Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another delicate matter

NOTE: I apologize for how piecemeal and sloppy this post has been. I started it, got in a crunch, had to abandon it, tried revising it late when I was too tired. I finally was able to complete it this morning. I should have used the Save as Draft function and posted this morning. So, with no further tinkering or tightening, here is my take on the bishops' document Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.

In their most recent document on homosexuality, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care, promulgated 14 November 2006, the United States Bishops break no new ground. Such a statement is important because, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the bishops' document quotes extensively, the "number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible" (CCC 2358). I also have to restate up-front what I wrote in my response to Julie's comment yesterday; I think the decision not to include homosexuals in the preparation of the document, as they quote married couples in their document Marriage and the Gift of Life, is a mistake because without consulting those who are the subjects of the document, like Luciani's criticism of Colombo, the document runs the risk of remaining too abstract because it does not take into account their real-life struggles.

By breaking no new ground I mean the teaching, rooted in canon 1055 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, that "sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children." Therefore, a sexual act "that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality." Now, this understanding of human sexuality also bears on the discussion of contraception. According to this understanding, sexual intercourse between spouses in which an artificial method of contraception is employed cannot fulfill one of the two natural ends of human sexuality, namely procreation. Such acts, because the complementarity of the sexes is maintained and the act takes place between married persons, still fulfills the unitive end of human sexuality except, arguably, in cases where a condom is employed because the genital contact is not direct. On this understanding of human sexuality, homosexual acts can fulfill neither of the two ends of human sexuality.

I do find the tone of the bishops’ document warmer than the Vatican documents on this subject, which the bishops quote extensively. What is warmer is they situate homosexuality properly and seek to show that we are all only human, fallen and sinful, but loved and redeemed. The three main Vatican documents referenced by the bishops in Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination are: Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, and Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. In addition to putting homosexuality into the larger context of Church teaching, they synthesize all that the Church teaches succinctly and well. In other words, they do not put homosexuality out there by itself, as something so heinous it bears no resemblance to any other disorders to which humanity, and Christians, as a subset of humanity, is subject. They do this by discussing chastity, virtue, and what it means to be objectively disordered.

Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bishops assert that sexuality is morally disordered whenever sexual pleasure is sought for itself, "isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes." They go on to list many of the ways in which sexuality can be morally disordered: adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, all of which "violate the proper ends of human sexuality". Intrinsically disordered sexual acts are acts that violate one of the two proper ends of human sexuality, unitive or procreative. Helpfully the bishops point out that for a sexual inclination to be properly ordered, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for it to be heterosexual. In fact, "any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered."

"The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered", the bishops write, like all objectively disordered inclinations it "predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person." An important moral distinction needs to be made with regard to what is objectively disordered. Intrinsically disordered applies to acts, not inclinations. An objectively disordered inclination is also called (this is a term that causes a lot of consternation- for obvious reasons- and is easily misunderstood) intrinsically evil. That which is intrinsically evil (i.e., objectively disordered) is that which is never morally permissible under any circumstances. In other words it is contra naturam against nature. By contrast, there are those inclinations, staying in the realm of sexuality, like an inclination to have sex with someone of the opposite sex other than one's spouse, which are said to be accidentally disordered, or inclinations that are not "properly ordered by right reason" and, therefore, fail "to attain the proper measure of virtue". These inclinations are contra rationem, against reason. So, rightly, we heterosexuals are not let off the hook, as we, too, have disordered sexual inclinations.

Objective disorders, which result from fallen human nature and post-baptismal concupiscence, insofar as they are beyond one's control, are not sinful. In other words, a male who is involuntarily attracted to other men sexually certainly experiences lustful thoughts about some men involuntarily. If such a person voluntarily entertains those thoughts or, worse yet, acts on them, it becomes sinful. This is also true of accidental disorders across the spectrum of human sexuality. As a heterosexual male I may have lustful thoughts about women other than my wife. Insofar as these lustful thoughts are involuntary I am not morally culpable. Again, if I voluntarily entertain or act on them, these thoughts become sinful. It is recognized that a "considerable number of people who experience same-sex attraction experience it as an inclination they did not choose". Hence, it is not sinful to be a homosexual.

The bishops are skeptical about therapy because there is "no scientific consensus on the cause of homosexual inclination." Hence, there can be no certain therapy. In other words, it is not necessary for a homosexual person to become what s/he is not (i.e., a heterosexual person) in order to be faithful. This is one of several areas in which the voices of homosexual persons would have really strengthened the document.

I am the first to admit that all of this is very abstract and far removed from the experiences of homosexual persons. There is a reason for this, however. The document's audience is those who are engaged in ministry to homosexual persons at the diocesan and parish level. Through Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care, the bishops are giving guidance and setting guidelines for these ministries. A far more pastoral and down-to-earth statement on homosexuality is the U.S. Bishops' previous document on the subject Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children.

