concomitant existence of an intention to procreate.

2) secondly, and by the same token, procreation is not included in the foundational passage of Genesis addressing the purpose of sexuality. Where procreation is indeed mentioned in the fertility blessing of Genesis 1, it is described precisely as a blessing rather than a command.

In summary, the bible endorses as morally worthy purposes of sexual intercourse other than procreation. And as it should be obvious to all, same-sex relationships can fulfil those morally worthy non-conceptive purposes of human sexuality.

We can now move to an analysis of the two most important “clubber” verses in the bible, which supposedly condemn same-sex relationships.

What does the Bible say about homosexuality in particular?

There is a grand total of six short passages in the entire bible which may be conceivably interpreted as condemning consensual male same-sex activity, the so-called “clobber verses”.[16]

Before addressing the three most important ones, let me highlight the cultural framework that applies to all of them, which is this: no biblical author, whether of the Old or the New Testament, had an understanding either of the existence of a permanent same-sex attraction, or of the sort of egalitarian same-sex relationships which are now common in our societies.

On the contrary, In the world inhabited by the biblical authors, male same-sex behaviour was expressed through sexual relationships which were ordinarily temporary, not free, and even exploitative, due to imbalances of age, status, and power. Therefore, no biblical passage condemning male same-sex activity is relevant for morally evaluating free and faithful male same-sex relationships [RR §5.1].

And there is another point of attention: nowhere in the entire bible – whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament – are female same-sex relations condemned or even only prohibited. I will return to this below.

The above two points are nothing new. What is more novel – and what I’m particularly excited to share with you today – is the interpretation of three of the most important of the “clobber texts”.

Leviticus 18:22 and parallel 20:13

One of the most surprising discoveries of the research report has to do with the two parallel verses in Leviticus which are often interpreted as condemning male same-sex relations: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Despite the assurance with which that “homophobic” translation is generally bandied about, the underlying Hebrew is by no means clear, as it contains an expression whose meaning has proven difficult to pin down until relatively recently.

A literal translation would be something like “And-with a male you will not lie ‘lyings-of’ a woman” [word by word: And-with a male not you-will-lie ‘lyings-of’ a-woman]”. You can see that the received translation can only be reached by changing that original Hebrew by adding the comparative particle “as”, and “with”, as well as by ignoring the key expression “lyings-of”: “And-with a male you will not lie [‘lyings-of’] as with a woman”.[17]

The key to unlock the meaning is the rare and mysterious expression “lyings-of,” or “lying-places-of”. The story of how a number of scholars over more than twenty years have contributed this or that insight to help crack the code is absolutely fascinating, and I summarised it concisely in our research report.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go into the details here, but I can outline the conclusions reached, which they come from a ground-breaking peer-reviewed essay only published in March 2020 by OT scholar Bruce Wells, although it’s been in the making for more than 5 years and builds on key insights which go back to the late nineties.[18]

The rare expression “lyings-of” has now been confirmed to mean “beds of”. So we get “And-with a male you will not lie on the beds of a woman.”

In turn, the expression “beds of” + (woman/man) likely signified the “sexual domain” of the person in question, that is, it meant all people whose sexual activity is controlled by that person. Specifically, in our case “beds of a woman” refers to every male belonging, sexually speaking, to a woman: first and foremost, the husband; but also every (unmarried) male whose sexual activity is controlled by a woman: for example, a stepson.

In other words, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 only prohibited relationships with males who are married (condemned as adulterous), or unmarried but under the sexual guardianship of a Judean woman (condemned as incestuous). In other words, it’s simply prohibiting sleeping with males who are already “taken” in one way or another.

Another point of attention is that the fact that the prohibition addressed a specific type of male same-sex relationship suggests that same-sex intercourse with males outside the forbidden category was viewed as permissible. What that meant in practice is that

many of the men within the community of a Judean man would be removed from being possible sexual partners for him. What would mostly be left would include male slaves, foreign travelers (not resident foreigners […]), and possibly male prostitutes.[19]

I want to stress that such a translation is the only one which manages to account well for the few occurrences of the rare expression “on the beds of” a woman.

