In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are told that “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’” (2357). Tradition hasn’t always claimed precisely this, of course, since no-one put the label “intrinsically disordered” on anything during the first millennium of Christian history. Tradition has, however, always claimed that such acts were seriously wrong, and this amounts to the same thing, as I pointed out in a previous post.
But it would be naive to think that because some aspects of the Church’s teaching cannot change, therefore no aspect of it can change. A quick look at history shows that Catholic beliefs about homosexuality have already undergone significant change.
The fifteenth-century preacher (and Doctor of the Church) St. Bernardine of Siena once remarked that “someone who lived practicing the vice of sodomy will suffer more pains in hell than anyone else, because this is the worst sin that there is.” Nor was this a case of isolated rhetoric. Such opinions were not uncommon in the Middle Ages and those who held them could claim that they were simply repeating what the Fathers had said. St. John Chrysostom (another Doctor of the Church) had declared in the fourth century that “lust between men” was “the worst of all passions,” and St. Peter Damian (yet another Doctoris Ecclesiae; are you noticing a pattern yet?) comes dangerously close in his eleventh century tract, the Liber Gomorrhianus, to asserting that the homosexual person cannot even be saved.
Looking back on the florid denunciations of homosexuality in previous centuries, even the most conservative Catholic will now blush with shame. The idea that what is perhaps a misguided (albeit objectively sinful) attempt between two people of the same-sex to express love for one another might be a worse sin than murder or desecration of the Eucharist would strike any Catholic today as absurd. What was common sense a few centuries ago is now beyond the pale.
Looking back at changes in Catholic beliefs about homosexuality helps us to understand that present teachings, too, are both the result of preceding change, and also part of an ongoing process of change which will continue into the future.
In Persona Humana (1975), the historic teaching on the wrongfulness of homosexual acts is maintained, but the Church says for perhaps the first time what many theologians, pastors, and ordinary Catholics had already thought for many years: that instead of being extraordinarily evil people in the grip of some satanic vice, homosexuals may be who they are simply because of an “innate instinct.”
Eleven years later, in Homosexualitatis Problema (1986), Cardinal Ratzinger argued that making gay people “the object of violent malice in speech or in action” is an aspect of our history that should be regarded as “deplorable,” and that gay people are “often generous and giving of themselves.” This stands in rather stark contrast to St. Peter Damian’s claim that homosexuality “expels all the forces of virtue from the temple of the human heart and, pulling the door from its hinges, introduces into it all the barbarity of vice,” a claim that arguably is one historic instance of homosexual persons being made the object of “violent malice in speech.”
Ratzinger was (and is) no idiot. He would have been well aware of these writings when composing Homosexualitatis Problema. The tradition is littered with such statements. Hence, he does not claim that current Magisterial teaching is simply a repetition of immutable, unchanging doctrines handed down intact from time immemorial. Rather, he says that present formulations of doctrine stand in “organic continuity” with the witness of Scripture and Tradition.
Arguably, however, not all new developments in recent Catholic teaching have been either positive or in “organic continuity” with the Scriptural witness. For example, in its Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies (2003), the Congregation for Catholic Education argues that homosexuals “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” and it is suggested that the homosexual person per se lacks “affective maturity.”
Of course, one could raise all sorts of objections to this assertion in light of the succor it gives to homophobic Catholics who pathologize and stigmatize gay and lesbian persons under the guise of defending orthodoxy, or under the (even less credible) guise of “loving the sinner.” But the key questions here are theological rather than sociological.
The first caution that needs to be raised is that, in the Catholic tradition, the object of moral analysis when speaking about homosexuality has always been the homosexual act or the inclinatio ad actum, rather than the sexuality of the homosexual person as a psychological phenomenon. This is not to say that Christianity has nothing to say about the homosexual person, but simply that it is not a first-order concern of Catholic moral teaching whose historical subject matter has primarily been sin and confession. Expanding the object of moral analysis from the homosexual tendency (understood in the traditional sense of a tendency toward committing homogenital acts) outward to the entire personality of the homosexual person, and then thinking we can apply (without any kind of mediating argument) the same negative moral judgment to the latter as to the former, is arguably more the result of sloppy thinking than development within tradition.
The second caution is that recent attempts to outline a sort of “Catholic anthropology” that claims the entire homosexual personality is disordered do not sit well even with other recent teachings of the Holy See. In Homosexualitatis Problema, Cardinal Ratzinger argues:
Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
Yet it is difficult to claim that we are not reducing a person to their sexuality when we are also claiming that the way they relate to men and women (i.e., every other person on the planet) is disordered because of their sexuality. It becomes a question of which assertion is more deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition: the claim that the human person should not be reduced to their sexual tendencies, and that they have a fundamental identity as a child of God? Or the suggestion that the human person can and should be reduced largely to his sexual tendencies, and a judgment rendered on his entire personality because of those tendencies?
To raise cautions and ask questions about recent formulations of Catholic doctrine is not the same as to deny (or even call in to doubt) the underlying truth embedded in the Tradition handed down to us from the apostolic era, that under no circumstances can same-sex sex acts be approved of. Nor is it to claim that those who find the reasoning behind the Church’s disciplinary decisions problematic have a license to disobey them, as if the Church were not one body that ought to think and act in unison, and we merely members thereof. It is simply to remain faithful to that biblical injunction: “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
There are those who claim that fidelity to the Church requires us to leap to defend not only its doctrinal assertions but even its language and terminology, whence the continuous chants of “don’t say gay” emanating from some circles. No doubt there are many who “question” Church teaching having already made up their minds to reject it, but are just too cowardly to say so openly. But others who ask questions and raise objections do so not because they reject the Church but because they want to learn from it; they want to understand Catholic sexual teachings in order that they can more effectively impart a sense of their beauty to others. I have no doubt there will be those who confuse the second form of questioning with the first, just as I have no doubt there were those who were called crazy liberals in the fifteenth century for asking if perhaps devil worship was a worse sin than homosexuality.
Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society.
Why do you think the CCE’s statement is about the “homosexual person” and not about the inclinatio ad actum within the person? That’s what you haven’t established here, so far as I can see. You’re presuming (mistakenly, in my opinion) that the CCE’s statement is about the former per se rather than about the latter.
