Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The More Things Stay the Same...

Thanks to Fr. Araujo for passing along the cites to previous discussions of homosexuality. I was intending to post on the Cardinal’s statement (posted below) that there is nothing really new in most recent instruction. In particular, I considered the instruction’s treatment of sexual orientation as a disorder that renders homosexuals unfit for the ministry to be a new wrinkle on the Church’s previous focus on the immorality of homosexual acts (as opposed to homosexual persons). The Church, like the Supreme Court, is forever innovating and then denying that it has ever held a different view, so I’m always suspicious when it protests its consistency.

These earlier documents complicate my view to a degree, because the Church did previously describe “homosexual orientation” as a disorder, but they also provide a vivid example of the point I am making. At first, the Church adheres to a distinction between homosexual acts (which it treats as sinful) and homosexual orientation (which it views as largely artificial).  The Church gradually abandons this distinction in favor (in its most recent instruction) of outright discrimination against homosexuals as a  separate class of persons.


In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God.[18] This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.

The important thing to note is that the discussion in this document is entirely focused on homosexual acts, not on homosexuals as a separate class of persons. Importantly, the document treats homosexual behavior alongside premarital sex and masturbation, actually giving it the shortest discussion of the three.

The next document is at times even more explicit in this regard, although it begins to hedge a bit. LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS (1986):

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian's suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ….The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

The document also introduces the notion that homosexual orientation is itself a disorder, though it does not make much use of the shift:

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

In other words, the Church initially focuses its attention on the sinfulness of homosexual acts and treats the concept of sexual orientation as, for the most part, artificial.  But the Church changes direction in the 1992 document, SOME CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING THE RESPONSE TO LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS ON THE NON-DISCRIMINATION OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS, and begins to focus a great deal of attention on sexual orientation as such:

"Sexual orientation" does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. "Letter," No. 3) and evokes moral concern.

The most recent instruction takes this focus on “homosexual orientation” even farther. Whereas earlier documents appeared to view homosexual orientation as a “cross,” and homosexual chastity as “fruitful sacrifice,” analogous to other areas in which human beings are prone to sinfulness, this document views it as a factor that pollutes homosexuals’ relationships with other human beings to such an extent that it disqualifies them categorically from positions in the ministry. I see no way to square the Church’s most recent statement, with its treatment of homosexuals as something of an inferior class of persons, with its far more moderate and optimistic statement in the 1986 letter that the Church “refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”


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