Vatican Tendencies

Last month, the Vatican released a long-rumored document addressing whether or not homosexual men should be admitted to the seminary and ordained as priests. The document, issued as an “Instruction” from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, marks a new low in official pronouncements dealing with homosexuality.

When I was in the seminary, the prevailing moral theology view about homosexuality had two aspects. The first was the notion of hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner in which the full dignity of the homosexual person was recognized. Even though he or she may act in a way that the Church found unacceptable, such action did not diminish his/her status as a beloved child of God, a brother or sister in faith. The second aspect reflected a respect for what we know from other sciences about human development and human sexuality. The body of evidence from psychiatry, psychology, and other social sciences clearly supports the idea that “sexual orientation” is part of who we are as individuals; it’s not a choice that one makes, but a realization one comes to. If any straight reader doubts this, then simply think back to that day or period in your life when you decided to be heterosexual. The fact is, no such day exists, because this is not something we choose. Sexual orientation is a God-given part of who we are, just as surely as is the color of one’s eyes or the height to which one grows.

Over the past two decades, under the papacy of John Paul II and with Joseph Ratzinger heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the language from Rome became more and more strident. In documents and statements addressing homosexuality, the line between person and act became blurred. The church’s thinking seemed to move like this: because the sexual acts that homosexuals might engage in are morally unacceptable and depraved, so too are homosexual persons themselves. Even though lip service was paid to respecting the humanity of gay and lesbian people, the weight of these documents was lopsidedly in favor of language identifying homosexuals as “intrinsically disordered,” “deviant,” doers of “violence” to children they adopt, and unable to form “mature relationships” with men and women.

This most recent “Instruction” not only continues this trend, but also blazes new terrain in its use of pseudo-psychological statements that have no basis whatsoever in fact. The very use of the word “tendency” is a case in point (comments from Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunnett make the same point). For whatever reason, the Vatican has chosen to speak of “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” to describe the homosexual orientation. This marks a clear retreat from academically rigorous Catholic moral theology which recognizes the empirical evidence of the social sciences that sexual orientation is no mere “tendency,” but is a part of who we are as persons. The significance of sexual orientation is the same for all human persons, regardless of what that orientation might be. By using new language and new terminology, the Vatican is attempting to place homosexuality in a category all by itself, removed from the “normal” orientation of heterosexuality. This strategy will help make the next anti-gay pronoucement from Rome even more hateful (if that’s possible) than what we’ve already seen.

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