Again, when you say, “Yet it is difficult to claim that we are not reducing a person to their sexuality when we are also claiming that the way they relate to men and women (i.e., every other person on the planet) is disordered because of their sexuality,” I’m wondering where you are getting this. The “gravely hinders” point is precisely due to the deeply-seated inclinatio ad actum, not the “sexuality” of the person (which is either male or female). I don’t see how you are deriving from the CCE’s statements a reduction of the person to his or her tendencies. Lust for persons of the *opposite* sex would likewise gravely hinder persons from relating correctly to men and women, and would show a lack of affective maturity. Persons who have deep-seated tendencies of lust toward persons of the opposite sex are also not suitable candidates for the priesthood. That is not a reduction of the person to his sexuality; that’s rather a recognition that the attainment of certain virtues is a precondition for ministry, and that for a person who is not yet virtuous in the area of sexuality, his lack of virtue would gravely hinder his ability to relate to his flock in a healthy way.
Interesting interpretation of the document, Bryan, but it’s just not credible. If your interpretation is correct, why would the document refer to men *and* women? You could certainly argue that homosexual lust might “gravely hinder” a man from relating correctly to other men, but to *women*? I don’t think so. The document is clearly attempting to make some kind of deeper psychoanalytic point.
It is too easy to refute the “it is just not credible” claim, because all I need is one counterexample. And I myself serve as that counterexample, since I *do* believe that interpretation. Moreover, I don’t assume that in the line, “Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” the word ‘persons’ is referring only to men. And if your criticism of the document is based on assuming that that word in that line refers only to men, that’s extremely tenuous. However, even if the word ‘person’ there refers only to men, why assume that disordered sexual appetites only hinder one’s relations to one sex, and not also the other sex? I don’t assume that. (You, apparently, are assuming that.) I surely don’t assume that heterosexual lust does not hinder the development and flourishing of same-sex friendships. In fact, I believe just the opposite. In my opinion, men driven by lust for women are less able to form intimate and virtuous friendships with other men.
Just in case you weren’t aware, the Catholic Church does not (and isn’t going to) ordain women, so I think it’s fair to assume that a document which is specifically talking about ordination to the priesthood (and admission to the seminary in view thereto) is referring only to male homosexuals. That said, my criticism of the document doesn’t really stand or fall on which sex its psychological observations refer to.
You’re right that a man driven by heterosexual lust would have more difficulty forming friendships even with other men. But that’s only because less virtuous people have more trouble forming friendships in general. One could make the same point not only about lust but about any kind of vice. The fact is, however, we don’t get documents from the Holy See on heterosexual lust in seminarians, or on all other sorts of vices. We do get documents that say even when a candidate has been determined to be “capable of abstaining from genital activity” it is still necessary to “evaluate his sexual orientation.” Your argument that this is all just about lust and nothing to with sexual orientation just doesn’t stack up.
“Just doesn’t stack up” is another of one of those rhetorical criticisms that is impossible to verify or falsify, and is thus quite unhelpful. But, my argument is not that this “this is all just about lust and nothing to with sexual orientation.” The document *is* about deep-seated homosexual tendencies, as the document states. And that is fully compatible with what I’ve said in my comments above. You seem to be assuming that since there is a document on deep-seated homosexual tendencies and seminarians, but no document on heterosexual lust and seminarians, therefore, the Church has no concern about seminarians with deep-seated heterosexual lusts. But that conclusion doesn’t follow. Having taught at a Catholic seminary, I’ve learned that spiritual directors of seminarians do take heterosexual lust quite seriously. A seminarian who is struggling with heterosexual desires might be showing himself not to have a vocation to the priesthood, but instead (possibly) to marriage (hopefully, having arrived at chastity). But in the US, deep-seated homosexual tendencies were not necessarily seen as suggesting a vocation other than the priesthood. Hence, there is another possible explanation regarding the asymmetry of Church documents relating to disordered heterosexual tendencies in seminarians and deep-seated same-sex tendencies in seminarians.
from your first paragraph: “Tradition has, however, always claimed that such acts were seriously wrong, and this amounts to the same thing, as I pointed out in a previous post.”
i could not find substantive discussion or proof of this claim in said previous post.
my challenge to thee: prove your assersion?
To clarify, the previous post explains my claim that intrinsically disordered = seriously wrong, not my claim that Catholic Tradition has always contained a prohibition on homosexual acts. The latter is so obvious and so widely admitted (even by those who disagree with said prohibition) that I don’t think it needs substantive discussion.
i can see how the sentence can be read that way now. thanks. and no, the “always” tradition is far from axiomatic. see also sergius and bacchus. the saints that got un-sainted by the vatican, but regardless are well understood to be recipients of an ancient catholic rite of samesex union. martyrs for the faith, if that helps in clarifying.
I’m not claiming that the Church doesn’t take heterosexual lust seriously. I know that is not the case. Rather, I don’t think that the document I was referring to was really about lust at all, simply because I don’t accept your claim that the “homosexual tendencies” the document refers to are solely lustful ones. I think the tendency it is talking about is more than a homosexual “inclinatio ad actum” (upon which I think we’d all agree a negative moral judgment needs to be rendered). That is, I think, the only way of explaining why the Holy See specifically asks for an evaluation of a candidate’s sexual orientation, even in cases where assessors are already sure that he is capable of living chastely (see the 2008 CCE guidelines on psychological testing). This would not be the case if you were correct in suggesting that the Holy See is merely trying to ensure that countries like the US apply the same rigor to the formation of homosexual candidates as they do to heterosexual ones. Moreover, if all we were talking about was the “inclinatio ad actum” there would be no need for some further evaluation in cases where the assessors are already “sure” that the candidate is capable of chaste living, because chastity is almost certainly incompatible with vehement “inclinationes” in that sense. It seems clear to me that what is being spoken of is sexuality in a much broader sense than merely an inclinations to acts. In saying I don’t find your interpretation credible I’m not saying it’s absurd or illegitimate. But I don’t find it a convincing explanation of the document (hence, not credible) for the reasons I’ve outlined here.
