Why I call myself a gay Christian

My follow-up piece is up on First Things.  There are a couple of qualms I have about the final form—for which I take full responsibility for having rubber-stamped it too quickly—which I’d like to clarify:

1) I should have spent more time emphasizing that whether one identifies as “gay” or as “struggling with same-sex attraction” depends significantly on one’s experience. I don’t want to negate the experience of those who identify as SSA; that may well be the best approach for them.  Some of that is there in this piece, but it should have been clearer.

2) The quote from Melinda Selmys was not in my original draft, and on reflection I’m less sure that I’m comfortable with the role that it plays in the final piece. I would be more comfortable phrasing it thus:

In response, some say specifically that one should not regard homosexuality as a significant part of who one is; the line of reasoning here seems to be that it is exclusively a matter of temptation, and thus is something one fights against (the same variation, differently framed, says that being gay means engaging in or being open to engaging in homosexual activity). For some, this may be true to their experience, and I would agree in that case. It is not, however, my experience. I have experienced my orientation towards my own sex in a wide variety of ways. There is the purely sexual, but there is also the aesthetic, the emotional, the romantic. It would be erroneous to suggest that there is no connection amongst them, but it would also be erroneous to suggest that the distinctions don’t have real meaning for the way I live my life as a Christian, or that there is not genuine good which arises from the non-sexual elements of that orientation, which is not present in the purely sexual elements (on which, see the interesting thoughts blogged by Melinda Selmys).

Having said that, I would have omitted the following paragraphs with the actual quote.

3) Another point that was  probably not made sufficiently clear in the original: I wanted to emphasize that the moral obligation I am talking about is something I feel, not something I would say applies to everyone who identifies as gay (or same-sex attracted). Different people have widely differing circumstances, and it’s not always prudent to do what I’m doing. Heck, as the professor writing to Rod Dreher noted, it’s not entirely clear that it’s prudent for me, but I’m doing the best I can!

Joshua GonnermanJoshua Gonnerman lives in Washington, DC, where he is pursuing a doctorate in historical theology. His main focus is on Augustine, and he hopes to dissertate on Augustine’s doctrine of grace. He has also occasionally published in First ThingsSpiritual Friendship, and PRISM Magazine, where he makes small attempts to help re-orient the way the Church related to gay people.

26 thoughts on “Why I call myself a gay Christian

  1. A thoughtful article. Some of the comments have really struck me as missing the point of your article entirely, though. I may have a blog post brewing…

  2. Hi, Joshua–I’m glad I found the blog site and I hope to gain a better understanding of the context of the perspective(s) you have shared over at “First Things”–I think that, because we are discussing these topics in a public manner, it’s important to have your perspective well-anchored to or aligned with the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church on these issues. My pursuit and interest is in this context, not only for my own deeper understanding but also to establish in a more clear manner (hopefully) how the Magisterium can be seen to support what you are saying.

    Over at “First Things” I made inquiry regarding the Church’s statement that “homosexual inclinations” are “objectively disordered” in hopes of better understanding how you address that statement. I asked for an example of a homosexual inclination that was not “objectively disordered,” but I now wonder whether I have erroneously inferred that your view is that not all homosexual inclinations are “objectively disordered”. Sorry if I have misunderstood your take on this question, but in any case, I would greatly appreciate any clarification you could offer on this point.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  3. Hi Deacon JR,

    Glad to have you joining the conversation here. I’m obviously not Joshua, but I think there’s some important things to note about how the Roman Catholic Church presents the catechical teaching on homosexuality. There are three paragraphs that address homosexuality specifically and directly: 2357-2559.

    It’s important to note the progression found in the catechism through these three paragraphs…
    In 2357 the catechism begins with acts that are intrinsically disordered.
    In 2358 the catechism discusses “this inclination” as objectively disordered. “This inclination” is referencing the “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and not “men and women.”
    In 2359 the catechism ends with “homosexual persons”

    I find it absolutely essential to note that within the Roman Catholic Church, the homosexual orientation is almost exclusively tied to the desire for homogenital acts. This particular form of reductionism appears elsewhere in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, especially as it discusses acceptable forms of birth control.

    I’d also encourage you to consider the United States Council of Catholic Bishop’s letter entitled “Always our Children”. For the purposes of this discussion the following paragraph is particularly relevant.
    “Some homosexual persons want to be known publicly as gay or lesbian. These terms often express a person’s level of self-awareness and self-acceptance within society. Though you might find the terms offensive because of political or social connotations, it is necessary to be sensitive to how your son or daughter is using them. Language should not be a barrier to building trust and honest communication.”

    I think that the much more common use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” is an acknowledgement that an individual is attracted to members of their same sex rather than that the individual has a strong desire to engage in homogenital acts.

  4. Hello, Deacon JR! I hope you understand, I did not deem it prudent to respond to the comments on my articles, unless doing so was a simple answer to a simple question, particularly when many of them were just making my point. There’s only so many hours in the day, and I don’t really prefer to spend all of them arguing about these questions!

    Here, though, I am certainly willing to lay out how I take disorder. It’s a sticky question, because it has been taken in so many different ways by so many people. Some have taken it to refer to psychological disorder. James Alison does, and basically says, “The notion of homosexuality as a psychological disorder is no longer credible, so we are free to reject the Church’s sexual ethics here.” Hardly a credible position, since psychology develops in the 19th century, but the Church’s teaching has been constant throughout the ages!

    Others take it as a generically negative qualification and devaluation. I think this is what is going on when gay people take it as a statement that they are disordered; they perceive themselves as being devalued.

    But the notion of disorder, as the Church is using here, it a fundamentally teleological notion, and so it must always be understood in relation to the telos. Logically, it takes the place of a conclusion, rather than a premise. An act is intrinsically immoral, and from that we derive that any desire for that act is objectively disordered (that is, in virtue of its object). Homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral, and therefore, any sexual desire for the same sex is objectively disordered.

    The thing is, we experience our sexuality is a much broader way than raw sexual desire. If I see a good-looking guy in the street, and notice and enjoy his attractiveness, I am eons away from entertaining a truly sexual desire, a stirring in my loins as a result. Simply seeing him and enjoying his attractiveness is not properly sexual desire, a desire to entertain lustful thoughts or engage in homosexual activity. Most heterosexual men have similar experiences with women; they may experience attraction to them. But that attraction is not a desire for sexual congress. Just as the heterosexual man’s enjoyment of the attractiveness of a beautiful woman is not a desire to commit immoral acts with her, so my enjoyment of the attractiveness of a beautiful man is not a desire to commit intrinsically immoral acts with him. As such, it is not, properly speaking, disordered, because it does have an intrinsically immoral end. The great majority of my experiences of my sexuality is of this sort; it is not a desire for sexual act, and insofar as it is not that, it does not have an intrinsically immoral end, and as such, is not objectively disordered.

