Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 4): “Homosexuality is fundamentally disordered”

In the fourth part of his long article on gay inclusion for the Irish theology magazine “Furrow”, Fr Owen O’Sullivan considers the part of the CDF presentation of the subject that most enrages gay and lesbian Catholics – that their orientation is fundamentally disordered. We know that this is simply not true, at least not in any conventional sense familiar from everyday speech. It is certainly not true in what appears to be the obvious, medical import: professionals in mental and physical health have agreed that same sex attraction is not disordered in any medical sense.

Not the only model

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All Souls Reflection: On Burying Our Queer Dead

In Catholic tradition, the Feast of All Souls (Nov 2nd) is the day on which we remember the souls in Purgatory. Fresh from my mother’s funeral, this is a topic much on my mind. I find, however, my thoughts are not so much on those starting their new lives in Christ, as on those nearing the end of their present lives on earth. In particular, I am led to the difficult question: for those lesbian or gay Catholics who attempt to live fully within the guidelines of the CDF, who will bury our dead?

My mother’s attempt to live scrupulously according to Church teaching, and the Natural Family Planning it recommends and she in turn commended to her daughters, was witnessed by her seven children. Her reward was that even though I now live in the UK, and one of my sisters in Cape Town, and after the death earlier this year of one son, during her last months she still had living in close proximity four daughters, nine of her sixteen grandchildren, and two of six great-grandchildren, all of whom were with her on her final day. She clearly knew she was going, and was able to make peaceful goodbyes. We all contributed to the funeral planning, while the pall-bearers included myself, three sons-in-law, and two grandsons.

During my two bereavements this year, I have been greatly helped by the prayers and support of the congregation of the Soho LGBT Masses, and of my readers here at QTC. Similarly, the congregation has frequently lent its prayers and support to others in their own bereavements. I am increasingly aware though, that the day is approaching when we will be praying not for our departed relatives, but for our own deceased congregants. How will we respond? In some cases, those who live alone, will we even know they have passed away?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith insists that it condemns all forms of unjust discrimination against persons of a homosexual disposition. However, it goes on to insist that the best way for us to avoid any discrimination is to remain firmly closeted, to avoid any self-disclosure of our sexual identity. In practice, this means that the Church frequently makes the assumption that where self-identified gay men or lesbians are living together as couples, their relationships are not celibate, and so in contravention of Church teaching. We are condemned by CDF doctrine to lives not only celibate, but also solitary. We are further denied Church approval as adoptive parents.

And so the question arises: if we do indeed order our lives as recommended in Homosexualitatis Problema – without loving spouses or children to survive us, who will bury our dead?

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John McNeill’s Theology of Sex as Play

In my post yesterday about Elizabeth Stuart’s commentary on the gay and lesbian theology pioneers, I included some brief references to the early books of John McNeill. In his latest book, “Sex as God Intended“, McNeill substantially expanded his ideas about the theology of sex as play. At his blog, “JOHN MCNEILL SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION”, he has a pair of posts up sharing these ideas for an on-line readership.

In part one, he reminds of quotations by two great early theologians. St Ireneaus taught ” Gloria Dei, homo vivens. (The glory of God are humans fully alive). That includes being sexually fully alive.  St Augustine (who is so often interpreted incorrectly as a key originator of homophobia in Christian theology) wrote “Ama! Et fac quod vis! (Love and then do whatever you want!)”, to which McNeill adds “Exactly! Because what ever a lover wants will be in complete harmony with the spirit of God!”.

The key Scripture text of course for sex as play is the Song of Songs, but what I found most intriguing in this discussion was a consideration of the nature of play. The key lies in play as a total and complete focus on the moment:

But what makes sex play? The human experience of play, like love, is indefinable. We know what play is when we experience it, but we cant define it. Sociologists observe that a disturbed child ceases to play when it experiences the absence of love. Tht child can be freed to begin to play again only when it feels the security of uncondiional love. Simlarly, we adults are free to play only if we feel loved. Ultimately it is the human experience of God’s unconditional love that frees us to totally indulge the spirit of play all our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Church, Sex – and Silence

A light-hearted aside here yesterday brought a typically pertinent response from reader Etienne:

I’m not too sure that yet another code will do the trick, but otherwise I get the point. May I suggest a thorough theological [re-]thinking in the preparatory phase? I’d want to explore the following subjects for a start: freedom, love, play, the body, sexuality.