Secondly, I appreciate your input here (I genuinely do), but there is no rule that says I must communicate *solely* in scientific-style propositions and that I can’t conclude a comment with a piece of “rhetoric” when the rhetoric is actually subsequent to substantive points I’ve already made. I’m not Dr. Spock, and there is no rule (or at least, there isn’t on this website) that says I ought to be.
I don’t agree that any negative moral judgment should be rendered against gay people for having natural, healthy, sexual relationships.
Nope, not condemning that over here. 😀
Here’s the paragraph in question from the 2008 CCE document:
The requirement in view is the virtue of chasity, which, as the 2008 document states, is more than merely abstaining (or being capable of abstaining from) sexual relationships. From the requirement of chastity in candidates for ordination, it does not follow that the 2005 CCE document, when referring to “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is speaking of something other than “inclinatio ad actum.” That would be a non sequitur. The inclination to act in a certain manner, does not entail some minimum level of probability of actually acting in that manner. The inclination to act in a certain manner is fully compatible with not actually acting in that manner, and being able to keep from acting in that manner, even for the rest of one’s life. There is no incoherence in the notion of chronic continence.
The problem is that there is a more charitable interpretation available, and nothing in the document *entails* the interpretation you are (in my opinion) imposing on the document.
I’m grateful for your appreciation. And I agree that there is no such rule. My point in noting your uses of rhetoric is not to suggest that you are violating some rule, but only to point out that these sorts of comments leave intact both the truth of what I’m saying, and the cogency of my argumentation.
Bryan, I agree that your interpretation is a legitimate one, though as I have said before I do not find it convincing for the reasons I have outlined. Your argument now seems to be that charity requires I *must* accept your interpretation because it is more charitable than mine, even if I think your argument is less probable. But I don’t see how my interpretation of the document is less charitable than the one you have proposed. We both seem to agree that the document places more stringent requirements on same-sex attracted candidates than upon opposite-sex attracted candidates, we merely disagree on whether the document is interested in homosexuality in a broader or narrower sense. I don’t see how one of these views is more charitable than the other, but I do think my view is more probable, given that I don’t think your view provides a sufficient explanation as to why the Church wishes to determine a candidate’s sexual orientation.
I never claimed, nor do I believe, that charity requires that you *must* do anything at all. That’s just not the way charity is. But the principle of charity calls us to choose the more charitable interpretation, all other things being equal. What makes your present interpretation less charitable than mine is that yours (but not mine) makes the Church out to be opposing homosexual persons as persons, and not merely the inclinations belonging to such persons.
In order to make that argument, you would need to show (rather than merely assert) that (a) the interpretation I’ve given does not provide a sufficient explanation for the Church’s wishes to determine a candidate’s sexual orientation, and (b) how from the insufficiency of that explanation it follows that your interpretation is more probable than mine.
Bryan, your interpretation is possible, and I would that it were true! If all the Vatican is talking about with “tendencies” is an inclination to homogenital acts (which indeed might still be problematic if it were merely perfectly repressed or compartmentalized in continence rather than eliminated or sublimated in an integrated virtue of chastity) then there is no issue, and indeed there might even be valid reasons for singling it out over heterosexual lust (given the way the priesthood was used as an “escape” for homosexuals.)
But if this is true, then we have another problem and that is the Vatican’s ambiguity on the whole question of sexual orientation. That is to say, it’s often unclear that the Vatican or bishops even recognize the existence of a gay orientation broader than a lust for gay sex acts. It’s unclear that the framework assumed in these documents would even be able to make sense of the notion of a chaste homosexual, if “homosexual orientation” is already reduced to nothing other than its potential lusts, if its defining feature is considered to be an “inclination” to problematic acts rather than understanding “attraction” or “love” more broadly, and without understanding the social category being gay puts one in, in terms of identity and shared experience, even if all lust for disordered acts is conquered and sexuality is fully and virtuously integrated.
This silence or appearance of a reductionist understanding of homosexuality matters, because you get people, culture warrior conservatives, people like Dan Mattson, who take the hierarchy’s statements on “homosexual tendencies” and assume that is equivalent to the orientation generally, and not merely to the associated lust (or assume that any homosexual feeling is a lust or else not particularly homosexual).
A clarification on this really is needed.
Amen. May I suggest that their confusion results from an unwillingness to come to grips with the implications of a homosexual orientation ?
I agree that further clarification would be helpful. I haven’t read all the articles here at SF, but I’m wondering if there is some article here (at SF), or anywhere for that matter, that makes a case for a principled difference between each of the following three things: (1) homosexual lust, (2) homosexual tendencies, and (3) homosexual orientation.
(Aaron, I apologize if this takes your thread off-topic.)
I think most people here would see a huge difference between homosexual lust and a homosexual orientation that might be entirely compatible with chastity (and not just continence).
Certainly, at least, I myself just recently discussed this quite extensively in my comments on that thread about “Sexual Orientation: Is that even a thing?” and I’d encourage you to check those comments out and also to read the blog posts from Justin Lee I linked to outlining how there is a double-standard in which heterosexuality and a heterosexual notion of “attraction” is understood intuitively by everyone as being much broader than a desire or inclination towards any sex acts specifically, but for some reason when some people think of “gay” their mind jumps right to the sex, even though there are all sorts of manifestations of heterosexuality that are not proximately ordered towards achieving a sex act in any way, and non-controversial heterosexual attractions which would become problematic if we analyzed them according to the same strict notion of a sex-act teleology with which some people critique all homosexually oriented affections.
The problem with the term “homosexual tendencies/inclinations” as used by the hierarchy is that it is equivocal. Does it strictly describe just a lust (ie, the “inclinatio ad actum,” as Aaron uses, towards homosexual sex acts) or does it describe gayness or homosexual orientation and attraction or love more broadly conceived? Unfortunately (I think) lots of conservatives seem to think that when, for example, the Catechism calls “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered” that they are talking about a gay orientation in general, and not just the lust for intrinsically disordered sex acts.