In contrast, the “homophobic” interpretation is based on a mistranslation which ignores that expression and adds further tweaks the original Hebrew. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is longer tenable.

As a consequence of this new understanding of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, it is now possible to affirm with confidence that nowhere in the OT are same-sex relationships, whether involving men or women, condemned or even only prohibited.

This is theologically significant not just for Jews but for Christians as well, to the extent that Catholic theology clearly affirms that the OT has canonical and theological status in itself, and not just as precursor to the NT.

Romans 1:26-27

And so we get to Romans 1:26-27, the passage which conservative Christians insist is the clearest condemnation of same-sex “acts” in the entire NT. Those verses form part of a larger section, Romans 1:18-2:11, in which Paul is building up an argument in support of his conclusion that all have sinned, Gentiles as well as Jews, and so all are deserving of God’s judgment. This is what they say:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.

Likewise also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. The men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Again, the past fifteen years or so have yielded some absolutely fascinating discoveries which have coalesced in a 2018 peer-reviewed paper by NT scholar Brett Provance which, like it’s been the case for Leviticus, had been in the making for years, and which has “cracked the code” that Paul was using.[20]

I won’t be able to go into details here. But basically, in those two verses Paul is repeating (down to the wording he uses) a rhetorical topos, or commonplace argument, frequently found in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition of Paul’s time, which consisted of juxtaposing two examples from Jewish sacred history, to provide powerful “case-studies” of universal human fallenness and divine judgment. Specifically:

Verse 26 is a reference not to female homosexuality, but to the women who slept with angelic beings before the Flood (a literary tradition inspired by Genesis 6:1-4). Note that this verse is the only one in the entire bible which could have conceivably be referred to female homosexuality.[21]

Verse 27 is a reference to the homosexual lust of the men of Sodom (a literary tradition inspired by Genesis 18:16-19:29).[22]

So this is how it would have been understood by his audience – filling in the tacit references:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural [by having sex with angels].

Likewise also the men [of Sodom], giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. The men [of Sodom] committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error [by being blinded].”

Now, those among you who’re extremely knowledgeable about the bible may have spotted that there are a few inconsistencies between Paul’s account here and the original stories found in Genesis 6 and 19 respectively.

In effect, Paul did not quote directly from those original accounts in the book of Genesis, because he was not attempting to offer a biblically accurate exposition or interpretation of those stories. Instead, he’s borrowing from an “off-the-shelf”, ready-made re-telling of those events from earlier Jewish apocalyptic literature, because he is appropriating their reinterpretation of both events together as well-known instances “proving”, as it were, his point about universal human fallenness and divine judgment. As Brett Provance observed in an email to me:

The particulars [of the two events cited] are not especially necessary, nor even at times in agreement. What is important is the two judgments as past precedents for a present declaration of universal divine judgment. […] Sodom in Romans 1 functions as it often does, namely, as the established way to impugn the world for one’s purpose. I do not know how a theologically based anthropology (which includes sexual behavior and human rights) can be argued, one way or the other, on stock apocalyptic rhetoric. […] Paul is not establishing an anthropology in Romans 1. He is establishing himself and (eventually) his understanding of the gospel.[23]

Other scholars have made the related point that the reference to same-sex relations in verse 27 is incidental to Paul’s overall argument. For example, William Loader, one of the foremost experts on sexuality in the NT era, noted that

[Paul’s] statements about same-sex intercourse […] in effect, are incidental to his argument. Had he chosen something else like the closely related drunkenness, we would have been left with virtually nothing about same sex relations in the New Testament.[24]

So let’s accept that Paul is simply parroting a rhetorical tradition common among his contemporary Jewish thinkers. Even so, one may still object that it’s true that by saying that men gave up “natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another […] committed shameless acts with men, and received in their persons the due penalty for their error” Paul is expressing (or, more accurately, uncritically repeating) a negative view of male same sex activity.

That sounds plausible. In fact, that negative view appears to be based on an understanding of “nature” which, again, can be found in two of the most famous Jewish thinkers of Paul’s time: Philo and Josephus. It was based on interpreting Gen 1:27 (“male and female God created them”) as God creating all people as exclusively heterosexual males and females.

