Religion

The Catholic Response to Homosexuality

Is it within the Church’s power to determine whether homosexual relationships are sacramental? Do they resemble a Sacrament, which Augustine describes as “a visible form of an invisible grace”? In March, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a responsum ad dubium (reply to a doubt) to the question: Does the Church have the power to bless homosexual unions? The responsum was necessitated by the Pope’s “Who am I to judge?” comments about homosexuals, made off the cuff to journalists on a plane, and his subsequent observation about homosexuals being children of God with a right to a family. These comments were seized upon, and a narrative was woven around them, by those hoping the progressive Pope would normalise homosexual relationships and invest them with the same sacramental status as heterosexual marriage.

The answer is No. The responsum explains why. It begins by admitting that calls for such blessings can often represent a sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons along the paths of faith, “so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives”. It proceeds by explaining that when any human relationship is blessed:

in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.

It is not licit to bless relationships, even stable ones, which involve sexual activity outside marriage, as “the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life”. The presence of positive elements in homosexual relationships does not make those relationships the legitimate objects of ecclesial blessing, “since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan”.

Therefore, the Congregation affirms that priests do not have the power to bless such unions. Nevertheless, the responsum:

does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching. Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such. In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God, in the sense mentioned above, but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognised as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.

When this dense and freighted prose is unpacked, the issue is really celibacy. Homosexual practice remains objectively disordered, under Scripture and Natural Law, but God does not despise what he has made. The challenge here is getting the Modern West—including the Church—to seriously re-engage with the idea of humanity’s telos—a goal, a purpose, a direction—understood as eudaimonia, a basic orientation towards God as the Good.

This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
Subscribers had no need to wait for the paywall to open

The issue of blessing homosexual unions must be reframed: Who is demanding the blessing and why? As Douglas Murray points out in The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (2019), a decade ago almost nobody was supportive of same-sex marriage, not even gay rights groups:

A few years down the road and it has been made into a foundational value of modern liberalism. To fail the gay marriage issue—only years after almost everybody failed it (including gay rights groups)—was to put yourself beyond the pale.

According to Murray, we are living through a period in which the narratives which once gave meaning to our lives have collapsed. One by one, each grand narrative was refuted, became unpopular, or was difficult to sustain. Christianity went first, beginning in the nineteenth century with the advent of higher criticism and evolutionary theory. In the latter part of the twentieth century, we entered the postmodern era, “which defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion of grand narratives”:

However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own.

It was inevitable that some pitch would be made for the deserted ground. People in wealthy Western democracies today could not simply remain the first people in recorded history to have no explanation for what we are doing here, and no story to give life purpose.

Although homosexual himself, Murray describes how Western societies are in a state of industrial-strength denial about homosexuality. He quotes a sardonic rant from Bret Easton Ellis which critiques the ideology behind social justice propaganda:

The reign of the Gay Man as Magical Elf, who whenever he comes out appears before us as some kind of saintly E.T. whose sole purpose is to be put in the position of reminding us only about Tolerance and Our Own Prejudices and To Feel Good About Ourselves and to be a symbol … The Sweet and Sexually Unthreatening and Super-Successful Gay is supposed to be destined to transform The Hets into noble gay-loving protectors—as long as the gay in question isn’t messy or sexual or difficult.

The point here is clever and well made. Homosexual identity has become one of many battering rams for intersectional politics. Homosexuals are not Magical Elves. Being homosexual is messy. It involves sexual acts that were until recently recognised as hazardous to health. There is no basis, in Scripture or Natural Law, by which the Church can bless practising homosexuals.

Nevertheless, Christians are under extraordinary pressure to accept the normalisation of homosexual behaviour. This is not happening because God is love, or because Jesus took our sins upon himself once for all upon the cross. It is happening because there was a sexual revolution in the 1960s and because the West has discovered cures for sexually transmissible infections. Without that revolution, or those cures, there would be no demand to bless homosexuality, as an affirmation of our collective rejection—as a society—of Scripture and Natural Law.

By any measure, the speed with which homosexuals have gone from being public health risks to being objects of public virtue is extraordinary. Australians, Christian or not, should recognise where this extraordinary pressure comes from and how it is exerted. If homosexuals owe more of their existence to modern medicine than they dare admit, this is true of most people in the modern West. To be honest about this means balancing our freedom and our constraint, what society creates versus what nature determines. This is what the difficult tension between social constructionism and biological determinism means.

