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Disordered Acts, Disordered Persons: Revisiting the Discussion (and Keeping It Honest)

On February 15, the National Catholic Reporter published an editorial entitled “A Teaching That Is Disordered.” The editorial was a response to a February 5 statement of the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Francis George, condemning a Catholic ministry of pastoral outreach to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community, New Ways Ministry.

As the NCR editorial notes, in 1975, when Paul VI was pope, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” that sought to distinguish between the homosexual “condition” and homosexual acts.  The 1975 CDF document revolves around the distinction between the gay orientation as morally neutral, and gay acts as morally disordered.However, as NCR also notes, eleven years later, under the pontificate of John Paul II, the CDF—headed in 1986 by the current pope, Cardinal Ratzinger—decided to issue a document entitled Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons that obliterates the distinction made by the 1975 document.  In reaction to what it claimed were overly benign interpretations of the homosexual “condition” following the 1975 CDF statement, the 1986 pastoral document declares unambiguously that the homosexual condition itself must be seen as “objectively disordered.”

The response of readers to NCR’s discussion of these two Catholic magisterial statements about homosexuality has been fascinating to follow.  In particular, I’m struck by the adamant refusal of a certain group of readers to admit that the Catholic church states unambiguously both in Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 document on the pastoral care of gay persons and in its current catechism that those who are gay and lesbian are objectively disordered.

This refusal is interesting because of its political situation.  It is a refusal to admit what the magisterium explicitly and unambiguously teaches on the part of a group of Catholics who profess to be the most unyielding defenders of the faith, and of every word that falls from the papal mouth.

So what’s driving this attempt to rewrite history, to turn black into white, to deny what the magisterium teaches among those who profess to be the most faithful advocates of magisterial literalism in the church today?  The political roots of this new politically-driven revisionist narrative begin with the determination of some Catholics of the right to elevate any and all magisterial statements to the level of infallible teaching—selectively, of course, and particularly when controversial hot-button issues of concern to the religious right are under consideration.

But at the same time, recent magisterial teaching that gay and lesbian persons are objectively disordered in their very nature is increasingly demonstrating destructive effects that elicit stronger and stronger revulsion among ethically thoughtful people in both the culture at large and within the church itself.  For those of us who are gay and Catholic, it would not be a stretch to say that these destructive effects are revealing to the culture at large that the church can have both a salvific and a demonic face in its interaction with secular culture.

As a groundswell of reaction builds in response to stepped-up attacks on the gay and lesbian community by some Catholic leaders and their supporters, who cite magisterial teachings about homosexuality as a justification for these attacks, politically-motivated apologists are trying to defuse criticism of the hierarchy’s response to LGBT persons by claiming that the Catholic church does not teach and has never taught that those who are gay are disordered in their very natures.  And so it is important to review, once again, precisely what the church has taught about homosexuality in recent years.

Cardinal Ratzinger and 1986 Letter on Pastoral Care of Gay Persons

In 1986, as head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons. This document purports to be a set of guidelines for the “pastoral” care of those who are gay and lesbian.

For many gay and lesbian Catholics and our families, friends, and supporters, however, the letter is anything but pastoral. It was issued, in fact, to squelch movements in some local churches, including the U.S., to engage in more positive pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  The letter effectively ended that pastoral outreach.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry

Its first effect was the expulsion of a number of groups working to build pastoral bridges between the Catholic church and the LGBT community, including the organization Dignity, which found itself expelled from Catholic premises across the U.S. following the publication of the 1986 letter. Within days after the “pastoral” letter was released, one of the co-founders of this group, Jesuit priest Father John McNeill, issued a press release stating that he had been given an ultimatum by his Jesuit community either to stop ministry to LGBT persons or be dismissed from his religious order. He chose the latter option. Down the road, the founders of another group with a similar mission of pastoral outreach to LGBT persons, New Ways Ministry—Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick—also found themselves silenced and disciplined by Cardinal Ratzinger.  It is this group that Cardinal George decided once again to condemn last month, seemingly out of the blue, though it is interesting to note that Cardinal George’s unprovoked attack on New Ways comes right on the heels of a well-orchestrated attack by the Catholic right on the U.S. bishops, with claims that the bishops have become too gay-affirming.

It would not be far-fetched to conclude that the ultimate effect of Ratzinger’s 1986 “pastoral” letter—its intended effect, in fact—was to create pogrom in which large numbers of gay and lesbian Catholics were purged from the church. With this “pastoral” letter, the church had revealed its face to its LGBT children not as maternal but as diabolical. In the wake of the 1986 letter, as Dignity chapters were expelled from parish after parish in diocese after diocese, LGBT persons were, to a great extent, disappeared from Catholic parishes that had been working after Vatican II to find ways to reach out and include these members.

The quickness with which this purge was effected suggests that, along with the “pastoral” letter, dioceses received specific instructions from Rome to remove Dignity from their premises and to shun any group whose work might be construed as gay-affirming. It seems evident, given what happened following the 1986 letter, that bishops were told by Rome that they would be punished if they did not adhere to the emerging party line Cardinal Ratzinger wished, with John Paul II’s blessing, to create in the Catholic church re: gay persons.

In my own city, when Dignity was removed from Catholic premises, a religious community of sisters courageously offered space for its meetings in their hospital. Even so, the entire chapter of Dignity chose to convert en masse to the far more welcoming Episcopal church. Gay faces, gay bodies, gay human beings, vanished from many Catholic communities following Ratzinger’s 1986 “pastoral” letter. Only in large cities with a concentration of LGBT people have some Catholic parishes managed to sustain visible and viable communities of gay and lesbian persons,and ministries of outreach to these persons.

Cardinal Ratzinger clearly intended this purge with his 1986 letter. It was clear not only to the LGBT community, but to Ratzinger’s strong allies on the political and religious right in the U.S. and elsewhere, that this “pastoral” letter was a shot across the bow at the incipient gay rights movement. It was a statement that, as an institution and at an official level, the Catholic church would do all in its power to stop this movement in its tracks, and to attack openly gay LGBT people whose experience of grace led them to affirm their identities as God-given.

In fact, it is clear that, in issuing the 1986 “pastoral” letter, Cardinal Ratzinger was responding to concerns expressed from some influential political (and financial) quarters that the teaching and pastoral work of the Catholic church was becoming too gay-affirming in the post-Vatican II period. Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons begins with statements about how an “overly benign” interpretation of homosexuality had begun to develop following the 1975 CDF document “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.”

Among those pressing Rome to hold the line on gay people were influential Catholic groups in the U.S. with ties to highly placed, well-heeled donors, both Catholic and non-Catholic, with a neoconservative political agenda that gave a high profile to opposition to gay rights and support of “traditional family values.” In issuing a pastoral letter whose effect was not to welcome, include, or provide authentic pastoral outreach to LGBT people, but to remove LGBT people from Catholic communities, Cardinal Ratzinger was allying the church, at an institutional level, with the political right, from which many of the complaints about an “overly benign” attitude towards gay people were emanating.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 Pastoral Letter and Definition of Gay People as Disordered

Central to Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons was a phrase entirely new to the Catholic tradition, which defined not only homosexual acts, but homosexual people, as “objectively disordered”—as disordered in their very nature, in their constitution as human beings, in their personhood. As the 1986 pastoral letter maintains, when the CDF’s 1975 “Declaration” defined homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” without connecting the acts done by gay persons to the nature of gay persons, it implied a certain neutrality re: the condition of being gay.

