“Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God” Pope Benedict XVI
Accusations of homophobia, religious fundamentalism and even suicide statistics fail to engage with Catholic reason concerning homosexuality
Ì too had the privilege of hearing Mary McAleese being interviewed by Pat Kenny recently. I was enthralled as she spoke of her modest lifestyle while studying in Rome. In the course of the interview about her book ‘Quo Vadis’ which is about Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law, she addressed the issue of homosexuality using suicide statistics and argued for a change in Catholic Church teaching. When she’d finished I was deeply troubled.
As I recovered I was struck by her use of suicide statistics – essentially the use of personal tragedy to argue for a change in Church teaching. I also noted her focus on the creature rather than the Creator. The discussion was about gay men and the Catholic Church – God was hardly mentioned! Surely, when it comes to judging the Catholic Church’s position on a particular issue the deciding factor must always be God’s will? After all, God’s will is the only guarantee of humankind’s well-being.
Of course, this view is diametrically opposed to the view that men and women know what’s best for the human race. That’s democracy. But Christians follow Christ. He alone is the Saviour of the world, not majority opinion! So the Catholic point of departure is always God’s will, in this case God’s will concerning homosexuality.
Now strange as it might seem when Catholicism seeks to propose laws to the State the appeal in the first instance is not to revelation but to nature and reason. Nature and reason then are Catholicism’s defence against the invalid charge of homophobia. Of course, like all reasonable people I accept that there are homophobic people in our midst but I do not accept the use of the homophobia blanket to smother every opposing argument. I find such blanket-smothering of opposing views to be really fearful!
The real fears within Catholicism have nothing to do with homophobia. Firstly, as a Catholic I fear sin, particularly the enculturation of sin. Catholicism doesn’t fear the human person – nothing could be more ridiculous – Catholicism fears sin. Besides, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, not in sin! Secondly, I share with Catholicism the terrifying fear that we might “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” Matt. 23:4. Do you seriously think that men like John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, and the majority of faithful Catholics have not struggled with such fear in our consideration of homosexuality? We certainly have and therefore Catholicism looks to the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. Where else can Catholics go?
Appealing to nature and reason the Catholic Church then argues as follows: male and female God made them, and so it is; we discover men and women, male and female as the essential dynamic of creation. We discover that the various parts of the male and female body are fit for sexual purpose, actually fit together and serve a very important purpose, the transmission of human life and the survival of the human race, while sexual intercourse itself implicitly speaks the language not of ‘trial’ love, but of Sacramental love; I give myself completely to you in love. What’s the alternative taken to its logical conclusion? In other words, the physical act of sexual intercourse innately means or is connatural with the mutual irrevocable gift of the whole person that is Sacramental marriage. As such Catholicism concludes that sex belongs to Sacramental marriage, love unto death, love that shares Gods creative work, love that bursts forth in the transmission of new life in all its forms. It may be idealistic (and difficult!) by humankind’s current standards but surely it’s the true meaning and purpose of sex as it exists in the mind of God. Surely as believers, notwithstanding our failures, we can agree on this much.
We also notice that there are exceptions occurring naturally, for example infertility, and among some men and women something very different, an attraction to their own sex. While the origin of homosexual attraction is unclear it is nonetheless real and cannot be denied, no more than we can deny heterosexual attraction.
However, the acting out of the attraction is considered to be contrary to Gods will because to put it bluntly, if not crudely, the parts just don’t fit together! The male body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another male, just as the female body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another female. The homosexual act lacks complementarity (meaning the fitting together of all aspects of the human person as male and female) and the potential to transmit human life. Thus Catholicism concludes that in so far as homosexual attraction leads to sexual activity that excludes complementarity and two becoming one in new human life it is objectively disordered. The key Catholic question here is; what is sex for?
We’re left then with a very important question; where does homosexuality come from if its expression is not part of Gods will? Some will respond instantly and perhaps with some outrage; how dare you attack my very person, of course homosexuality is part of God’s design; it’s the way I’m made!
Firstly, the Catholic Church seeks to attack nobody. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Catholicism seeks only to uphold God’s rule in human affairs.
Secondly, in the context of a Christian worldview ‘the way we’re made’ is quite nuanced. In fact, it’s ‘the way we’re made’ that creates our need for salvation.
Thirdly, even if the origin of homosexuality is genetic and biological the same argument can be made for heterosexuality but with the additional evidence of the complementarity of the human body as male and female together with the potential to transmit human life. When compared to homosexuality, heterosexuality ticks extra boxes. These are substantial additional boxes and they cannot be ignored even in the face of suicide statistics. Consequently Catholicism gives the nod to the expression of heterosexuality as Gods design.
The perceived weakness in Catholic argument is its dependence on the physical which is countered by the principle that the evidence of male and female physicality and their complementarity whereby two literally become one in a new human life is not accidental but the primacy of Gods order. The bottom line here is; is there a God-designed order in terms of human sexuality? The Catholic Church says absolutely; it’s obvious! If there is an order then we can trust it. Life would be so much easier if the Catholic Church changed its teaching, but would a change be in keeping with God’s will? That’s the critical question.
There’s one further aspect I’d like to explore, namely Christ’s love for the marginalised which is increasingly used to argue against various positions held by the Catholic Church, including the Church’s position on homosexuality. The context in which Christ’s love for the marginalized unfolds is invariably the work of conversion. Too often commentators fail to mention the inner dynamics of Christ’s love; it is always targeted with a distinct purpose – go away and don’t sin anymore. So we simply cannot argue that Christ was compassionate therefore we should accept homosexual expression as part of God’s plan. No, Christ’s compassion had one purpose; not the blanket acceptance of humanity but the conversion of humanity.
Thus for the Catholic Church the issue is not about fear or prejudice, or homophobia, or any of the usual reasons advanced by liberal Catholics and non-Catholics alike, but about intellectual honesty endeavouring to ensure that humankind remains within the parameters of Gods will, since remaining within the realm of God’s will or recourse to Divine Mercy are the only guarantees of human well-being.
This is a massive call. Catholicism doesn’t make such a call lightly, rather, it’s a call made before God in fear and trembling with eyes fixed firmly on the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. The bulldozing accusation of homophobia simply refuses to address the Catholic argument. Instead, adapting Paddy Manning’s words on Twitter, proponents of the homophobia bulldozer “get to create a ‘crime’, charge people with it, and be judge and jury!”