Most importantly the bishops discuss the need for all Christians, married and single, homosexual and heterosexual, to acquire the virtue of chastity. In this quest grace is necessary because failure is almost certain at times. Too often we think of grace as the help God gives us by strengthening our will to do good and weakening our desire to do evil as we white-knuckle our way through life hoping to attain heaven. While I certainly believe God, over time and with our cooperation, graciously strengthen our wills, we cannot see that as grace in its totality. Even with God's help, building such strength is a gradual process that requires our cooperation when faced with temptation, it requires us working through the issues we need to work through to deconstruct our false selves, most of all it requires brutal honesty that oftentimes comes only at the price of failure and restoration, which bring true humility. We must always be humble because we never really arrive; we remain broken, fragile, sinful, and susceptible to sin. In this life of grace the sacraments are indispensable.

Defining grace only in terms of the strengthening of the will is dangerous because when we see our brothers and sisters struggling and failing, when we struggle and fail, we become Job's friends who think God has abandoned that person, or that person has abandoned God, or, worst of all, we despair and believe God has abandoned us, which God will never, ever do. When will we come to see that Christ is present to us in a powerful way in and through our suffering and struggles? Like St. Paul, we must be "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ". We must recognize that when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor 12,7-9). More importantly, we must be Church, Christ's Body, and understand that when "one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Cor 12,26) and stand willing to assist others to bear their burdens and be humble enough to acknowledge we need help with ours.

Most of all we must not see sex as the only the moral issue, or even as the main one. Given the tremendous vulnerability we all have in this area, we should cut each other a lot of slack and encourage each other always. It should not surprise any of us that those who rail loudest about sexual sin are, more often than not, blatant sexual sinners. We must also realize that everyone is invited to join God's family and all who are members are welcome. As children of God we must be ourselves, not who we think God or anybody else wants us to be. Of course, becoming our true selves requires breaking through our false selves. We need each other's help and support to do this. We also must aid each other in overcoming a fear we all have. The fear is that if people really knew me, they wouldn't accept or like me. Silly? Perhaps, but absolutely true! If we can't or won't accept each other, what's the point of Church, which is a hospital for the ailing, not a resort for the spiritually together?


  1. Cheryl:

    First off thanks for your thoughtful response. I don't take it as blasting me at all. I understand your anger at the Church. Homosexuals have been and continue to be treated badly by the Church.
    As far as the stance of the Catholic Church, which is rooted in both revelation and natural law, you hit the nail on the head when you write

    "However, even if the church says sex is okay for pleasure, but only within marriage, then that still leaves out the homosexual. We can't even gain the right to marry!"

    Natural law looks at the end for which things exist. Sex certainly exists for pleasure, but pleasure, when put into proper perspective, is not hedonistic (i.e., it is not an end itself). Even sexual pleasure between a husband and a wife is not an end, it is a means of strengthening their marital bond, which, in turn, strengthens the comunio of the Church. As marriage, along with Holy Orders, is a sacrament in the service of communion.

    As far as Scripture goes
    1) This is highly disputable and not the consensus among biblical scholars as regards such passages as Romans 1,26-27; 1 Cor 6,9 and 1 Tim 1,10. Saying Paul was not writing about the moral defectiveness of homosexual acts is more eisegetical than exegetical.
    2) As to the Old Testament (Gen 1,27, Gen 2,21-25) and the passages in the NT on marriage (Mk 10,2-8, Matt 19,3-9, Ephesians 5, 1 Cor 7) certainly make a strong case for sexual complementarity and the need for it for marriage. In other words, I do not believe one can build a biblical case for same-sex marriages or sexual relations.

    While we may individually twist scripture to suit our agendas, we also have the texts themselves and long history of interpretation, both Jewish and Christian. There ways of interpreting the sacred texts that are objective. We can't dismiss disagreements over Scripture to subjectivity at the service of an agenda.

    You can be gay and be a Christian. I am happy to call you a sister in Christ, even if we have a fundamental disagreement. In the first instance, our sexuality does define us entirely. Homosexual people bring tremendous gifts to the Church. We would be poorer and not very Christian to exclude homosexual people from the assembly.
    As I hope I convey in my writing on the matter, we all struggle with our sexuality. Now, I am not a biblical literalist, but that doesn't mean I don't take Scripture seriously. It really means to take Scripture more seriously because we don't misread it.

    My guess is that we would agree on a the social application of the Gospel, but there is a personal dimension to being Christian as well. A dimension that is just as challenging. It is not either personal or social morality. The two form part of a greater whole and connect in rather surprising ways. Again, I would like to see a more concrete approach to homosexuality, ministers, like myself, work in the concret evetday. The last thing I pray i would never do is push anybody away, or out of the Church.