    Hope that helps clarify!

  5. Hi, Joshua–I really appreciate the discussion, as I am really sensing that, at least in the Catholic arena (particularly the Catholic blogosphere), we may be at an important “moment” in which we can contextualize some of the lived experience being shared by you, by Melinda Selmys, and others, and I think it’s vital to do that. So I hope to make clear that my interest is from that perspective–not to offer mere critique or contradiction and corrective, but hopefully to assist in the formation of a very strong linkage between such diverse experiences of being gay-ssa-homosexual-etc and what the Church teaches and understands about human sexuality. So, please understand that this is where I’m coming from.

    I would even propose to move to private conversation with you if that could seem helpful–insofar as I would like to explore/propose means of firmly connecting TOB with this “moment”.

    Having proposed that, I would, however, be interested in having you expand a bit on the notion of “enjoying” the “attractiveness” of another person (presumably in a “bodily” sense, given that you propose this as comparable to a heterosexual context. I think this may be an area to discuss, insofar as the question should be asked from a TOB perspective: “Is the bodiliness of another person supposed to be ‘available’ to me experientially as a “means” of “enjoyment?” And I think the answer will depend on whether we can lay claim to a form of “enjoyment” that does not “objectify” the person to whom the body in question belongs to.

    If you prefer to address this beyond a combox response, feel free to contact via the email address attached to my comment.

    God bless you, and again, thanks, for your reply!

    Deacon JR

  6. Hello, Deacon!

    I am delighted to hear your clarification. To be honest, I had gotten a bit of a vibe of hostility from your comments before, so I am glad to hear that I was misreading you.

    I toyed with the idea of moving to private conversation. But y’know, I think if we are in a moment, as you suggest, it is better to keep things public. Moments don’t happen behind closed doors, but when the windows burst open, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to remain in the public sphere.

    I will warn you, however, my grasp of the TOB is quite limited. Theologians I read tend to be at least a thousand years deceased, so I’m not sure how much I can offer from a TOB perspective! My limited sense is that the primary purpose of the TOB is to theologically express male-female complementarity, as expressed in the sacrament of matrimony and in the conjugal act. As such, it’s not clear to me how much it really speaks to the experiences of most (non-straight) people, and so I’m not sure that the TOB perspective is necessarily going to be the most helpful one in this way forward. Again, I don’t understand it as well as I might, so I could be wrong. If you do see significant insights to be drawn from TOB in re-thinking more positively our approaches to homosexuality, I’d certainly be interested.

    But let me attempt an answer to your question. I don’t think consider another person’s bodiliness as a means to enjoyment is ever the right approach. We delight in beauty, but I don’t think that means the beautiful thing is a means of enjoyment. Rather, it means that a beautiful thing is always an icon through which we can catch a glimpse of God. Balthasar, of course, makes the point that beauty, that many-splendored thing, is one of the primary things that draws us to God and enables us to experience God; I really think that this is just one example of that.

    I would tend to say that questions of objectification and “means of enjoyment” come in more when aesthetic delight turns to lust. It is when lust enters the picture that a person becomes “used” for sexual pleasure, and that is where I would place the transition between icon and object.

  7. Hi, Joshua–I do like the idea of a public conversation, in hopes that we can more easily share whatever insights might come along.

    Okay, so, re TOB, as a general statement I think it’s fair to say that JPII lays an incredible foundation for understanding human nature and God’s plan for us *as* male and female, not only within the context of marriage and sexuality, but also as a basis for understanding the “reciprocal relation” between man as man and woman as woman in human community. JPII spends significant time also on “continence for the sake of the kingdom” and the very meaning of our bodies as male and female “icons” (so to speak) from here even into eternity.

    Also, the concept of “eros” in TOB (and nicely amplified by Pope Benedict in “Deus Caritas Est”) seems clearly in synch with the von Balthasar framework you mention, though I would add one dimension to consider–our delight in the beauty of all created things can and should lead us to God Himself, and to an extent “eros” draws us in that direction through “things.” But I think we make a sort of “quantum leap” when we consider how “eros” is designed by God to draw us to Him through another human *person* made in His image and likeness. The stakes are suddenly a bit higher, so to speak. We move from a “thing” of beauty to a beautiful *person*.

    In this sense, I think we see in TOB a real “capturing” of the essence of this question of “eros” and the *person*. In God’s plan for us, “eros” relative to persons is, I would assert, an “eros” directed at the “spousal meaning” of the body as it exists, concretely, in another human being (not as an abstract but as a concrete thing directed at “this” person or “that” person, if you get my meaning).

    As such, I would suggest that, in addition to discerning the existence of “eros” apart from lust, we would see that the “finality” of “eros” is, as Benedict indicates, its fulfillment in the marriage of one man and one woman.

    Taking it one step further, one can ask whether a non-lustful eros is properly “ordered” (that word again) when it directs us toward someone of the same sex. Implicitly, it seems to raise the question of, “Is ‘this person’ a person with whom I can possibly experience the real “fulfillment” of eros? If the answer is no, then I think two things occur–first, while we’re not in the realm of sinful “lust” here, we’d seem to be in the realm of “dis-ordered eros”. Second, we seem to run the risk of “objectifying” the “this-person” (basically letting eros draw us into the “beauty of the ‘thing’” rather than the beauty of the person), perhaps without intention, but merely because the “meaning” of the “this-person” is deeply found in the “spousal meaning of his/her body”. Even the non-lustful but “dis-ordered” eros would seem to represent a diminishing of the fullest meaning of the “bodiliness” of that other person.

    Well, there’s a start at least–I hope this isn’t too muddled, and that maybe you can help me understand whether this coincides well with your thoughts, or whether there is still some exploration needed.

    God bless you!

    Deacon JR

  8. I think it’s pretty clear that a homosexual male relates rather differently to “woman as woman” than a heterosexual male does, and similarly with heterosexual and homosexual females in relation to “man as man.” To suggest that the same framework accounts entirely for both seems counter-intuitive.

    I certainly agree that the stakes are higher! But I would note: when I speak of a “beautiful thing,” I simply mean “an instantiation of beauty;” the word “thing” here should be taken in terms of “res” or “substance,” rather than as “object-to-be-manipulated.” Because a person is a thing in this sense (recalling, of course, the classical definition of person: an individual substance of rational nature), I don’t think that there really is a shift from beautiful thing, but of course you are right that we have to be careful about how what we are saying sounds, and it may well sound like I am speaking of a “thing” in contradistinction to a person, which would be very wrong indeed.

