Church Teaching


At this time two years ago, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council was wrapping up negotiations with the Archdiocese of Westminster on the transfer of the Soho Masses for LGBT Catholics from their previous home in the (Anglican) parish of St Anne’s, to the present home in the (Catholic) Church of the Assumption and St Gregory.  At the conclusion of the initial negotiations, and some months later after a review of the results of this move, the Cardinal issued two important public statements. These noted (among other things)  that the Masses were held with the blessing and authorisation of the diocese, but that they should promote the full and unambiguous teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.

I found this troubling at first, as there are many aspects of church teaching with which I disagree. However, I also knew that in my own conscience I was clear: for official teaching allows, even compels, dissent from official teaching  where personal and informed conscience leads us there.    It was this realisation that led me to a resolution to my problem:  the way to reconcile  the apparent conflict between promoting the official teaching, and my own dissent, is  to take the Cardinal’s instruction literally.  I propose in these pages to explore relevant teaching as “fully” as I can.  Alas, I am not able simultaneously to promote that teaching unambiguously – because I find the teaching itself is riddled with contradictions.

Church teaching on Scripture is that we should not read or interpret  Biblical texts in isolation: we need to read the Good Book as a whole, to understand the broader context.  I suggest that to fully understand church teaching on homosexuality, we need similarly to read the broader teaching as well, to obtain the full context.  So, for me, we need to look not only at the infamous statements of the Catechism and of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, we also need to consider other teaching and practice from both recent and ancient times.  We need also to look at teaching on other matters: on conscience, on the place of the Holy Spirit in discernment of the truth,  on the balance between Papal autority and the ‘sensus fidelium’ – and on  Church teaching on justice & peace, and the obligation to combat injustice where we find it in the secular world.

I am no theologian, and have no expertise in these matters. I am, however, exploring these matters in good faith, and will share with you my discoveries and conclusions as I go.

If you too would like to share your own reflections with us, I would be delighted.

The 1986 document “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” is the standard starting point for discussion of standard, orthodox teaching as it stands today.

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16 Responses to “Church Teaching”

  1. conway23 Says:

    Hello,

    You have quite an ambitious site. As a fellow Catholic, I’d like to point something out regarding your sentence:

    “official teaching allows, even compels, dissent from official teaching where personal and informed conscience leads us there”

    Conscience is indeed important. Yet as Catholics we are called to form our conscience using authoritative Church teaching , for as the Catechism points out:

    1801 “Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.”

    The Catechism again:

    2039 “… As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions. Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

    If I’m understanding this correctly, it seems to suggest that though your conscience may decide that homosexuality is moral and even to be celebrated, for example, that would be putting yourself in opposition to definitive, Magisterial teaching in this case. Like you, I’m no theologian, but I know that when the Church speaks, Jesus Christ speaks. And Jesus is where I want to be.

    Thought I throw that out there!

    God Bless

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Thanks for taking the trouble to post a comment. I apologise for not replying earlier, but for one reason or other I was unaware that I had a comment awaiting moderation.

      You are quite right that the Church insists that conscience should ‘take account of the good of all…..and the authoritative teaching of the church’. Does this mean that having taken ‘account’ of the teaching, we are obliged to accept it? I think not. You put a serious and important question though, which goes to the heart of what I originally set out to achieve here, so this deserves a fuller response than is possible in a comment box. I do want to make two points now:

      The first is to agree with you, that “Jesus is where I want to go.” So consider His words and actions as reflected in the Gospels: never a word did He say about same sex relationships, even though He was living in a time and cultural environment where such were commonplace. (The whole of the Eastern Mediterranean region at the time was under Hellenistic cultural influences, and under direct Roman military rule . Both Greeks and Romans tolerated or even promoted, sex between men.) Jesus did, however, frequently warn against self-righteous judgments or condemnation of others. He also showed clear disdain for living according to set, legalistic rules of the religious authorities. Time after time, the priests and pharisees attempted to catch him out in contravention of Judaic ‘law’, and time after time He responded by showing that love and intrinsic goodness were far more important than mere adherence to the letter of the ‘law’.