It is that neutrality that Ratzinger wishes to correct in his 1986 statement, by connecting the dots between acts and persons: gay people do disordered acts because gay people are disordered. This is the logic of Ratzinger’s 1986 pastoral letter.  The disorder of the act flows from the disorder in the nature of those doing the acts.

As Ratzinger states,

Explicit treatment of the problem [confronting Catholic pastoral responses to gay persons] was given in this Congregation’s “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” of December 29, 1975. That document stressed the duty of trying to understand the homosexual condition and noted that culpability for homosexual acts should only be judged with prudence. At the same time the Congregation took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions. These were described as deprived of their essential and indispensable finality, as being “intrinsically disordered”, and able in no case to be approved of (cf. n. 8, #4).

In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”: to be gay is not in and of itself sinful. But to be gay is to experience an inclination that is “more a or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” And therefore this inclination is itself an “objective disorder.”

Disordered homosexual acts express and confirm something inherent in the disordered nature of homosexual persons. As the “pastoral” letter notes at a later point,

This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

As it deals with the question of discrimination and violence against LGBT persons, the letter hammers away again at the message that being gay is, in and of itself, a “disorder,” and one ought not to use sympathy for the human rights of LGBT persons as an excuse for denying the disorder that these persons bear in their very nature:

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”; when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent”; “the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered.”

Pew Forum Survey, April 2009: Reasons for Catholic Exodus

These are astonishing claims, and exceptionally dangerous ones, claims that lead to maleficent social consequences. They fly in the face of abundant, incontrovertible psychological evidence that a gay sexual orientation is not unnatural or disordered, but is a naturally occurring psychological phenomenon, one to which moral judgment cannot justifiably be attached in the absence of any evidence that those born with such an orientation are ipso facto psychologically or morally defective. With its language about “objective disorder,” the 1986 “pastoral” letter counters the growing consensus of all professionally respected psychological and medical associations that a homosexual orientation is not disordered or sick—that LGBT persons are not defective human beings.

And it counters that consensus without offering any evidence at all for its judgment that being gay is a disorder, or without consulting the experience of those who are gay or lesbian. It imposes, unilaterally and without compelling evidence, a value judgment on the very fact of being gay, which reinforces (and justifies) ugly prejudice against those who happen to be LGBT.

This is, of course, why many gay Catholics politely exited the Catholic church and/or distanced ourselves from it in the period after 1986—even as we were given strong signals, by the purge the “pastoral” letter instituted, that our exodus was very much to the liking of the pastoral authorities of the church. As many commentators on Ratzinger’s Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons have noted, the language of objective disorder is in and of itself violent: it assaults the dignity and the personal worth of those who are gay or lesbian.  Those walking away from the church after the 1986 letter that dared to call itself pastoral are reacting to an act of magisterial violence that attacks the very human dignity of people made gay or lesbian.  And in violently assaulting the human dignity of LGBT persons, the 1986 document provides a linguistic (and a religious) basis for acts of outright violence against those who are LGBT.

Ratzinger’s language of objective disorder has now entered Catholic teaching at another official magisterial level, through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As the Catechism (¶ 2358) states,

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

This inclination, which is objectively disordered: we have sympathy and compassion for you, as you carry your cross. We resist discrimination against you.

But remember that you are disordered. Because we tell you so. Because we have defined you as disordered. Without seeking your own contributions as we define you (and demean you and dismiss you and make you invisible and susceptible to violence).

It almost seems that the process of defining an entire group of human beings as disordered without any contribution from the group being so defined, and without any reference to an overwhelming body of empirical evidence which flatly contradicts your definition, entirely undercuts your claim to have compassion and sensitivity, doesn’t it? Or to be concerned about pastoral outreach? Or to be opposed to discrimination?

The Current Attempt to Revise Recent History of Catholic Teaching about  “Objective Disorder”

And here’s what’s happening now, as the diabolical potential of this rhetoric of objective disorder reveals itself in one event after another, including pending legislation in Uganda that would make being gay a capital crime, in the collusion of one U.S. Catholic diocese after another to remove the right of civil marriage from a minority group, in threats to shut down ministries for the poor unless civil societies remove the right of civil right marriage from gay people, in removal of health care coverage from heterosexual spouses of new employees of Catholic Charities in one diocese, in the expulsion of a child from a Catholic school because his parents are lesbians in another diocese: as all this is now taking place, Catholic apologists who wish to disguise the role that the term “objective disorder” has played in these ugly political actions want to claim that the Catholic church does not really teaching that LGBT people are disordered.  And even if it does, it also defines all kinds of other acts as objectively disordered.

It is now not uncommon to read  in publications of the political and religious right that the term “objectively disordered” is applied only to homosexual acts and not homosexual persons in the Catholic tradition, and that this term is also applied not only to LGBT acts but to many acts that are intrinsically evil, because they do not fulfill the “order” to which nature orients them.

This apologia, of course, entirely (and, in my view, deliberately) misses the point: the term “objective disorder” is not applied in Catholic teaching to any group of human beings other than those who are gay or lesbian. It may well be true that the term “objective disorder” has come to be used to describe various acts regarded by church teaching as sinful.

But in the case of those who are gay or lesbian, the Catholic church took a fateful step with Ratzinger’s 1986 “pastoral” letter that it has not taken with any other group of human beings: the church argues from the act it wishes to define as disordered to a definition of the human beings performing that act as disordered. In their personhood. In their constitution. In their nature. In their humanity.

Gay people perform disordered sexual acts. The people performing such disordered acts must be disordered in and of themselves, if they perform such acts. The disorder of the act points back to the disorder within the nature of those doing the acts. This the logic of Catholic teaching about homosexuality, in Ratzinger’s 1986 pastoral letter.


The Catholic church does not apply a similar logic to heterosexual people performing “disordered” sexual acts. Heterosexual people are never defined as disordered people, disordered in their natures and inclinations, in Catholic teaching, because they perform disordered sexual acts.

Catholic teaching maintains that any sexual act which is not open to the possibility of procreation is disordered.  In Catholic teaching, all sexual acts that are not open to the procreative purpose for which nature and God have designed human sexuality are ipso facto disordered acts.

I think one can safely say that the vast majority of heterosexual people who have sex do so for the overwhelming majority of their lives, in an overwhelming majority of cases, without intending to procreate. Procreation—the so-called “order” that apologists for Catholic natural-law thinking believe is self-evident to any rational, thinking person as the goal of all human sexual activity—is not, I daresay, the primary reason the vast majority of heterosexual people engage in sexual activity.