From that viewpoint, homosexual “desires” and acts go “against nature” because they are an abandonment and perversion of the natural created order. And that perversion is due to a mind confused by an idolatrous understanding of God and self. If and when some people, created heterosexual, intentionally “pervert” their sexual desires towards people of the same sex, they act “against nature” as created by God. To Paul’s mind, there are no gay people, but only perverted straight people.[25]

As noted, it is possible that Paul held those beliefs, and they certainly fit the use of the word “nature” in his paraphrase of the stories of the ante-diluvian women and Sodom’s men.

But even where that to be the case, it would simply demonstrate how untenable it would be to continue condemning same-sex relationships on bases which are factually, scientifically wrong. Because it is now widely accepted that sexual orientation is determined at the time of birth by genetic and hormonal factors, and it is not the result of a free choice.

Last but not least, as I already touched on earlier, long-term, free and faithful same-sex relationships were virtually unknown in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity. It would have been impossible for Paul to condemn something which he could not know, or even conceive. All he had in front of his eyes were exploitative same-sex relationships, where socially dominant, and largely heterosexual men would have sex with their socially inferior males.

In this context, the interpretation according to which Paul is offering a normative condemnation of non-abusive consensual, faithful and long-term homosexual behaviour is anachronistic and ultimately untenable. In contrast with the alternative interpretation put forward by Brett Provance, it lacks any supporting evidence and, in any case, just like every other alternative interpretation of Paul’s pithy reference to same-sex behaviour, it is impossible to establish with absolute certainty.

Such exegetical uncertainty necessarily carries on to any ethical or theological inference that may be drawn from those texts. If there is no certainty as to what kind of male homosexual acts Paul was referring to – whether consensual or abusive – it is likewise impossible to draw ethical norms from it: “Theological doctrines and ethical rules cannot be based on exegetical suppositions”.

Conclusion

So what’s the take home of this entire presentation? To me, it’s that there’s a desperate need for a complete overhaul of the current papal teaching on everything to do with sex. It’s understanding of sex as always aiming at procreation is such a profound distortion of what sex is about which would be ridiculous were its consequence not so deadly: truly anti-life rather than pro-creation, ironically.

The hollowness of papal teaching is masked by verbose, poorly worded and confusingly set out arguments in Humanae vitae, Persona humana, and Homosexualitatis problema. Such arguments have been reduced to a couple of slogans mindlessly repeated – “intrinsically disordered”, “open to procreation”, and so on. But behind the smokescreen, if one carefully strips away the verbiage and uncovers the key affirmations, one is faced with arguments so misguided as to be embarrassing. And the more people will realise this, the faster change will come.

And yet, and yet. Such frankly untenable arguments have been tolerated, and by and large silently accepted without challenge, by the hierarchy – and indeed too many theologians. As a consequence, most of those people went along with one of the most appalling moral mistakes of the papacy over the last fifty years or so: I’m referring to the papal paralysis and silence when asked to allow the use of contraceptives for the prophylactic purpose of minimising the transmission of STIs – a silence which has caused countless suffering to millions of people, both straight and gay.

My hope is that, together with the cultural change in favour of LGBT rights which is happening at pace, a greater understanding of the fact that this papal teaching is like the wizard of Oz will help hasten its demise. Thank you.

[1] “Christian Objections to Same Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment”, available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/wiki/christian-objections-same-sex-unions-academic-assessment-report/; “Academic Statement on the Ethics of Free and Faithful Same-Sex Relationships”, available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/academic-statement-ethics-same-sex-relationships/.

[2] Theological Forum of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, “An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage”, par. 2.4.11, available at https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/39573/Theological_Forum.pdf.

