Mary McAleese says the new study on homosexuality in the Catholic Church “brings hope where it is needed.”
By IrishCentral Staff
The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research’s interim report, published this week, claims to “disprove Christian objections to same-sex relationships.”
The Institute says that its report, entitled “Christian Objections to Same-Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment,” is the “first such collaborative study to bring together and assess the most recent peer-reviewed research on the biblical passages used to condemn same-sex relationships.
“While the report also examines scientific and sociological evidence, much of it is devoted to an up-to-date assessment of recent ground-breaking studies on the most important ‘clobber texts’ in the Bible.”
Among its key findings, the report claims that traditional understandings of homosexuality within Christianity are the results of mistranslations, and that “from the point of view of natural sciences, it can be affirmed that, homosexuality is a ‘natural variation within the range of human sexuality.’”
In turn, the Institute is now “calling for an urgent change in Roman Catholic teaching based on these academic findings which should serve as the final nail in the coffin of biblical and other arguments justifying homophobia.”
In a statement issued on May 4, the Institute explained that its study was launched shortly after the statement from the Vatican doctrinal office – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – that upheld the ban on blessing same-sex unions stating, “You cannot bless sin.”
“This reinstated the decades-old papal teaching vilifying same-sex attraction as ‘disordered’, which has been causing untold harm worldwide. No kind words or “pastoral” gestures can heal that wound: only a change in teaching will. And in light of the deeply flawed arguments behind that stance, such a change is long overdue.
“Pope Francis has often insisted on the need for church authorities to listen to Catholics in general, and theologians and other experts in particular. He has expressed both in words and deeds his preference for discussions of contentious theological issues to take place openly and frankly. And he has encouraged decisions about them to be taken democratically and in a decentralized manner, in synods and other representative church gatherings at every level of the Roman Catholic Church, from the ground up. Finally, he has repeatedly underlined the obligation to take the side of the marginalized and discriminated against.
“We welcome such an attitude, and in that spirit, we present the main recommendation of our Academic Statement, backed by a research report and endorsed by more than sixty prominent scholars: that the competent authorities in the Catholic Church set up a transparent, independent consultation process on these findings.
“The absolute condemnation of same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically disordered’ is not shared by most Roman Catholics worldwide. But it is still papal teaching: all CDF documents only have authority because they are endorsed by the Pope.
“Therefore, in virtue of Pope Francis’ position, and in light of his record of welcoming words and pastoral attitude towards gay people, he has a unique duty and responsibility to kick-start such an independent study to revisit the teaching he has inherited from his predecessors.”
Responding to the report, McAleese (PhD Professor of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow, UK; Chancellor, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland) said: “This international collaborative research project is the first serious attempt to use the tools of interdisciplinary scholarship to challenge, probe and interrogate church teaching in the area of homosexuality.
“The People of God have needed this to help convince a blinkered magisterium to open its eyes and ears, to see and hear the damage inflicted on good people young and old by teachings that run counter to science and counter to the love of the Creator.
“The scholarly work of the Wijngaards Institute brings hope where it is needed.”
You can read “Christian Objections to Same Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment” from the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research here.
The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.
So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.
Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.
First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.
Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.
“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”
On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.
He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”
This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.
By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached.Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”
The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.
He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.
Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”
Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.
“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.
“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”
Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from theteaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.
The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.
“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.
“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”
If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.
Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.
“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”
The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.
Medical professionals and Catholic leaders gathered in Denver last week for a conference on health care ethics that promoted anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion extremism and echoed the Republican Party’s attacks against transgender youth.
The annual conference, called Converging Roads, was hosted by the Denver Archdiocese, regional Catholic hospitals SCL Health and Centura Health, and the St. John Paul II Foundation, a national Catholic apostolate whose mission is to “proclaim the Good News about life and family through education and formation,” according to its website.
The yearly conference is aimed at guiding Catholic health care professionals through the “ethical challenges” presented by the convergence of their medical profession and church’s teachings on issues like abortion, end-of-life care, and sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We help professionals to understand the issues, and we give them tools to think through the multiplying ethical challenges in a careful and systematic way,” said Arland K. Nichols, President of the St. John Paul II Foundation, in an interview with Denver Catholic. “Families are relying on them to not only know their core practices, but to be able to advise them on the best and most morally sound way forward.”