Nevertheless, legal jurisdictions are ruling that the biblical understanding of maleness and femaleness is “incompatible with human dignity”, particularly the dignity of trans persons who do not identify with their biological sex. In these same jurisdictions, the category of woman—a noun meaning adult, human female—is proscribed, because trans activists believe it violates the rights of trans persons. According to Murray, the sheer speed of this change is causing mass cultural derangement. He is right. What was accepted as true yesterday—by cultural consensus—has today atomised into a confounding array of subjectivities. If the terms “Culture Wars”, “Long March Through the Institutions” and “Cultural Marxism” are overworked, they accurately describe what is happening around us.

One of the more dangerous conceits of our century is the Western belief that we can change the nature and structure of reality by creating and legislating whatever world we desire. The responsum is a reminder, unwelcomed by many—including many in the Church—of what cannot be changed. Christians speak of the God of Love, but many of them have a limited, solipsistic understanding of what this means and believe it applies to whatever they wish. The Jesus of progressive Christians is a hero of social justice, who fulfils desires and liberates from whatever is thought to ail the body politic in an intersectional age. The Jesus of conservative Christians is the person who told those disorienting parables about God’s Kingdom, which embody the reversal of expectations at the heart of the Gospel.

Here it is worth remembering another unpopular responsum. In May 1994, John Paul II issued an ecclesiastical letter, Ordinatio sacerdotalis, so “all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance”, which is to say, “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”. At the time there was much debate about the letter’s status among academics, which amounted to little more than questioning the Pope’s wisdom for saying what they did not want to hear. In a responsum of October 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that Ordinatio sacerdotalis had been “set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” and is therefore “to be held definitively, as belonging to the deposit of faith”.

The 2021 responsum was about blessing homosexual behaviour. In 1995 it was about ordaining women to the priesthood. These are related. Ideologically and politically, homosexual identity and female identity are linked.

Now that the responsum has been issued, the disappointed will express sadness and regret or shock and sorrow. This will be reported by the media, because same-sex marriage is legal in the secular democratic world, so the Church withholding its blessing must seem unjust in some way—even tragic—and this is newsworthy. Western civilisation is now synonymous with homosexuality. It has become a sign of what human freedom most truly means, in a society that has rejected its traditional values and no longer knows what it stands for. Every family has homosexual relatives, some in relationships. In Ellis’s terms, they remind us about tolerance and prejudice. They make us feel good about ourselves. They have become symbols of meaning in a post-Christian world.

The responsum speaks of “the right intention” of those who participate in a blessing. Leaving aside for the moment the question of objective disorder, what does a homosexual couple seek from the Church if they have already been affirmed by the secular world? In other words, what more do they want? Throughout Western history, monarchs have tried to bend the Church to their will, so they can appropriate its moral authority for their earthly desires. Is homosexual marriage the modern equivalent of this historical struggle? If it is, the scriptural and evolutionary implications must be explored. More must happen than looking sadly into the camera, like Meghan.

Among progressives, Francis must inevitably lose some of his sheen, as the reality sets in. Each pontificate begins with expectations, hopes and projections. John Paul II was hailed for being a bulwark against communism and reviled for maintaining the status quo. Benedict XVI suffered for being God’s Rottweiler, Cardinal Ratzinger, a man of deep intellect in an anti-intellectual age and impeccable theology in an anti-theological age. Francis has been cast as an advocate in the culture wars, an impossible role which needs to be performed carefully, and he is doing a brilliant job.

Francis wants the Church to shift from a model of conciliarity—a model where the Pope governs in consultation with the bishops—to a model of synodality. The Council of Trent mandated the calling of provincial synods every three years, and diocesan synods every year, but this never happened. Vatican I (1869–1870) encumbered the papacy by buttressing papal primacy and defining papal infallibility. Vatican II avoided mandating the calling of synods, or determining their frequency, by not making statements about them. These three councils created a more centralised, clericalised, bishop- and pope-centred Church.

This has become a managerial nightmare. The number of bishops has doubled since Vatican II, from 2500 who attended the Council to around 5300 in 2017. Ideally, the Church should devolve into a collection of provincial and diocesan synods, each with a system of checks and balances: a House of Laity, a House of Clergy, with episcopal oversight and right of veto.

There is an assumption that the synodical model is democratic, because it is consultative, but the Anglican Church is also synodical, and it has not managed to avoid schism in its pursuit of intersectional politics.

Dr Michael Giffin, a frequent contributor, is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney

15 comments
  • lbloveday

    The author is of course entitled to think Pope Francis “is doing a brilliant job” “as an advocate in the culture wars”. I am so appalled at his advocacy that I no longer attend Mass.

    But on what does he base his claim as fact, not opinion, that “Every family has homosexual relatives”? He would need to cast his understanding of “family” far and wide for that to be true. I take the plain reading of “has” to mean living and “relatives” to mean more than one, and cannot accept it as fact, even as likely.