[3] Bernard Lonergan SJ, “Letter of Bernard Lonergan on Contraception and the Natural Law,” edited by Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, Lonergan Studies Newsletter 11 (1990), pp. 7-8, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LfQC8-uYcxPrC6lvk7fbpnDk3-favz6X/view; the original letter is dated 6 September 1968, and its scan is available at https://bernardlonergan.com/pdf/24070DTE060.pdf accessed October 1, 2020

[4] Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II. Vol. IV Pars VII Congregationes Generales CLXV-CLXVIII, Sessio Publica IX-X. (Vatican: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1978), Modus 56 (to Gaudium et Spes §49), pp. 491, available at https://archive.org/details/ASIV.7/page/n485/mode/2up, emphasis added:

d) Post: “uniuntur” (in lin. 32):

– unus [Pater] proponit ut addatur: “in ordine ad generationem”;

– 109 Patres petunt ut addatur: “ad prolis generationem per se apti”; […]

  1. – […] d) Nulla ex his tribus propositionibus videtur admittenda. Non omnes enim actus ad generationem tendunt (cf. sterilitas, tempus ageneseos) […].”

[5] Pope Francis, Amoris laetitia, §178, p. 136, available at https://www.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf.

[6] Amoris laetitia, §181, p. 137.

[7] “Academic Statement on the Ethics of Free and Faithful Same-Sex Relationships”, available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/academic-statement-ethics-same-sex-relationships/.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alternative text: “With regard to the grammar, the misunderstanding comes from the different uses that the imperative form can have in Hebrew in comparison to English. As we see elsewhere in the Bible, …”.

[10] “[T]he content of the blessing is introduced by the wayyiqtol [past tense] form of [the verb “to say”] in Gen. 1.28 and 9.1. The imperatives, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’, are, therefore, to be identified as God’s blessing. That the content of the blessing concerns fecundity is not surprising, given that fruitfulness and increase are repeatedly associated with the divine blessing in Genesis. Westermann thus concludes that the promise of increase, which commonly follows the blessing, is an explication of the divine blessing. Accordingly, the Psalmist affirms that when God blesses people, they multiply ([…] Ps. 107.38). Conversely, decrease in numbers is associated with God’s curse (Deut. 28.62). We may conclude, therefore, that the primaeval commands, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Gen. 1.28; 9.1, 7), constitute God’s blessing.

[E]ven though the primaeval blessing is in the form of imperatives, this should not obscure the fact that filling the earth constitutes Gods blessing. We may compare Gen. 27.29, for instance, where Isaac blesses Jacob saying, ‘Be lord [imperative] over your brothers’ (NRSV, Gen. 27.29). The presence of a command does not preclude Isaac’s blessing from being viewed positively. Similarly, when Moses blessed Naphtali saying, ‘possess [imperative] the west and the south’ (NRSV, Deut. 33.23b), the imperatival form does not preclude this from being a blessing.” Carol M. Kaminski, From Noah to Israel: Realization of the Primaeval Blessing after the Flood, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 413 (T & T Clark, 2004), 27 italics added. See also no. 37 p. 26: “An example of this construction may be seen in Jacob’s blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh: ‘So he blessed them that day saying (לאמור), “By you Israel will invoke blessing…”’ (Gen. 48.20). As with Gen. 1.22, the content of the blessing is introduced by לאמר [adv. “saying”]”.

[11] Andrew J. Schmutzer, “A Theology of Sexuality and Its Abuse: Creation, Evil, and the Relational Ecosystem,” in The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011), no. 57 p. 115; see his earlier work Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009), 78–79, compare also note 28 p. 94. The same conclusion is reached by Jamie Viands, I Will Surely Multiply Your Offspring: An Old Testament Theology of the Blessing of Progeny with Special Attention to the Latter Prophets (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013), 26–30; Kaminski, From Noah to Israel, 26–27; Claus Westermann, The Promises to the Fathers: Studies on the Patriarchal Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 19–21, 152–53; Norbert Lohfink, “‘Seid Fruchtbar Und Füllt Die Erde an!’: Zwingt Die Priesterschriftliche Schöpfungsdarstellung in Gen 1 Die Christen Zum Wachstumsmythos,” Bibel Und Kirche 30 (1975): 80.

[12] Phyllis A. Bird, “‘Male and Female He Created Them’: Gen 1: 27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation,” Harvard Theological Review 74, no. 02 (1981): 147.