The Catholic Church and its stance on health care issues have a major impact on the United States healthcare system. According to a 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one in six hospital beds in the U.S. are in Catholic facilities, representing a 22 percent increase from 2001.
These hospitals operate under “Ethical and Religious Directives” that are put forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and place restrictions on reproductive health care including contraception, sterilization, many fertility treatments, and abortion. The directives also restrict end-of-life care and gender-affirming care for transgender patients.
Despite the pervasiveness of Catholic health care providers, studies show that most patients are unaware of how their medical options are limited by the church’s teachings when they visit such facilities for care.
Last week’s conference illustrates just how deeply connected the church’s social teachings on everything from LGBTQ issues to abortion are to the medical care patients can expect when they visit Catholic providers.
Among the speakers at the April 10 conference was Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, a highly active anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate.
Aquila was particularly focused on gender identity, saying at one point in his speech, “I can identify as 6’ 4” but I still have trouble putting luggage in the overhead bins of airplanes,” eliciting chuckles from the crowd.
“It’s important to note that the conversation around these conflicts is informed by a secular mentality that sees freedom as the ability to do whatever one wants rather than the Catholic understanding of freedom as the ability to do good,” Aquila continued. “When we don’t choose the good as defined by God, we become slaves of the devil and we never realize true happiness.”
Aquila also suggested that marriage without procreation can be used to justify bestiality.
“Once you remove children from the equation you can justify anything, so you get the polyamorous, you get polygamy, you can have your pet dog as your spouse, and it’s insane,” Aquila said.
Aquila has long been outspoken in his disdain for the LGBTQ community, and even once suggested that “active homosexuality in the priesthood” is a contributing factor for widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic preists.
In December, an investigation from the Colorado Attorney General’s office concluded that 52 Colorado priests abused at least 212 children between 1950 and 2000. The church paid out $7.3 million in settlements to survivors as a result.
Between digs at LGBTQ individuals, Aquila offered guidance for the health care professionals in his midst for operating in what he referred to as a “post-Christian” era.
“As cultural support for religious liberty erodes, Catholic providers will be scrutinized for not conforming to the secular code of belief, likely under the damning label of discrimination,” Aquila said.
“We will only succeed in maintaining a position of influence in our culture by becoming more Catholic,” Aquila later said. “One of the downfalls of Christendom has been that we have become lukewarm in our beliefs.”
Aquila urged Catholic health care providers to hold true to the church’s teachings on reproductive health and LGBTQ issues despite pushback from other doctors or the hospitals where they work.
“Having that kind of belief and attitude and speaking up even though some of the doctors or some of the hospital staff may not appreciate it is essential and giving witness to it,” Aquila said.
Keeping with the Republican Party’s talking points on transgender individuals, Aquila criticized the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. “It will force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports and to share locker rooms and shower spaces with biological males who claim to identify as women,” Aquila said.
Although frequently parroted by conservatives, there’s no basis for the argument that children are less safe when transgender individuals have equal access to bathrooms and locker rooms.
Also in attendance at Converging Roads as a keynote speaker was Dr. Paul Hruz, a professor and pediatric endocrinologist at Washington University in St. Louis who frequently serves as an anti-trans mouthpiece for conservative and Christian publications.
Hruz has provided testimony for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in favor of banning transgender youth from using the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity.
“Dr. Hruz is NOT a member of our [Differences of Sex Development] team, NOR is he an expert in transgender health as he has never taken care of a transgender person,” Washington University officials told the transgender rights blog Planet Transgender, adding that Hruz “is not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, nor mental health care provider of any kind, who could speak knowledgeably of transgender health.”
At the root of Hruz’s anti-trans rhetoric is the implication that divergent gender identities should be fixed, ideally through “counseling,” parents “setting boundaries,” and a “reparative” approach.
Just like Aquila, Hruz didn’t neglect to bring up the bathroom/locker room issue.
“We are told that we need to engage in affirming [transgender youth] in their transgender identity and that to do otherwise is going to be harmful, meaning that we can use different names, pronouns, give them access to sex-segregated facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms,” said Hruz. “We are being told that we shouldn’t question this at all.”
Gender affirmation is the medical standard for treating youth and adults who are experiencing gender dysphoria and/or gender divergence, says Dr. Elizabeth Kvach, Medical Director of the LGBTQ Center of Excellence at Denver Health and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado. Kvach told the Colorado Times Recorder that the “vast majority of literature” supports “overall improved mental health outcomes in transgender and nonbinary youth who are appropriately allowed to transition.”