In fact, I think that there is abundant and incontrovertible evidence that, in the vast majority of cases, for the vast majority of heterosexual people engaging in sexual activity, there is a strong hope and determination that procreation not be the outcome of each and every sexual act in which they engage.

But on the basis of overwhelming evidence that most heterosexual people actively, purposefully, and with full intent engage in sexual activity for much of their lives hoping not to procreate, does the Catholic church conclude that heterosexual people themselves are “objectively disordered”—disordered in their nature, personhood, constitution, humanity? It does not.

Even when overwhelming evidence points to the “disorder” of almost all heterosexual activity within the biologistic framework of Catholic natural law teaching, the Catholic church does not take the fateful step of defining heterosexual people as disordered, on the basis of this evidence. It takes that step only and exclusively in the case of those who are gay and lesbian.

As the kill-the-gays legislation now before the Ugandan legislature demonstrates, religious authority figures set forth on a fateful path indeed, when they begin to use language like “objectively disordered” about a vulnerable minority group. Throughout history, designating any group of human beings as human in a way that differs from what makes others human, as less human because their humanity is flawed, has consistently been a recipe for violence against the group so stigmatized. Such stigmatizing definitions of minority groups are especially potent when they are crafted and promoted by religious authority figures.

It is impossible to address the maleficent situation in Uganda, in which a nation with a population nearly 90% Christian is now considering the death penalty for LGBT persons, without paying attention to the religious roots from which the thought of eradicating gay people from a society arises. It is impossible to address what is taking place in Uganda today without adverting to the Catholic religious roots of the Ugandan situation, given the fact that Catholics constitute about 42% of the nation’s population.

It is impossible to examine what is taking place in Uganda with any thoroughness without paying attention to the fateful decision of the man who is now pope to issue a pastoral letter in 1986 defining every gay or lesbian human being in the world as disordered.

Why does Benedict continue to be silent about Uganda? Because breaking his silence could call into question what he wishes to teach about his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. And because it would call for serious soul-searching on the part of the institution he leads about what that religious institution has been doing to its gay members, and to gay people throughout the world, in a period of its history in which the current pope has wielded tremendous power to set the course of that institution for the foreseeable future.

This posting adapts and borrows extensively from a Bilgrimage posting on December 22, 2009.


38 Responses

  1. Thank you for this, Bill. One of the many things that makes me really angry when I read the 1986 letter to the bishops is its concluding reminder from Scripture, “Speak the truth in love”, with the implication that that is what they are doing. Instead there is much in there that is plainly not true, and very little evidence of love.

    Another is how many statements about “homosexuals” are presented as if they were empirical fact, but without a shred of evidence. (The document includes not a single reference in support of any of their statements) Examples are, that homosexual acts are only about self-gratification, or that they lead one away from God. The truth, taken from research into real lives, is the exact opposite. When gay male or lesbian couples form real loving and committed relationships, they are quite as focussed on the other as any other, and frequently tell of how this has brought them closer to God.

    A third is the asymmetry of the comparisons they set up, contrasting “conjugal love” with “homosexual acts.” If they compared instead “homoerotic relationships” with “heterosexual fornication” they would produce a completely opposite effect, showing how unbalanced is their “argument” – but balance in this sphere is never what the Vatican wants.

    The tragedy is that in their misguided attempt at “pastoral” care, they achieve the opposite of their intention. instead of simply knuckling down to what is patent nonsense, many people simply ignore it (as others do with Humanae Vitae). Where they encounter direct, concrete opposition, they simply turn away from the church: possibly to other denominations, as your example from Dignity, but sometimes away from religion altogether. When they do, there is a real chance that they might simply slip into the kind of hedonistic lifestyle that the Church deplores, and seems to associate, quite falsely, with the majority of gays and lesbians.

    • Terry, thanks. Yes, all that you say is significant–and very true.

      It’s baffling to imagine how, over and over again, churches that read the gospels make “pastoral” statements whose entire intent and thrust belies everything the term “pastoral” means.

      As you say, in this letter, there’s “very little evidence of love”–just as there is very little evidence of love in the U.S. Catholic bishops’ current crusade to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens, to withhold healthcare benefits to heterosexual couples in retaliation for the enactment of same-sex marriage, or to put innocent children out of Catholic schools because their parents are a same-sex couple.

      Very little evidence of love: I suspect this is why many of us have now distanced ourselves. The church that taught us that love counts above all, and the church that reads the gospels to us over and over, belies what it proclaims about love, through its behavior.

      • Bill, what I get great comfort from these days is how little those who claim to hold authority in the church actually do represent the whole church – how many important voices there are who are putting themselves in dissent, or encouraging others to do so. Michael B Kelly makes a strong argument that gay and lesbian Catholics may well need to walk away from the Church, taking the road to Emmaus, before finding the assurance and spiritual strength to take the road back from Emmaus, to speak the truth to the rest of the Church. I assumed though, that he was somewhat out on a limb, with the rest of us “progressives”. But the theologian James L’Empereur made exactly the same argument some time earlier.

        Michael Bayly today has a piece at the Wild Reed, titled “The Roman Catholic Pyramid is Crumbling” – which we know. What we don’t yet know, is how long will it take?

        • You’re right, Terry. Those who claim to hold authority in the church don’t represent all of us by any means.

          But part of the problem remains that, in some political contexts, like the U.S., they still have make-or-break power over the majority’s lives.

          If health care reform goes up in smoke, that will happen to no small extent because of the resistance of a handful of Democratic legislators led by Bart Stupak. Who is, in turn, acting on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

          Whose position about abortion is a minority position even among American Catholics. But who are willing, it appears, to hold the entire country hostage, and even to derail much-needed health care reform in this nation, if their minority position is not imposed on all of us in the health care legislation.

          I know, of course, that we Americans are also parochial, and we talk as if our minute decisions are portentous for the whole world. But at the same time, there is a sense in which what we decide to do radically affects the rest of the world, simply because of our economic clout around the world. And so this little American Catholic tempest in a teapot is one that has implications for the entire church–just as the disproportionate influence exercised by rich and powerful right-wing Catholics in the Vatican affects the entire church.

          • Bill, as I think I’ve said to you before by email, your situation with the US religious right, aided and abetted by the bishops, is something I’m pleased I don’t have to deal with. Our British bishops also interfere with things like adoption and marriage rights, but that is not a life and death matter like health care reform – we already have the NHS, and they don;t interfere with that and its provision for reproductive choice. So I wasn’t thinking of the political implications, so much as the internal workings of the church
            I also agree that US decisions are important for the wider world – which is why I spend so much time following US news and politics.

          • I feel abashed, Terry, as an American–abashed that people throughout the world have no choice except to monitor debates internal to my culture, many of which have to appear bizarre to the rest of the world. I became even more sensitive to this phenomenon during my years living in Canada as a graduate student.

            But a nation that both regards itself as exceptional and endowed with a messianic mission can be powerfully destructive, given clout. So you’re wise to keep an eye on our shenanigans. We certainly seem intent on keeping the rest of the world entertained, if nothing else, with some of the characters prancing across our political stage these days.