    The food/sex analogy, while of some use, breaks down rather quickly. The importance of food is never more fully realized than in the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. Why? It brings about communio.

    I'll end with your words God help us all! Amen, sister! I'm last person to chuck stones at someone else's sex life.

    Have great weekend yourself.

  2. Cheryl:

    Two comments that, I hope speak to real life:

    1) Any relationship in which there is love, respect, trust, and intimacy is to be valued, not thrown away or cast aside. In other words, I have no problem with two people of the same sex living together on fairly intimate terms. I just draw the line at no sex outside marriage for anyone and chastity within marriage. This standard is across-the-board. It flows from my understanding of human sexuality, which I take as both natural and part of the faith. How well do many, even most of us, do? Read Paul on the Law in Romans, chapter 5.
    2) Number one sounds like a hard-line and it is. But, as I hope I conveyed in my post, don't feel picked on for being called disordered when it comes to sexuality. Whether we are accidentally or objectively disordered, in real life it amounts to the same thing, the same struggle. To follow Christ requires struggle, which requires help, which requires grace and community. So, it is more like "Welcome to the club."

  3. Hi Scott,

    I understand (not empathize with) the stance you are starting from, but I can't help wonder about this sentence in your response: I just draw the line at no sex outside marriage for anyone and chastity within marriage. This standard is across-the-board. It flows from my understanding of human sexuality, which I take as both natural and part of the faith.

    It's that whole "natural" part that gets me. So many people within the church refer to what is "natural" and assume that what they experience within their culture and themselves is natural, to the exclusion (at least on principle) of everyone who holds a different idea of what natural is.

    From ever since I remember even being aware of different sexes, my pull has been toward females. Even the thought of being with a man sexually is as unnatural to me as I suppose it would be with you. I was not sexually abused or molested as a child. I like men just fine as friends, but that's where it ends for me.

    In order for me to be "naturally-ordered," according to the church, I would either have to be celibate for the rest of my life, or be "unnatural" toward my own orientation—not much of a choice.

    And besides that, as I quoted someone else's article in my first post, how does the church get around referring back to the OT for the things they want to condemn or control in the present culture, when rape, polygamy, treating women as property, etc. are all glossed over because they were part of a "past" culture? Isn't that picking and choosing just as much as I'm doing? If God was so against those rape and polygamy and such as we are now, why didn't He rail against it? Why didn't he tell Abraham, "I'm going to bless you...but first, you can only have one wife." Why didn't he tell David, "The messiah will come from your line...but first, you can only have one wife...oh, and stop killing other men so you can have their wife too!"

    What do we make of a God like that? Do we assume that he meant these things to be okay for all time, like so many people are trying that be the case for homosexuality? Or do we realize that these were men of their culture speaking within their culture about how they understood God to relate to their culture?

    I feel like I'm losing my point, and I need to run, but I'm enjoying the dialogue.

    Feel free to visit my site and comment about some stuff I have there. I'll keep checking back here to see what other goodies you have to offer. :)

    Peace, my brother.

  4. Cheryl:

    Thanks for your insights. You bring up a lot that is certainly worth discussing. I especially appreciate you bringing your own, deeply personal, experience as a homosexual Christian to bear on what, judging from my writing, too often becomes so abtstract that it gets too complicated and makes no sense to anybody at a practical level.

    Like you, I have to run. I will return to some the issues you mention later, however. I would just say as regards natural law, as a Catholic I am talking about natural law and this way of seeing the world is very different from what you describe. To get a better sense of where I am coming from read the bishops' document and you'll get a sense. Suffice it write that it is more developed than what you describe.

    it would be to deny reality to deny that homosexuality occurs in nature among non-human species. Why this doesn't transfer has to with the fact that, as human beings who bear the imago dei, we have the ability to reason and order our lives according to right reason. There I go getting all abstract.

    I will definitely visit your site. I appreciate the personal invitation. Just so you know, your comments yesterday caused me a lot of reflection last night, just as the many wonderful homosexual Christians in my own parish often do. I would be sick and heartbroken if I ever said or did anything that caused any of these my brothers and sisters to abandon our community. Our assembly would be poorer without their gifts, talents, and selfless devotion. Like me, none of us, Deo gratitas, are defined by our sexuality. In short, you are the reason for my two posts today.

    Peace my sister,

  5. For anybody who wants a deeper perspective on being homosexual and Catholic from the POV a homosexual Catholic, I offer two very fine books:

    1) Fr. Peter Liuzzi's: With Listening Hearts: Understanding the Voices of Lesbian and Gay Catholics
    2) Fr. James Alison's Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

    In addition to being priests, both of these authors are homosexual and Catholic. Alison is a well-known U.K. theologian and sought after speaker. Fr. Liuzzi formerly headed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. Liuzzi's book contains the statements of many everyday homosexual Catholics about their faith, life, and the resultant struggles.