    I’m not really comfortable talking about eros in this context; I think that the experience that I am talking about, of having a face catch your eye on the street, pertains much more to the aesthetic than the erotic, since it is not really an experience of drawing you to the other, but simply of delighting in their beauty. If the experience of delighting in the beauty of another leads one to initiate contact with the other, then, perhaps, we can speak of an “erotic” element being introduced into the experience. I use “eros” very broadly in this discussion, pretty much meaning simply “a love that draws towards the beloved.” This broad meaning of eros is what enables Plato to be an erotic philosopher, and Pseudo-Dionysius an erotic theologian, and it’s the sense in which I use the term, so bear with me.

    I actually don’t read Benedict’s notion of eros as exclusively male-female. He certainly places that as its primary locus, but his framework for discussing eros does not focus on sexual complementarity, but rather the fulfillment of erotic love in agapetic love and their fundamental unity. Sex, when appropriately approached, is certainly the fullest such example, but it is far from being the only one, and so I don’t see that his sense of the relation between agape and eros necessitates exclusively limiting it to marriage. I would certainly agree with you that it is the primary finality of eros, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that it’s the only one.

    Because I don’t think the eros-agape connection he draws is exclusively spousal, but rather should ideally enter into a Christian’s relationships with everyone around him, I simply don’t think the question of “order” arises. When sex is not seen as an absolutizing telos of eros-agape, which it absolutely must not be in discussing the experiences of homosexuals, then there is no need to denigrate an erotic interest simply because it doesn’t tend towards sex.

    It seems to me problematic to define disorder by selecting a particular good out of many goods, and stamping everything that does not tend towards that particular good DISORDERED in large red letters, particularly when we are discussing homosexuality, which is already a non-normative experience in pretty major ways. It makes much more sense to say that a disordered inclination is an inclination to a sinful end, particularly since the Vatican has spoken of homosexual inclinations as, in of themselves, evoking “moral concern.” If they evoke moral concern, it is because they are directed towards sin; insofar as they are not directed towards sin, they do not evoke moral concern.

    Let me ask you: you seemed to indicate that you saw this “moment” as a basically positive thing, and that you wanted to contribute in positive ways. So far, however, all I am seeing is rejection of the experiences of others as entirely devoid of good (for the universalization of the category of disorder can lead to no other conclusion but a sarcastic “Can any good come from Galilee?”). So, what positive contribution are you hoping to make? Can you say specifically what value you see in this moment? What value do you think there can be in the experience of being homosexual? I hope you understand: there is so much resistance to what I am trying to do out there, I do not consider it very fruitful, overall, to engage in debates with hostile readers, so I’m going to need a clear indication that that’s not what’s going on here.

  9. Hi, Joshua—you wrote:
    ****I think it’s pretty clear that a homosexual male relates rather differently to “woman as woman” than a heterosexual male does, and similarly with heterosexual and homosexual females in relation to “man as man.” To suggest that the same framework accounts entirely for both seems counter-intuitive.****

    My point was that TOB offers a framework that expresses what God’s plan is for us—this plan is universal for man as man and woman as woman *and* with regard to their “reciprocal relations” in general and with regard to marital union in specific. In saying this, I suppose I am asserting that God’s original plan for us was not somehow bifurcated into a plan for “heterosexuals” and a plan for “homosexuals”—to the extent that fundamental aspects of homosexuality tend toward “opposition” or contradiction to this original plan, we need to acknowledge the objective disorder therein. But TOB gives us the proper lens through which we see God’s plan.

    ****I certainly agree that the stakes are higher! But I would note: when I speak of a “beautiful thing,” I simply mean “an instantiation of beauty;” the word “thing” here should be taken in terms of “res” or “substance,” rather than as “object-to-be-manipulated.” Because a person is a thing in this sense (recalling, of course, the classical definition of person: an individual substance of rational nature), I don’t think that there really is a shift from beautiful thing, but of course you are right that we have to be careful about how what we are saying sounds, and it may well sound like I am speaking of a “thing” in contradistinction to a person, which would be very wrong indeed.****

    Yes, I think we agree on this point. My observation was also to the effect of demonstrating that the “eros” of inter-person-al relations is much more specifically considered and clearly anchored to reciprocal (man-woman) relations and the “spousal” meaning of the body in the teaching of JPII and Benedict.

    ****I’m not really comfortable talking about eros in this context; I think that the experience that I am talking about, of having a face catch your eye on the street, pertains much more to the aesthetic than the erotic, since it is not really an experience of drawing you to the other, but simply of delighting in their beauty. If the experience of delighting in the beauty of another leads one to initiate contact with the other, then, perhaps, we can speak of an “erotic” element being introduced into the experience.****

    But in this context of “aesthetics”, how does one differentiate asethetic and eros in a scenario such as when I’m on a beach, and I catch sight of a gorgeous woman in a bikini. Do I permit myself (or even encourage myself?) to “delight” in her beauty because of the aesthetic value of her beauty? And if I look at her, how will it be possible to “segregate” aesthetic from “eros” even if I am able to observe her non-lustfully? Isn’t eros implicitly part of this experience whether I wish it to be or not? If I opt to merely “look” without engaging her *as* a person (without contact), am I not “objectifying” her in some sense? Rather, it would seem I’d want to “see rightly” to be sure—which would include appreciating the *person* I see before me, beautiful above all because she is made in the image of God. I ought not merely sensually “delight” in her beauty but rather I should pray to God a prayer of thanksgiving for her beauty.

    In any case, I suspect we agree on a conclusion here—whether aesthetic or eros, whether heterosexual or homosexual, our thoughts and desires must remain in accord with the dignity of the human person, such that we never “objectify” another. To the extent that you admire another man “aesthetically” and not “erotically”, I think you can achieve that goal.

    ****I actually don’t read Benedict’s notion of eros as exclusively male-female. He certainly places that as its primary locus, but his framework for discussing eros does not focus on sexual complementarity, but rather the fulfillment of erotic love in agapetic love and their fundamental unity. Sex, when appropriately approached, is certainly the fullest such example, but it is far from being the only one, and so I don’t see that his sense of the relation between agape and eros necessitates exclusively limiting it to marriage. I would certainly agree with you that it is the primary finality of eros, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that it’s the only one.****

    I can see your point to an extent, but when something has a “primary” finality, that primary finality remains determinative relative to every other aspect of that “something”. For example, the “primary end” of marriage, the Church has always taught, is the procreation and education of children. But it’s not the “only” end of marriage. Yet, everything that marriage “is” remains “ordered” toward this primary “finality”—the procreation/education of children—even when a married couple cannot have children (the infertility of a married couple doesn’t alter the objective “meaning” of marriage).

    Likewise with “eros” (or eros-agape) and its “primary end” so to speak (which is the union of one man and one woman in marriage). Even when the experience of eros-agape does not ultimately culminate in this “finality,” everything eros-agape is in its human context is “ordered” toward this finality.

