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Submitted to Maida Commission, July 26, 1994

Preliminary Responses to selected passages from Building Bridges

1. "I am now convinced that homosexual and bisexual feelings and behaviors are just as natural as heterosexual ones" (p. 33).

There are various definitions of the word "natural" which I have encountered in my years of pastoral ministry. For example, "natural" may mean "that which is or has existed over time," "that which is instinctive to a being," "that which is consistent with the laws of nature," or "that which is in accord with God’s intent." A judgement on the "naturalness" of homosexual feelings and behaviors would depend on the definition being used. Different definitions will involve different disciplines; e.g., history, anthropology, psychology, biology, philosophy, or theology.

In the United States, homosexuality is primarily considered a psychological phenomenon. Therefore, the definition of "natural" which is most often employed in this culture when discussing homosexuality is the one used in psychological disciplines. In this understanding, something is "natural" if it is instinctual to a being or if it originates from an inner drive or impulse. The 1975 Vatican Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, seems to refer to this understanding when it says that there are "homosexuals who are definitively when it says that they are "homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct" (n. 8). It was in this sense that Cardinal Medeiros wrote about the homosexual orientation in his June 1979 letter, Pastoral Care for the Homosexual: "It is important to note that human drives, feelings and attractions are ultimately rooted in natural impulse."

It is apparently impossible to substantially modify a constitutional homosexual orientation. The U.S. bishops speak of "those persons for whom homosexuality is a permanent, seemingly irreversible sexual orientation" (Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 54). If this is so, then same-sex feelings must be deeply ingrained in person’s psychological make-up. Despite strong social taboos and ethical laws, many individual have persisted in their feelings of love and erotic attraction for a person of the same gender.

At least one Church source has acknowledged a psychological evaluation also of homosexual behavior. The Catholic Council for Church and Society of the Bishops of the Netherlands has stated, "There is a growing insight that homosexual behavior can be a natural expression of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation" (Homosexual People in Society, 1979).

Thus, my description of homosexual feelings and behaviors as "natural" flows from the developments in psychological research about homosexuality since the end of the 19th century and from the descriptions found in the above cited church documents. It should be noted, however, that saying that something is natural does not necessarily mean that it is ethically or morally desirable. The word natural is sometimes used in philosophical or theological language in a normative sense. Because such usage is technical and so easily misunderstood, I do not use the word that way in discussions about experiential descriptions of homosexuality.

2. "That the main stumbling block to my argument comes from theological and philosophical discourse demonstrates to me that these disciplines either have failed to keep abreast of scientific developments or have willfully ignored current findings in order to legitimize a preconceived notion of divine intent for the human order" (p. 33).

The above statement from Building Bridges does not take issue with Church teaching about homosexuality but with the language in which it is articulated by some theologians and philosophers, which makes pastoral care all the more difficult. Some articulations of the teaching fail to do justice to current scientific developments. As Thomas Aquinas remarked in another context, even teachings of faith can be defended inappropriately by untenable pseudoscientific arguments, a procedure which brings discredit to these teachings (Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 2).

The layperson, even if well educated, is not aware of the different technical uses which philosophers and theologians have made of the word "natural" and of the continual debate about natural law. So, it is somewhat confusing to such a person to hear statements which appear to contradict contemporary scientific claims.

For example, the Vatican’s statement that a homosexual orientation is "disordered" was heard in the United States and elsewhere as a contradiction of the prevailing psychological and psychiatric opinion that a homosexual orientation is a psychosexual variant of human sexual development. (This was probably not intended, but that is how it was heard.) At one time, these disciplines did consider homosexuality a disorder – a mental or emotional disorder. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from this illness category. In 1974, the American Psychological Association followed suit, as did the National Association of Social Workers. For the last two decades, the majority of health professionals have considered homosexuality a natural, rather than disordered, form of sexuality.

