National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 15, 2003

Another Vatican sex disconnect

The Vatican document, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” introduces no new moral teaching, but intensifies Rome’s resolve to get into the political fray on sexual issues.

It is a call to Catholics to refuse to cooperate with any measures that suggest any analogy between same-sex unions and traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Meanwhile, the document will likely be remembered less for what it says than how it says it. Same sex unions are cast as the product of “deviant behavior.” These words were quickly picked up in the media and are reminiscent of two other words used in a 1986 Vatican declaration on homosexuality that termed it a “objectively disordered” state.

The document’s harsh tone makes it less likely it will achieve its intent -- to engage Catholics and others to consider the Vatican position.

It contains admonitions for Catholics of a type and character seldom, if ever, seen recently outside the area of sexuality. This unfortunately adds to a stereotype that sees the church as fixated on sexuality.

The document has been on the drawing board for years, but comes at a time when the hierarchy, through its stunning failure to deal with the clergy sex abuse scandals, has eroded its credibility to deal with sexual matters.

It is yet another tragic manifestation of the disconnect between official church teachings and Catholic practices on sexual matters, a disconnect that can be traced at least as far back as 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, condemning all forms of artificial birth control.

At the core, the Vatican condemns sexual intimacy between two men or two women because they counter traditional, natural law-based teachings on sexual morality. These teachings go back centuries and evolved out of a time when sex was viewed as having one purpose alone, procreation. This view gave way in the second half of the 20th century to a wider view of marital intimacy that made room for mutual psychological support.

Official church teachings on sexuality leave gays and lesbians with no moral recourse to sexual intimacy. With modern science generally concurring that genetics play a significant role in determining sexual orientation, one can reasonably ask why the Creator has placed such special burdens on a large portion of the human family.

Finally, the church’s teachings on sexuality have become bound up with issues of authority. This will require great discernment in the years ahead. Reconsidering any official utterance on sexuality would require admitting the church is capable of error.

This, in turn, would require another examination of claims to infallibility. Much work for another day.

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2003

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