[13] “P’s understanding of sexual reproduction as blessing, in humans as well as animals, is an important contribution to a theology of sexuality. Sex at its most fundamental, biological level is not to be despised or deprecated. It is God’s gift and it serves God’s purpose in creation by giving to humans the power and the responsibility to participate in the process of continuing creation by which the species is perpetuated. But P’s statement is insufficient to guide the process, to give essential directives concerning the circumstances of its use. The concerns of creation, as concerns of nature, must be supplemented by the concerns of ethics to produce an adequate anthropology; and for the latter one must look beyond Genesis 1. For the Priestly account of origins ignores completely the question of the social structuring of roles and of individual and collective responsibility in carrying out the charge addressed to the species. The author may simply have assumed the roles and norms of his day, but he offers no theological rationale for them. P’s silence at this point enables the interpreter to move readily into areas where that author had no answers or perceived no questions. In this movement into the areas of P’s silence, texts such as Genesis 2-3, which offer differing or supplementary statements and perspectives, must be taken into account, with the possibility that they may ultimately challenge or qualify the thesis of the initial text.” Ibid., 157–58.

[14] Angelo Tosato, “On Genesis 2:24,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52, 3 (1990), 389-409.

[15] Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, emphases added.

[16] There are other passages sometimes mentioned as relevant to the topic of consensual same-sex relationships, but they either do not deal with consensual relationships, or they might, but the evidence is far from conclusive. For example: Gen 18-19 (Sodom and Gomorrah) belong to the first category, as they deal not with consensual sex but with attempted gang rape of guests, see for more the Wijngaards Institute report §5.3, pp 41-42, available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/wiki/christian-objections-same-sex-unions-academic-assessment-report/. Again, the relationship between David and Jonathan might have been a consensual sexual relationship (between two men who were also heterosexually married), but the evidence on that is inconclusive: see e.g. Erin E. Fleming, “Political Favoritism in Saul’s Court: נעם ,חפץ, and the Relationship between David and Jonathan,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135, no. 1 (2016), pp. 19-34; more open to the possibility of a sexual relationship is the detailed essay by Graham Davies, “The Friendship of Jonathan and David,” in Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon, ed. Geoffrey Kahn and Diana Lipton, vol. 149, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 65–76; finally, James E. Harding, The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception (Routledge, 2016) argued that the evidence is inconclusive. As for Matthew 8: 5-13 and parallel in Luke 7: 1-10, the evidence tends to go against the conclusion that the Roman centurion was in a relationship with his slave: and in any case, such a (pederastic?) relationship would have been far removed from the egalitarian same-sex relationships we know of today. For a recent assessment of the evidence concluding against such a possibility see Christopher B. Zeichmann, “Rethinking the Gay Centurion: Sexual Exceptionalism, National Exceptionalism in Readings of Matthew 8: 5-13//Luke 7: 1-10”, The Bible and Critical Theory, 11, no. 1 (2015), pp. 35-54; Denis B. Saddington, “The Centurion in Matthew 8: 5-13: Consideration of the Proposal of Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., and Tat-Siong Benny Liew,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125, no. 1 (2006): 140–42.

[17] David Tabb Stewart, “LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics and the Hebrew Bible,” Currents in Biblical Research 15, no. 3 (June 1, 2017): 297.

[18] See Bruce Wells, “On the Beds of a Woman: The Leviticus Texts on Same-Sex Relations Reconsidered,” in Sexuality and Law in the Torah, ed. Hilary Lipka and Bruce Wells, The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies (London: Bloomsbury, 2020), available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/wells__beds_of_a_woman_leviticus__2020_v2.pdf.

[19] Wells, “On the Beds of a Woman”, p. 147.

[20] Brett Provance, “Romans 1:26–27 in Its Rhetorical Tradition,” in Greco-Roman and Jewish Tributaries to the New Testament, ed. Christopher S. Crawford, vol. 4, Festschrift in Honor of Gregory J. Riley (Claremont Press, 2018), 83–116, available at https://www.wijngaardsinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/provance_romans_1_26_27.pdf .