Archbishop John Quinn noted that the language of the 1986 Vatican letter was "technical" and "precise." He continued, "On the one hand, this contributes to the clarity of the document, yet paradoxically, it also contributes to its obscurity. Clear, technical language is not likely to be understood correctly by those who are not familiar with it" (America, Feb. 7, 1987). When the U.S. bishops were debating the text of their document, Human Sexuality, the amendment describing a homosexual orientation as a "disorder" was rejected. One of the reasons proposed for its rejection was that this word would be misunderstood.

Therefore, when theologians or philosophers describe homosexuality as "unnatural" or "disordered" in a popular forum, it can appear that "these disciplines either have failed to keep abreast of scientific developments or have willfully ignored current findings in order to legitimize a preconceived notion of divine intent for the human order." It would be less problematic for the ordinary faithful and for the pastoral minister if theologians and philosophers were more sensitive to the way words are generally understood in contemporary society.

3. "All these efforts toward amelioration, reconciliation, and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay Catholics were set back at least 20 years by the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1986)" (p. 71).

This sentence merely states a commonly accepted judgement that the already fragile rapport between the Church hierarchy and gay and lesbian Catholics was further impaired as a consequence of the Letter. Various illustrations can be given for this assessment:

a. Most of the reaction centered around the new description of the homosexual "inclination" as "an objective disorder." This was generally understood, even if mistakenly, as a pronouncement that gay and lesbian persons are radically disordered. It was heard as a grievous affront to the dignity and self-esteem of lesbian and gay people and taken as emblematic of the entire CDF Letter.

b. From newspaper editorials, commentaries, and other Catholic voices that critiqued the Vatican Letter, it seems that the document was not generally well received in the English speaking Catholic world at large. For example, a Catholic British journal characterized the document as "violently hostile" to Catholic groups ministering to lesbian and gay people and noted that "not a word of appreciation is offered" (The Tablet, Nov. 8, 1986). A Jesuit periodical editorialized that the "letter explicitly aims at ‘pastoral care’ for homosexuals, but it is doubtful they will feel especially cared for. Despite the stated intention of the letter’s title, it makes a series of decidedly unpastoral missteps" (America, Nov. 22, 1986). In an interview, Cardinal Basil Hume said that "they [Vatican pronouncements on homosexuality] lacked a true pastoral compassion. They did not, he suggested, reflect the face of the always empathetic Jesus" (Msgr. James Lisante, The Long Island Catholic, Aug. 26, 1992). This perception damages the Church’s moral credibility.

c. From the decrease in membership of various gay/lesbian Catholic organizations and from many pastoral conversations, it is evident that a significant number of lesbian and gay Catholics left the Church because of the document. For those who remained, there was a weakening of faith in the institution. Many parents of lesbian and gay people were hurt by the tone of the letter. I assume that the Commission has received a number of letters from parents, as well as from lesbian and gay persons themselves, which verify that the effect of the 1986 letter made the pastoral situation more difficult fore the Church’s ministers.

"The letter is inappropriately named because most of the 18 paragraphs betray little pastoral concern" (p 72).

The Vatican’s concern for lesbian and gay persons was expressed in a way that made it difficult for most people to recognize the pastoral intent of the document. The Letter rightly states that lesbian and gay persons are made in the image and likeness of God and should not be reduced to their sexual orientation (n. 16). It deplores the fact that lesbian and gay persons have been victimized in speech and actions and urges pastors to condemn such actions when they occur (n. 10). It insists on respect for gay and lesbian persons "in word, in action, and in law" (n. 10). But pastoral statements such as these were not heard because of a great amount of criticism revolving around at least four points:

a. Most of the document is concerned with explicating the moral evaluation of homogenital activity. As such, it would more adequately be characterized as doctrinal, rather than pastoral. One periodical editorialized on the need for a document which would address "the reality of homosexuals in their living of Christian discipleship" (Month, Dec., 1986). The document does not mention the body of episcopal teaching from the U.S. or other countries dealing with social justice, civil rights, prejudice, and violence against lesbian and gay persons. A more effective pastoral document would incorporate and expand upon these episcopal statements.

