Engagement or Retreat?

Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage

Last summer Commonweal published a controversial essay by Joseph Bottum, “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Bottum, the former editor of First Things, had long publicly opposed same-sex marriage, but in “The Things We Share” he argued that it was no longer prudent for American Catholics to oppose the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage—because such opposition had likely become a lost cause; because the only good arguments against same-sex marriage were no longer intelligible in an essentially post-Christian culture; and because same-sex civil marriage might end up being good for gay couples, as well as for America’s marriage culture more generally. According to Bottum, Catholics should instead concentrate their efforts on the “re-enchantment” of a culture that had forgotten “the essential God-hauntedness” of the world. Because he did not argue for a change in church teaching, many readers of Bottum’s essay criticized him for not going far enough. Many conservatives, meanwhile, criticized him for going much too far.

We invited Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, and Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to comment on Bottum’s argument. Manson’s piece appears below; Douthat’s piece, which we posted Wednesday, appears here, and Joseph Bottum’s response to both is here.

On the first day same-sex marriage became legal in New York State, in July 2011, I headed to Washington Square Park to witness the marriage of two women. The couple, who had been together for nineteen years, first exchanged vows and rings in a commitment ceremony seventeen years ago. The vows they repeated on that Sunday afternoon gave them, at last, equal protection under the law.

After the ceremony, we celebrated with pizza, strawberries, and Prosecco (smuggled into the park in coolers). The twenty people in attendance, whose ages ranged from twenty-one to well over seventy, all shared two things in common with the couple. We were all either gay or lesbian, and we all remained deeply committed to our Catholic faith. The married couple—both former nuns—first met at Mass two decades ago. And it was directly to Mass that they, and most of the wedding party, headed after the festivities.

Seeing these two women still so completely in love after two decades together, few could deny how naturally they complemented one another on every level. But for all of the special and spiritual aspects of the afternoon, I was struck most by how ordinary it was. I wished that those who regard same-sex marriage with contempt, fear, or concern could have observed that celebration. What they would have witnessed would probably have borne a striking resemblance to other weddings they’ve attended: friends weeping over the couple’s vows, taking tons of pictures, and enjoying a great party.

Joseph Bottum is certainly correct that “same-sex marriage is already here; it’s not as though we can halt it”—and that strenuously resisting state recognition of same-sex marriage is an expensive, damaging battle for the Catholic hierarchy. In his view, “American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”

I would take that further. As someone preparing to enter a same-sex marriage with my partner of five years, I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.

Bottum writes that “the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive—for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world.” I agree, though I suspect the truth I have in mind is not what Bottum is gesturing toward. Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples. Many childless couples have demonstrated that their relationships can also be fruitful and life-giving. So why must same-sex couples be regarded as incapable of marriage?

In her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, Margaret Farley proposes that, in addition to meeting the norms of equality, mutuality, and commitment, a just and loving sexual relationship should also demonstrate fruitfulness—which need not be limited to conceiving and raising children. Some married couples are called to be parents, Farley explains, but all married couples are called to bring the life of God into the world by caring for one another, nourishing other relationships, working to mend our broken world, and being a sign of faithfulness to their community.

Rather than making procreation and genital complementarity the fundamental criteria for marriage, we should instead be asking whether spouses are a visible, tangible sign of God’s loving presence in our midst. Does their relationship help them flourish as individuals and as a couple? Does their commitment inspire others to deepen their fidelity and devotion? Are they a sign of the power of forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love? Are the sacrifices that they make for one another an incarnation of the selfless love to which Jesus calls us?

Many of us know same-sex couples that fit this description, and, sadly, we know married heterosexual couples that do not. Reducing these couples to the functions of their anatomies simply does not do justice to the Catholic understanding of human persons. Recognizing the potential of a gay or lesbian couple to fulfill the requirements of sacramental marriage would be one way to embrace “the spiritual meanings present in this created world,” as Bottum puts it. The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.

Bottum seems to want to table the question of whether gay and lesbian relationships are sinful until some future date when the church and the culture are better equipped to discuss it. “After the long hard work of restoring cultural sensitivity to the metaphysical meanings reflected in all of reality,” he says, “Catholics will have enough experience to decide what measure of the deep spirituality of nuptials, almost absent in present culture, can reside in same-sex unions.” For people like myself, and the friends who joined me that Sunday in Washington Square Park, that suggestion is unsatisfactory. By all means, we should work to make our culture more sensitive to the deep spirituality of nuptials. But same-sex couples shouldn’t have to wait for the success of that project, whatever that might look like, before we can participate.

It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.

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"Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions"

 

Not at all: it simply recognizes that our body (including our sexual organs and how we use them) is very significant. Conversely, to affirm that our biology is irrelevant to the way we love, and to our spiritual make-up, is a form of Gnosticism,

I give Jamie Manson credit for a very clear exposition of a common approach to arguing for church recognition of same sex marriage.  She notes a common claim, one which Bottum also accepts: that the church's opposition to same sex marriage is rooted primarily in natural law.  Accepting this claim leads to the inference that, if only the natural-law argument can be refuted, or natural law itself can be reinterpreted, then there is no longer a reason for the church to oppose same sex marriage.  