[21] Paul’s reference to the traditional story of angelic beings mating with women is likely also in view in 1 Cor. 11:10: “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” See Adolphe F. P. Lods, “La chute des anges,” Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie religieuses 7, 4 (1927), pp. 295-315 (at 299); Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, ed. George W. MacRae, trans. James W. Leitch, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975 [1969]), p. 189; Bo Reicke, “Who Are ‘The Spirits’ in Verse 19?”, in The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism: A Study of 1 Pet. III. 19 and Its Context (Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard, 1946), p. 82. Philip Esler, “The Sodom Tradition in Romans 1:18–32,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 34, 1 (2004), pp. 4-16, at 12, notes “the startling fact of Paul’s raising the subject [of female homosexuality] at all” in Rom. 1:26, especially in view of the fact “that Israelite scripture did not prohibit female same-sex acts,” as well as the “reticence on the subject of sex between women in Greco-Roman literature.” For him, “Paul’s inclusion of females in Romans 1:26 is a phenomenon crying out for an explanation.” His solution – that it must be understood as an addition to the original Genesis story due to oral tradition incorporating the expression “daughters of Sodom” used by Ez 16:46, 48, 49, 53, and 55 – is unconvincing, in view of the intertextual evidence highlighted by Brett Provance.

[22] “The destruction of the cities was probably the most vivid exemplar in the Israelite consciousness of how God treats the godless and the unjust. This may explain why Paul does not actually use the name Sodom in the passage. There was no need. Everyone exposed to Israelite tradition knew that this was the paradigmatic incident used in relation to the expression of God’s anger from heaven. [It was] highly probable that Paul intended that the Christ-followers in Rome who heard his letter read to them would understand this passage in relation to Sodom and its fate and, in fact, that they did so.” Esler, “The Sodom Tradition,” p. 10.

[23] All quotations in this paragraph are by Brett Provance, in email correspondence to Luca Badini Confalonieri. Provance also added: “Indeed, observing how the story in Genesis 19 (vv. 3-8) is utilized to build the prelude to the Benjamite War in Judges 19 (vv. 21-24) attests to its utility in the history of biblical literature.”

[24] William Loader, “Same-Sex Relationships: A 1st-Century Perspective,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 70, no. 1 (2014): 3–4.

[25] Loader, “we do Paul (and other biblical writers) an injustice when we expect them to have said all there was to say about an issue and to have known all there was to know. The reason why Paul argued as he did is that he, like other Jews of his time whose writings survive, believed that all people were heterosexual, male or female. Given that assumption about human reality, his conclusions make sense. It is contrary to the divinely created order when heterosexuals start being attracted to people of their own sex. The question our current observations compel us to confront is: What if there really are people who are homosexual?”

 

4 Responses

  1. Pól Ó Duibhir

    Luca Badini Zoom…

    That was a brilliant and absorbing session. Great to have the script for what will be a definitive debunking of a narrow interpretation and agenda from the old testament and subsequent mistaken teaching.

    Context is everything.

    Given the advice Paul VI was getting from all sides and which he stupidly ignored, I wonder did he also ignore the advice of the Holy Spirit or did he even bother to listen.

    I have long thought that he just funked it. Wasn’t big enough to do the right thing. And look at the results — devastating.

  2. Soline Humbert

    Luca Badini Zoom – Papal Teaching on Same-Sex Relationships…

    The Pope, the Synod Secretariat and the disappearing video… more battle against reality.
    https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/pope-francis-thanks-new-ways-ministry-recent-correspondence

  3. Joe

    Luca Badini Zoom…

    A human being on the Chair of Peter! He reminds me of the Czech leader Dubcek who was unseated by Soviet tanks back in 1968.

    His airplane interview (all of it) is also a zinger: https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/pope-francis-defends-ousted-paris-archbishop-we-cannot-condemn

  4. Adrian Egan, C.Ss.R.

    Luca Badini Zoom…

    Good to see some brave German bishops..
    https://www.ncronline.org/news/theology/two-german-bishops-question-churchs-teaching-lgbt-relationships