b. The first strong pastoral remark, made at the beginning of n. 10, is seriously weakened in the second part of n. 10. Many were shocked by the Vatican’s claim that "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…irrational and violent reactions increase" (n. 10). Many interpreted this remark as a case of blaming the victim. Here again, although this may not have been precisely what the Vatican meant, the language and reasoning were very disturbing. One group of gay Catholics wrote, "We have been deprived of jobs and places to live, refused health care, abused in public, beaten in the streets, killed by drunks – and you want to deny us the protection of the law?"

c. The document fails to encourage pastoral care for persons who are suffering and dying of AIDS. The document’s only oblique reference to AIDS implies both censure and blame. A theologian and psychologist team wrote that the document "injured an already vulnerable part of the body Christian" (James and Evelyn Whitehead, "The Shape of Compassion: Reflections on Catholics and Homosexuality," Spirituality Today, Summer, 1987, p. 126). Coleman McCarthy, a leading Catholic columnist for The Washington Post, asked, "Where is the display of mercy and understanding of weakness that symbolizes the church on its best days?"

d. The document does not reflect any consultation with lesbian and gay Catholics. A document which addresses the pastoral needs of specific group could gain much assistance in its formation from listening to the needs and experiences of that particular group. For example, the bishops of England and Wales and the Archdiocese of San Francisco conducted consultations with lesbian and gay Catholic before they published their pastoral guidelines and plan.

The Church’s teaching that lesbian and gay persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, n. 2358) needs to be unpacked in a pastoral document.

4. "We need a conversion of heart that will take us ‘back to the basics’ of the early Christian community. We may have to choose between ‘defending Church teaching" and proclaiming Jesus’ message of love" (p. 75).

This statement is an example of hyperbole. It somewhat rhetorically implies there are two contrasting approaches to the issue of homosexuality. One approach ("defending Church teaching") strongly emphasizes the immorality of homogenital activity as the only facet of church teaching on homosexuality in all that is written or spoken from church sources. It refers to those who are so determine to uphold the moral law that they go against God’s will be an unwelcoming attitude toward those who are not so law-abiding.

The second approach ("back to basics" of proclaiming Jesus’ message of love") assumes that Catholics already know the teaching on homogenital behavior and that mere repetition of it is counterproductive. It is summed up by Jerry Bartram, a gay man, who wrote, "Missionaries tell us you can’t preach the gospel to people who are desperate for food. First you feed them, thus concretely demonstrating the love of God, then you speak. And you speak little. It’s the same thing here: How can life of God grow in anyone’s heart if he believes the God of Love has given him a special curse?" (The Globe and Mail, June 1, 1994). This approach advocates that the Church should emphasize that gay and lesbian persons are children of God whose unique gifts benefit the wider community.

Although these two descriptions may be caricatures of two approaches, the perception among gay and lesbian Catholics is that many Church leaders are more concerned with defending a doctrinal teaching than with living the Gospel imperative to defend a person’s life and livelihood. The statement is not meant to disvalue Church teaching but to point out that certain ways of defending Church teaching betray an unloving attitude and contribute to a loss of credibility toward the Church.

While proclaiming its understanding of the meaning of human sexuality, the Church must also ask what could be done to enable gay and lesbian peel to feel accepted and welcomed in the Church. If Christians say that "we hate the sin but love the sinner," gay and lesbian people answer that they have felt the hate but not the love/ To show genuine love for the sinner, must not the Church actively protest any persecution of gay and lesbian persons and promote truly helpful support programs as a regular component of pastoral ministry?

5. "Attempting a delicate balancing act, the U.S. hierarchy is trying to demonstrate to lesbian and gay Catholics a sense of care and compassion while, at the same time, trying to maintain loyalty to Roman expectations. The two goals may be incompatible" (p. 168).