Such claims on the part of church authorities frequently are countered by the rhetorical approach that Manson employs:  

  • She gives testimony of personal experience, of having witnessed the goodness and even holiness of same sex unions;
     
  • She attempts to show how this transformational personal experience aligns with a corrected interpretation of natural law: if we expand our understanding of notions like fruitfulness to encompass more than literal, biological reproduction, then we see that there is no conflict between the natural law and same sex unions

Naturally, this strategy depends on the primacy of natural law.  But  I think Luke Timothy Johnson had it right in a Commonweal essay from a number of years ago: church opposition to homosexual acts ultimately is rooted in Scripture, and perhaps as a corollary, in the church's own moral tradition (which would seem to  include the church's interpretation of natural law as it pertains to marriage). Thus, ultimately, the barrier to recognizing same sex unions is not natural law, but Scripture - that is to say, divine revelation.  Johnson, who supports recognition of same sex unions, to his great credit is upfront and honest about the challenge, and presents some creative exegetical responses.  

If Johnson is right about the role that revelation plays in the church's opposition to same sex unions, and I believe he is, then I agree that his approach - a different exegesis - is the only way that the church would be able to accept same sex marriages (until, we may suppose, the 2nd Coming).  My own view is that testimony from personal experience, which in charity we should accept as true and sincere, is not adequate to counter the divine-revelation-rooted opposition of the church.  

 

@Carlo Lancellotti

To quote prominent theologian Todd Salzman :

"No one is arguing that homosexual activity is moral because it is natural for those with a homosexual orientation, for that would treat natural facts as moral justification. To be moral, any sexual act, whether homosexual or heterosexual, must be not only natural but also just, loving and in accord with holistic complementarity (sexual, personal and biological). Holistic complementarity includes "orientation", personal, and biological complementarity, and the integration and manifestation of all three in just, loving, committed sexual acts (in a committed marital relationship) that facilitate a person's ability to love God, neighbor, and self in a more profound and holy way."

Our biology is not irrelevant but biology does not, solely by itself, determine the morality of voluntary human action. The RCC does not recognize a same-sex orientation as a natural orientation that someone is born with (and an agent does not choose). They consider a same-sex orientation as an "objective disorder of a universal heterosexual orientation". However, no prominent scienific organization, (e.g., the American Psychiatric or Psychological Associations or the Natiional Institutes of Health) that have studied same-sex orientation has concluded that it is a intrinsic or objective disorder of a  universal  heterosexual orientation.

Keep in mind a most important fact. In ancient times, everyone was assumed to be heterosexual. Thus, homosexual acts commtted by heterosexuals were unnatural, an abomination and immoral. No one knew about a same-sex orientation. Thus, how can we justify the context and ancient beliefs about human orientation and apply those beliefs to the sexual acts of people born with a same-sex orientation in a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship?

 

 

Jim Pauwels,

I agree that hidden behind the natural law arguments is a theological foundation that causes the arguments to be less persuasive to those not predisposed to the worldview and conclusions. Without special pleading about our genitals being different, the argument falls apart.

Jim Pauwels,

Thanks for your comments.

I would argue that what is hidden behind the natural law is not necearritly a theological or even a Scriptural foundation, but a error in anthropology.

As I mentioned, in ancient times everyone was considered heterosexual and homosexual acts choosen by heterosexuals were unnatural, an abomination and immoral. I totally agree!! However, what the RCC has not adequately addressed is this erroneous anthropology. There argument pivots largely to Genesis and philosophical anthropology and symbolic speculation. I ask: was it possible that the ancient writer of Genesis likely suffered from a similar confusion about a universal human orientation, namely, there was no knowledge that people could be born with a same-gender orientation.

Today, the RCC asserts that such an same-gender orientation is "an objective disorder" of a universal heterosexual orientation which is the person's true self. There is no convincing existential evidence given to support this assertion.

I don't believe that the RCC will reverse its teachings on marriage or homosexuality. I only hope that they might find a pastoral solution.

 

 

Mike Barberi:

 

"However, no prominent scienific organization, (e.g., the American Psychiatric or Psychological Associations or the Natiional Institutes of Health) that have studied same-sex orientation has concluded that it is a intrinsic or objective disorder of a  universal  heterosexual orientation."

 

I have a very hard time imagining how any empirical science could ever establish that (or the opposite statement, for that matter).  Psychology, for example, must necessary rely on definitions (in this case "order," and "disorder") which by imply metaphysical assumptions and should be discussed philosophically (and, for Catholics, theologically) because they are pre-scientific.

I have read many times that JPII believed that homosexual inclinations are not a matter of choice but are inborn. Unfortunately, I don't have a reference.

Thanks to Jamie Manson for a beautifully written piece. I love the way she accentuated the positive and drew out from the positive notes in Bottum's piece, and indeed in Catholic tradition generally, a set of attitudes that will be useful to all Catholics coming to terms with their friends' and relatives' samesex marriages.

Thank you Jamie for a very clearly written response.  Best wishes for your wedding.  We will keep you both in our prayers.

 

God Bless

Jim,

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems quite clear that the Church leans on her understanding of natural law for her position.  Recent Popes have criticised the natural law argument and have tended to shy away from it in their arguments.  It's a human philosophy, not divine revelation, and not a very solid foundation for arguments about the morality of same sex acts.  Today it does not enjoy much popular, or Catholic, support.

The scriptural case against homosexual acts is remarkably weak.  Rabbi Jacob Milgrom in his Anchor Bible commentary on Leviticus points out that the verses there are part of the purity code, (including bans on easting shelfish), which is only binding on Jewish men living in Israel, and certainly not on gentile Chirstians in America.  In Romans', Paul does not say same sex acts are sinful, but shameful.  Being crucified is shameful.