      The second is to contest your assertion that “when the Church speaks, Jesus Christ speaks”. This is the ideal, to which the Church aspires, but the Church itself does not claim it to be necessarily true at all times: the misunderstood doctrine of church ‘infallibility’ is severely limited and circumscribed. Indeed, the most cursory examination of church history shows it has not always been so – else we would have had no massacre of the Albigensians, nor would the church have defended slavery, nor would there have been so many topics where, over time, the church has found itself reversing what were once seen as ‘fundamental’ beliefs. Rather, I see the official church teaching as just one of three sources of revelation which I use to inform my conscience: Scripture itself; the Magisterium; and direct guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and discernment under competent spiritual direction. In using all three sources of revelation, incidentally, I am operating fully within church teaching.

      I would also point out that the Church itself fully recognises the importance of using all our God-given talents – including that of reason. Who says so? Why, Benedict XVI himself, among others .

      I will expand and substantiate these points later, in a fuller post.

      Thanks again for your contribution.

  2. IgnatiusBenedict Says:

    What’s to be debated with the topic of homosexuality? Scripture and Tradition is quite clear that the orientation of homosexuals are disordered and unnatural. Take God and the Church out, and put science into the equation.
    Two men and two women can not sexually reproduce naturally. The shear mechanics of the sexual act do not match. It’s like having two keys and no lock.
    We are to form our informed conscience to the Church. If one does not believe in the teachings and authority of the Catholic Church in ALL areas of faith and morality, one might as well follow Ex-Father Cutie into the “anything goes” Anglican church. If a person is “gay”, then they need to live a celibate lifestyle in accordance with the teaching of the Church.

    Peace of Christ,

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Ah, but this is where you and I disagree quite fundamentally. The established Church would indeed like us to believe that ” Scripture and Tradition is quite clear that the orientation of homosexuals are disordered and unnatural.” But in fact, when one goes deeper into the issue that the top-line pronouncements of the CDF, it becomes clear the Scripture and tradition are very far from clear or unanimous on the point: which is the entire rationale behind this site.

      Thank you for taking the trouble to answer back. Peace to you, too

  3. IgnatiusBenedict Says:

    Terry,

    I’m sorry, but this is where you and the Church Jesus Christ established on St. Peter and the Holy Apostles disagree fundamentally.

    Please clarify your comment on But in fact, when one goes deeper into the issue that the top-line pronouncements of the CDF”. What does CDF stand for?

    St. Paul in Scripture speaks of (I’m paraphrasing here as I do not have the Scriptures handy) “Men turning from what was natural and laying with other men”. Furthermore, St. Paul lists homosexuals among those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s not “far from clear”. The Church Father’s even speak on it as a sin:http://www.catholic.com/library/Early_Teachings_on_Homosexuality.asp

    I follow the Church’s teaching on how to treat people with same-sex attractions. I will love them like anyone else, but loving them doesn’t mean accepting their sin. I will treat them with respect and dignity that every person deserves, but I will not tell acknowledge the lifestyle any more than a heterosexual caught up in a promiscuous lifestyle.

    Peace of Christ,
    IB

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Thanks again for taking the trouble to write. I am well aware that I and the established institutional church “disagree fundamenmtally”. However, I also believe that the “Church Jesus Christ established on St. Peter and the Holy Apostles” is much bigger than just a bunch of celibate theologians in frocks.

      I have no intention of getting into a debate in comment boxes about the accuracy or otherwise of the standard teaching: all I was referring to earlier was a claim that neither Scripture nor tradition are as clear as you seem to think. For corroboration of this statement, all you need to do is to take a look at the theologians Moore, “A Question of Truth”; Helminiak, “What the Bible really says About Homosexuality”,’ and Countryman, “Dirt, Greed and Sex” for Scripture, and the historians Boswell “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, and “Same Sex Unions in pre-Modern Europe”‘; Jordan, “The Invention of Homosexuality” and “The Silence of Sodom ; and Bray, “The Friend”, to see how tradition has changed over the centuries. Or see my own posts on The Church#s Changing Tradition”, and on gay saints.

      To make these assertions does not necessarily make them true – but it does make clear that the issues are less widely agreed than the insitutional church likes to claim.