Kvach said that includes allowing transgender and nonbinary youth to choose what name they wish to be called, how to dress, and use the pronouns they want to use. “All of those things have been supported in the literature with improving mental health outcomes, reducing rates of depression, anxiety, and reducing rates of suicidality both in youth and adults,” Kvach said, pointing to a large-scale national study that reported a staggering 41% attempted suicide rate among transgender adults.
“Treatment with puberty blockers and hormone therapy for youth who are appropriately diagnosed with gender dysphoria have also been shown to improve mental health outcomes,” Kvach continued.
Hruz’s opposition to the affirmative approach hinges on child desistence rates, or the rate at which those who experience gender dysphoria eventually cease to identify as transgender.
He claimed during his speech that normal child desistance rates are around 85%, a statistic that serves as his basis for why minors should not be given puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
“That [statistic] is not based on current evidence or data,” Kvach said, citing studies in the Netherlands and a multi-state study in the U.S. “Right now, there aren’t any large U.S. studies, but the desistence rates are certainly not that high.”
Kvach cited an article from the International Review of Psychiatry that debunks the high desistence myth.
Kvach explained that medical providers who diagnose and treat youth with gender dysphoria are careful in providing appropriate treatment that serves their overall health and wellbeing.
“It’s our job as clinicians to really dig down in collaboration with mental health providers who have expertise in working with gender-diverse youth to make sure that we have accurate diagnoses of gender dysphoria, and that’s part of the reason for recommendations of using puberty blockers in children who have entered the early stages of puberty,” Kvach said. “…Youth who are started on blockers are generally on them for a few years, and then we’re working very closely with mental health providers to ensure that this is consistent, persistent, and insistent behavior that is part of who they are, and that they are appropriate candidates for moving forward with hormone therapy.”
Another significant way to support children who are experiencing gender dysphoria is to, well, support them, according to Kvach, who says that family support can help shield against the harmful mental health outcomes associated with negative messaging from society and bullying.
Hruz, on the other hand, suggested that parents should be “setting boundaries” around gender expression that might prevent kids from getting the affirmation they may need.
The anti-trans attitudes promoted by the Catholic leaders, health providers, and hospitals at the conference are far out of step with the mainstream medical community.
“Everyone should be able to access healthcare easily, including those who are transgender,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Deputy Director of National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement to the Colorado Times Recorder. “All leading medical institutions have studied transition-related healthcare and found that it’s essential primary care. This includes the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Physicians. Furthermore, people of faith increasingly recognize the humanity of their transgender neighbors, including trans people who are faithful themselves. It’s about treating others as you would like to be treated.”
The church’s attacks against LGBTQ people are, however, consistent with Republican lawmakers, who are pushing bans on gender-affirming care in 15 states.
For the past three years, Eder Díaz Santillan has hosted a podcast on which he interviews LGBTQ people on how they’ve coped with their gender and sexual identities while being raised in traditional Catholic upbringings. He also openly discusses his own identity as a Latino and gay Catholic man.
To Santillan, being gay and Catholic has meant reconciling with the reality the church has never fully accepted his LGBTQ identity. However, he’s recognized there’s a difference between his own relationship with God and the priests who have condemned homosexuality from the altar. It took years, but Santillan realized he could maintain his faith and his LGBTQ identity.
That’s why it may have been a surprise to his listeners when he announced in mid-March he would no longer identify as Catholic. The announcement came just days after the Vatican’s decree it wouldn’t allow priests to bless same-sex unions, saying “God cannot bless sin.”
“It took me this long to recognize that I can let go of anything that hurts me,” said Santillan, 35, on Instagram.
Pope Francis’ rejection of proposals that would allow priests to bless same-sex couples has left many LGBTQ Catholics feeling disappointed and demoralized by an institution they felt recently represented a softening toward LGBTQ marriages within the church. As a result, some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting. Though some have said Francis later distanced himself from that decision, some, like Santillan, say “that’s not enough.”
After the Vatican’s statement, Santillan felt an urgent need to break from his Catholic identity. He realized he could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience,” adding that he had become accustomed to the church’s “condemning narrative.”
The fact the church would not bless same-sex unions was nothing new to Santillan, but what struck him was the Vatican felt the need to “be so explicit” about it.
