Cry for justice from gay Catholics must not be ignored
Fallacies of church thinking on homosexuality exposed in new study
The Vatican recently reprised its outdated views, including forbidding priests to bless same-sex unions because “God does not bless sin”. Photograph: Giuseppe Lami/EPA
Roy, a late colleague of mine, was gay. I remember him detailing how he struggled as a Catholic to come to terms with his sexuality. “The church branded me disordered,” he told me “unnatural, a misfit. Finding a loving gay partner is out of the question!”
A few weeks ago the Vatican reprised its outdated views, including forbidding priests to bless same-sex unions because “God does not bless sin”. The fallacies in such thinking are exposed in a newly-published study by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.
The study, Christian Objections to Same-sex Relationships: an Academic Assessment, is the product of collaboration between 20 Christian experts worldwide, together with more than 60 additional academics endorsing the summary of its conclusions in an accompanying academic statement.
Let me, as the lead author of the report, outline our findings.
Our research findings really are explosive and have been endorsed by the leading authorities on the topic of sexuality in the Bible
What are Rome’s arguments? First comes a factual claim: that biology shows ‘procreation’ to be the essential, indispensable finality of each and every act of sexual intercourse. The argument is then given a theological edge: because God established said biological laws, people are not allowed to interfere with them.
As biologically infertile, same-sex acts and relationships lack the child-producing purpose essential to sex and marriage. As such, they are unnatural, disordered and sinful.
You do not need to be an academic to see issues with such a position. Anybody with direct experience of being in a relationship will perceive those affirmations as deeply reductionist.
The fundamental problem, of course, is that the factual premise is grossly and demonstrably wrong: the relationship between insemination on the one hand and fertilisation, implantation and ultimately procreation on the other is statistical and relative, dependent as it is on the fulfilment of numerous conditions.
If it were not so, every act of insemination would result in a conception.
This means in practice that the vast majority of acts of heterosexual intercourse have neither a biological capacity nor a finality for procreation and, in that respect, they are identical to non-heterosexual sexual acts.
And yet, astonishingly, the grand edifice of papal condemnations of artificial contraception and same-sex relations depend entirely on the soundness of that one factual foundation. Undermine it and the whole house of cards comes crumbling down.
I cannot overemphasise that there really is nothing else: since its original papal proclamation in the fateful 1968 document Humanae Vitae, no additional official argument to support them has been put forward, despite the enormity of those judgments.
The shoddiness of papal teaching on this issue is, one suspects, privately acknowledged by a good number of Catholic bishops, although those who have made the point publicly are still very few.
What about scripture? “But wait a minute,” a Vatican monsignore will tell you, “the word of God clearly condemns homosexuality!” Not so. Our report shows that this last remaining objection is also on feeble foundations.
Our research findings really are explosive and have been endorsed by the leading authorities on the topic of sexuality in the Bible. Take, for instance, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, popularly believed to offer the most explicit and general condemnation of same-sex relationships.
Our study confirms that the traditional interpretation is based on a mistranslation of the original Hebrew text. Those verses only refer to specific kinds of male same-sex sexual activity (ie adultery and incest) and none condemns same-sex relationships in general.
What needs changing is not church teaching in general, but specifically papal teaching
Indeed, the very fact that the prohibition addressed a specific type of activity suggests same-sex relationships outside the forbidden category were viewed as permissible.
The other key passage which is similarly misinterpreted is Romans 1:26-27. Again, some recent fascinating peer-reviewed research has shown the dominant homophobic interpretation of that passage is entirely without merit.
In short, there is no condemnation anywhere in the Bible of female same-sex relationships, nor of consensual and faithful same-sex relationships in general.
Conclusion? You could be forgiven for thinking that the papal condemnation of same-sex relations was based on profound human and spiritual insights. After all, the Vatican and much of the Catholic hierarchy have strenuously defended such a judgment for decades.
Yet what emerges from critical scrutiny is the flimsiness of the official papal arguments used to justify their condemnation, just as it is in the case of artificial contraception.
Now the ball is in Pope Francis’s court. For what needs changing is not church teaching in general, but specifically papal teaching: a teaching drafted in isolation from the church at large, ignoring both the advice of relevant experts and the experiences of Catholics worldwide.
The cry for justice from gay Catholics worldwide must not be ignored. We hope our report will provide Pope Francis with the necessary foundation for an independent and transparent process of consultation to revise current doctrine and make it fully inclusive.