      Peace, again.

  4. IgnatiusBenedict Says:

    Terry,

    I wish you Christ’s peace and love.

    The “celibate theologians in frocks” that you speak of were handed down the deposit of faith Christ himself gave the Apostles. These same celibate men gave us the doctrine of the Trinity, Transubstantiation, Divinity of Christ, etc. etc. etc. As I mentioned in a previous post, to challenge the Holy Father and the Bishops is akin to being a Protestant with moral relativist beliefs.

    Appreciate the list of authors, however I’m aware of the agenda set forth by many who have same-sex attraction. There is no such thing as progressive Catholic theology. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow. And the Church doesn’t change regarding faith and morals either. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds to the same Apostolic beliefs. The two most ancient Churches have not compromised as did Canterbury.

    I have an attraction to 17-19 year old girls and I’m married. Does that make it right if I say “That’s just who I am!” No, it’s not right. I have this disordered sexual inclination that I have to work on denying every day because God and the Church demands it. We all have our crosses.

    James

    Most of the “gay” saints you list is speculation at best. The vague legend of two men from an Icon in the 4th century

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Two final observations before I close this particular discussion. I is fundamental to theology that it should be grounded in Scriptures and in the magisterium – but also in prayerful reflection on lived experience. Vatican II, as well as all the Pontiffs since, have stressed the importance of the laity having their say, and of the church listening to their voices. However, they neglected to give us the structures to have this say. I assure you, that whatever you may believe, my views are very much rooted in prayer as well as experience, much of it under highly expert spiritual direction and on lengthy, directed (silent) retreats. All I am doing here, is making a very sincere attemp to do just what we have been commanded to do, to contributre to the search for truth, from my own standpoint of experience.

      My second point is to thank you for the courtesy with which you have expressed yourself over views which will clearly be offensive to you. On this particular matter, though, on the church’s teaching authority, we must now agree to differ. I will not reply to any further comments you make – but will, as always, publish anything you write with similar courtesy. I will also reply, as always, to anything you may choose to write on any other topic.

      Thank you and God Bless.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Sorry, James, an apology. I did not notice in your third comment that you had signed with a name and not just an initial. I should have seen that, and done you the courtesy of replying to you by name. My only excuse is that here in London it is now late, and past my bedtime.

      Again, God bless.

      Terry

  5. IgnatiusBenedict Says:

    Terry,

    No worries. Sleep well.

  6. IgnatiusBenedict Says:

    Terry,

    It seems you are placing lived experience, time on retreats and prayer above the Scriptures and Magisterium. This approach leads to saying that you are right and infallible Scripture (Old and New Test.) and the Magisterium working through the Holy Spirit are wrong. I don’t buy that for one minute.
    The Holy Father’s spend more time on their knees seeking the Lord’s face and what to tell his flock than anyone. I’m going to sound harsh here, and forgive me. So you’re saying the Lord has told you and all the other homosexuals that gayness is not a sin, and failed to let the Pope and Bishops of East and Western Churches in on this secret?

    Have you read the Church document “Faith and Reason”? I think there you will find your answers concerning lived experience and it’s deceptiveness. Placing “lived experience” above the Church is what it means to be Protestant. I think you’ll be happy in the Anglican denomination where this sort of reasoning evades the Truth.

    Peace of Christ,
    James

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      No, James. I am not placing experience, prayer and retreats “above” Scriptures and Magisterium. I am placing them alongside each other. Indeed, both Scripture and Magisterium tell us we must do so, as did Benedict in his Christmas address.

      I am also looking in both Scripture and Magisterium beyond the popular headlines, and find that there is nothing in Scripture which is clearly against homosexuality, as modern scholars are increasingly accepting, and that the Magisterium itself is far more complex than the headlines suggest.

      Nor do I believe that I am necessarily right. The pursuit of truth is a complex process, fraught with many wrong turnings along the way. I am certain only that on many points I will be wrong – but I cannot know on which points without honest debate. Official teaching itself commands that we have not only a right but an obligation to speak up where we in conscience disagree, as I do. Yes, I have read “Faith and Reason”. That is why I insist on a balance: Scripture, Magisterium, prayerful reflection taken together are necessary: any one alone is flawed, but all three together complement each other.