And it is unclear that many in the hierarchy even consider that a distinction can be made. For example, part of the genesis of 1986 pastoral document from the CDF was to refute certain tendencies that had sprung up since 1975 where certain voices would apparently pay lip-service to the idea that homosexual sex acts were immoral, but then still give an “overly benign interpretation to the condition itself,” and hence Ratzinger and the CDF felt the need to specify that we can’t merely condemn the acts as intrinsically disordered, but must also problematize “homosexual inclinations/tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”
Now, in traditional moral theology this makes perfect sense IF “homosexual tendencies” are understood as reducible to, in the end, nothing other than a desire or habit inclining towards intrinsically disordered acts as its object. In other words, if “homosexual tendencies” is always referring to a lust for gay sex acts, a (disordered) appetite for homogenital interaction.
Except just on its face, by analogy to how people understand a heterosexual orientation, it’s obvious that orientation is broader than any sort of ordering-towards-sex-acts specifically, otherwise every heterosexual man who dared appreciate the beauty of a woman other than his wife would be condemned. Or, as Justin Lee asks, would we have to say we oppose “teenage heterosexuality” in the same way some people say they oppose “homosexuality” generally?
In truth, most people do not see these sorts of passions this way, as defined by some intrinsic ordering towards a particular act. Desire has to specify an object, but many passions do not. Look at anger. Would we say anger is defined as an intrinsic tendency towards…what? Violence? Killing? Yelling? What? Or sadness; what particular act is its telos? In reality, it seems strange to think of it that way. Anger and sadness are defined by what CAUSES them, by “where they come from” NOT by “where they’re going.” Anger is caused by perceived injustice or offense, sadness by loss, and for some people there is, depending on context, even an overlap. But neither is intrinsically ordered towards some definite end until a choice is made to specify them that way. Rather, anger invokes a spectrum of scripts (which might involve violence or yelling, yes, but which might also involve just sitting and stewing or even, positively, doing something constructive to correct the injustice, etc). It is not some sort of habit or appetite towards any one particular act or object or response.
But neither is “attraction” to most people, even the sort of attraction based particularly on a person’s sex/gender. I think most people understand “attraction” and sexual orientation as a passion defined by “where it comes from” rather than “where it’s going,” defined by it’s cause, by the nature of the stimulus and what sort of emotional experience it brings about, and not defined by some determinate end as if such a thing can be strictly identified. Yes, various sex acts might be part of the panoply of scripts associated with attraction, they are possible suggestions in that emotional repertoire, but so are all sorts of other non-controversial and non-problematic responses (just like with anger etc) and what really matters is how you use it.
Unfortunately, I think lots of “conservatives” have a different and rather bizarre framework when it comes to homosexuality. I remember the uproar last year when a Catholic school was going to let a gay student attend the prom with his male date. Now, as far as I know, same-sex dancing isn’t intrinsically morally forbidden anymore than opposite-sex dancing-before-marriage, but all sorts of conservatives were really up in arms anyway because this was “affirming his disorder” or something, even though the dance was not taken, analogously, as affirming premarital interaction. Oh, but, some of them said (Ed Peters had a particularly muddled post about this), the prom is ordered remotely towards eventually moving these young men and women towards courtship and marriage (even if not with the same people who are their dates that night). And I only had to think, “Yes, God forbid we redefine the sacred institution of premarital adolescent socialization into temporary adult-aping heterosexual coupling roles! As if God made Teenage Adam and his prom-date Joy, not Teenage Adam and his prom-date Roy!” Most people would find it absurd to analyze High School Prom under the header of some sort of remote ordering towards straight sex. Most people, if they’re thinking about sex and prom, mean the sex that will be happening that very night. But if one is opposed to that, then it starts to become very strange to still be trying to connect the two “remotely” as if all sexuality is ultimately some sort of “funnel” heading necessarily towards the marital act in such a way that a date with someone you’re never going to marry still contributes (as long as they’re of the opposite sex). Most people would find this interpretation tortuous at best..
Bryan, no worries. It’s not off-topic. I think your suggestion for an article clarifying the distinction between those those three things might be helpful (although I would point out that “homosexual lust” and “inclinations to commit homosexual acts” are really identical terms, given that lust, by definition, is disordered or excessive sexual desire, and there is no sense in which one can have an ordered desire for homosexual sex or a desire for a proportionate amount thereof).
In brief, I think that the experience of having a homosexual “orientation” is a much broader experience of homo-romantic and affective inclinations, whereas the kind of homosexual “inclination” the Church is speaking about in the Catechism is basically an inclination to commit sodomitical acts. Its quite possible that someone can have a “homosexual orientation” in the first sense despite not having the inclination to commit homosexual acts, in the same way that its quite possible (and I hope common) for heterosexual men such as priests and religious to have a heterosexual romantic and affective orientation despite having quietened the inclination to commit heterosexual acts through the practice of interior chastity (or never having developed it in the first place).
To return to our previous discussion with this in mind, then … this is precisely why I see the Holy See’s express wish to determine a candidate’s sexual orientation as tending toward my interpretation of the document. If the ordination requirements were *just* about excluding candidates with homosexual “tendencies” in the second (by definition lustful) sense, there would be no need for a *specific* document on homosexual seminarians as this simply follows naturally from the general requirement for seminarians to be well-schooled in the virtue of chastity. This is why I said I don’t think your interpretation of the document provides a sufficient explanation as to why the Holy See wishes to determine the sexual orientation of candidates for ordination.
I hope this explains things a bit more adequately.
I think it’s quite possible that Bryan is right and the Vatican is talking only about lust, “tendencies” in the sense of inclinations to sex acts.
There would be reasons to specify that, inasmuch as, like Bryan said, the priesthood or religious life was sometimes assumed to be the natural place for homosexuals in the Church, and that whereas a heterosexual unable to sublimate might be interpreted as a call to marriage, perhaps homosexual lack of integration was treated more leniently because there was no other outlet.
But as I said, the real problem would still lie in not making the distinction, in seemingly not understanding that a distinction can even be made. If it can be argued that the Vatican intends the narrower/lust sense, it also then becomes easy to argue that they apparently ONLY understand homosexuality in this narrower sense, which is itself very problematic.