It was shocking,” he said.
To Santillan, the church’s stance is more than just an opinion of what is right and wrong; it fuels faith-based conversion therapy and the backing of laws that discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ people in Latin American countries. It has repercussions, he said. The Vatican’s “God cannot bless sin” statement took him back to his childhood, when he considered himself a sin due to the church’s rhetoric. He feared he was going to hell.
While Santillan figures out what it means to no longer identify as a Catholic, he said, he will always work to help those “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”
Since the Vatican’s declaration over same-sex unions, the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, said he’s heard from a number of LGBTQ Catholics whose reactions have “ranged from anger to hurt to frustration to disgust to despair.”
He said about a dozen have explicitly told him they were leaving the church as a result.
“Among that group the general response was, ‘I’m done.’ Or ‘This was the last straw,’” Martin told Religion News Service via email.
“The main reason that LGBTQ people felt hurt was not simply that priests were forbidden from blessing same-sex unions, a decision that many people may have expected, but that the statement went beyond that and talked about their love as ‘sin,’” said Martin, an advocate of the LGBTQ community.
As he listens to LGBTQ Catholics, Martin said he reminds them “they are, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop or the Pope.”
He also invites LGBTQ people to see the church “in its totality,” noting Francis’ appointment of Juan Carlos Cruz, an openly gay man, to a papal commission, as well as the number of European bishops who criticized the Vatican’s language.
“I invite them to see themselves as full members of the church, even a church that seems not to know how to welcome them,” Martin said.
For queer Catholics like Xorje Olivares, 32, it’s about making individual choices around what their Catholicism looks like. Spirituality, he said, doesn’t need to be a “one size fits all.”
“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own,” Olivares said.
Olivares, a former altar boy, hosts the podcast “Queer I am, Lord,” where he talks with LGBTQ Catholics about why they’ve stayed in or left the church.
While Olivares said many queer Catholics grew up conditioned to fear God and to believe they are going to hell, “we’ve gone past that.” Meanwhile, he also acknowledged many still find it difficult figuring out “what to believe, when they have a church saying one thing and their bodies telling them another.”
“I sympathize with their struggles because those are very real,” he said.
Olivares often thinks about the kind of message they would send to the Catholic institution if every single LGBTQ person decided to leave the church, but he remains grounded by the Bible verse “knock and the door shall be open to you.”
“Here I am, me and all my queer friends. We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away,” he said.
“I don’t know if the church will be the safe space that I need it to be, or if it ever will be, but I know that I still find some joy referring to myself as a Catholic,” Olivares said.
The Vatican recently ruled that unions between same-sex people cannot be blessed.
By Gerry O’Shea
A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) in the Vatican issued a universal edict refusing a church blessing for homosexual partners as part of the wedding ceremony.
Their stated reasoning for this blanket rejection focuses on the alleged sinfulness of gay sexual intimacy which the Vatican statement claims God could never bless.
Early in his pontificate, on the plane back from a successful trip to Brazil, Pope Francis responded to a question about homosexuality by asking, “Who am I to judge?” He wondered why he should condemn a gay person of goodwill doing his or her best to live a decent life.
This is hardly a controversial statement; it would win approval in almost any company. However, the Catholic Church maintains a different perspective.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, described the homosexual lifestyle as “objectively disordered,” and before him, John Paul II denounced the intimate behavior of same-sex couples as “against the natural law.” It is this response to queer relationships that underpins the CDF statement.
The National Catholic Reporter, a prominent Catholic newspaper, gives front-page coverage to a committed Catholic couple who wanted a priest’s blessing of their union on their wedding day. A friendly priest from the LGBT community performed the ceremony – in an Episcopalian church.
According to the gospels, Jesus never even addressed this issue, and in focusing on his message of love and compassion he had very little to say about proscribing any sexual behavior.
The Catholic Church has definitely not followed his example in this regard.
While not deviating from the ideal high ground of a chaste lifestyle, Francis promised a more pastoral approach to homosexuals. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supported civil unions where the state recognizes gay marriage as legal – a position that he has also advocated as pope, highlighting every person’s need for a supportive family.
While dealing only with civil arrangements, this thinking drew a lot of criticism from the strong traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church, especially in America. They reminded Francis of the core Catholic teaching that all sexual activity must be confined to marriage and procreation.