      I fully accept that professional theologians and pastoral leaders have spent more time in prayer and in learned study than I could ever do. But in practical experience of sexual matters, inside marriage and out of it, you and I have more knowledge than they do. To provide the data on which theology needs to build, we have an obligation to speak and write frankly of our experiences. Whatever the Vatican would like to pretend, infallibility in all things is emphatically not part of doctrine, nor could it be. The Magisterium itself commands that we all participate in the making of teaching. Only by speaking up, even if we are wrong, can we do so.

  7. Rob Says:

    Appeals to scripture do not work because all Christian denominations are selective about what they choose – and their selectivity has varied through the ages. If it were otherwise then St Paul’s endorsement of slavery (”Slaves, be obedient to your masters” Ephesians 6:5) would have continued to provide adequate justification for the Slave Trade as it did for so many centuries. Another issue, usury, is much more consistently decried in both Scripture and by successive Popes than homosexuality ever was, and yet ‘Sacred Tradition’ in the Church’s teaching made an almost overnight volte face in the 19th century, when Pius VIII permitted usury – by 1917 religious orders were required in the Code of Canon Law to deposit any surplus finds in interest-bearing accounts.

    The Council of Constance (1414-18) determined that it constituted a General Council representing the Catholic Church, and “that, therefore, it has its authority immediately from Christ; and that all men of every rank and condition, including the pope himself, are bound to obey it in matters of faith, the ending of schism and the reformation of the church of God in its head and members” – a decision reversed in 1870 when the first Vatican Council pronounced on papal infallibility – a dogma that was doubted by, among others, John Henry Newman, who said, “‘I hold the pope’s infallibility, but as a theological opinion; that is, not as a certainty but as a probability.’

    Much of Catholic teaching is nonsense to most rational people, but then who said any religious were rational. Homosexuality is a hot potato because to admit they got it wrong for centuries would mean the Catholic Church admitting that, actually, it totally lacks divine guidance on morality, and is no less homophobic than the cultures it grew up in. That’s how the utterances of the Pope and his ranting cowardly bishops appear to most secularists as merely echoes of a Middle Eastern morality that should have been chucked out centuries ago – the Taliban have the same attitude.

    [By an ex-Catholic.]

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Rob,
      This highlights for me what I have pointed to repeatedly – the Church’s tradition is anything but fixed and unchanging – it has indeed been changing constantly, on many issues. Already, formal teaching on divorce is under review, and I have heard from many serious thinkers that Benedict XVI is preparing the way for a softening of the stance against contraception. I am absolutely confident that in time it will change too on this hot potato of homosexuality – the evidence, from scripture, queer theology, and science, is just too strong to resist.

  8. Rob Says:

    I agree with you, Terry. It just seems to take an inappropriately long time for changes to happen.

    I read today that the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) has voted to end the moratorium on ordaining new gay bishops. Apparently the Anglican Church will split on this. Anglicans face the same dilemma as Catholics – do they remain back in the homophobic Dark Ages, as their (and the Catholic) increasingly shrill right-wing demand, or open their hearts to everyone, as Jesus demanded and modern society requires of any civilised institution? I know which sort of worshipping community I would prefer, and it’s not one which the existing Magisterium feel able to face up to.

  9. Jeremiah Says:

    I think Conway is right in stressing both the sanctity of the individual conscience, and the individual’s obligation to form that conscience in light of both experience and received and transmitted Wisdom. The teaching of the Magisterium represents the latter. However, let’s also not forget that life is a journey, and we are a pilgrim people. We learn as we go – and the Magisterium also learns. And what is a critical source of such learning? The experience of people like us, doing our best to live the faith in all the uncertainty of the route. I think that the Magisterium is wrong about sexuality – as it was wrong about usery, as it was wrong about slavery, as the church of Jerusalem was wrong about circumcision, before the first council – and I wish I saw signs that it is listening now! Therefore, a critical factor is missing from the model.
    –Jeremiah
    IgnatiusBenedict: Be assured of unity in prayer for the safe delivery of your child.


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