    ****Because I don’t think the eros-agape connection he draws is exclusively spousal, but rather should ideally enter into a Christian’s relationships with everyone around him, I simply don’t think the question of “order” arises. When sex is not seen as an absolutizing telos of eros-agape, which it absolutely must not be in discussing the experiences of homosexuals, then there is no need to denigrate an erotic interest simply because it doesn’t tend towards sex. ****

    But I do not see where the magisterium (or JPII and Benedict) make the claim that “eros” (even in “eros-agape”) is to be directed toward man-man relationships and woman-woman relationships. The “interpenetration” of eros-agape in both JPII and Benedict is clearly associated with reciprocal-spousal meaning rather than “fraternal” meaning. I would assert that, unless one can cite evidence to the contrary, eros-agape *is* exclusively reciprocal-spousal in JPII’s TOB and in Benedict as well.

    I would add that this spousal notion of eros-agape is crucial to the concept that homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered…

    ****It seems to me problematic to define disorder by selecting a particular good out of many goods, and stamping everything that does not tend towards that particular good DISORDERED in large red letters, particularly when we are discussing homosexuality, which is already a non-normative experience in pretty major ways. It makes much more sense to say that a disordered inclination is an inclination to a sinful end, particularly since the Vatican has spoken of homosexual inclinations as, in of themselves, evoking “moral concern.” If they evoke moral concern, it is because they are directed towards sin; insofar as they are not directed towards sin, they do not evoke moral concern.****

    I have to disagree. The idea of “disordered inclination” is not “back-engineered” from sin. It’s “front-engineered” via the understanding of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage. This is where I think we need to come to some consensus, and I perceive that your registering some kind of implicit dissent against the Church’s teaching that homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered (and hence why I take time to write and discuss). I don’t want to see your well-intended efforts lose momentum via any even apparent disconnect with Church teaching.

    ****Let me ask you: you seemed to indicate that you saw this “moment” as a basically positive thing, and that you wanted to contribute in positive ways. So far, however, all I am seeing is rejection of the experiences of others as entirely devoid of good (for the universalization of the category of disorder can lead to no other conclusion but a sarcastic “Can any good come from Galilee?”).****

    I began to answer this above—I’m no Israelite in whom there is no guile –rather, if you are on the edge of rejecting the meaning of CCC 2358, you run the risk of undermining your own project, which I think would be a great loss.

    **** So, what positive contribution are you hoping to make? Can you say specifically what value you see in this moment? What value do you think there can be in the experience of being homosexual? I hope you understand: there is so much resistance to what I am trying to do out there, I do not consider it very fruitful, overall, to engage in debates with hostile readers, so I’m going to need a clear indication that that’s not what’s going on here.****

    I certainly hope I am not perceived as hostile. The value I seek to add is to address the very real concerns about interpretation of Church teaching that are crucial to this “moment” if the moment can be described as the Church coming to terms with homosexual persons seeking to remain faithful to the fullness of Church teaching. If that is the “moment” (or at least a part of it), then we need to know what “fidelity” to Church teaching (or chaste living) means for the homosexual person. I think we all agree that it means more than “continence.”

    Does it mean a realization that homosexuality was not part of God’s original plan for humankind? I think so. Not as a point of demoralizing gay Catholics, etc., but as a point of truth.

    For example—should the Church be accepting of “gay couples” as long as they are “continent”? Should the Church consider them “chaste”? These are the questions that still remain even after we all come to agreement regarding the “don’ts” of homosexual sex. We need to do a lot more work regarding the “inclinations” piece of the puzzle. That’s what I’m hoping to contribute to.

    I want to see your project succeed, not fail. But it needs to succeed with complete honesty and must rest on the complete truth of the Catholic faith.

    Hope that helps a bit. God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  10. Certainly, I absolutely agree that chastity is a much larger question than continence, and I don’t actually like to describe myself as “chaste,” as some commentators have: I may be a virgin, but an understanding of any virtue which is exclusively negative is an impoverished understanding. A robust sense of chastity, must involve not only the avoidance of non-marital sex, lust, or the near occasion of lust [incidentally, I would be inclined to suggest that the question about bikinis will find its answer here], but also the deep unity of the entire person, in their affective, bodily, and spiritual dimensions which constitute integration of sexuality, and which mean that chastity, like other virtues, is deeply transformative in a way we approach, but do not attain in this life. I do not dare to claim to possess any virtue, and chastity is no exception; rather, all virtues are ends towards which I strive.

    But to the crux of the matter: It seems to me that it lies in the disagreement you highlighted, when you wrote: “The idea of “disordered inclination” is not “back-engineered” from sin. It’s “front-engineered” via the understanding of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage,” and on this point, you bring charges of dissent. I am sure you are deeply aware that “Dissenter!” is a harsh and weighty j’accuse to someone who regards himself as an orthodox Catholic, especially since I am studying to become a Catholic theologian. As such, I would hope that you not level it without a clear magisterial statement that the term “disorder” must be understood in such-and-such a way. I await such documentation.

    Entre-temps, I will offer my own reasons for saying the understanding of homosexual inclination as an objective disorder should be, as you say, “back-engineered” from sin. I will pass over references to homosexual acts as “disordered,” as that is a different usage, and focus specifically on where the Magisterium talks about homosexual inclinations.

    So far as I am aware, the term first assumes its current significant place in the discourses on homosexuality in the 1986 CDF document Homosexualitatis Problema (if earlier magisterial instances are to be found, then I would certainly be interested in them). As such, this is my main locus for understanding the notion of objective disorder. The document references Persona Humana, and says: “In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it 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.” Here, the term “objective disorder” is derived from the fact that it is a “tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” which is a clear “back-engineering.”

    When the term is used in the Catechism, there is no significant context (it having been merely spliced into a pre-existent sentence) so I will pass over it, and turn to other magisterial documents.

    Let us look at the CDF’s document on non-discrimination legislations.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19920724_homosexual-persons_en.html

    The first instance is in paragraph 2, and is simply a quotation from HP.

    The next instance is in paragraph 7: “But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.” Here, the disorder of homosexual condition and the immorality homosexual acts are so deeply connected that denying the latter is seen as a consequence of denying the former. Again, the notion of disorder is derived from sinful actions.

    In paragraph 10, we find that ““Sexual orientation” does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. Letter, no. 3) and evokes moral concern.” “Moral concern” could be understood in a few ways, but I would suggest that even in itself, the most natural reading is “concern for sinful action,” a concern which is connected, again, with the category of objective disorder. Even if, taking this passage by itself, one might be more inclined to take “moral concern” differently, there is no question that, my reading is more consistent with the usage we have seen thus far.