The first sentence is simply a statement of the current situation. Whether or not the two goals are actually incompatible can be debated. Many gay and lesbian Catholics think the bishops have to choose. Others think the two goals are not necessarily incompatible but, at the very least, involve certain pastoral tension. Two examples may help to illustrate this.

After the 1986 Vatican letter, many bishops, in trying to fulfill their responsibility as authentic teachers of the faith, evicted Dignity groups from the Catholic premises where they were meeting for Eucharist. Many people perceived this action as demonstration of loyalty to the Vatican. Other bishops, in trying to fulfill their responsibility as pastors and shepherds, chose to allow Dignity groups to continue to meet for liturgical services. Many interpreted this action as a caring and compassionate response toward a group that was already hurt and alienated. They felt that these bishops, like Pope John XXIII, preferred the "medicine of mercy rather than that of severity." Many members are so alienated that Dignity is their only bridge to the institutional Church. Some bishops concluded in their pastoral and prudential judgements that some kind of bridge is better than none.

Another example, mentioned above, occurred at the November, 1990 NCCB meeting when the U.S. bishops debated their human sexuality document. Some bishops believed that fidelity to Vatican teaching meant that they should state a homosexual orientation was "objectively disordered." Other bishops believed that such language would further alienate lesbian and gay people. The two goals of being pastoral and compassionate and of maintaining Vatican fidelity were reconciled by Cardinal Bernardin’s suggestion that the Vatican language be placed in a footnote, instead of in the body of text.

6. "Some official Catholic documents on homosexuality have already argued that stable, faithful, committed but chaste homosexual relationships are not outside valid pastoral possibilities and characterized them as a better moral situation than promiscuity. "Catholic teaching, then, can already be seen as supportive of homosexual, committed relationships that exclude genitality" (p. 143).

I. Some official Catholic documents which illustrate that stable, faithful, committed but chaste homosexual relationships are not outside the valid pastoral possibilities and have characterized them as a better moral situation than promiscuity are the following:

a. In 1973, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops states, "A homosexual can have an abiding relationships with another homosexual without genital sexual expression" (Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality, p. 11).

b. "…female homosexuals do not feel the same need for physical expression as males. If they could maintain an intimate relationship with another woman without passionately physical expression, they would settle for it in order to avoid serious sin. Some Catholic women do maintain such a relationship. The emotional reward which they derive from such a relationship more than compensates for the lack of genital expression" (Ibid, p. 14).

c. In 1983, the pastoral plan of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stated, "It is clearly a better moral situation for two homosexual people to live together chastely in a permanent supportive relationship than to seek out partners indiscriminately and promiscuously" (Ministry and Homosexuality in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, p. 22).

II. "They refused, however , to compare this situation and analogously with the marriage relationship as objectively good" (p. 144).

The word "they" in the above quote refers to the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. The "situation" they are speaking of is described in their 1979 pastoral document: A cohabiting homosexual couple who try to refrain from genital intimacy, but who do not always succeed. Commenting on such a pastoral situation, the bishops of England and Wales write:

"There has been an attempt to establish a parity between a normal marriage and the on-going homosexual relationship. This is a false and unacceptable analogy. The pastor may distinguish between irresponsible, indiscriminate sexual activity and the permanent association between two homosexual persons who feel incapable of enduring a solitary life devoid of sexual express. This distinction may be born in mind when offering pastoral advice and establishing the degree of responsibility, but the pastor will not be providing true and helpful advice if he gives the impression that the "homosexual marriage" is objectively moral (An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, p. 8).

7. "Some voices are beginning to suggest that the homosexual orientation as part of human sexuality might be judged as a positive moral good and central to one’s relationship to God and others" (p. 149).