It leads to all sorts of conservative interpretations that are used to disparage gays by those who want to interpret the documents “broadly” rather than narrowly even when they ARE aware that a distinction can be made.
I think this is what needs to be parsed out by way of analysis and careful argumentation showing how the teleology of “homo-romantic and affective inclinations” is (a) different *in principle* from and is in no way ordered to a bodily sexual union involving sodomitical acts, whether or not in actual relationships these homo-romantic inclinations always reaches that end, is (b) a species of or one form of expressing the virtue of friendship, and (c) is fully compatible with the virtue of chastity as ‘chastity’ is defined by the Church. From your last two posts here (including this one), it seems to me that you are presupposing [(a)], whereas it seems to me that the Church has not acknowledged such a distinction. And this difference between your belief in the distinction [(a)], and the Church’s not holding or acknowledging the distinction, seems to be what lies behind your criticisms of the CCE document and of the USCCB staff writer’s comments in these last two posts of yours. I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m saying your presupposition cannot be *presumed* to be right, and then used to criticize the Church’s documents. What is needed is some argumentation demonstrating the truth of this distinction.
“I think this is what needs to be parsed out by way of analysis and careful argumentation showing how the teleology of ‘homo-romantic and affective inclinations’ is (a) different *in principle* from and is in no way ordered to a bodily sexual union involving sodomitical acts,”
This is where the current language of “objectively disordered” really seems out of whack to me.
The Church’s teaching on concupiscence is that original sin did not make humanity totally depraved. Indeed, our will, even the lower appetites, still always seeks the good! It just that the lower appetites are fragmented; it was Reason that was/is supposed to discipline them with a view to the good of the Whole person as opposed to just this or that specific good. But the point is that there is not supposed to be in human beings any attraction toward evil in se. All sin is still going after goods, just in a fragmentary or misprioritized manner.
So, for example, fornication is still seen as seeking a good thing, just in the wrong context. They do not speak of fornication as “intrinsically” disordered or a desire for it (in heterosexuality among the unmarried) as “objectively” disordered, because the sense is that the yearning for sex is good in general, it’s just that without marriage it is improperly contextualized. Contraceptive acts, likewise; it’s just “misdirected” heterosexual impulse. Concupiscent, but still good in a fragmented sense.
However, the way “homosexuality” is spoken of, it is as if they construct it as an appetite that has somehow been totally depraved. As if the homosexual really does struggle with some sort of separate appetite ordered towards an evil itself.
However, that’s just the problem with such a construction! It seemingly constructs a variety of human appetite that has as its “natural end” sodomitical acts. The way you spoke in the sentence I quoted, with this “ordered towards” language, it’s like you’re conceding that “homosexuality” is in fact ordered towards something, that it has a natural end or telos. But that doesn’t really fit with a notion that would condemn it. If there is a human drive with a natural end, then human fulfillment (for someone with such a drive) would consist in fulfilling that end! Unless we’re supposed to believe in some sort of total depravity whereby there is a creature “ordered towards” evil itself…
We do not say that, in unmarried heterosexuals, the sex drive is “ordered towards” fornication. That’s one way it might be “misinterpreted” due to concupiscence, and hence sin. But we don’t speak as if there is some sort of unique “appetite for fornication” that is “ordered towards” it as an end. We don’t speak that way for masturbation either, even though it is intrinsically disordered too…still, we don’t speak as if all the people who masturbate have some sort of special intrinsically disordered lust specifically ordered towards masturbation!
In the end, homosexual lust cannot be interpreted differently. In the end, it too must somehow be just a form of ordinary concupiscence, and not some sort of unique depravity. And yet that is how the “1986” construction of it comes across.
And given that there is, in fact, homosexuality separable from lust, it becomes all the more problematic.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m saying your presupposition cannot be *presumed* to be right, and then used to criticize the Church’s documents. What is needed is some argumentation demonstrating the truth of this distinction.”
There’s plenty, as Aaron says, and here I’ve given some more.
But I’m unsure what the significance is of the Church making or not making the distinction. The Church owns Truth, but it does not own facts, as it were. It would not up to the Church to insist that “homosexuality means this” as if our experience of homosexual affective orientation as existing separable from any illicit desire is somehow just an invalid interpretation. We’ve experienced it! If the Church were to insist that, no. “homosexuality” can’t mean that…then (even if we were to accept that they could dictate labels like that) we’d simply have to come up with a new word, then, for whatever that thing was that we’re experiencing.
Again, you seem to be caught up with parsing emotional experience according to some sort of “teleological” analysis, when in reality an “experiential” perspective requires no further justification. Do I have to explain why I get excited by the air right before a thunderstorm according to some framework of ends and ordering in order to prove it isn’t disordered? I think something is off about this insistence.
I really appreciate the historical perspective–I’m fairly ignorant of it myself. I definitely live the tension between wanting to reject the Church’s teaching and wanting to remain receptive to being formed by it. Not easy.
A Sinner, its certainly a *possible* interpretation. I just don’t think its the most *probable*.
The 2008 CCE guidelines on psychological testing refer to the need to evaluate a candidate’s “sexual orientation.” But evaluating someone’s sexual orientation not only does not tell you about how lustful they are, it doesn’t even tell you whether that someone is given to homosexual lust or not, since there are a lot of straight men who have (or want to have) sex with other men.
According to “our” definition of “sexual orientation,” sure, wherein it’s a broader affective orientation. But it’s unclear to me that the Vatican writers even understood that this definition is what the term means in mainstream culture.
To me, it seems quite possible given some of the other attitudes that they hold a double-standard and understand “homosexual orientation” to refer only to (or, at least, be defined by) illicit sexual desires, even while finding “heterosexual orientation” in a candidate acceptable and compatible with chastity. (In other words, that there is a sort of “heterosexual default” and that “homosexual orientation” means only “struggling with same-sex [sexual] desires”).
We can’t be sure, but based on the way it is generally discussed in those circles, for me it is a stretch to believe that they understand “homosexual orientation” as anything other than a “temptation to struggle with” and a disordered paradigm for relating to the whole sphere of sex and gender in the universe. If they DO have a notion of “homosexual orientation” beyond “temptations” or a sort of thorn in the flesh, I’ve not seen that mentioned or recognized very often (at least prior to Pope Francis).