  2. Now, here are theological reflections that ought to be the mainstay of, front and center, in the minds and hearts of each and every Catholic Bishop in this country. If our ecclesial leaders had the courage to read and think as these reflections lead us to do, then, possibly (“God-forbid”) our Biships might actually ACT differently (and maybe in concert with dictates of the gospels). But I fear such prayerful and theological thinking and acting may be toooooo much for our dear brother Bishops. But, if the Spirit should ever get a chance, a foot hold, then we would see a real change.

    Keep up this excellent work, clearly work of the Spirit to assist, one hopes, our designated “spiritual” and ecclesial leaders to have the courage to say and do the right thing.

  3. Some very insightful thoughts. But really what do you expect from the Holy Roman Catholic Church. How often do you have to bash your skull against the stone wall before the bleeding becomes a tiresome gesture of stupidity on your part.

    But I did find disturbing, personally, was the comment in one of Terence’s replies – “a real chance that they might simply slip into the kind of hedonistic lifestyle”. Just by finally making the decision to leave such radical nonsense that is common in most official HRCC teachings is not leading to some slippery slope to perdition. At the time of my departure from the HRCC (about 35 years ago) my gay lifestyle was simply that of pure hedonism as preached to me by a priest friend. At that point I entered into a loving relationship with another man that lasted 31 years. With no blessings (or benefits) from the civil, religious or even gay society.

    Just my thoughts on the matter…

    • Mark, thanks for your reply. To clarify my own position vis-a-vis the church (in response to your question about how long one bashes one’s head against the wall): I live at a distance from the institutional church.

      I really have no choice except to do so. I was placed there as a theologian who chose to be honest and open about his longstanding relationship with another gay Catholic theologian, once I realized that abiding by the rules wouldn’t protect me from discrimination in Catholic institutions, anyway.

      I do admire and support those who have made the choice to remain, and who engage, though.

      And it seems to me that that’s a reality of the world in which we live–that we do keep bashing our heads against stone walls in many areas of life, when we know that the obfuscating, intractable, and even evil institution we’re bashing away against still has the potential to do good, if people care enough to call it to accountability.

      At the same time, I also completely understand and completely support Catholics who find the church toxic and who get away from it in order to save their sanity and souls. These seem to me very individual choices that have much to do with discernment in our own particular situations.

    • Mark, as the author of the statement that you find disturbing , I assure you I was thinking only of a risk – not the certainty. That observation was really a tail end throw-away, to something which really should have been spun out in something longer: because I agree with you absolutely, and this is shown by empirical research, which was the main reason for my full comment, that when gay men commit in relationships, they are far more likely to avoid unhealthy lifestyles than otherwise. (Incidentally, here I do not equate “healthy” with exclusively partnered or celibate, or “unhealthy” with promiscuous”. What constitutes “healthy” is a much bigger topic that I will not get into here) This is shown by the long relationship you entered into, as it was in my own life, and has been shown by many , many others. Instead of simply dismissing such relationships a priori, the church shold be examining the evidence, and then encouraging healthy, committed relationships – without or without benefi, as you say, of legal contracts or liturgical blessing.

      I also accept fully that for many, possibly most, gay Catholics, it may be advisable – even necessary- to walf away from the church for a time, or permanently; literally, or metaphorically. This is a point made strongly by the noted Jesuit theologian James L’Empereur, in his book “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”. It is also made by Michael B Kelly, who compares this walk away from the church with the story of the two disciples who walked away from Jerusalem to Emmaus – where they met the risen Lord directly. Then, says Kelly, they returned toe Jerusalem to carry the news of the risen Christ back to the religious leaders shut up in denial of the truth of the resurrection.

      So I have no problem with people who walk away – but for other people, there are also other strategies.

  4. Mr. Lindsey,

    You misstate the Church’s teachings, not only in the Letter, but in the Spirit. It is most unfortunate, and perhaps even scandalous, as it may cause some to believe that what is say is the true teaching.

    It may be worth a blog post to expound upon what you believe is or should be the sexual teachings of the Church. Special consideration should be given to those forms of consensual sexual expression for which there is considerable debate, such pornography, polygamy, masturbation, and abortion.

    • Mr Ludescher, you say that Bill “misstates” church teaching, but do not clarify in what respect. You have done much the same thing to me in the past, saying that I was “unfair” in my own critique of the CDF document Problema Homosexualitatis – but you did not clarify what in my statements or reasoning, you thought was unfair. This makes it impossible to respond to you, beyond saying that I thought Bill’s analysis was indeed a fair reflection of the documents he discussed, and which I have read and examined several times.

      However, I do agree with you that to balance the criticism of church teaching on sexuality, it would be appropriate to place a post setting out an alternative view of sexual ethics. This is something I have been thinking about for some time. (It would be interesting if others would do the same.) My starting point is the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus, who had nothing whatever to say about sex, except in terms of relationships. I also consider the ideas of those modern theologians who have followed the Church’s own advice to consider the findings of science, including medical and mental health scientists. However, this is a big task, and I am not yet ready to get it down.

      • Terence,

        Setting forth this “new” sexual ethics is imperative for those opposing the Church’s teaching.

        Perhaps Mr. Lindsey’s analysis was a fair reflection of how he felt upon a reading of the documents. But, I do not consider it a fair reflection upon what the words actually say and what the words are intended to convey.

        It is politically convenient, but intellectually dishonest, to claim that the official Church teaching states that homosexual persons are disordered. Moreover, simply pointing out the weaknesses in the Church’s argument does nothing to strengthen opposing arguments.

        For example, I have heard arguments stating that the Church is trying to deny people the “civil right” to get married. In America, there is no “right” to get married. There is simply the freedom of association which would include the “right” to do whatever you want without government interference. This means that government shouldn’t interfere when two (or more) people want to marry. The idea that government has to offer civil marriage to gays and lesbians runs contrary to the concept of no government interference.

        On the other hand, the Church’s opposition to same sex marriage has to be restrained. Civil marriage today is a hollow copy of the sacrament the Church calls marriage. It is unfortunate that today’s civil marriage has been so reduced of its sanctity that the only thread tying civil and religious marriage together is the concept of man/woman unions.

        The great promise given by the same sex theology is the promise that sex is something more than just procreation in God’s creation. But, that promise needs to be defined in clear, precise, and real terms. It is a promise that homosexuality may be objectively disordered toward procreation, but that it has an objective order of its own that fulfills a purpose beyond, or different from, the purposes of procreation.

        Those of us who see wisdom and beauty in the Church’s sexual teachings need to be able to see beyond that teaching to the teaching’s greater purpose. The example that I would provide is Jesus’ performing miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus broke the technical law of working on the Sabbath while, at the same time, he opened up the Sabbath laws for a greater and fuller understanding.

        This constant and relentless Church-bashing is not a theology. It is tiring, anti-intellectual, and close-minded.