There are no scriptural verses clearly speaking against lesbianism.

Despite the prevalance of homosexuality in Roman and Greek society at the time, none of Gospel authors thought it was sufficiently central to Christ's teaching to include in their Gospels.  In Catholic doctrine it is not infallibly defined, is not dogma, and does not even make encyclical teaching.  In the scale of doctrine, this is taught with a rather low level of authority.

I would argue that the Catholic doctrine is about sex acts which are not open to conception (which includes many heterosexual acts) and that the question of marriage is a different question and one not addressed by the tradition.  The moral object of the vows taken at state same sex weddings, to love and be faithfull for life, speak nothing of sex, and are clearly morally good and ought to be supported, celebrated and encouraged.  There is nothing in a state same sex marriage ceremony which in any way contradicts Catholic doctrine.

The Catholic opposition to legalising same sex marriage does not rest on a philosophy of sex or a scriptural exegesis.  It rests on a Social Justice argument that marriage open to procreation is a great social good which justly deserves a special social and legal recognition.  This is not an argument which modern people find very convincing and it has clear limitations in the cases of orhpans, adoption, infertile marriages etc.  Not to mention that many same sex couples are also raising children (often their own) and also deserve in Social Justice the protection and status due their families.

God Bless

 

Holistic complementarity includes "orientation", personal, and biological complementarity,

Mike, even if we assume this is correct, homosexual relationships fail the biological complementarity. So the best they can achieve under this definition is a Holistic 2 out of 3. Not really holistic. 

Are sexual relations "biological"? Only, I'd say, when sperm meets ovum. Otherwise they are physical relations that have the psychological, spiritual, or moral bearing that the participants find in them.

Thank you Jamie  for a well thought out anti-Christian response to the question of SSM and homosexual relations in general. However, the fact - thank God - remains, that the Catholic Church will not change its right-minded position on this issue in any time less than glacial. It seems another case of a homosexual - so over-run by his libido - that it clouds his opinions on the matter.  And that's what they are - opinions - and very bad ones at that.

Perry,

Calling Jamie's reponse anti-Christian is very uncharitable.

No - my response may be "harsh" - but it is not "uncharitable" - as I did not speak to his person, but to his thought - which is - in the end - irreconciable with the Catholic faith on this issue.

Dear Perry Turchi,

Just to clarify, I'm actually a woman, not a man.

I find it remarkable that you would publicly claim to have any knowledge of my libidio. 

But most remarkable of all is your insistance that my theological reflection on my own life--and the lives of so many of my friends and family--constitutes nothing more than a bad opinion, whereas you, in fact, know the absolute truth about the nature of my relationship with my partner. 

Can you imagine anyone ever being so presumptuous about your life, let alone in such a public forum?

Sincerely,

Jamie Manson

Where there is joy, there is God.

Bruce,

The sexual acts couples who are infertile, those married after menopause and those who limit sexual intercourse to infertile times for a long time or a lifetime for good reasons (as Pius XII permitted), fail biological complementarity. These acts of sexual intercourse are not open to procreation, nor are they biologically apt for procreation. The Church does not justify sexual acts in a marriage because the marriage has children, nor does a specific number of children justify sexual intercourse in a marriage. In fact, the moral justificaion of sexual intercourse in marriage does not rest on fucundity at all.

If this is true, then many marriages fail the requirement of biological complementarity. 

 

 

 

Carlo Lancellotti,

You will have to educate yourself on the study in question. I recently read a doctoral dissertation on homosexuality. It covered all the most relevant scientific studies and evidence about this issue. What is moral is not solely defined metaphyscially or philosophically because as you claim, a same-gender orientation is pre-scientific. I don't understand that logic or argument at all. For your information, it is the chruch/magisterium that says a same-gender orientaion is an objective disordered condition of a universal heterosexual orientation. Is this based on philosophical anthropology and symbolic speculation, and not scientific fact? If so, do you think it is reasonable, practical and morally justifiable that a specfic large segment of the population who are born with a same-gender orientation must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence?

 

 

Not to mention the savagery presently attends, an further awaits those who have the audacity of maintaining the "traditional" idea of marriage (once held in high esteem by nearly the entire human race up to - and including Barack Obama in 2008):http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/catholic-schools-pressed-to-give-up-m...

Mike Barberi:

as you certainly know the magisterium (e.g. the cathechism) never uses the word "orientation." If I recall correctly the language of the cathechism, it speaks of "deep-seated inclination" which is quite different from "orientation," inasmuch the latter term want to convey a defining character trait as opposed to a psychological phenomenon.  The magisterium simply recognizes that we are created males and females and this is deeply significant, no matter whom we feel sexually attracted to.

As for "scientific facts" I never said orientation is pre-scientific. I said the determination of what constitutes a disorder or not is pre-scientific. I invite you to read again more carefully my previous comment.

As for your final question, I will turn around: do you think that our instincts (sexual attraction in particular) should determine what is best for us and will bring us to happiness, let alone what is moral?

The sexual acts couples who are infertile

 

Mike,

It's not a question of infertility which determines complementarity. It's a question of the sex organs complementarity;  the entrances to the alimentary canal are not sex organs. Even infertile heterosexual couples are complementary.  And their infertility is an infirmity which may be the result of advanced age, not a complete inability. But I don't expect you to agree, even though it's the truth. 