Bryan, that’s a helpful comment, thank you, but I’m not sure I really agree with your claim that the Church does not hold or acknowledge the distinction [(a)] in any way.
Firstly, while only the Magisterium have the charism to teach authoritatively, consideration of “what the Church holds or acknowledges” cannot be limited to an examination of documents coming from the Vatican or Bishops Conference. There is, for example, a wealth of writing on romantic and chivalric friendships between men, and on the proper “teleology” of homo-romantic inclinations (to use your phrase) by Catholics, particularly in the nineteenth-century, who tried to grapple with the question of how to reconcile their sexual orientation with their orthodox faith. Some of these writings are in treatise form (e.g. Andre Raffalovich’s “Uranisme et Unisexualite”), but much of it also exists in the form of poetry extolling the value of “platonic love” between men, a love which was considered the purer precisely because it rose above sex. None of this is “Church teaching,” of course (and nor should it be, as if gay people needed the Magisterium to micromanage every aspect of their lives), but it is an aspect of Christian tradition worthy of respect in its own right, not just an eccentric “presumption” that I’ve thought up in my own head and then used to criticize Magisterial documents.
Secondly, even if we *were* limiting our consideration of Catholic tradition to Magisterial utterances, the USCCB’s “Principles to Guide Confessors on Questions of Homosexuality” (1971) actually goes far beyond anything I have advocated and recommends as conducive to personal development that those who are constitutionally homosexual form a stable non-genital relationship with another homosexual person (see p. 11). Would the bishops make such a recommendation, and allow it to inform the pastoral practice of thousands of fathers confessors, if it thought that homo-affective tendencies were necessarily ordered toward what you call “bodily sexual union involving sodomitical acts”? I don’t think so.
You are right that the Church does not hold or acknowledge distinction [(a)] if the definition of “Church” is limited to super-conservative anti-gay diehard culture-warrior style Catholics living in post-60s America. That is something I don’t concede, of course, even if such Catholics are wont to think that their own little clique comprises “the Church.”
Please don’t take any of this as if it were a refusal of your suggestion to parse out distinction [(a)] “by way of analysis and careful argumentation.” It’s a good suggestion that I will take you up on, so thank you! I’ve touched a little on that distinction already in an article I wrote for First Things entitled “Can One Be Gay and Christian?,” and plan to touch on it again in the future. Rather, I’m merely asserting here the propriety of my using as a working presumption an idea which is already rooted in the Catholic tradition, and which is already acknowledged by the Church both in theory and in pastoral practice.
I grant that there is a “wealth of writing on romantic and chivalric friendships between men,” both in treatise and in poetic form, but I think this writing has not established the truth of the claim that there is a homosexual orientation that meets all three conditions I described above. The problem this thesis needs to overcome is that of showing how such an orientation neither collapses into the virtue of friendship (since presumably you don’t want to say that this orientation is what all heterosexuals having the virtue of friendship have), nor into an inclination to a sexual union.
Regarding the NCCB’s “Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality” (1973), the statement in question on page 11 reads that persons with this inclination:
These claims are fully compatible with it being the case that homosexual orientation (as something distinct from the virtue of friendship) is objectively disordered. Otherwise recovering alcoholics too would not be allowed to form friendships with other recovering alcoholics. Having a disordered inclination does not preclude the good of forming virtuous friendships with persons who also have that inclination. Hence the good of building *virtuous* friendships between persons with a homosexual orientation does not indicate that homosexual orientation is not disordered. So this document does not establish or support a distinction between disordered homosexual inclinations and homosexual orientation as something both rightly ordered and distinct from friendship, because what it says is fully compatible with there being no such distinction.
If you believe that the Church does recognize this distinction, then I think you should cite a Magisterial document that acknowledges the distinction. Every Church document I’ve read on the subject treats homosexual orientation as objectively disordered. That there are some Catholics who hold the distinction is something I don’t deny. But that there are some Catholics who hold x is not sufficient to establish that “the Church” believes and teaches x.
It’s unclear though, Bryan, whether most in the hierarchy even understand “orientation” as anything other than an inclination to disordered sex acts. And if that’s all it is, then of course it is objectively disordered.
But like I said above, the Church can’t claim to own the facts. If there IS a “homosexual orientation” that is unique to homosexuals but not reducible to a lust or desire for genital acts, then the magisterium simply hasn’t even spoken about this. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; things don’t need the magisterium’s recognition to exist.
I mean, it’s not as if “sexual orientation” is a concept contained in the Deposit of Faith, as if it is Revealed or intrinsically connected to Revelation that “there is a thing called homosexuality and it is in the final analysis nothing other than a habit of the will towards sodomitical acts as its disordered object.”
It’s not up to the Church to define our experiences like that. It is within their authority to judge that certain experiences, strictly defined, are problematic. It is NOT within their authority to say what experiences exist or what their content is or to insist that one is reducible to another when the people having the experience testify otherwise, say they are different experiences.
As for the actual question at hand: I think any heterosexual knows what it means to experience “that sort” of appreciation of the beauty of the opposite sex, and to fall in love or have a crush. I don’t think they’d tell you these things are equivalent to lust or a sexual desire, as indeed little children have crushes before they even know what sex is, and married men can appreciate female beauty in a way that has that spark, is different from the detached and theoretical way they appreciate male beauty, and yet we do not call this adultery in the heart. There is an emotional experience of getting a warm fuzzy feeling from the members of one sex or the other. It is unclear that any particular script is implied by this experience, anymore than a single course of action is implied by the emotional experience of anger. Once again, these sorts of experiences are more defined by “where they came from” than by “where they’re going,” which often remains indeterminate until a deliberate choice is made to specify them.
Bryan, again, helpful comments, thanks.
Your reference from the 1971 document is truncated. The important point, I think, is the claim that homosexuals have great difficulty forming “at least one stable friendship with another person” (or something along those lines, I don’t have it right in front of me now). That’s simply not true if we are talking about general run-of-the-mill friendships. It might be true, however, if we are talking about a more committed kind of companionship.