    In the 2005 document on seminaries, the usage is simply a paraphrase of the Catechism, and thus, again, I pass over it.

    http://www.usccb.org/about/doctrine/publications/homosexual-inclination-guidelines-general-principles.cfm

    Turning to the USCCB, I pass over “Always Our Children,” since it’s not really the kind of document we are looking at, and look at the 2006 document, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” where we find the following paragraph:

    “The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person.14 Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered sexual inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered. For example, any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered, in that it inclines a person towards a use of sexuality that does not accord with the divine plan for creation. There is the intrinsic disorder of what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases (contra naturam). There is also the accidental disorder of what is not properly ordered by right reason, what fails to attain the proper measure of virtue (contra rationem).”

    Here, after the vague “not good for the human person,” we get to the meat of the understanding, i.e., that intrinsic disorder consists in “what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases.”

    In the next paragraph, however, we find a bit of ambiguity. “Rather, the disorder is in that particular inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality. Because of this, acting in accord with such an inclination simply cannot contribute to the true good of the human person.” Speaking of the inclination as “not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality” does lend itself easily to being read according to your interpretation of the category of disorder. I will only say that the wider usage, the clear meaning earlier in the same document, and the lesser authority to a document from a national conference, incline me to prefer reading this as simply an attempt to render “ordered to evil action” in a way that doesn’t sound as negative. This reading is somewhat strengthened by the next sentence, which speaks of acting in accord with inclinations, and the last sentence in this paragraph, which speaks specifically of inclination to homosexual acts: “Nevertheless, while the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value.”

    The recent document from the CCCB “Pastoral Ministry to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction,” uses the term only once: ‘To the extent that a same-sex attraction is not freely chosen, there is no personal
    culpability in having such an inclination. Nonetheless, when oriented toward genital activity, this inclination is “objectively disordered.”’ Again, “objective disorder” is explicitly connected with direction towards genital activity.

    So, the category of objective disorder, when applied to homosexual actions, seems to be, in almost every instance, directly linked to ordering to immoral action; as such, it seems pretty clear to me that it is “back-engineered.” Certainly, one could disagree with me on this subject, but the accusation of dissent seems, to me, deeply unjustified. If you have clear magisterial statements that the category of objective disorder must be “front-engineered,” I await them. If you do not, then I would recommend that you be more careful to distinguish between dissent from Church teaching, and disagreement with you on its interpretation, particularly when you are talking with people whose career can be damaged by these charges.

  11. From my vantage point, this is the story so far: your comments on my articles were pretty much heckles, hammering away at points which had little (or, in the case of the Savage article, no) bearing on the subject of the article. You found this blog, and initiated a conversation clearly designed to come back to the same points. I did my best to be engage charitably and openly. In response, the general thrust of your argument has been to define “disordered” as identical in meaning with “non-heterosexual,” thus pronouncing a blanket negative evaluation of the entire range of gay experience. When I expressed concern over perceived hostility, your response was to charge dissent from Church teaching. Based on this series of experiences, I see no real, concrete indication (besides generic assurances of good will) that my interlocutor is interested in anything but insisting that all non-heterosexual experiences must be regarded as wholly negative, and consequently must be entirely suppressed (for no other conclusion is reasonable from your line of argument) and characyerizing this insistence as de fide. That being the case, I hope you understand if, from my perspective, this discussion is not fruitful. I will defend my orthodoxy, if you continue to charge dissent, or if you provide clear reasons from magisterial documents that we must regard “objective disorder” as “front-engineered,” I will engage that, and may revise my stance. Otherwise, as I say, this discussion has been clearly shown to be unfruitful.

  12. Joshua, I will reply more fully as soon as time permits, but regarding “dissent,” here is what I wrote: “This is where I think we need to come to some consensus, and I perceive that your (sic–should be you’re) registering some kind of implicit dissent against the Church’s teaching that homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered (and hence why I take time to write and discuss). I don’t want to see your well-intended efforts lose momentum via any even apparent disconnect with Church teaching.”

    Saying I “perceive” some kind of “implicit dissent” is a far cry from accusations of “dissenter!” But, please accept my apology for having used the word dissent, as it was unnecessary and poorly phrased. What I was driving at is that your view represents what *I perceive* as a….”departure?” from the common understanding of the very paragraph of the CCC which you, above, have chosen *not* to engage in your commentary on the various magisterial statements that pertain to the topic. The CCC says “this inclination, which is objectively disordered…”, and does not offer qualifiers indicate that only “some” homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, while others are not.

    And, yes, this has quickly become the crux of the question. But, no, I don’t “heckle”, so when I asked elsewhere for even a single example of a “non-disordered homosexual inclination,” the question was sincere, and I think, deserving of response *if* you are proposing that the Church’s magisterium makes room for this possibility.

    So, would you be willing to offer an example of a “non-disordered” homosexual inclination? Should I infer, perhaps, that you have done so already when you mention the idea of “delight” in the physical attractiveness of another man? On second thought, I presume you must think this is a “non-disordered” homosexual element (or you would not have proposed it), correct?

    Joshua, I’m not trying to do anything hostile or nefarious in engaging you on these topics. But if you are attempting to construct a “theology” of non-disordered homosexual inclinations that only take on the character of “disorder” when they are associated with sexual activity, then shouldn’t you expect to be engaged on such a topic from the perspective I’m bringing to our conversation–particularly the “TOB” perspective??

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  13. Reasing the catechism divorced from its sources is generally recognized to be a mistake. As I said before, I am pretty sure the source for the term “objective disorder” for homosexual inclinations is Homosexualitatis Problema. If I am wrong, show me where it enters before then. I am right, see my comments on the document above.

    The problem is that you are defining the terms so that everything which is not heterosexual must, ipsi facto, be objectively disordered. I have argued that magisterial teaching focusses quite clearly on ordering to homosexual acts. Beyond that, there is nothing I can say to defining the terms such.

  14. Joshua, if I understood you correctly, you seemed to say you awaited “documentation” regarding what I claimed, namely that: “The idea of ‘disordered inclination’ is not ‘back-engineered’ from sin. It’s ‘front-engineered’ via the understanding of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.”

    Let’s start with this from Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care Issued by USCCB, November 14, 2006:

    ****The phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity.****

    And *that* is what I mean by “front-engineering” and that is what TOB can bring to the conversation…

    **** In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. …. The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God’s creative design…. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life….

    ****…The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children.****

    And that is what I’ve been saying all along regarding “eros” and what JPII and Benedict teach *about* eros…

    ****While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency….****

    Stop and read that *very* carefully—“to the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination [not a homosexual act, but an inclination] is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency.”

    Wouldn’t you agree then that, to the extent that a homosexual “tendency or inclination” *is* freely chosen, then one *is* morally culpable for that tendency?? The meaning then is that, when homsexual *inclination* is actively engaged by the will, one apparently incurs *some* form of moral culpability. And where there is moral culpability there is some form of moral evil, correct?