 

constitutes nothing more than a bad opinion,

Jamie,

It's not a bad opinion, it's a falsehood. Truth is elsewhere. 

Alexander Pruss is one of the brilliant new analytic Thomists and a conservative Catholic.  He has a new book out, "One Body:  An Essay on Christian Sexual Ethics".  What I've read of it is interesting enough, but I note that it can't be said to be a work on natural law sexual ethics.  He uses some natural law concepts occasionally, but not as part of a system.  In other words, he, though he accepts the Church's teachings on sexuality, he apparently doesn't think much of its natural law premises.  I also note that he has named the book "an Essay", a try -- more evidence that he isn't satisfied with current Catholic sexual ethics, not even his own entirely.

 

Perhaps another sign of the times among conservative Catholic ethicists is that John Finnis, of Oxford and Notre Dame and perhaps the most respected of current natural law theorists, says in his highly complimentary blurb of the book that Pruss' "principal argument for the key answers is very different from the one I have articulated over the last fifteen years".  And Robert P. George also contributes an extremely positive blurb  but doesn't mention natural law ethics.  

So I'm wondering, what in the world is going on in the barque of the conservative Catholic ethicists?  They're obviously not jumping ship, but do they think that current natural law sexual ethics is less than persuasive?  Are they tacking?   Hmmm.

 

Ann Olivier:

I am surprised you seem to identify Catholic sexual ethics with natural law (at least in the strict sense of the word as represented by Finnis and George). As you probably know, the dominant current in Catholic sexual ethics over the last few decades (in the sense, at least, that it was embraced by the papacy) has not been natutural law but rather the more phenomenological-existential school well represented by the works of JP II  himself (e.g. "Person and act" and "Love and Responsibility", the Wednesday cathechesis etc.). To be brutally honest, the fact that so many well-informed people in the US think that Catholic sexual ethics is based on natural law is another example of how sometimes this country is a "big island" in relation to the rest of the Catholic world.

One significant problem with legalizing SSM in the current judicial, political and cultural climate, is that such a law will be used to intimidate and silence those who disagree. Not only in the world of journalism, but just as importantly, in the much larger worlds of commerce, education and others. It has already happened and is happening. Once incorporated, there will be progressive calls for "tolerance" - but these will be short lived. Impatience with those individuals and institutions that fail to "get with the program of SSM" will result in legal and public pressure dealt to punish those, who now will be thought to simply be the contemporary version of Bull Connor. 

Thus, I challenge my Catholic friends in this blog to overlook my unfortunately worded previous comments ( born of frustration rather than clear headed and charitable thinking), and attend to the matters just expressed, which I follow up with these questions:

1. What will your responses be when fellow Christians are systematically eliminated from certain professions because they, in conscience, cannot collaborate with their gay brothers and sisters, in an intimate form of activity, if not celebration of the gay lifestyle? Photographers, Bakers, etc.

2. What will your responses be when the same are punished by the coercive power of the state (and of its increasing, and various institutions) with the loss of their livelihoods, and potential jail time - having been prosecuted under vexed "hate-crime" statutes?

3. What will your responses be when, after dismissing such concerns as being overactive fear mongering (or something of the sort), only to increasingly and uncomfortably have to attend to actual cases of coercion - naively having thought that "things would not turn out this way"? 

4. How then will you reassess (or come to finally appreciate) the Church's deeper philosophical and anthropological reasons for opposing the various presuppositions of the "sexual revolution", of which the current craze for SSM is a symptom of - if and when the deleterious social consequences of such a radical re-definition if marriage play themselves out?

 

Carlo --

My comment is concerned with the current Catholic ethicists who are *conservative* Catholics. The conservative Catholics, so far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong) generally still subscribe (with some adjustments) to the traditional natural law sexual ethics of Aquinas.  I'm thinking of the likes of Anscombe, MacIntyre, Finnis, Grisez, and George.   JP II, off course, while not rejecting natural law (so far as I know) did base his system on the phenomenologists, not Thomas, but how many ethicists outside of the Church take JP II seriously as a major ethist?

The irony, of course, is that contemporary non-Catholic ethicists are much more likely to take Anscombe, et al, seriously than they do JP II.  (Yes, I could be wrong.)   

 

 

Carlo Lanceellotti,

The magisterium calls a same-gender orientation (the term often used in modern  theological discusssions) "an objective disorder" of a universal heterosexual orientation.   

The CDF clarifies the meaning of truly human sexual acts in its "Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons". It first states that homosexual unions lack "the conjugal dimension which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality." It then articulates the principle that "sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of life". This is the unitive-procreative principle that in the 20th century became the foundational principle for all Catholic sexual teaching. The CDF uses the term "sexual complementarity" in relation to this principle which includes parenting and the education of children, and on this foundation defends heterosexual marriage and condemns homosexual unions. The term "complementarity" has appeared only relatively recently in magisterial sexual teachings, in JP II's Familiaris consortio (1981). 

The magisterium also teaches that "for serious reasons and obeying moral precepts" it is not necessary that married couples biologically reproduce. They can still enter into a valid and sacramental relationship. In light of this teaching, JP II's statement that "each and every marital act must remain open to the transmission of life" is morally ambiguous in the cases of infertile couples, couples in which the wife is postmenopausal, and couples who practice permitted NFP with the specific intention of avoiding the transmission of life. I ask: In which way are sexual acts between couples "open to the transmission of life"?

