Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Pope Benedict, on "Homosexuals".

When I wrote earlier about Benedict and gay priests, I was responding to some commentary by Andrew Brown, without access to the complete book from which he was quoting. Now that I have my own copy, I have found that my post inappropriately combined two independent responses by the pope to two different questions by his interviewer: one question on homosexuality, and one on gay priests.
I now revisit my original post to disentangle them into the two separate issues that they are, and expand on my original thoughts.
(The complete question and answer I reproduce at the end of this post. Later, I will revisit the section specifically on gay priests).
On homosexuality, Seewald's question referred to the Catechism statement on "compassion, respect and sensitivity", and its counterpart on "grave depravity" and "intrinsically disordered". Seewald asked if these statements were contradictory.
I responded yesterday to Brown's extracts from the pope's response, noting in particular his complete misrepresentation of evolution as ordered to heterosexuality, and his entirely mistaken belief that "deep-seated homosexual inclinations" are a trial. I will say no more on these. Instead, I want to pick up on some other themes, identified in the French Jonathan & David press release:

Proclaiming himself the interpreter of God, he claims that homosexuality "is opposed to the essence of what God originally intended," without knowing whether it is innate or acquired (p. 200). If by any chance, homosexuality was innate, how could God create some of his creatures in a condition so contrary to his will?
Indeed. It's time for Benedict and his advisors to leave their theological ivory towers and enter the real world of human experience.
My own life, like that of the testimony of countless people I have spoken to or read, and the conclusions of professional psychotherapists and spiritual directors, is that when we who have what he persists in calling these "deep-seated homosexual inclinations" cease the attempt to bury them and come out to ourselves, and then to others, the experience is of an extraordinary feeling of honesty and truth, of having found who we truly are - as God made us. Benedict insists on the importance of the intrinsic truth of sexuality at the core of our being - but he is badly mistaken as to the nature of that truth. The fundamental problem with Benedict's thinking here is that he shows absolutely no sign of ever having listened to the truth as spoken by real people in their real lives.
As I was re-reading the question and response today, I was struck by a new observation. In the often repeated Catechism command for "compassion, dignity and sensitivity", Church spokesmen frequently talk around the first two - as Benedict does here, expanding on our right to respect. What tends to get overlooked is the third word, "sensitivity". It is impossible to be sensitive to another's concerns without having taken the trouble to understand them, to listen to them. Our priests and bishops may have all the good intentions in the world to offer compassion and respect, but how many of them have ever taken the trouble to listen to us, and our sexual experiences, outside the one-sided environment of the confessional? If they ever did, they would discover that the "trial" of a homosexual orientation is not the condition itself, as Benedict so arrogantly and mistakenly proclaims.
Rather, one part of the trial comes from the frequent experience of bigotry, discrimination and violence in the world at large, but also from the absence of dignity and compassion we so often experience in the Church. Most startling to me, is the realization that precisely while claiming to affirm the Catechism's insistence on compassion, respect and sensitivity, he displays a flagrant disregard for the last of the three. As my reader Mark observed,

I think the Pope Benedict really needs some instruction on this topic. This is somewhat depressing. God give me strength.
It is fundamental to scripture, to the Catechism, and to Benedict's own theology, that we must live and proclaim the truth. It really is important that we as gay men and lesbians should speak the truth to Benedict and to others: for some of us, the attempt to live within Catholic orthodoxy is to deny the truth. The deliberate decision in conscience to deny that orthodoxy is not a sign of weakness, or sin, or of caving in to modern fads - but a basic act of honesty.
If they really want to display the sensitivity to which they pay lip-service, they need to find ways to listen.
The complete question was:
Homosexual practice has the status of a widely accepted form of life in the West today. Modernists even publicize its approval as a measure of a given society's degree of progress. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated under your responsibility as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we read that "the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.... They must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's in their lives." And yet the same Catechism contains the following statement:" Basing itself on the Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". Doesn't this second statement somehow contradict the respect for homosexuals expressed in the first one?
Benedict's full response on homosexuality, outside the context of the priesthood :
No. It is one thing to say that they are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.
At the same time, though, sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality's intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.
The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality's significance in the constitution of man's being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.

Recommended Books:
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

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1 comment:

  1. That is a useful full presentation of Benedict's view of and argument and your counter argument seems good and balanced. Thank you. Now I must see what you have to say on Benedict's view on gay priests.