        • Mr. Ludescher, you write, “It is politically convenient, but intellectually dishonest, to claim that the official Church teaching states that homosexual persons are disordered.”

          Once again: I’d submit to you that the intellectual dishonesty at work here is on the part of those trying to deny what’s written in black and white in the 1986 pastoral letter and now in the catechism. Those documents unambiguously state that gay and lesbian people suffer from a “homosexual condition” that is disordered in its very inclinations.

          The current attempt of some Catholics to pretend this teaching doesn’t exist and doesn’t say what it says is astonishing in its bald intellectual dishonesty–as astonishing as Mr. Stupak’s claims that the current health care reform bill contains provisions to promote abortion which aren’t there in the bill, or Ms. Cheney’s and Mr. Rove’s recent attempt to rewrite the history of the Bush administration and claim there were no terrorist acts against the nation during that administration.

          I have to wonder if those now trying to make us see black where the text is obviously white are counting on our stupidity or our venality to carry the day. In either case, the truth doesn’t seem to count for much to such politically motivated partisans.

          I’m still trying to imagine those disordered inclinations walking around disembodied, outside a human person.

          And I continue to challenge you to try to imagine how you’d respond–most of all, how you’d feel–if you woke up tomorrow and found the magisteriium had informed you through an official document that you suffer from a “heterosexual condition” whose inclinations are disordered, and that your “condition” is a trial and a cross to you. Reading those words, would you conclude, I wonder, that the church is not talking about you? And your humanity? And your personhood?

          Much depends on whose back the whip is lashing, doesn’t it? And on the willingness of ethical people not subject to the lash to stand in solidarity with those being lashed and to insist that the oppression cease.

          I’m sorry that the church becomes uncomfortable for you when you begin to recognize that there are entire groups of human beings who have been made actively unwelcome or have been made second-class citizens in a church calling itself catholic. But perhaps that uncomfortable recognition could be a wake-up call for all those who find themselves completely comfortable in the church as it’s now set up.

          Please read again Father Jim Martin’s discussion at America of what gay Catholics experience in the church today. And as you read it, please ask yourself if Father Martin is intent on “whipping” the church, or on calling the church to be true to what it proclaims. And please also ask yourself if your belief that gay Catholics do not suffer discrimination in the church can be sustained, if Fr. Martin’s list is correct.

          You owe it to yourself to inform yourself. If you love the church, you owe it to the church to call on the church to become what it professes to be, in its treatment of gays and lesbians, women, etc. The church is meant to be more than a boys’ club for heterosexual males.

          If you love the church, perhaps you could take Fr. Martin’s article to Knights of Columbus meetings in your area and ask that group of politically influential Catholics to discuss the article and ask what they might do in response to it–if Fr. Martin is telling the truth in what he says in the article.

          • Mr. Lindsey,

            You touch upon the real difficulty with the Church’s teaching – that it makes you feel like a second-class citizen – that it makes you feel excluded – that it makes you feel …

            However, the reason that you feel that way is not because the teaching is intended to do so; it is because you are interpreting and acting as if it were so.

            As you point out, the Pastoral Letter speaks about the fact that homosexuality is a disordered condition. It does not speak about the salvific (?)implications. Documents do refer to a suffering and a “cross”. This is, or was, an empirical reality, in much the same way that barrenness consists a suffering and a cross for many.

            Those who are being victimized by the Church’s teachings on homosexuality include both those who are unjust discriminated against (those who are homosexual in orientation and denied the Church’s grace thereby) and those who are justly discriminated against (those who want the Church to declare homosexual marriage a sacrament). Discrimination itself is not bad; it is the unjust discrimination that is bad.

            I can sympathize with your struggle to feel accepted by the Church. I can identify with and even support the political attempt to attain marriage equality. What I cannot accept, and probably will never accept is the proposition that procreation and male/female unity have no place within the ethics of sexuality.

            God’s plan obviously includes the creation of new persons through copulation. How this undeniable and indisputable fact plays into a broader sexual ethics or a specific ethics is beyond the this discussion, but it is certainly has to be at the core of any objective attempt at a universal sexual ethics.

          • “What I cannot accept, and probably will never accept is the proposition that procreation and male/female unity have no place within the ethics of sexuality.”

            That’s an astonishing proposition. It’s a statement I have never made and would certainly never make. I am baffled that you would claim I have made such a statement.

            The biological fact of procreation is undeniably significant to the human race. One need not, however, argue from that biological fact to an ethic that creates a second-class group of human beings in church and society. Churches such as the ELCA, whose decisions about gay members you also continually criticize, demonstrate to the Catholic church that there are other ways to approach sexual ethics than from the standpoint of a biologistic natural-law ethic.

            For that matter, the large majority of Catholics in the Western world would argue the same thing, if the magisterium would listen.

            You are mistaken not only in attributing to me a position I have never taken here about the biological facticity and necessity of procreation. You are also mistaken when you state, “However, the reason that you feel that way is not because the teaching is intended to do so; it is because you are interpreting and acting as if it were so.”

            As my posting notes, the 1986 pastoral letter was immediately followed by purge of gay-affirming ministry groups from the Catholic church. The definition of gay persons as disordered went hand in hand with actions commanded by the Vatican and bishops acting in concert with the Vatican, to place organizations like Dignity out of Catholic premises. Dignity’s founders and leading officers were silenced and hounded out of positions in their religious communities, as were, down the road, those of New Ways Ministry.

            The message was clear. At an official level, the Catholic church turned its back on its gay members with this 1986 letter, and punished those calling for constructive dialogue with and pastoral outreach to gay Catholics. In response, large numbers of Catholics left the church and have continued to do so.

            These aren’t my “feelings.” They’re undeniable, easily proven facts. We don’t get far in dialogue when we ignore facts. The church’s behavior towards its gay members has been the opposite of pastoral, at an official level, for a number of years now. And nothing constructive can happen in this area until the church recognizes the cruelty of what it has chosen to do to its gay members, at an official level.

            The church you and I love is capable of great cruelty, Mr. Ludescher. As theologian David Tracy states, only a knave or a fool would deny this, as we read the history of the church. The church can also be flatly wrong in some of its teachings.

            The path to constructive change will begin when we can acknowledge these realities, admit that they are there, and then begin to decide what to do with them. The church’s current choice to collect funds from Catholics across the nation to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens in one state after another, to bar spouses of new heterosexual employees from healthcare benefits in a Catholic organization in one diocese, to put the child of a lesbian couple out of Catholic preschool in another diocese: these are not steps down the road to healing. Rather the opposite.

            I mentioned the Knights of Columbus earlier today without having realized that you yourself are a Knight–though I had begun to suspect that your response to my postings was “situated” in that organization. Since I now know this is the case (from a Google search of your name), I’d once again challenge you to address your brother Knights about their actions towards their LGBT brothers and sisters. The Knights of Columbus gave a huge amount of money to the prop 8 campaign in California.

            All of these actions continue to drive the wedge deeper between gay Catholics and the church. They’re designed to do that. And they are rooted in and began with the 1986 pastoral letter and its teaching about the disordered nature of gay persons.