Nevertheless, I’ve never claimed that the Magisterium explicitly teaches the distinction we’ve been discussing. I don’t feel the need to rush to the Vatican website to validate every single idea I hold with a quote from the CDF. Its enough that there are indications in the tradition that point in that direction, as I have highlighted. Incidentally, however, the Chuch has *never* taught that all same-sex romantic affection is somehow “teleologically-ordered” toward sodomy, which appears to be one of your central claims. If you can find somewhere the Church has actually taught such a thing, I’ll eat my hat. If not, then I don’t see why you expect me to “cite a Magisterial document” to justify every single working hypothesis I use.
You say that that there is not sufficient evidence to establish “the truth of the claim that there is a homosexual orientation that meets all three conditions I described above.” But why do you assume that I am interested in establishing whether this claim is true in respect of your stated conditions or not? You are the one who set the conditions, not me. For the purpose of discussion, I’m happy to run with the general idea of a distinction between homosexuality as “inclinationem ad peccatum sodomiticum” and homosexuality as a broader affective and romantic inclination. What I’m not interested in doing is in showing how this distinction conforms to three arbitrary conditions that you’ve laid down, as if to concede the implicit assumption that any human experience that cannot be funneled through neo-scholastic-sounding categories is not part of reality.
You say that the problem my thesis “needs to overcome is that of showing how such an orientation” (i.e., the affective orientation, not the “inclinationem ad peccatum sodomiticum”) does not collapse “into the virtue of friendship (since presumably you don’t want to say that this orientation is what all heterosexuals having the virtue of friendship have).” But where have I ever claimed that there is some kind of non-socially constructed natural species of homosexual identity that is *essentially* distinct from a similar species of heterosexuality? I’ve never laid claim to being an essentialist in regard to gay identity, as opposed to being a social constructionist. I’ve even said elsewhere that romantic affection between people of the same-sex is not *per-se gay*. It’s just that its appreciation disappeared from mainstream culture at the same time, historically, as it flourished within “gay” subcultures.
“as if to concede the implicit assumption that any human experience that cannot be funneled through neo-scholastic-sounding categories is not part of reality.”
Bingo! That’s my problem with what seem to me to be the assumptions implicit in Bryan’s whole framework in this discussion.
Unfortunately, I think that many in the hierarchy and among conservative lay-inquisitors do still operate according to this sort of strict scholastic logic, even when there are clearly categories (however socially constructed they may be; that doesn’t mean they aren’t real AS social constructions and thus AS personal experiences) in common parlance and in individual usage and self-concept of personal experiences that don’t fit into some nice “appetite–>telos” framework for making sense of emotions.
As I’ve said several times in this thread, I think emotional experiences are much more fruitfully analyzed by looking at “where they come from” and realizing that there is usually a VARIETY of scripts that are part of a schema by which one can choose to enact or respond to the emotional experience in question.
If this isn’t terribly scholastic, then I have to think that scholasticism is rather “autistic” when it comes to human subjective emotional experiences and how to understand them.
“I’ve never laid claim to being an essentialist in regard to gay identity, as opposed to being a social constructionist. I’ve even said elsewhere that romantic affection between people of the same-sex is not *per-se gay*.”
Bingo again, Aaron!
It might be true that what makes appreciation of male beauty “gay” or not is some sort of essential difference from how straight men can appreciate male beauty, but rather simply CONTEXT within an individual personality. As a gay man, I notice male beauty much more frequently and intensely than a straight man. Is there a difference in nature in the appreciation?? Maybe not (I say maybe because I am not committed to any one position here yet).
But even if it is merely a difference in degree of frequency and intensity, that matters when it comes to constructing self-narrative and interpreting individual identity and experience!
Even if it is “the same thing” (an aesthetic appreciation, or a friendship-urge) that straight men experience for other men sometimes, just with greater intensity…the fact is, I experience it predominantly, whereas my experience of that sort of emotion towards women is much more muted and infrequent. Likewise, a straight man is going to notice female beauty much more frequently, dwell on it more, fall in love with women much more often and with much greater intensity, even if they can have a “man crush” here or there, a sort of hero worship, “bromance,” or “friend-fatuation.”
What makes it gay or straight may be nothing other than the PATTERN of preponderance into which it is integrated. For a straight man, even an intense bout of “bromance” will be experienced within the context of an emotional pattern that mainly focuses on women, and thus it will be narratively interpreted in that light, according to “straight male” scripts. As a gay man, however, it is experienced as part of a pattern that almost always focuses on men and hence the self-narrative or meaning that I weave out of my experiences is going to be substantially different, even if is made out of the same basic elements or experiences that are universal to humanity. A houndstooth weave and a herringbone weave are going to be very different even if both were made of black and white threads.
So there might not be an absolute difference even (I’m unsure, I need to think about this more). It might be a purely relative difference, relative to the entire emotional context and history of the person in question and how a feeling fits in congruity or incongruity with that. But such a relative difference is still a huge and important difference. It may not be some sort of ontological metaphysical “essentialist” difference. But it is a “constitutional” difference for a man to have a temperament that reacts intensely and predominantly to male beauty rather than for the focus or preponderance to be on female beauty (even if both sorts of people can experience, to a lesser degree of intensity or frequency, the same sort of appreciation or love for each sex.)
Thanks, “A Sinner,” and may I take the opportunity to say I very much appreciate your comments and learn a lot from them (even though I know they’re generally directed at Bryan, who doesn’t seem to want/to be able to respond to most of them), both on this thread and on others on Spiritual Friendship.
I’ve not my made up my mind either about the essentialist/social constructionist debate. There are probably aspects of both that are true (the good-old Catholic both/and). And, of course, its worth pointing out that saying that something is socially constructed is not the same as saying that its not really real or not important. We’re social and rational animals and social constructions are in a sense “essential” to our being able to understand ourselves and the world around us (if you get the connection I’m drawing … )
I think you’re right, too, about the dangers behind an over-enthusiastic use of “scholastic logic,” too. As a Catholic I’m a big fan of scholasticism, obviously, and its a beneficial construct that helps us to understand the world. But it becomes problematic when people move from the idea that scholasticism is a useful framework for analysing reality to the belief that *reality itself* is constituted according to scholastic categories, and therefore we can just dismiss (or talk over) people who don’t see the world that way as if they somehow lacked an adequate grasp on reality.
