So Can We All Be Gay Catholics Now?

Can we all be gay Catholics now?

As of midnight on Monday, the media has been in a frenzy over what many blogs have labelled an “earthquake” at the Catholic Synod on the Family: some sort of interim document (relatio post disceptationem, for those of you who are interested) has appeared that calls for an explicitly more tolerant view of homosexuality. Gay rights groups are treating this as a victory. Conservatives are huffily dusting off their photos of Pope Pius XII. Liberals are all waiting with bated breath for the Spirit to move Pope Francis to leap up and announce ex cathedra that we can all touch our genitals together however we like.

So can we all be gay Catholics now? Paradoxically, the answer to this is really that we have at once never been able to be ‘gay Catholics’, and also always been able to be so. In order to understand this issue, we need to take a longer view of the history of sexuality in Western civilisation. For the vast majority of the AD years, there wasn’t really a sexual ontology like the one we have now: people weren’t Ls, Gs, and Bs. What you had was a notion of sex tied up in concepts of marriage, ancient ideals of Christian celibacy, the transfer of personal property, and Church control over kinship groups.

In such a context, there were people who had sex with by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>women

, and people who had sex with men – but only one officially recognised sexual identity (breeder), and its negation (celibate). This leads to a conception of sexual behaviour as one of ‘act’, according to taste and morals, rather than ‘identity’. This ‘act’ understanding of sexuality informs the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary Catholic Social Teaching. Acts are assessed with regards to their divine Telos – a kind of divine ‘purpose’ to which all objects and actions are intrinsically ‘ordered’, which was inherited from Aristotle and systematised into a Christian worldview by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century.

In orthodox Catholicism, sex is for making babies and manifesting love (the unity of two people) physically in the context of a marriage – which is about doing these things in the eyes of God. Note that this is an ‘and’, not an ‘or’: a valid Catholic marriage has sex as a necessary component, with reproduction as its ends. There is no set of sexual “identities” per say: only sexual acts. These may or may not be ordered towards an end consonant with the divine Telos of that type of act in general, and so good or evil.

So the answer to our initial question is on the one hand, no, one cannot be a specifically ‘gay’ orthodox Catholic: one can only be a Catholic who is attracted to members of the same sex, who then chooses to act on or resist these passions and is judged accordingly. It is not an ‘identity’ which the Church feels called upon to respect by virtue of its “identityhood” (whatever that might mean).

The second horn of the “paradox” stems from this. Catholic sexual ethics require members of the Church to refrain from homosexual actions – but people with homosexual attractions” have always been (nominally) welcome in the faith.

This entails putting on an incredibly heavy yoke: For people with predominantly same-sex attractions, this means renouncing their desire for a loving sexual relationship: they are not “breeders”, so they must be “celibates”. This is beyond most people. The problem is compounded when non-theologians, with the average person’s lack of philosophical acumen, conflate this attraction with sinfulness itself: homosexual persons become as ‘perverse’ as their desires, are judged accordingly, and cast out.

The Church has, for a long time, spoken out against this. A striking example comes from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s (basically the Inquisition, with bureaucracy replacing conventional torture) Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. This affirms the Church’s assessment of homosexual desire as “”intrinsically disordered [in relation to divine Telos]”, and able in no case to be approved of”. However, it simultaneously affirms that:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

This attitude was fairly progressive in its day, and a great deal better than what many homosexuals were experiencing in secular society. The problem lies in the disjunction between this theoretical approach, and the one found in actual society.

So why not just chuck the whole thing? Surely it is unjust to demand such a sacrifice from one particular group? Attitudes would also slowly change as a result. This won’t happen for several reasons: firstly, it would be dishonest. At the heart of Catholicism there is the notion that we must be prepared to make sacrifices in the name of the Good. by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>Participating

in the Eucharist, which sits at the very heart of Catholicism, constitutes the Church as a spiritual entity by allowing its members to by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>participate

in the sacrifice par excellence Christ’s. To shy away from the demands of sacrifice would be to shy away from this fundamental narrative.

Secondly, the Church derives the legitimacy of its moral pronouncements based upon a notion of divine guidance which leads to the concept of inerrancy of tradition. About-faces would undermine this. Thirdly, the Church’s notions of sexual ethics are tied up in a wider system of belief in such a way that they cannot just be excised.

Finally, the Church is a global organisation. Concern for sexual “liberation” is a relatively modern, Western phenomenon, and the Church will be concerned not to divide its multinational communion by playing to the moral intuitions of one subset of its members over the others. A perfect example of how this can go wrong can be seen in the divisions within the Anglican Communion.

This is where the significance of relatio post disceptationem comes in. Firstly, it invokes the principle of “gradualness”, which allows that we are morally fallible beings who can’t immediately switch to a state of moral perfection upon conversion. It exhorts Catholics to take ethical development in a series of by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>manageable

steps. This is significant insofar as it opens up a greater possibility of by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>participation

in the Church to those who may not be able at a given time to live up to its demanding standards by both making it easier for them to by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>participate

with the ones that they love and laying the groundwork for a more accepting community, without having to issue a blanket endorsement of their actions.

Secondly, the document encourages Catholics to reflect on the positive aspects of our ‘morally imperfect’ relationships. This is possibly more significant in that it indicates a shift from a digital “evil/good” understanding of sexuality to an analogue one where something can be “disordered” without being entirely depraved.

This would be a more nuanced approach which allows the Church to affirm its moral vision whilst acknowledging how insanely hard it is to live up to it, and how much by SaverAddon” style=”background: none repeat scroll 0% 0% transparent ! important; border: medium none ! important; display: inline-block ! important; text-indent: 0px ! important; float: none ! important; font-weight: bold ! important; height: auto ! important; margin: 0px ! important; min-height: 0px ! important; min-width: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important; text-transform: uppercase ! important; text-decoration: underline ! important; vertical-align: baseline ! important; width: auto ! important;”>beauty

can be found in a life that does not do so.

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