          • Mr. Lindsey,

            I have number of disjointed responses.

            I didn’t say that you made the claim that procreation and male/female unity don’t have any place in sexual ethics. I said that I couldn’t accept an ethics that didn’t have a place for it. And, it is still not clear from your multiple postings and numerous responses what your (scholarly) position is on these topics.

            The main point of the pastoral letter was to clarify the Church’s position on the teaching because pastoral care had failed to make the proper distinctions about what constituted the teachings.

            It is unfortunate, perhaps even tragic in some cases, that many in the Church have used the pastoral letter as an opportunity to punish rather than understand. No doubt some of also used it to exercise power over those with whom they have disagreed. However, the wrongful use of the teaching is not a basis to claim the wrongfulness of the teaching. The Sabbath is still holy even though Jesus decided to perform miracles. The law was made for man; man was not made for the law.

            In the same vein, the teaching is supposed to be used to instruct pastors on the proper care of homosexual people, not create a second-class citizen. To the extent that the care is substandard, the fault cannot said to be the direct intention of the law, but rather an incomplete understanding of the application.

            The Church that you and I love is NOT capable of great cruelty; those who are in power are capable of great cruelty. As long as she preaches the Gospel, she will not fail, and she will not be cruel.

            On the political front, I would tend to side with your position. While I don’t adhere to the philosophy that there is any “right” to marry, I do think that the same-sex marriage arguments are much stronger than the opposition. The reason for my support would be that fairness dictates that the rationales supporting civil marriage (i.e. contract law) are equally applicable to same-sex as opposite sex.

          • David, you keep making the point that there is a distinction between the teaching and the use made of it, which I accept. You also say that this misuse is not a basis to condemn the teaching, which I also accept. But that does not mean that the teaching itself is sound.

            I have previously shown in detail a number of statements in the teaching, on which its conclusion rests, that are patently false or unsubstantiated. If the premises are false, the conclusion is false. You said that you thought that my statements were “unfair” – but have never indicated which of my statements or reasoning you thought were unsound.

            The simple fact is that the teaching is false. Historically, it followed popular bigotry, and did not lead it. It claims to be based on Scripture, specifically the story of Sodom. but that story has nothing whatever to do with same sex relationships. The Pontifical Bible commission urges that the interpretation of scripture is a complex task, and should be done with due consideration of Scripture as a whole rather than isolated texts; should consider linguistic itself literary scholarship; should consider the cultural and historic conditions of the period; and should also consider the context of today, for the people who are applying it to their own lives. Yet when modern scripture scholars do precisely that, and conclude that the traditional interpretation is flawed, the document in question simply says they must be ignored because they conflict with the magisterium.

            The church also teaches elsewhere that theology must consider the findings of science – but on contraception, as well as on homosexuality, the Vatican simply disregards those findings. The only thing that appears to matter is the “traditional” teaching, which the Vatican regularly describes as “constant” – but again, history shows that the teaching has NOT been constant, and has ebbed and flowed over the centuries.

            No, I regret that it is not just the misuse of the document that has been wrong – the documents themselves are deeply flawed. While it may aim to provide guidance for suitable pastoral care, in totally ignoring some simple facts, and making wildly unsubstantiated statements about the nature of homosexual persons and acts, it fails dismally in its intent.

          • “I didn’t say that you made the claim that procreation and male/female unity don’t have any place in sexual ethics. I said that I couldn’t accept an ethics that didn’t have a place for it. And, it is still not clear from your multiple postings and numerous responses what your (scholarly) position is on these topics.”

            Why anyone would assume that those arguing for an ethic that would include, welcome, and affirm gay and lesbian persons would therefore have “no place” for procreation in their worldview is beyond me. Perhaps people don’t always state the obvious because it is obvious.

            This is a false dichotomy, a false either-or. It’s one that opponents of the full inclusion of LGBT persons keep using to discredit the claims of those who are gay and lesbian, as if the full inclusion of gay people in society will mean the end of procreation.

            And yet it should be intuitively obvious to all of us that this is not what will happen when LGBT people are treated like human beings. The human race will go on. Procreation will continue. The world won’t end, and the human race won’t suddenly cease, because we decide to treat those who are gay like human beings.

            The discussion as I understand it is not about attacking procreation or male-female relationships. It’s about critiquing a system that accords a superior normativity to those relationships to deny the validity of other relationships. Perhaps our definition of the normal needs to be expanded to include the empirically demonstrable diversity all around us. And perhaps we ought to stop thinking in terms of polar opposites that exclude each other, and more in terms of multiple affirmations that all live in tension with each other.

            That’s not, unfortunately, what the magisterium has chosen to do from 1986 forward. The magisterial moves have been all about asserting the unilateral right of the church’s teaching authority to define gay humanity in a way that demeans gay human beings.

            And the results are proving dismal for the church–see, again, the interview with the same-sex couple who have been told they and their children aren’t wanted at a Catholic pre-school in the Denver archdiocese.

          • David,

            “You touch upon the real difficulty with the Church’s teaching – that it makes you feel like a second-class citizen – that it makes you feel excluded – that it makes you feel … However, the reason that you feel that way is not because the teaching is intended to do so; it is because you are interpreting and acting as if it were so.”

            And I’m quite sure that many of the people who created separate facilities for Black people in the American south and in South aFrica did nto “intend” to make them feel like second- class citizens, either. It is not the intentions that matter here, but the words and actions themselves.

          • Well stated, Terry. Thank you.

          • Terence,

            A point well-taken.

            It may be that the Church’s teachings emphasize far too much of the “Thou shalt not”, without any significant “Love thy neighbor as yourself”. A theology focused upon the negative aspects of behavior can quickly devolve into a simplistic view of right and wrong.

            On the other hand, an unbridled freedom of thought and action can quickly evolve into indiscriminate hedonism, or, as shown by the ECLA, an undifferentiated pluralism.

            There is no doubt in my mind that the Vatican sincerely believes that the teachings are intended to help people avoid sin (in this case, sexual sin). I think there are a number of cases, most notably abortion, but also divorce and fornication where the Church stands against the prevailing forces of culture, and in favor of responsible sexual ethics.

            I am of the opinion, though it is not well-formed, that the Church’s sexual ethics is intended to guide, not judge, individuals as they form their consciences on the proper sexual ethics. Although homosexual sexual behavior could never be considered objectively ordered with the Church’s context of teaching, it may nevertheless be subjectively ordered. I have no doubt that it is subjectively disordered for a person with homosexual inclinations to engage in heterosexual behavior even though such behavior would be considered objectively ordered.

            Certainly, the most significant factor has to be the context in which the sex occurs. In that sense, the “objective order” is simply one factor that must guide the conscience.

