A remarkable feature of the CDF's core document on homosexuality is the almost total absence of any reference to the words or example of Jesus Christ. The CDF "Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" is the almost total absence of any reference to the example or words of Jesus Christ, on whom the Christian message is based. In the letter's 18 paragraphs, there is precisely one specific reference to Jesus, right in the final paragraph, and it has nothing whatever to do with the Church's sexual ethics.
The Lord Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (Jn. 8:32).
A fine recommendation, and one I heartily endorse. Whether the document itself includes too much truth, is another matter entirely.
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There is only one other rather vague and confusing reference to "the Gospels", to which I will return later. Other than a handful of cursory references to the creation in Genesis, the story of Sodom, and Paul's letters to Corinth and Rome, there is very little scriptural basis provided for the clear condemnation of homosexuality in the document - and the use of Sodom at least, is clearly false: there is no suggestion anywhere in Genesis, or elsewhere in the Old Testament, that the sin of Sodom had anything to do with homosexuality. The traditional use of Corinthians and Romans as arguments against homosexuality may also be misplaced. However, on these counterarguments, the CDF is clear:
........ a new exegesis of Sacred Scripture (which) claims variously that Scripture has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality, or that it somehow tacitly approves of it, or that all of its moral injunctions are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to contemporary life. These views are gravely erroneous and call for particular attention here.
It is likewise essential to recognize that the Scriptures are not properly understood when they are interpreted in a way which contradicts the Church's living Tradition. To be correct, the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that Tradition.
Despite repeated claims that church teaching is developed in full accord with the Scriptures, there is no serious attempt to demonstrate this, and no attempt to engage with the counter arguments. Instead, any interpretation which is contrary to their own view, is simply dismissed as ipse facto invalid.
Similarly, right up in paragraph 2 the letter claims that its conclusions are backed by the "more secure" findings of the natural sciences - a claim which most natural scientists themselves would emphatically reject. Once again though, there is no substantiation provided for the claim. Note though, the important qualifier - "the more secure" findings of science. The implication is clear - the extensive findings of science which do not support their view are simply dismissed as "not secure".
The primary foundation for the position of this Pastoral Letter was that of the earlier "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" of December 29, 1975, which covered a much wider range of sexual matters than just homosexuality, and which did include extensive notes and sources. The only source quoted for the short section on homosexuality was a single reference to Romans, and none at all to the words or example of Jesus Christ.
Instead of providing a solid argument from the Gospels which are the foundation of the Christianity, the CDF can do no more than make vague claims about the "unbroken continuity" of the constant and unchanging tradition, dismissing any analysis of scripture or science which does not support their own view. They also introduce some entirely unjustified and unsupported judgemental statements that homosexual expression is "disordered", and essentially self-indulgent - totally ignoring the witness of gay men and lesbians themselves, who know that their relationships can equally based on mutual commitment and giving of self.
It is this conviction that homosexuality is no more than self-indulgence that is the only possible explanation I can think of for the rather cryptic reference to the Gospels in the 1986 letter:
“Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living”.
I really cannot see in how this makes any sense at all. There is surely nothing in the Gospels to suggest that heterosexual intercourse is the essence of Christian living (or where would that leave celibate priests?), nor is there any reason to suppose that homosexuals are in any way incapable of other forms of self-giving. (Their well-documented affinity for the service professions demonstrates the contrary).
However, it is not my intention here to engage with the logic of the letter itself - there is none. As James Alison has written to me,
don’t allow yourself to get tied up by the pain of having to deal with nonsense! Sometimes nonsense is just that, and should be left alone. Mark Jordan makes a similar point in “The Silence of Sodom”.
And very succinctly, James has just made my main point for me. Instead of focussing on the badly disordered, ill-informed and contradictory teaching of the CDF, queer Catholics are far better to go back to the original source. Put Christ back into Christianity - he is entirely excluded from "Homosexualitatis Problema", except in some concluding remarks:
The Lord Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15).
Amen to that, Amen, Amen.
- The Gospels' Queer Values (Queering the Church)
- Excluded From God's People (Queering the Church)
- What Part of the Gospels, Bishop Soto, is "Hard for Gays to Accept?" (Queering the Church)
- "The Sexual Person": Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics (Queering the Church)
- This Christmas, Let Us Put Christ Back Into Christianity(Queering the Church)
- Peter J. Gomes on the Failure of the Churches Today Vis-a-Vis Gay Human Beings (Bilgrimage)