No pre-marital sex, no contraceptives allowed, and certainly same-sex lovemaking is completely anathema. The Catholic teaching on marriage is succinct: one man, one woman, one time!
This attitude to sexuality broadly fitted in with the wider culture until the 1960s. Since then, there has been a transformation in the thinking about what is permitted and appropriate between consenting adults. The easy availability of contraceptives drastically altered the behavior of dating couples, gay and straight.
It is no longer acceptable in Western culture to demean people because of their sexual proclivity. And Vatican statements, including the recent one from the CDF, always advise that homosexuals should be respected and treated with dignity.
Many gays cast a cold eye on this pronouncement, asking how can an institution that views their lifestyle as disordered and unnatural be sincere in wishing them well and offering them pastoral counseling.
It is instructive to consider the changing perspectives on homosexuality through the lens of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They considered it a mental disorder until their 1973 annual convention when a slight majority of the psychiatrists voted to remove this negative designation.
Instead, their Diagnostic Manual of Disorders (DSM) named it as an “orientation disturbance,” a halfway effort aimed to include both sides in the APA. It wasn’t until 1987 that all negative connotations to being queer were removed completely from the DSM.
Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century thinker and convert to Catholicism, warned that human knowledge of God and ethical issues can never be frozen in time and that church teaching must always be dynamic, open to new insights in response to advances in scientific knowledge and human experience.
Change, moving from past positions, has always been a challenge for big organizations and that certainly applies to the Catholic Church. Popes tend to show unwarranted deference to the teaching of their predecessors.
Paul VI, agonizing over the issue of contraceptive use in the late sixties, felt he could not go against the teaching of Pius X1 in his encyclical Casti Connubi (Latin: Of Chaste Wedlock) published in 1930. Pius was asserting traditional values in the area of sexuality against the liberalizing statement in the same year by the Anglican leadership at their Lambeth Conference, which allowed the use of contraceptives by married couples in limited circumstances.
Anyway, Paul went against the advice of a clear majority of his advisory commission, mainly because he felt that deviating from his predecessor would damage papal credibility. His encyclical Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life), published in 1968, remains true to Casti Connubi and disallows the use of condoms or the contraceptive pill even by married couples. The overwhelming majority of Catholics disregard this papal ordinance with, ironically, serious damage to the credibility that Paul sought to enhance.
More recently, Francis replied to the important question of ordaining women by stating that his predecessor John Paul II already ruled that out, without sharing his own opinion. Interestingly, it is a central issue on the agenda of the German church in their important ongoing synod, and they are likely to recommend change in this discipline. If other national and regional synods take a similar stand, Rome may not be able to staunch the forces of modernity.
At present, any priest or bishop participating in a female ordination is subject to excommunication. Tough luck on the many women who feel called to priestly service.
These ecclesiastical regulations reflect the cultural beliefs of other times. The Vatican is finding it very challenging to update and restate its belief system, especially in the light of positive advances in popular perceptions and scientific insights about the gay lifestyle.
Christians call on the spirit that pervades the universe, the spiritus mundi, for guidance. Catholic theologians in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1964) stressed the importance of what they called the sensus fidelium, the beliefs of the people in the pews, in gradually developing an understanding of controversial issues.
The men in the Vatican pay occasional lip service to this concept, but in reality, they want to keep power for themselves and they have been really successful in this regard. The lay community, non-clerics, have virtually no say in deciding church teaching about the queer lifestyle.
Back to the recent CDF pronouncement about blessing gay marriages. The ruling from Rome elicited expressions of dismay in progressive church circles. Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna said that as long as the request for a blessing is genuine and comes from a good heart, “it will not be refused.”
Seven of the ten Austrian bishops have been critical of the Vatican statement, and 200 German theologians questioned a regulation that suggests the exclusion of gay couples from God’s love. And more than 2,000 priests in Germany and Austria promised to continue blessing unions of queer couples with the proper disposition.
In America, Cardinal Tobin in Newark, from the minority progressive wing of the American bishops, proudly welcomes gays to his cathedral and states that the church’s approach to sexuality badly needs rethinking.
Across the Hudson, the large Catholic homosexual community in New York would surely celebrate if Cardinal Dolan showed a similar magnanimity, but he is a leader of old-school thinking. He fully supports the CDF statement and, unfortunately, no priest in his archdiocese can offer a sacerdotal blessing of the marriage of gay parishioners because the CDF in the Vatican has declared that God has ruled it out.