          • David, I fully accept that the Vatican sincerely believes that its teaching is intended to help people to avoid sin. However, it is so poorly grounded in any understanding of the realities of human sexuality that the teaching cannot help but be flawed. I fully agree that there is no room for unbridled licence, that we do need sensible guidance on how best to manage our sexual lives. However, a teaching which flows from a belief that there is no room for sex outside of procreation, and that earlier taught that total sexual abstinence was the preferred ideal even in marriage, and still ignores the findings of experts in psychological and mental health, simp;y is not a sound basis for formulating such sound guidance. When the theologians formulating doctrine have themselves chosen voluntary celibacy, how could we ever expect them to show any understanding of sexual reality?

            This, I suppose, is the root of my anger. I would welcome sound guidance from the church in sexual matters. However, when the teaching as we have it is so deeply flawed, resting on totally unsound foundations, I have no alternative but to reject it in its entirety, and look to other sources for guidance.

          • To continue the dialogue, Mr. Ludescher: I’ve recommended to you once again the posting by Fr. Jim Martin at America blog some weeks back, enumerating how gay Catholics are now treated in the Catholic church–in contrast to how the church treats its straight flock.

            I’d like now to recommend to you a just-published interview with the lesbian parents whose child has been excluded from a Catholic school in the Denver archdiocese. It’s at National Catholic Reporter. Tom Fox is the author.

            The line that hits me between the eyes: one of the two mothers telling NCR how they were informed that their child would no longer be welcome in the school next year:

            “She [the principal] sat me down and told me we were no longer accepted here any more.”

            The mothers are practicing Catholics and members of the parish.

            I submit to you that this message–you are no longer accepted here any more–is one that the church has given and keeps giving, at an official level, to its gay and lesbian members.

            It seems to me extremely important for Catholics–all Catholics–to begin thinking seriously about what this message implies for the church, for its teachings and ministry and general. And not merely for its gay members (those that remain, given the overt actions of being made unwelcome–but also for its straight ones.

        • David, I am not going to speak for William Lindsay, he has done that fully himself -but I repeat that I do not believe he was stating only his interpretation of the documents, but was a fair refelction of the content, as I understand them after repeated readings and study.

          I am not going to get into the question of “civil” rights, but it is undeniable that the church itself practices widespread discrimination against lesbian and gay people, in admission to the priesthood, in employment practices, in adoption, and even in school admissions, as we see now in Boulder, Colorado- and on civil marriage, where the church’s opposition is directed exclusively at same-sex couples, but not at opposite sex couples who have access to sacramental marriage, and so should not need to resort to civil marriage.

          I agree with you that the promise in gay theology, or in queer theology, is that it leads beyond the narrow focus on procreation, to see something more. Indeed, I have recently written on a related topic, referring to James L’Empereur’s book, “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”. One of his key themes is precisely that gay spirituality, by moving beyond the rigid separation of sexuality from spirituality, may have something to teach the wider Church about a wholesome integration of the two. William Lindsey earlier this year wrote about the contribution of the theologian John McNeill to the development of a more realistic sexual theology with a two part review of the book, “Sex as God intended”.

          I would certainly prefer to be concentrating exclusively on these constructive developments, and do so where I can. I agree that constant complaint is wearying and dispiriting. However, the words and actions of the church sometimes mean that criticism is necessary. It is equally wearying and dispiriting when reasoned, substantiated criticism is simply dismissed without any rationale supplied.

          • Terry, thanks. You state, “I agree that constant complaint is wearying and dispiriting. However, the words and actions of the church sometimes mean that criticism is necessary.”

            Yes, and we can’t build on a foundation that is rotten. The act of critique is all about clearing a sound space on which to build. If events of the recent past in the Catholic church demonstrate anything, it’s that there’s substantial rottenness right in the foundations of the church.

            And those who are trying to blame the messengers who tell us this (I don’t mean you; I’m referring to other groups in the church) rather than to engage the real, visible rottenness in the foundations are not doing a service to the church.

            I also reject (and haven’t even engaged) Mr. Ludescher’s persistent claim that I have not written anything constructive about an alternative sexual ethic. That’s a red-herring complaint–and I haven’t engaged it for that reason. But I’ve refused to engage it as well because I take very seriously Mr. Ludescher’s attack on my integrity as a person and a scholar, when he accuses me of misrepresenting what the texts I’m citing say–and then produces not a shred of evidence of such misrepresentation.

            Until the record is clear about this issue of integrity, I don’t see any reason I should point Mr. Ludescher to the abundant material I have posted on this blog sketching an alternative sexual ethic, including the final paragraphs of my last posting, which point the direction to a sounder Catholic sexual ethic, once we’ve fully engaged the shortcomings of the one now handed us by the magisterium.

        • David, I have taken up your challenge, and put together some preliminary thoughts on my suggestions for a new, sounder sexual ethic. This will be published later today.In doing so, I am conscious that in many ways I am not yet ready to do so, and lack the specialist knowledge to formulate proper guidelines for others. However, the need is urgent, and these principles have served me. Perhaps, when it appears, you would like to add some thoughts of your own?

    • Thank you for your response.

      I have to admit, I’m amazed by it, when I cite chapter and verse–chapter and verse of official church documents.

      And so it would be quite interesting to know how I have misstated church teachings “in the Letter.” It strikes me as significant that you wish to make such a serious accusation, which touches on my integrity (not to mention my ability to read, understand, and write down faithfully what I read), without citing a single example of my distortion of the “letter” of church teaching.

      Of course, the reason you don’t cite the distortions of which you accuse me is because you can’t do so. I’ve cited specific chapter and specific verse. Of official church teaching. Which has been used, from the time the teaching was formulated, to do precisely what my posting describes–the “spirit” of what has happened once these teachings were formulated and stated as official church teachings is absolutely in conformity to what the teachings say, in their letter.

      When the black and white of texts is so clear, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate why black is not black and white is not white, Mr. Ludescher. Merely stating that black is not black and white is not white is not convincing in the least. It wouldn’t get you far in any credible court of law I know of.

      I wish you luck as you try to do that. Those who responded to the NCR editorial I’m citing, using the same tactic you want to use here, had dismal success at making the non-case you’re trying to make here.

    • I’m issuing my request to you again, Mr. Ludescher: please respond. You’ve made a very serious accusation against me, in which you accuse me of misstating the teachings of the church “in the Letter” in the posting to which you are responding.

      I take that statement seriously because it impugns my integrity both as a person and as a scholar.

      Will you please point out to me where I have incorrectly cited the official church documents I cite in my posting?

      It is very important to me to have the record set straight here. If I am citing editions of these texts (e.g., the 1986 Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons and the Catechism of the Catholic Church that have garbled or mistranslated the documents I’m citing, please inform me.

      Otherwise, I invite you to withdraw your allegation that I have cited texts incorrectly “in the Letter.” Thank you for responding to this request.

      • Mr. Lindsey,

        Nowhere in the documents do the teachings state that a homosexual person is disoriented. Further, and more importantly, the spirit of the teaching makes it clear that there is not to be an unjust discrimination against homosexuals because of their orientation. Yet, you make it appear as if the Church values people with a homosexual orientation differently than a person with a heterosexual orientation.