As to your assertion that an order or disorder is pre-scientific is merely the way that the magisterium interprets Scripture in one version of philosophical anthropology. However, this discussion immediately shifts to moral justification and definition of human sexual acts as I have just previously commented.

I could go into much detail, but suffice it to say that what is natural is not the moral and sexual instincts by themselves do not constitute the moral either. As Aquinas teaches, the morality of voluntary humans acts are determined by the good motiviations, ends, intentions and circumstances of the agent(s), provided that their exterior acts are virtuous and appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in those ends. However, the magisterium does not ascribe to a particular moral method for sexual ethics. This frees them to decide what is good and evil, moral and immoral, without being consistent with any moral method (except their authority). Such laws are legalistic and most are declared to be moral absolutes where there no room for development. 

I am afraid we are moving into deeper waters, so I will stop here.

 

 

Bruce,

See my recent reply to Carlo Lancellotti for my related comments to yours.

Also, for your information, prominent theologians Janet Smith and Christopher West (noted defenders of magisterial teachings) have said that anal intercourse between heterosexual married couples are not immoral provided that they do not result in "completion". So much for a consensus about sexual complementarity. 

What is physcial is not the moral. The purpose of the sex organs was an inital argument  by the defenders of magisterial teachings in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae. However, such arguments were declared biologism, legalistic and physcalistic. Traditionalist theologians have dropped this argument in favor of other ones.

 

 

Anne:

"My comment is concerned with the current Catholic ethicists who are *conservative* Catholics. The conservative Catholics, so far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong) generally still subscribe (with some adjustments) to the traditional natural law sexual ethics of Aquinas."

Again, that's a somewhat US-centric and academic perspective. But even in the US, if you look at the whole crowd at the John Paul II Institute (e.g. David Schindler etc. Do you consider them conservative?), their approach is very different. You can also find lots of people who pursue the "theology of the body" thing, both inside and outside academia.

Whether secular scholar regard JP II as a serious ethicist is besides the point. Certainly his teaching on marriage and sexuality had a major intellectual impact and cathalyzed a major renewal in Catholic philosophical anthropology.

Speaking of that, in my opinion one of the scourges of North-Americal academic ethics is the tendency to pursue ethic as a specialized, independent field, whereas ethics should always be studied in the broader context of philosophical anthropology. The end result is that so-called "liberal" Catholic ethicist have proven again and again incapable of critiquing secular sexual ethics, precisely because they have always accepted uncritically its anthropological presuppositions.

Mike Barberi:

"The magisterium calls a same-gender orientation (the term often used in modern  theological discusssions) "an objective disorder" of a universal heterosexual orientation."

I have never seen such language ("univeral heterosexual orientation") used by any magisterial document. I suspect you are reading the documents throught the lenses of contemporary US culture.

Carlo Lancellotti,

Perhaps I was not completely clear. The quotation marks should have been only made on the words "an objective disorder". I ask you: what do you think an objective disorder is referring to? IMO, the term refers to a disordered condition of a heterosexual nature or orientation, an orientation or nature that the magisterium claims to be our true selves, something we all are born with. This claim is not based on existential reality or scientific fact but one version of philosophical anthropology.

My reference to a universal human orienation or nature is from the works of theologicans. If you call this comtemporary culture, then all magisterium teachings are influenced by the comtemporary culture of time and place.

 

 

 

Carlo Lancellotti and Anne,

Pardon my interference but I do have something important to say about Aquinas's teaching on the natural law.

I quote moral theologian Bill Murphy: "Thomas taught that the proximate good and end intended by the agent indicates the essence of the human act whereas the relation to the natural end, which corresponds to what is phyiscally caused...is accidental. Of course, accidental does not mean irrelevant, although it does indicate clearly that Thomas's understanding of the natural law is not centered in the non-frustration or normativity of natural ends."

There is a legitimate dispute that so-called natural teleology is to be interpreted as morally binding. Where is the role of reason and virtue in such a moral theory? The appeals to nature, and the claims of revealing the moral order, without the further mediation of reason have been rejected by most theologians as legalistic, physcialistic or biologistic.

 

 

Mike Barberi,

I'd say Smith and West are showing the result of building a theology around an axiom that there is only one place for a man to morally have an orgasm and working from there. All other dimensions of the sexual act are neglected. I can't help but be reminded of Pharisees creating complicating rulings on what does and does not count of work without any curiousity about what the purpose of the Sabbath is.

Mike Barberi:

if you recall, I already commented about the fact that the words "inclination" and "orientation" have very different implications. In particular, the word "orientation" is anthropologically very loaded, inasmuch as it claims to be a fundamental psycho-somatic characteristic, which can take several forms (hetero-sexual, homo-sexual etc.) which have all more or less the same status and are neutral with respect to the fulfillment of our vocation as embodied souls. In other words, the hidden implication is that our given condition as males and females is essentially irrelevant in determining the appropriate form of our sexual self-gift. As far as I can tell, on the other hand, the notion of "disorder" refers not to an orientation but to an "inclination" towards an exercise of sexuality that ultimately conflicts with our biological make-up, which the magisterium regards as very significant.