  • Harry Lee

    Main task now for The Church of Rome, were its main power-players bothered/capable of re-focusing the Church, and its massive array of resources:
    Develop and widely deploy the means by which Ordinary People can reliably communicate with God.

  • loweprof

    Does a child have the right to be raised by its biological parents, if they are capable of doing so, or not?

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Harry Lee,
    If you truly want to know God, and you live in one of all but one or two of the capital cities, I could give you the name of one or more Baptist churches that exist to glorify God and help others to know and serve Him.

  • Harry Lee

    Rebekah M -thank you. Melbourne, Mornington Penisula way?

  • padmmdpat

    The simple fact is that the catholic church tells homosexuals to live celibate lives. Celibacy is a gift – one either has that gift or one does not. It can’t be enforced on anyone but must be freely chosen. In enforcing celibacy on someone who does not have that gift the church is burdening people with loneliness – that black pit of loneliness that comes about through being deprived of intimacy. And the simple fact is that for many homosexuals this is a burden to great to bear because it is unworkable. I was always under the impression that something is theologically authentic if it works. Also I am wary of people who tell other people what to do in their bedroom – especially (so called) celibate clergy. Anyone who allows a (so called) celibate clergyman to tell them what to do in their bedroom, deserves everything they get. As well, I am much more wary of married laity who lay down the law for homosexuals while they go home to the consolation, support and comfort of a sexual life. We don’t even know why some people are gay and others aren’t. We don’t know what causes homosexuality. Some may well theorize and also say homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically evil’. Frankly for me it’s an open question. One thing I do know – Jesus never commented on it. And when we die and go for judgement, we will be judged on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and visited the sick and prisoners. No mention made of what we did and with whom in the bedroom. I loath modern gay culture and much gay ideology. But I will continue to maintain a respectful silence about loving homosexual relationships – of which there is ample evidence of them. Some one say I should master all doubts and submit to the teaching of the church in this matter. Given the catholic church’s blatant hypocrisy on this matter, given the number of practicing homosexuals in the priesthood and the religious life, I am unwilling to play that infantile game.

  • lbloveday

    “We don’t know what causes homosexuality”.
    Here’s my take on what caused a young man to adopt a homosexual lifestyle, to become what we commonly call a “homosexual”.
    .
    A wealthy middle-aged workmate (NOT mate) in a “third-world” country used to think he regaled people with his tales of how he sent servants out to procure adolescent boys for a few dollars, hose them down on the front lawn and “toss” them into the “Master’s” bedroom for his pleasure. He disgusted at least 2 of us.
    .
    The wealthy man procured the young brother of a man I employed for handyman jobs, a macho man, type A (I know that does not mean his young brother was), and I am very familiar with the saga.
    .
    The boy used to take the money and rush off to a brothel and rent a girl; to him the homosexual activity was just a job, paying as much as he would earn in a month and for him easier work. And, boy, did he enjoy the brothel visits and the bragging rights to his virgin friends.
    .
    The wealthy man once rented a 15yo girl to see what it was like, and told me that because she was so young and petite, she was “just like a boy”, but not as much fun.
    .
    The boy kept having sex with the man and in the fullness of time the boy stopped going to the brothel and started renting other boys jointly with the man for mini-orgies, and eventually came to Australia as the “spouse” of the man.
    .
    I refuse to accept the boy’s homosexual lifestyle was a result of biological predisposition rather than his environment; it was, I believe, a consequence of grinding poverty, easy money and “the good life” – a version of the “Stockholm syndrome”?

  • lbloveday

    “No mention made of what we did and with whom in the bedroom”
    .
    I hope the man in my story above WILL be held to account and condemned for what he “did and with whom in the bedroom”.

  • Solo

    If I remember correctly, I had a neuropsychology professor who mentioned a study where female rats could be deliberately engineered to present more male associated sexual behaviours if their androgens were increased during the mothers pregnancy. Likewise, if the androgens were kept low, the offspring produced typical female sexual behaviours.

    As far as he was concerned, the methodology and results appeared to be robust enough to suggest that similar mechanisms exist in human populations, so yes, you’re born on a sexual spectrum and homosexual behaviours appear to stem from an abnormal amount of androgens (one way or the other, depending on biological sex). Of course, saying ‘you’re gay because something went wrong in your development’ is not really kosher.

    If indeed this is a primarily biological mechanism, it could be corrected with medical technology that we don’t have and ethically probably wouldn’t use anyway. I’m sure there are sociological reasons that people may choose to indulge in homosexual behaviour, but I’m satisfied for it to have a biological underpinning in a similar manner to colour blindness or any other aspect of development.

    The increasingly political aspect of those biological underpinnings however, is bordering on ridiculous.

  • Solo

    In terms of any religious response, I am always annoyed with at the very least protestant denominations that are ‘welcoming’ to gay people. I feel this must feel very dishonest and confusing from a gay person’s perspective.