    Thus, in this document, there appears to be *implicit* evidence that the authors understand that the “disorder” associated with homosexual inclination and/or tendency *does* involve some aspect of moral evil *apart* from any same-sex sexual activity, considered in itself.

    And thus this passage contextualizes what follows accordingly.

    In fact, consider this later passage for further context:

    **** Furthermore, it is not only sexual inclinations that can be disordered within a human person. Other inclinations can likewise be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed. We are all damaged by the effects of sin, which causes desires to become disordered. Simply possessing such inclinations does not constitute a sin, at least to the extent that they are beyond one’s control. Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong.16 ****

    There it is, Joshua—“Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong”—there is no inference here that the authors mean to limit the interpretation to mean *sexually* acting, as that would make no sense in context. Rather, a more basic moral principle is being identified in this paragraph—acting on *any* disordered inclination is always wrong.

    I hope this offers you some food for thought and is responsive to your request for documentation of what I’m trying to assert.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  15. Perhaps Deacon JR you can offer some indication of to what you mean when you say “acting.” If a man with a homosexual orientation says “Hello” to another man, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation shakes the hand of another man, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation exchanges a hug with another man during the passing of the peace, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation visits a men’s monastery on a pilgrimage, is that an action?

    From your framing, I see no option other than complete and total isolation for a person with a homosexual orientation.

    I would also be curious about your comments regarding paragraph 2359 of the Catechism given that you have so robustly discussed paragraph 2358.

  16. Above, I parsed the practical application of what you are saying as (with addenda) “all non-heterosexual experiences [beyond the question of acts or lust] must be regarded as wholly negative, and consequently must be entirely suppressed [insofar as possible].” Please comment.

    (By which I mean, answer, “Yes” or “No.” If no, explain why.)

  17. Hi, Anna—you wrote:

    ****Perhaps Deacon JR you can offer some indication of to what you mean when you say “acting.” If a man with a homosexual orientation says “Hello” to another man, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation shakes the hand of another man, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation exchanges a hug with another man during the passing of the peace, is that an action? If a man with a homosexual orientation visits a men’s monastery on a pilgrimage, is that an action?****

    First thing I’d suggest, Anna, is the necessary distinction of meaning (and use) between “orientation” and “inclination (or tendency)”. The documents under discussion focus on the terms “inclination” or “tendency” and not orientation. So, to “act” on a disordered *inclination* means something different from the way you have made inquiry above. Men can say hi, shake hands, hug, visit monasteries, etc., without those actions involving an engaging of the will relative to a homosexual inclination.

    But, on the other hand, let’s use the example of two gay men having dinner together. Is there anything ineherently wrong with that? No, of course not. But, what if the two men dining together are engaging in that experience as a “date” even though they never intend under any circumstances to engage in any sexual acts whatsoever? I would assert that the Church’s teaching is that that “date” scenario would be a form of “acting” on the homosexual inclination in a way that, while not in any way a form of the sin of homosexual sex, still represents *some* form of sin, since the will is engaged in an expression of homosexual inclination. Contrarily, though, if one experiences the temptation to “date” another man but allows this “homosexual inclination” to pass without engaging the will to actually go through with that action, then there is no immoral content and no sin involved.

    Do you see the distinction?

    ****I would also be curious about your comments regarding paragraph 2359 of the Catechism given that you have so robustly discussed paragraph 2358.****

    Yes, CCC 2359 references the “call to chastity” that I am implicitly affirming–*chastity* rather than mere “continence.” A homosexual person is “continent” to the extent that he/she does not engage in sexual activity. The same person is *chaste* when he/she avoids engaging the will relative to homosexual inclinations. Chastity will necessarily involve the whole realm of homosexual inclination, while continence only involves whether one sexually acts out, or not.

    Hope that helps.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  18. Hi, Johsua—you wrote:

    ****Above, I parsed the practical application of what you are saying as (with addenda) “all non-heterosexual experiences [beyond the question of acts or lust] must be regarded as wholly negative, and consequently must be entirely suppressed [insofar as possible].” Please comment.
    (By which I mean, answer, “Yes” or “No.” If no, explain why.)*****

    If you want a yes/no, then the answer is clearly NO to both parts.

    Neither my “heterosexuality” nor your “homosexuality” has “experiences,” Joshua. Rather, “you” and “I” have experiences–*persons* have experiences. When “I” have an “experience” that is associated with or a result of a disordered inclination, there is a corresponding “negativity” arising from the disordered inclination to the extent that I engage my will and “choose” according to that inclination. If I do that, then that *choice* is wholly negative (in that it is immoral) and affects the moral quality of that experience in a negative way.

    So, then must one seek to “entirely suppress [insofar as possible]” homosexual “experiences” (as you’ve described them—those that aren’t linked to sexual acts)? NO. Not “suppression” and not “experiences”. Substitute “re-direction” for suppression and “inclination” for experiences. Homosexual “inclination” is a form of disordered appetite/desire that “compels” the will to make a choice, either for good or evil. When *any* of us confront temptation arising from disordered inclination, “suppression” or stuffing it down inside us will ultimately backfire. Rather, we have to “crucify” that temptation via God’s grace, which can then transform that moment into a moment of purity in which grace allows us to rise above it and see rightly and properly “order” our wills.

    Grace (and truth), not suppression, will set us free.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

    PS–I think the bottom line is that one’s “homosexual inclinations” do not comprise the sum total of one’s lived “experience” as a *person* with “homosexual inclinations.” Thus, when one seeks to live “outside” the realm of homosexual inclination through a life of grace, one is not negating/suppressing life “experience” but rather is “redeeming/re-directing” life experience.

  19. I have answered before by carefully going through a variety of church documents where the phrase appears, and showing that, rather than definitively proclaiming your use, the way they use the term clearly leans towards my use. What is going on is that my experience of homosexuality is much broader than the term “homosexual inclination” as used by the Magisterium. In your response to Anna, you again present your parsing of “disordered inclination” as “The Church’s teaching,” which again (though implicitly this time) categorizes anyone who disagrees with you as a dissenter, despite the fact that I presented a study of the use of the term in the relevant magisterial documents. “Dissent” is no less a conversation-stopper when it is an implicit accusation than when it is an explicit one; since, to my mind, I have sufficiently defended myself from the charge, this conversation has stopped, as far as I am concerned.

  20. Thanks for the clarification. I think the discussion has been a bit sloppy in terms of terminology.

    We have the words homosexuality, homosexual orientation, and homosexual inclinations running through this thread. I am not a particular expert in how the Vatican parses vocabulary.