Hence, I will ask again the question I asked before: do you think that our instincts (sexual attraction in particular) should determine what is best for us and will bring us to happiness, let alone what is moral? And that if such instincts conflict with the giveness of our bodies as capable of reproduction through union with a person of the opposite sex, such giveness should simply be rejected as "biologistic?" But why? It sounds like a very arbitrary stance to affirm the determinative character of a supposedly fundamental "orientation" while rejecting the objective symbolic-sacramental significance of our being create male and female (where both words imply a "for:" to be created male is to be "created for" the female and vice versa).

such arguments were declared biologism, legalistic and physcalistic

Mike,

That's just name calling. It's not a reason or argument and it's essentially equivalent to slander

 

".  .  .  the objective symbolic-sacramental significance of our being create male and female (where both words imply a "for:" to be created male is to be "created for" the female and vice versa)."

Carlo --

I'm sure you didn't mean that as insulting to the single people of this world, but it is.  It's part of the whole Vatican mythology of what men and women are, yes, for.  According to what you say above, we singles are mistakes.  The view is sort of a refinement of Aristotle's view that all women were mistakes of nature.  Sigh.

You seem to think that all Catholics who criticize the current magisterium on sexuality (in some respects) are enemies of natural law theory.  Apparently there are three natural law adherents who criticize Aquinas in some respects who post regularly on this blog -- Mike, Lisa and me.  You really need to change your thinkng about that a bit.

You also sometimes seem to forget that even Aquinas held that although the first principles of natural law are sure, that as we get into more and more specific problems that our thinking becomes less and less certain.  Aquinas, humble to the end, was willing to admit his own fallibility in ethical matters.  Would that Rome were as humble.

It seems to me that there are two main reasons that Alasdair MacIntyre inspires such great respect generally in the community of ethicisists are 1) he has shown the great relevancre of A-T natural law theory, and 2) he is willing to admit, like Thomas, that at least some aspects of natural law theory can admit of revision.  Would that Rome knew this.

"1. What will your responses be when fellow Christians are systematically eliminated from certain professions because they, in conscience, cannot collaborate with their gay brothers and sisters, in an intimate form of activity, if not celebration of the gay lifestyle? Photographers, Bakers, etc.". At the moment, it is gays who are being systematically eliiminated from certain professions -- teaching at Catholic schools, Catholic ministry, etc. The hypothetical photographers and bakers are already collaborating in marriages deemed immoral by the churches, so this is a made-up moral dilemma. 

"2. What will your responses be when the same are punished by the coercive power of the state (and of its increasing, and various institutions) with the loss of their livelihoods, and potential jail time - having been prosecuted under vexed "hate-crime" statutes?"

The expelled gay teachers are the ones actually suffering the loss of their livelihoods. The hypothetical photographers and bakers would not be prosecuted for hate crimes; this is another made-up issue.

"3. What will your responses be when, after dismissing such concerns as being overactive fear mongering (or something of the sort), only to increasingly and uncomfortably have to attend to actual cases of coercion - naively having thought that "things would not turn out this way"?"

Again, how would the coercion be any greater than is currently felt by bakers who have to bake cakes for immoral heterosexual weddings? 

"4. How then will you reassess (or come to finally appreciate) the Church's deeper philosophical and anthropological reasons for opposing the various presuppositions of the "sexual revolution", of which the current craze for SSM is a symptom - if and when the deleterious social consequences of such a radical re-definition if marriage play themselves out?"

In fact the gay marriage movement goes in the opposite direction from the sexual revolution, which was not at all about long-term fidelity and its insitutional embodiment.

 

 

 

"You also sometimes seem to forget that even Aquinas held that although the first principles of natural law are sure, that as we get into more and more specific problems that our thinking becomes less and less certain.  Aquinas, humble to the end, was willing to admit his own fallibility in ethical matters."

Some people here refer to "the Christian faith on this issue" -- which shows how wildly distorted our pereception of Catholic sexual ethics has become.

Sexual ethics is not a matter of faith, not a doctrine. It is a rational effort to discern ethical responsibilities, working with the values and principles of natural law.

The church's reflection on this is hortatory not doctrinal, and efforts to raise some basic principles ("marriage is indissoluble") to the level of binding doctrine invariably fall flat, because the general priniciple is attended by so many apparent exceptions or at least inflections in its practical working-out that erecting it into a dogma fails to get at the intended target.

 

Ann:

"According to what you say above, we singles are mistakes."

Sorry, but you really, really missed the point here, which is that ultimately everybody is FOR ... God!! 

The "for" implied in sexual difference is a sign/metaphor/sacrament of this deeper "being for." But if you cancel the sign you cancel the signified. So much so that in Catholic theology, the vocation to virginity is not understood as a denial of our sexuality (of our being made for another), but rather its fulfillment at a deeper level. This is absolutely crucial...

On this topic I highly recommend von Balthatsar's "The Christian's state of life."

Joseph O'Leary:

"Sexual ethics is not a matter of faith, not a doctrine. It is a rational effort to discern ethical responsibilities, working with the values and principles of natural law."

Such sharp dicotomy is very dubious. How can your "rational effort" not be deeply affected by the understanding of the human condition provided by revelation? Reason is one, and the "intelligence of faith" is still intelligence.

Biology is destiny.  Or is it? What if the principal sexual organ is not the genitals, but the mind or brain? And what if this brain, whether through nature or nurture, matures in ways that do not always correspond with the genitals? This could lead to all kinds of variations such as same-sex unions, bisexuality, and transgendering. I think it is well within the contours of Catholic thology and natural law to give primacy to the brain, and to start over from there in working out the ethics of sexuality. This is how I make sense of pastoral encounter with these issues today. I explore mind rather than genitals. 