Earlier, Colleen (of Enlightened Catholicism) had this useful observation about the Vatican in response to  my previous post, “Episcopal Pornography”:

What they lack is any understanding of sexuality as a relational experience. Reducing sexuality to acts, divorced from it’s relational aspects, is in itself a definition of pornography.

Mareczku, responding to the same post, refers to the Sipe report. By wonderful serendipity, National Catholic Reporter now has an article by Richard Sipe, discussing precisely these ideas we’ve all been circling. I also have an extended post in preparation,  on the “Nature and Purpose” of sex, as observed in real lives (human and animal) and in history, rather than in dry and dusty theological manuals. When I responded to Etienne, I wrote that the re-thinking of the issues  he proposes must involve lay debate, in plain language. My reply to Colleen noted the irony that the “relationships” we are seeking are exactly what the Vatican accuses us of being incapable of, while themselves focussing exclusively on acts.

This discussion and re-valuation has already begun, even without the participation of the Vatican. Long may it continue, and may the discussion here play some small but constructive part.

Here’s Sipe:

Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.

But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.

Human sexuality is the core of the whole Catholic upheaval that the Pope and the Vatican still refuse to face and discuss realistically.

In 1990 a bishop returning from Rome told me that Pope John Paul II personally instructed every new bishop that he “should not discus in public” birth control, a married priesthood, women’s ordination, abortion and the host of celibate/sexual issues that constitute an agenda that theologians have pointed out for decades are precisely the “tangle of issues that clog up” the Catholic agenda.

Roman Catholic leadership has failed to deal credibly and openly with all of human sexuality. William Shea outlined the challenge most elegantly already in 1986 when he listed the issues that need discussion: “divorce and remarriage, premarital and extramarital sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, [women’s ordination, mandated celibacy] and the male monopoly of leadership.” He opined that the fear and perhaps hatred of women could be at the bottom of the ecclesial hang up.

It would be disingenuous to protest that the Church has discussed these issues or invites dialogue about human sexuality. True enough, the Vatican has made pronouncements and declarations on every item on the list, but none invite dialogue. Congar’s observation is validated; sex is all sin virtue is submission and obedience to authority and its dictates.

Despite Pope John Paul’s four-year effort to define a Theology of the Body he never transcended some of the basic constraints of church teaching that sex is sin. Sex remains permissible and holy only within a valid marriage.

A chronic problem with church pronouncements about sex is their use of the idea of natural law as they define and apply it. The Vatican represents their interpretation of sexual human nature as an absolute determination. They isolate the idea and impose it as an instrument of control. The approach fails to acknowledge that natural law is also the inherent practical and reasonable guide to conscience independent of revelation. Many Catholics use natural law as the road map to guide their sexual behavior. For instance natural law often trumps the dictates of Humanae Vitae in matters of family planning. Some behaviors labeled by the Church “contrary to natural law” (masturbation one instance among many) should be open for examination and dialogue in the minds and hearts of many serious Catholics.

“Intrinsic” is a church-word that seals off any possibility of conversation. Birth control is presented as intrinsically evil; so is abortion; and masturbation. Sex with a minor girl, however, is not considered intrinsically evil only gravely sinful.
Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 1986 document authored by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared that homosexual orientation although not sinful in itself, “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” As if the concept of Original Sin were not sufficient to cover all human beings of any orientation or inclination.

The definition of sex as sin establishes and maintains authoritarian control because bishops and priests (alone) have the power to forgive mortal sin. They are lords over the inner territory of the soul where secret violations are stored. Catholics are required to submit grave sins in sacramental confession for a priest’s absolution at least once a year. All sexual sins, of course, are grave according to Catholic teaching.

(Read the full article at NCR)