        I am not a scholar. Nevertheless, it appears to me that the teachings on sexual ethics is internally consistent. Part of that consistency requires that all sexual action be analyzed in the context of the its life-giving function, i.e. the “natural” purpose of male/female sex organs. Another part of the analysis requires determining when and how men and women should be engaging in sex.

        So, homosexuality and masturbation are considered “objectively disordered” because the sexual activity is not “ordered” to the “objective” of sex’s procreative nature. Other sexual activity which is objectively “ordered”, such as adultery, fornication, and even rape, is nevertheless disordered because it violates the proper ordering of sexual activity within the marriage relationship.

        If we are going to revisit the discussion (and keep it honest), then let’s do so. In doing so, I would encourage you to read the teachings in a charitable manner without attempting to foist artificial motives upon the Church and her teachings. It is understandable that you and many others would find the Church’s teachings unduly harsh and narrow-minded. That would be a fair accusation. However, it is simply wrong and unfair to claim that the Church finds homosexuals are disordered.

        If you prevail on your present train of thought, you will win popular support – not by the strength of your argument – but by people’s willingness to whip an institution that preaches an unpopular Gospel. I challenge you to create a sexual ethics that incorporates the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of sexual relations and the marriage relationship into something broader and more inclusive.

        For example, the Church’s teachings on masturbation suggest that masturbation is objectively disordered, and can never be considered a moral good. Yet, the depravity can be reduced to a minimum, when considered in all of its contexts. Is this teaching too narrow because it doesn’t allow for sexual “expression”? How could it be broadened without throwing open the door to sexuality becoming a mere pleasure to be used and expressed as individuals may desire? What if anything is the “value” to a homosexual marriage?

        These and other questions are not answered by whipping the Catholic Church. They are require deep reflection, prayer, and quite honestly, revelations from the Holy Spirit.

        • Mr Ludescher, You point out (correctly) that the teaching states that there is to be “no unjust discrimination” against “homosexuals”. Yet, the church has a very limited idea of what constitutes unjust discrimination: elsewhere, the same church argues that protection form discrimination should not be written into law, and itself actively practices any number of forms of discrimination.

          As for “disordered”, I remind you again: the documents indeed do not say the person is disordered, but they do clearly state that the “condition” is disordered. As the condition is deeply built into one’s make-up, the distinction is of merely academic importance.

        • Thank you for your response.

          I’m fascinated by the idea that disordered inclinations can exist in the absence of persons having those inclinations.

          Or that calling the affectional inclinations of a person disordered is not calling the person himself or herself disordered. The semantic games we have to employ to deny that the church is saying what it is saying here are ingenious. But hardly convincing.

          As is, I fear, the claim that “[y]et, you make it appear as if the Church values people with a homosexual orientation differently than a person with a heterosexual orientation.”

          I’m afraid that it’s not I who is making it appear that way, but the church. When I see Archbishop Chaput decide to exclude from Catholic schools children whose parents are divorced and remarried or using contraception, or when Catholic institutions start firing heterosexual people in both of those cases as they now frequently fire gay employees, then I’ll reconsider my well-considered judgment that the church values people with a homosexual orientation differently than it values those with a heterosexual orientation.

          As to my “whipping” the church, a word you use repeatedly, I’ll leave it to the judgment of history and God to decide who’s been doing the whipping for a long time now. And whether it’s justifiable for those who are being whipped to use all the ethical, intellectual, and political tools at their disposal to try to combat the whipping.

          You might think quite differently if the whip were at your own back.

  5. This is very educational and informative. Reading about the 1986 letter is somewhat painful. I think you are right, Mr. Lindsey, but it is a sad admission. I agree with a lot of what you have to say here. Yes, it is true, for many people in the Church, homosexual people are not valued. A lot of people want them out and in my opinon the 1986 letter somewhat affirms people that dislike gay people. I find the term “unjust discrimination” to be somewhat dishonest. Do gay people get to decide what discrimination is “unjust” or does that fall to the people that get to do the discriminating? Mr. Ludescher, after reading the documents I feel that the Church views homosexual persons as disordered and defective. We are considered lesser human beings. On a more personal level, as a life long Catholic and an active member of my parish, how do I come to terms with this? How do I have a healthy sense of myself when my Church considers me something less? I fully realize that most Catholics don’t agree with the “disordered” teaching but still it hurts to think that many in the hierarchy do and some would like people like me out of the Church.

    • Mark, thanks for the response. I understand the pain you feel when you read the 1986 pastoral letter. In feeling that pain, you’re with millions of others who have found this document (and the echo of it in our current catechism) deeply painful–so much so that many gay Catholics and our supporters have distanced themselves from an institution that can do this to some of its members.

      You put your finger on what is perhaps the most painful recognition of all: rather than defending those oppressed due to sexual orientation in societies prone to such oppression, the church reinforces and colludes in the oppression. And the grossly discriminatory treatment continues right up to the present, most recently with Archbishop Chaput’s decision to put a child of a lesbian couple out of a Catholic school, claiming that his parents are contravening Catholic teaching. This is an act that is unthinkable for any Catholic diocese to undertake in the case of heterosexual parents contravening Catholic teaching.

      Catholic institutions also freely discriminate against gay and lesbian employees, and fight hard to retain that right. If you have the stomach for it, you may at some point down the road want to read Fr. Jim Martin’s summary at the America blog of precisely what happens, concretely, to gay or lesbian Catholics in the church today.

      At the same time, I encourage you not to give up hope, and to take heart. As a number of recent postings on this blog have noted, there are movements within the church, arising among those shoved to the margins, that elicit hope for the future, even as the rotten structures at the center collapse under the weight of their rottenness.

  6. Mr. Lindsey, what Archbishop Chaput did was horrible. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time that a bishop backed a priest over a child. I was on another site discussion about this but was hard pressed to get my criticisms of Archbishop Chaput posted. Most of the postings that got through said how brave he was , how he had guts, six said God bless the Archbishop. Others said, “Jesus smiles” “A man of God” “He is Christlike” “All bishops should be like him” and the kicker “Read your Bible, Lev 18:22”. SIGH. So my criticisms of Archbishop Chaput never saw the light of day there but on another discussion they allowed a comment directed at me saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about due to sodomy induced constipation. (This comment was so off the mark that I actually think it is funny in a bizarre way.) However, this site has let my “And we will know they are Christians by their love” comment through a few times.

  7. Mr. Ludescher: I don’t think anyone here has said that procreation and male/female unity have no place within the ethics of sexuality . They surely do.

    You say, “Discrimination itself is not bad; it is the unjust discrimination that is bad.” However, who gets to decide when discrimination is unjust? If the person being discriminated against does not see it as unjust then it probably isn’t (for example, a person not qualified for a job). But if a person is qualified for a job and is not considered due to their sexual orientation then this would be unjust discrimination.

    • Mark,

      What place if any do you think the Church’s current teaching on marriage and procreation play in the sexual ethics of homosexuality? Or, conversely, what place do you think homosexuality plays in the Church’s current teaching on marriage and procreation?

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