Fr. Ken Smits, Capuchin

Carlo Lancellotti,

Your argument fails on several grounds. Your comments at the end of your second sentence is a good example when you say: that heterosexual or homosexual are terms denoting an inclination and are neutral to "our vocation as embodied souls". This is assertion is ambiguous. Our given condition as males and females is "not irrelevant" in determining the "appropriate form of our sexual self-gift". These terms are terms that JP II used to declare contraception intrinsically evil and immoral. You are using the same argument. If you want I can send you, in confidence, an essay which will be published shortly, on this issue. I say "in confidence" because it would not be appropriate for me to distribute it before it is printed and in the Catholic theological publication domain. You are fixated on a teaching that is highly disputed, a teaching that formed, in part, the argument about the "Theology of the Body". This self-gifting theme and argument is complex and I covered it in 18 pages. Hence, we will have to agree to disagree unless we want to drag this conversation into deeper waters.

As to your argument that the "disorder"the CDF refers to is an "inclination" towards an exercise of sexuality that ultimately conflcts with our biological make-up, does not in any way determine morality. The mere possession of male or female genitals is insignificant to constitute heterosexual complementarity because genitals must also function properly. If they cannot function complementarily, as they cannot in either male of female impotence, neither heterogenital nor reproductive complementarity is possible. The magisterium does not require couples to biologially reproduce for the marriage and  sexual acts to be sacramentally licit.

As to your other claims: On what basis is your claim that an orientation or equally descriptive a "nature" a disordered inclination that one is born with? I think we are playing word gymnastics here and neglecting a method that determines what is moral and immoral as your other question of me implies. It seems you are resting on a "magisterium's proclamation" as your moral method, pure and simple. 

I answered your question about our instincts but either you ignored it or did not undersand it. I repeat: the morality of voluntary human action is based on the good motivations, intentions, ends and circumstances of the agent(s) provided the exterior action choosen is in accordance with virtue and is appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in the agent's end. That is the teaching of Aquinas. When you argue over a teaching, and rely of a moral absolute that the magisterium professes as truth, there can be no debate, no scholarly contribution to a better understanding of truth, Scripture, anthropology, theology, et al. Hence, for example your reference to "self-gift" and all that it implies (according to JP II) has been debated for the past 40 years. It is not accepted but disputed for legitimate reasons. It is loaded with claims of how we, in vocation as embodied souls, are to behave in relationship as the morally right action steming from, in part, an inclination. You cannot isolate the act from the person or his nature and determine what is right, or merely ask a question about following one's inclination, and not enter into the morality of voluntary human action.

We are called to love God and neighbor and to flourish. Happiness is a relative term and while it is not immoral to seek earthly happiness, we are called to seek our "ultimate happiness" in God. Along the way, we are confronted with many moral dilemmas and differcult circumstances where the answers are not found in any "answer book". We can be guided by Scripture and the magisterium, but this does not mean that  every teaching of the magisterium is the absolute moral truth with certainty. 

If our instincts, such as our heterosexual or homosexual instincts, conflict with our given and born nature, we need to question them. I don't think you accept that people are born with a homosexual nature. I think you believe that we are all born with a God-given heterosexual nature. On the issue you raised about "the givenness of our bodies as capable of reproduction", for one thing, our bodies are not always capable of reproduction, and many of our actions, claimed to be morally right, are deliberate, willful, physical acts based on the motivation, end and intention of ensuring that every one of our sexual acts (in marriage or union) are not procreative. How do we call some heterosexual sexual acts moral when they are not procreative, and homosexual acts that are not procreative immoral? 

Finally, what is "the objective-symbolic-sacramental siginificance" of being created male and female, and how does this translate to the moral? A teaching based on symbolic speculation and philosophical anthropology cannot be claimed to be a moral absolute. It cannot be the only word or the last word based on symbolic speculation.

I hope my response to your multi-facited, interrelated argument is clearer. 

 

 

 

Bruce,

By your comments, it is clear to me that you are not familiar with the theological debate that has been going on for the past 40 years over such issues. My description of certain arguments as biologiistic, legalistic and physicalist can be found in both tradionalist essys and revisionist theological essays over many decades of scholarly debate. They are not name-calling as you erroneous assert. I suggest you adequaely educate yourself on this matter before you accuse me of the equilvent of slander.

 

 

Beyond all the apparent "vexed" philosophical and theological disputation here, I have a few very basic questions that I would like to ask of those in favor of a revisionist assessment of marriage:    

1. What relationships would NOT be justified being called "marriage" and/or ought NOT be recognized by the State or found enshrined in said State or Federal Constitution?  

2. And, under such "constructivist" arguments, often given by said revisionists, what would be the reasons and justifications for "discriminating" against such named unions?

I am nearly chafing under the utter simplicity of these questions, and having ask them.  Yet they do seem very pertinent to the political,  legal and cultural context within which this whole matter is being debated.

 

Mike Barberi:

thanks for the detailed response. On most of what you said we shall indeed have to agree to disagree, also because this is not the best medium for this type of discussion. I will only comment on your claim

"I don't think you accept that people are born with a homosexual nature. I think you believe that we are all born with a God-given heterosexual nature."

by saying, that, no, I do not accept there is any such thing as either a heterosexual or homosexual nature. If anything, there is a human nature, which includes a sexual or erotic  aspect. However such aspect cannot be isolated artificially and easily categorized. Moreover, human nature itself is marked by  the "desiderium naturale videndi Deum." Therefore, sexual inclinations must be lived (and judged) in the context of our relationship with God the creator, who is also the creator of our biology. To affirm that our biology is a "given" that must be respected is not "biologistic" precisely it is part of the creator's plan for us. Your insistence on the existence of "heterosexual nature" or "sexual orientation" is actually much more biologistic (or, if you prefer "psychologistic") because you arbitrarily attribute normative moral value to psychological phenomena whicho therwise cannot be integrated with what scripture and tradition tell us about the Creator's plan for human sexuality.