I. Some of the voices which are beginning to suggest that the homosexual orientation might be judged as a positive moral good are the following:

a. In an article entitled, "The homosexual Question in the Priesthood an Religious Life, Gerald D. Coleman wrote, "Since our human sexuality stands under God’s graciousness and sustains the ‘good news’…it is essential in this discussion to stress that human sexuality, both as condition and acts, is never morally neutral" (The Priest, December, 1984, p. 15). The context of this complete article shows that the author does not believe the homosexual orientation or condition is morally evil. Since he stated that it is "never morally neutral," the author can be interpreted to be suggesting that the orientation is morally good.

b. The San Francisco Archdiocesan Plan says that the Church’s ministry must move in such a direction that homosexuality "might be a building block rather than stumbling block in the ongoing search for unity and harmony" (May, 1983, p. 9). This is a positive description of the orientation, not as an evil, but as something good.

c. In Homosexuality: The Test Case for Christian Sexual Ethics James P. Hanigan states, "If it were possible to affirm with any certitude that a homosexual orientation was, in fact, a physical, psychological, moral or spiritual aberration, the charge of ontically flawed in regard to homosexual desire would be justified. But we have seen that such a sure and general judgement is not warranted by what we know about homosexuality from any of our sources" (p. 143). Hanigan’s statement that a homosexual orientation is not a moral aberration suggests that it might be a moral good.

d. Fr. Bruce Williams, OP in "Homosexuality: The New Vatican Statement" says that "…the homosexual orientation of any given person comprises a much broader range of aspects (affectivity, emotional responses, etc.) which have at most an indirect bearing on the proclivity toward genital acts. It is evidently in this sense that PH (no. 1, par. 1) spoke of the human person as ‘so profoundly affected by sexuality that is must be considered as one of the factors which give to each individual’s life the principal traits that distinguish it.’ But this wider sense goes beyond the point of the Letter’s present concern, which is to repel a challenge to the Church’s moral teaching against same-sex genital activity. The ‘objective disorder’ designation, therefore, does not refer globally to the homosexual orientation in all its broader dimensions, but only to its bearing on genital behavior…Thus it is possible and even necessary to affirm one’s overall character –including, possibly, many basic traits pertaining to one’ homosexual orientation taken in its broadest sense – notwithstanding the recognition of disorder in any particular inclination toward any category of sin, sexual or other (Theological Studies, 48, 1987, pp. 267-268). This position suggests that the homosexual orientation, at least in its broader aspects, can be seen as a positive good for the person.

II. Some of the voices which are beginning to suggest that the homosexual orientation might be central to one’s relationship to God and others are the following:

a. In 1983, the Congregation for Education stated that "Sexuality is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communication with others, of feeling and of living human love. Therefore, it is an integral part of the development of the personality and of its educative process" (Educational Guidance in Human Love, no. 4). The Congregation used the words "fundamental" and "integral," which can be synonymous with "central" to one’s communicating or relating to others.

b. In 1981, the Department of Education of the United States Catholic Conference published Education in Human Sexuality for Christians, a set of guidelines for sexuality education. The document refers to the National Catechetical Directory which "emphasizes the Church’s deep appreciation that sexuality involves the whole person" (p. 5). It quotes the Directory directly when it says, "It (sexuality) is both a central aspect of one’s self-understanding (i.e. as male or female) and a crucial factor in one’s relationship with others" (p. 5). Sexual orientation, as part of sexuality, is, therefore, crucial in one’s relationship with others.

c. In their 1990 document Human Sexuality, the U.S. bishops state, "Sexuality refers to a fundamental component of personality in and through which we, as male or female, experience our relatedness to self, others, the world, and even God" (p. 9). Sexual orientation, as part of sexuality, is, therefore, fundamental in our relation to God and others.

d. In a 1993 article entitles "Homosexuals and Spirituality," Gerald D. Coleman wrote that "the homosexual orientation itself is a manifestation of the capacity and need of human persons to grow in loving relationships that in some way mirror the life-giving love of the God in whose image and likeness we are all created" (Chicago Studies, p. 229).