    The church may very well be welcoming to the human being that comes through the door, but they usually disagree and reject the homosexual aspect to that person’s behaviour. Increasingly, sexual orientation is becoming a part of the person, and in some instances almost more important than the person themselves, so putting out the welcome mat but also rebuking seems inconsistent. Hate the sin, love the sinner etc only works if the sin is not a core component of the person’s day to day life.

    A murderer for example doesn’t come to church after a week long murder spree, having attended a parade celebrating murderous lifestyles with full intention to murder some more people next week. If a large component of the public is celebrating murder, why would the murderer feel this large part of who they are is wrong? This person sees a church that welcomes murderers, but upon visiting the person sees that murder is frowned upon here.

    The point I’m trying to make is that homosexuality is not an occasional sin like murder/theft/adultery, it’s a celebrated lifestyle.

    Wouldn’t a gay person rather know that first and foremost the church does not approve of homosexual behaviour? They would be able to make a decision if they wished to attend that denomination very easily.

    PS: There hasn’t been a good pope since Urban II.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Environment plays a part. Milo Yiannopolous, an intelligent and once ‘proud gay’ but conservative and querying man, has now determined to try to remake himself with a reversion to his Catholic familial tradition.

    We shall have to see how that all works out for him. I wish him good luck; not an easy path but admirable for him to take it seriously and try.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Harry Lee,
    I live in WA, and have never been anywhere in Melbourne but the airport. However, this is not a copout; I have contacted a pastor who used to live in Sydney, and he has promised to give me the name of a Melbourne church that I can pass on to you.

  • Rebekah Meredith

    Harry Lee,
    As I said, I live in WA and have very little knowledge of Melbourne, but I have been given the names of these two churches.

    Casey Baptist Church
    4 Tango Circuit, Pakenham

    Oasis Baptist Church
    meeting at the Alan Nieman Hall
    14 Baxter Avenue, Chelsea

    I do not know how far these are from where you live, but I hope that you are able to attend one of them, and that you will allow God to speak to your heart.

  • STD

    Homosexuality by its nature is not in fact sexuality at all- not even close to created sexuality. It it is in fact masturbation at the level of the (in the direction of)heart, simply being a display of selfishness, this is extolled by the fact that it is not, cannot and never will be procreative.
    Procreation by its very nature is submission to the will of God(creation) and by its very nature it is the divestment of self, being kind we receive the feeling of joyfulness in recognition of the wonderful gift of the conception of life. However ‘H’- omos(d)exuality is countercultural, just like Abortion and euthanasia and transgenderism , all being worldly concepts that deny the right to life( design needs a designer,right) therefore lack any semblance of procreative love.
    Remember when Christ discovered what the money changers were doing, in and to his Fathers Temple, just like the good Harry Lee, Jesus went off his brain, from his heart, and told them in no- uncertain terms how he felt about the presence (unrepentant presence) of evil desecrating the will and grace of his Fathers Mercy

    HOMOSEXUALITY IS IN FACT IN MEDICAL TERMS A FORM OF SEXUAL DISABILITY AND AS SUCH SHOULD BE REFERENCED AS HOMODEXUALITY.

    If you go to the catechism of the Catholic Church, to the section that specifically deals with the nature of virtue, it will give one (you) a feel for the very nature of Love- specifically what love is and how we arrive at its proper end – which by its very nature is the incarnate figure of Our Lord (Jesus). The feeling that you should receive after reading this section of the Catechism is that the Son of the Fathers Will is All the Virtues in their entirety- “properly understood” to borrow a phrase from Dr Paul Morrissey, which are the incarnate figure of Jesus that leads to Christ our Lord. And if I was to have the freedom to extrapolate my honesty further it is Jesus’ incarnate example that shows us the proper(RIGHT) way. It is virtue that kindles love and keeps love alive and by its very nature virtue in itself is the unconditional act of giving and as such it brings love to life- or put another way it is the key ingredient in the conception that is actually love when properly understood.
    Masturbative acts by their very nature are the denial of the right to life- or put in another light masturbation does not create life, therefore when premised cannot be Love when properly understood.

    Therefore the Church in her wisdom(MAGISTERIUM) has nothing to apologise for when it comes to The Towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. GPS coordinates withheld. As Jesus said in relation to the Just man. Paraphrased ,Love is a state where Justice(Mercy) can be dispensed – but do they even recognise the face of Mercy (Love)in that state.

    This comment by me was made in the light of truth and reason that we know to be, the truest love- Allright.
    May God bless all the good works of his heart and that includes the works to follow.

  • Harry Lee

    Rebekah M -thank you for this info. All best, Harry.

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