@Mr. O'Leary: I'm not sure where you are coming from on the matter, but the cases of photographers and bakers who are being subject to lawsuits are NOT "hypothetical". To the contrary, they are real. This is not a "made up issue" as you naively claim.  A SMALL sampling:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/judge-orders-colorado-bakery-cater-sex-weddings...

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/03/refusing-to-photogra...

The only example(s) you gave of Gays being "systematically eliminated" - were those let go from Catholic educational institutions. Well... those schools often have (and should increasingly have, given the current environment) "morality clauses" which explicitly enumerate those behaviors which would result in possible dismissal. I am unaware of anyone being dismissed simply due to their having same-sex-attraction, i.e., being "gay". If there are, I would oppose that. I don't even oppose homosexuals being ordained into the priesthood, provided they intend to live a celibrate lifestyle, which is required of all priests in the "Roman Rite". 

I also find breathtakingly naive - the assertion that "the gay marriage movement goes in the opposite direction from the sexual revolution, which was not at all about long-term fidelity and its insitutional embodiment."   Concerning this, I render a link below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/us/29sfmetro.html?_r=0

Again, for the sake of brevity, I give just a "sample". The evidence against your assertion can be documented with ample evidence:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/20/opinion/george-gay-marriage/

In the end, I don't believe that the "revisionists" who actually are in the position of effecting the legalizing of SSM (especially in politics and the judiciary) are ultimately interested in, nor patient with giving intellectual arguments for the expansion of civil marriage to include SS coupling (or other non-traditional relationships). They simply want to drive through legislation to get this thing done, and to permanently hamstring those who "dont get with the program" of SSM. To hell with moving more slowly in order to incorporate the reasoned arguments against SSM into the discussion. After all, they are simply "holdovers" from a more "bigoted" age of the Bull Connors of the world.

 

Carlo Lancellotti,

Thank you for responding. I do appreciate your point of view, but do not agree with it.

I would like to know your explanation and justification for your belief that we are all "not born" with either a heterosexual or homosexual nature. Perhaps you can point to some scholarly theological works. Have you studied moral theology? Are you familiar with the theological debate? Are you familiar with the works of James Alison, Michael Lawler, Todd Salzman or Joseph Selling...among others?

According to the magisterium the homosexual orientation is an objective or intrinsic disorder. But what is the term disorder mean? Science has shown from mental health and from animal biology that it is entirely natural, and not in any scientific sense disordered. The magisterium says that such a disorder is not be viewed in this sense, but in the theological sense. Just what does "disordered" mean "theologically"?

Beyond meaning that it is not ordered to procreation, that I have countered by my examples in my previous comments, I have not worked out what a theological meaning might be.

The Vatican theologians have conceded that the condition of homosexuality is entirely natural, and so not disordered in this sense. However, they have not offered any clear explanation of what meaning it does have. 

Does the meaning of homosexuality have a meaning in any reality that can be measured? Or is it merely a verbal construct used by those theologians to reach the conclusions they want? 

According to Catholic theology, the acts flowing from a nuetral or positive inclination could not be intrinscially evil. So, any moral judgment on this inclination must depend on use. If homosexual orientation or inclination is morally neutral, then the judgment that homosexual acts that follow naturally from that orientation or inclination are disrordered does not logically follow. It is like saying, it is ok to be left handed as long as you don't write with your left hand. Of course, this brings us back to the morality of voluntary human action and arguments that homosexual acts are not open to the transmission of life.

I conclude with James Alison that homosexuality has an unstable meaning. As such, we will need to await the day when the magisterium will change its teaching or pastoral application of the moral norm underpinning the teaching...OR provid us with a convincing moral theory in support of these teachings. Until this happens, our Church will continue to be profoundly divided over this moral issue.

I agree that our voluntary human actions must be lived and judged "morally" in the context of our relationship with God, but also in the context of our relationship with others, with virtue, and in the context of our good motivations, good ends-intentions and good circumstances provided that our exterior actions are also appropriate, suitable, and proportionate to the good in the agent(s) ends.

Lastly, no one knows God's procreative plan with moral certainty. I never said that a homosexual nature or sexual orientation was biologistic or psychologistic, and I don't "arbitrarily" attribute normative moral value to psychological phenomena. I do believe that science has an important role to play in helping us to understand what it means to be human and about homosexuality, as one source of truth and not the morally determinate source, in the morality of voluntary human action. As for Scripture, our ancient fathers thought that we are all born with a heterosexual nature or orientation. No one knew anything about a homosexual nature or orientation, or whether certain sexual acts between same-gender persons could be moral in the context of a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship. 

 

 

Perry Turchi,

I would define legal marriage as a durable, exclusive relationship between two unrelated adults that creates a hybrid legal entitiy with mutual rights and responsbilities. The law doesn't care why a particular couple chooses to marry. It only cares that they meet the requirements.

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About the Author

Jamie L. Manson is a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. She is also NCR’s book-review editor.