    As for the question of homosexuality, it seems that the Vatican defines homosexuality as “relations between men or between women who experience a exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex….Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law? They close the sexual act to the gift of life.” para 2357. This paragraph seems to zoom in on homosexuality as a desire for homosexual sexual acts. The outset of the paragraph begins with the words “relations” and retains the usage to acts between men OR between women. I think that “or” is significant because it is not how a person relates to men and women; it is specific relations between people of the same sex that make it necessary to say that the relations are closed to the gift of life.

    Yet, there are two other terms in play of this discussion: homosexual orientation and homosexual inclination. I am obviously missing the boat so I will ask specifically: what is a “homosexual inclination”? What, in Vatican terms, is a “homosexual orientation”? And how, in Vatican terms, are the words inclination and orientation different from each other?

    And all of this to say, the Vatican has a lot of “controlled vocabulary” similar to structured library searching. It took me forever to figure out the philosophy behind “disinterested friendship” because that is simply not a phrase commonly used. “Homosexual inclination” is another phrase that doesn’t have much meaning outside of the Vatican.

    I am using “the Vatican” as a shorthand to denote official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

  21. Hi, Joshua—you wrote:
    ****I have answered before by carefully going through a variety of church documents where the phrase appears, and showing that, rather than definitively proclaiming your use, the way they use the term clearly leans towards my use.****

    And I offered a counterargument (which you seemed to ask for)—which you have left totally unaddressed—from the same 2006 document from which you yourself quoted. And the rational basis for the text I cited matches exactly with the interpretation I have been proposing, leaving any claim of “clearly leaning” to your use as being highly unsupportable. I will gladly go through the other documents with you as well, in order to help you understand where your interpretations are falling short (or to have you point out where mine are).

    **** What is going on is that my experience of homosexuality is much broader than the term “homosexual inclination” as used by the Magisterium. In your response to Anna, you again present your parsing of “disordered inclination” as “The Church’s teaching,” which again (though implicitly this time) categorizes anyone who disagrees with you as a dissenter, despite the fact that I presented a study of the use of the term in the relevant magisterial documents. “Dissent” is no less a conversation-stopper when it is an implicit accusation than when it is an explicit one; since, to my mind, I have sufficiently defended myself from the charge, this conversation has stopped, as far as I am concerned.****

    This makes no sense, Joshua—if our interpretations of Church teaching do not match, then by your own reasoning, you must also conclude *I* am the one dissenting. Apparently you do not wish to converse with anyone who disagrees with your interpretation?

    Rather, I think my mistaken use of the term “dissent”—for which I offered apology to you—is giving you excuse to suspend a conversation such that you do not have to comment on my counterargument above based on the 2006 bishops’ statement (and there is much else that I have offered above that you have opted not to address). I can understand that motivation, perhaps, but it’s a bit disappointing to see you resort to this.

    Neither of our “interpretations” are per se infallible, Joshua. But let’s follow *all* the evidence where it leads us. How or why you can claim to having adequately stated your case *without* addressing additional material found in your *own* sources is beyond me. And if this is where our conversation ends, then I must confess to believing any theology you may hope to develop regarding homosexual experience will be tautological.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  22. I am not interested in arguments, but since you bring it up, your counter argument is counterargument is no counterargument. The whole dispute was over the use and meaning of the term “objective disorder” by the Church. You bring up texts that do not use the term. It does not make sense to argue that the church uses the term in such-and-such a way without reference to places where the church actually uses it.

    If you really want to continue this discussion, it is going to be done privately; you can email me at jgonnerman85@gmail.com

  23. Anna—regarding “orientation” and “inclination”, let’s keep in mind this from the Canadian bishops’ statement: “In this document the expression ‘person with same-sex attraction’ refers to one who feels an erotic and emotional attraction, which is predominant and not merely episodic, towards persons of the same sex, whether with or without sexual relations.”

    While this quote references the “SSA” concept directly, it makes clear that the “attraction” part of the puzzle exists independently from “sexual relations.” That is, SSA is not defined by whether sexual relations are involved, or not.

    I would suggest that the concepts “homosexual orientation,” “homosexual inclination,” and “homosexual tendency” are akin to this definition of SSA. But, from a moral standpoint, the “Vatican” is using inclination and tendency rather that “orientation” because inclination is more “concrete” as it references specific “moments” of moral decision-making rather than a “totality” of “moments” that is implied by “orientation.”

    “Orientation” is “global” whereas “inclination” can refer to a specific moral choice. I would assume that, because the “genesis” of homosexuality is “largely unexplained,” Church teaching focuses on the concrete moments of “inclination” in which a person makes a moral choice to engage the will, or not.

    That’s my two cents. God bless you,

    Deacon JR

  24. Thank you, Joshua–I’ll send you a private note so you have my email address–I’m hopeful that we’ll both come to a deeper understanding of the mind of the Church if we keep up the dialogue. God bless you, Deacon JR

  25. “As such, I would suggest that, in addition to discerning the existence of ‘eros’ apart from lust, we would see that the ‘finality’ of ‘eros’ is, as Benedict indicates, its fulfillment in the marriage of one man and one woman.”

    DOES Benedict indicate this?? This is a rather counterintuitive interpretation of the Encyclical in question to me!

    To me, his description of ‘eros’ makes it quite clear that it is something much broader than something directed exclusively to the marriage of a man and a woman. From Deus Caritas Est:

    “This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate ‘worldly’ love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. The two notions are often contrasted as ‘ascending’ love and ‘descending’ love. There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love (amor concupiscentiae – amor benevolentiae), to which is sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.

    In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to ‘be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

    In the account of Jacob’s ladder, the Fathers of the Church saw this inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received, symbolized in various ways. In that biblical passage we read how the Patriarch Jacob saw in a dream, above the stone which was his pillow, a ladder reaching up to heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending (cf. Gen 28:12; Jn 1:51). A particularly striking interpretation of this vision is presented by Pope Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule. He tells us that the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation. Only in this way will he be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own: ‘per pietatis viscera in se infirmitatem caeterorum transferat’.[4] Saint Gregory speaks in this context of Saint Paul, who was borne aloft to the most exalted mysteries of God, and hence, having descended once more, he was able to become all things to all men (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4; 1 Cor 9:22). He also points to the example of Moses, who entered the tabernacle time and again, remaining in dialogue with God, so that when he emerged he could be at the service of his people. ‘Within [the tent] he is borne aloft through contemplation, while without he is completely engaged in helping those who suffer: intus in contemplationem rapitur, foris infirmantium negotiis urgetur.’[5]

    8. We have thus come to an initial, albeit still somewhat generic response to the two questions raised earlier. Fundamentally, ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love. And we have also seen, synthetically, that biblical faith does not set up a parallel universe, or one opposed to that primordial human phenomenon which is love, but rather accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it and to reveal new dimensions of it. This newness of biblical faith is shown chiefly in two elements which deserve to be highlighted: the image of God and the image of man.”