It seems pretty clear to me that the Vatican was trying to dissuade dioceses from taking homosexuality too lightly. It is no secret that there is a high proportion of gay priests compared to the general population. This document makes it clear that it is not to be considered that continence is enough. It makes a chaste heterosexual better and more preferable than a chaste homosexual. In fact, Ratzinger created a certain sense of ‘gays need not apply’ when it comes to seminary.
The funny thing about all this is that it is really more of the Essentialist/Constructionist debate, rather than an orthodoxy/heterodoxy debate. There constructionists among both the orthodox and the heterodox, and apparently there are essentialists among both the orthodox and the heterodox too…it’s just that the conservative essentialists (like Dan Mattson) apparently see “gay” as a BAD essence-idea that must be renounced.
I think it’s ironic. The scholastic-minded don’t really know how to think in terms other than essentialist, and so when faced with “homosexuality” they can only consider it on essentialist terms (with a natural teleology and all that). Yet it is actually much easier to deal with in terms of reconciling the phenomenon’s existence Catholic teaching on a constructionist basis. But that also requires allowing for multiple interpretations of the experience including non-controversial ones, which seems to confuse them.
Ironically, by trying to fit all homoeroticism into a lust for gay sex acts or by believing that the magisterium can somehow definitively reduce ANY and ALL experience that might be called “gay” to such a lust (as if they have a right to say what sorts of experiences exist in fact and what they mean)…implies that they are actually just as “essentialist” as many liberal gays. They just have a sort of “negative” essentialism.
Let me first clear up a couple possible misunderstandings. You wrote:
I’m not sure if you’re suggesting that I was claiming that “homosexuals have great difficulty forming at least one stable friendship with another person.” Just to be clear, I never claimed that, or anything entailing that.
You also wrote:
I never claimed that you must cite a Magisterial document to justify every single working hypothesis you use. Nor do I “expect” that.
Nothing I have said entails that you must have made such a claim.
Having cleared up those possible miscommunications, I hope to clarify what I think lies at the heart of the whole discussion. You wrote:
I had assumed that you were “interested” in establishing that there is such a distinction, because I assumed that you were interested in persuading those who do not already agree with you.
Imagine, for the sake of argument, that all homosexual orientation that is not the part of the virtue of friendship that is expressed toward persons of the same sex is a disordered inclination. Call this thesis ND (for “No Distinction”). And imagine, again for the sake of argument, that this is the Church’s position. Call this CND. Now, given those two hypotheticals, consider the critical claims you have made in your last two posts. In “Sexual Orientation: Is That Even a Thing?” You wrote:
Immediately following this you say that the author has made use of “misguided logic,” because from the existence of a homosexual orientation, in your mind it does not follow that this orientation is either good or bad. But given ND, and given that the “homosexual orientation” referred to by the staff writer is not merely the part of the virtue of friendship that is expressed toward persons of the same sex, it *does* follow. So your accusation of “misguided logic” presupposes ~ND. If ND is true, then your criticism begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question.
Your second criticism in that article is that such speech contradicts other Church teachings. You write:
However, again, if ND and CND are true, then all the Church’s references to homosexual orientation are to persons by way of a disordered inclination they each have, not to something essential or intrinsic to their person, in which case there is no contradiction between what the staff writer says, and what all these other documents say, because in that case the staff writer is not saying that the disordered inclination cannot be referred to, but rather that this inclination is not to be taken as or spoken of as part of their personhood. And given ND and CND, none of the other Church documents claims or entails that homosexual orientation is part of anyone’s personhood. So given ND and CND, there is complete agreement between all the Church documents and what this staff writer says. The appearance of a contradiction arises only if one assumes ~ND and ~CND, and thus that some other Church documents are referring to something other than a disordered inclination when referring to homosexual orientation. And thus this criticism too begs the question.
Then you claim the following:
Whether or not ND and CND are true, no one is denying gay people a language with which to discuss their experience of sexuality. Rather, what is being denied by the staff writer is the notion that homosexual orientation is essential to the person per se and thus not disordered, and the use of language that connotes that notion. It is not that the staff writer doesn’t allow persons with homosexual orientation to talk about their orientation, or says that referring to this orientation as disordered is not allowed. Rather, the staff writer does not grant the use of terms according to which this orientation is assumed to be teleologically neutral or ateleological. Here too, if ND and CND are true, then your objection on this point begs the question, i.e. presupposes the point in question.
Then in the present article you offer two cautions. Your first caution is:
Your either/or clearly presupposes ~ND and ~CND. And this begs the question.
Your second caution is:
This statement also presupposes ~ND.
So in these last two articles all your criticisms of these ecclesial documents presuppose ~ND. Thus, unless you intend your comments to be addressed only to people who already hold ~ND, if you want to persuade persons who do not already hold ~ND, you’ll need to establish the truth of ~ND. And in order to do that, you’ll need to show how it doesn’t reduce either to friendship or to disordered inclinations.
You’ve claimed that the conditions I laid out for doing this are “arbitrary.” But here’s why they are not. First, if the teleology of “homo-romantic and affective inclinations” is ordered toward sexual bodily union, then ND is false. Second, if “homo-romantic and affective inclinations” are not either the part of the virtue of friendship that is expressed toward persons of the same sex, or dispositions to feel or to act that are ordered to the good of virtuous friendship, they are disordered, and thus ND is false. Third, if “homo-romantic and affective inclinations” are not fully compatible with the virtue of chastity as ‘chastity’ is defined by the Church, they are disordered, and thus ND is false. So, no, these conditions are not “arbitrary,” no matter how x they sound (where x = “neo-scholastic” or anything else).
One possible way to defend the distinction is to develop the theoretic space I just described above, namely, dispositions of feeling and action that have as their object persons of the same sex, but are nevertheless ordered to the good of virtuous friendship.
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