    Benedict seems to see eros and agape as “ascending love” and “descending love” respectively, that “can never be completely separated.”

    Even if the conjugal union of a man and a woman is the “icon” of this eros, I think Benedict’s whole hermeneutic here indicates that it would be slavish to believe that the “metaphor” needs to be “carried through” on other levels.

    For example: obviously, the spiritual relationship with God has this “conjugal” form in its eros; God is the lover, we are the beloved. God is the bridegroom, the soul is the bride.

    But that’s exactly the point: the soul that is bridal…may well be the soul of a MALE human being!

    I think a similar thing can be said of eros directed towards members of the same sex. In other words, it would be a defacing of the iconic form to believe that a same-GENITAL dynamic specifically could ever express properly ordered eros.

    BUT, that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be a “giving/receiving,” “lover/beloved” dynamic on other “levels” (the emotional, the mental, the spiritual, and even the non-genital physical, even though the physical is necessarily male or female).

    “Implicitly, it seems to raise the question of, ‘Is “this person” a person with whom I can possibly experience the real “fulfillment” of eros?’ If the answer is no, then I think two things occur–first, while we’re not in the realm of sinful ‘lust’ here, we’d seem to be in the realm of ‘dis-ordered eros.’”

    I’d be wary of any system that creates NEW sins when its logic is applied across-the-board.

    I’ve heard of lust in traditional moral theology. I’ve never heard of “disordered eros.” If turning TOTB into a totalizing theological paradigm is leading to NEW moral norms or maxims (and, honestly, it feels like that a lot of the times I see it discussed)…I’d be extremely skeptical.

    Again, my problem with a comment like this is that it implies marital congress is the only “fulfillment” of eros.

    Yet Benedict himself implies that mysical union with God is a fulfillment of eros too.

    As I said above, clearly eros can never be fulfilled GENITALLY with a person of the same sex. But does that mean it can’t be fulfilled emotionally, mentally, spiritually, aesthetically?? This is much less clear.

    This is one of my fears about interpretations of TOTB, that they lead to a sort of slavish consistency regarding the male and the masculine, and the female and the feminine.

    The Masculine and Feminine are real “principles” in the universe, and they are drawn by analogy from the male and female sexes and the reproductive act. BUT, on levels other than the genital, both males AND females express both the masculine AND the feminine in different ways, in different aspects of their personalities or behavior, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Just because the Masculine is “derived” symbolically from the Male…doesn’t mean a male can’t act “feminine,” or that there is anything wrong with it if he does. Extrapolated onto the emotional, the psychological, the intellectual, etc…we can take both roles, just like males can definitely be “bridal” and “feminine” as regards God and the reception of grace, etc.

    “But I do not see where the magisterium (or JPII and Benedict) make the claim that ‘eros’ (even in ‘eros-agape’) is to be directed toward man-man relationships and woman-woman relationships. The “interpenetration” of eros-agape in both JPII and Benedict is clearly associated with reciprocal-spousal meaning rather than “fraternal” meaning. I would assert that, unless one can cite evidence to the contrary, eros-agape *is* exclusively reciprocal-spousal in JPII’s TOB and in Benedict as well.”

    Benedict is quite clear that eros and agape CANNOT be separated in one direction or the other. Yet, we are supposed to have agape for EVERYONE, obviously. And yet it is said to be inseparable from eros. Ergo, there is in some sense an erotic element (an element of “ascending love”) in our love for everyone.

    And, indeed, our love for everyone is “spousal” in some sense, inasmuch as sometimes we’re the lover and sometimes the beloved, sometimes the masculine and sometimes the feminine, sometimes the giver and sometimes the receiver, etc. That doesn’t mean our love for everyone has to be genitally enacted. The spousal analogy can apply between two men (just like it can apply to a male with God) on levels like the emotional, the mental, etc…just not on the genital.

    “I have to disagree. The idea of ‘disordered inclination’ is not “back-engineered” from sin. It’s ‘front-engineered’ via the understanding of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.”

    I think this is extremely problematic. It’s quite clear that “homosexual inclinations” are disordered inasmuch as homosexual acts are. The Church is NOT saying “Homosexual acts are disordered because homosexual orientation is,” especially since “orientation” is such a recent social construct anyway, historically contingent and ultimately deconstructable as well.

    “The CCC says ‘this inclination, which is objectively disordered…’, and does not offer qualifiers indicate that only ‘some’ homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, while others are not.”

    Yes, but it likewise never defines “homosexual inclination,” and there are some serious problems with the semantics used in these three paragraphs in general (specifically, they seem to basically define homosexuality as “relations between homosexuals,” rather than “relations between members of the same sex”…as if two straight guys having sex [in prison, say] does not fall into the same moral category?? I believe Grisez fleshes out this notion and defines sodomy as only possible between homosexuals…but otherwise it seems highly untraditional to say the least.)

    In truth, I have problems with the whole idea of “magisterial teaching” here, as the deposit of faith has no knowledge of the very recent and historically contingent construct of “sexual orientation.” The magisterium can point out that certain categories of act are disordered (for everyone) and then say that desires for such acts are disordered, but I don’t think it’s really possible to blanket condemn (or label as disordered) a sexual orientation, because that requires DEFINING just what constitutes the “essence” of a sexual orientation, and it’s really not within magisterial competence to be defining modern social constructs they didn’t invent. They can say this or that aspect is problematic, but it seems impossible to condemn “homosexuality” without first defining what that means. You can condemn this or that end or manifestation, but if the construct has associated itself with ends that are not problematic in themselves, they do not BECOME problematic merely because they have become part of a particular construct.

    “While this quote references the ‘SSA’ concept directly, it makes clear that the ‘attraction’ part of the puzzle exists independently from ‘sexual relations.’ That is, SSA is not defined by whether sexual relations are involved, or not.”

    Yes, but the Canadian bishops also make it clear that “homosexuality” is disordered INASMUCH AS (the implication being: only inasmuch as) they incline towards homosexual acts.

    The same thing goes for your 2006 bishop’s statement.

    In both cases, as Anna points out, the assumption seems to be that “homosexual inclination” = an inclination to engage in homosexual sex acts.

    The Vatican does not seem to be engaging the broader concept of “orientation” (or of “attraction”) that has entered our culture at all.

    However, then people like you come along (usually Americans, or at least Western English speakers) and read “homosexual inclination” as what our culture understands as “homosexual orientation” (or, more simply, being gay) and decides that that whole ship is sunk (or, as Joshua says, that the experience is wholly negative) just because an inclination to gay sex specifically is, as if the whole construct of orientation is bootstrapped to its lusts.

    This is very problematic, and yet it has sadly become one of the standard hermeneutics for reading the documents since 1986 (and TOTB).

    This reading ends with the logic of the completely homophobic (although hardly “magisterial”) Seminary Instruction of 2005.

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