Yawning Bread. January 2007

Intellectual and spiritual torpor: present-day Catholic Church views on homosexuality

source: the writer Dominic Chua himself.





Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed -- Luke 234-35

It was with tremendous sadness and pain that I read the responses to Fr. Renckens’ article "Are Homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?" that were printed in the 21 Jan 2007 edition of the Catholic News. If anything, taken together, they constitute a resounding ‘no’ to the question posed by the title of Fr. Renckens’ original article.

It does not seem worthwhile to take each of the responses separately and respond to them in great detail. Rather, it is more important and more constructive to address the highly problematic mindset of intellectual and spiritual torpor and passivity that characterizes all the replies. Collectively, the letters reflect an unwillingness to engage the issue in and of itself, and bleat the same line if something is out of step with Catholic orthodoxy, it cannot and should not be voiced. Some of the responses take this one step further -- if the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) says that something is sinful and wrong, it must be so.

Yet, is the Church necessarily infallible and right in its various pronouncements? As a human institution, the Church and the CDF are susceptible to prejudice, intolerance and homophobia -- one might add, possibly more so than many other institutions. One only needs to think of the bloodsoaked history of the Crusades, the Inquisition, colonial expansion and the Church’s antipathy to science, to realize that religious institutions, as a rule, are seldom at the cutting edge of progressive thought. How much effort, really, have Ms. Lee, Mr. Pushpam, Mr. Frippiat and Mr. and Mrs. Chia invested in exploring homosexuality as an issue, independently of what the Church has said about it?

It is painfully ironic that so many Catholics are unable to recognize the spiritual imperative in their own Master’s teachings to be attentive to the stirrings of the Spirit -- or, in more secular terms -- their own individual conscience - and instead cling so desperately to the bulwark of institutional teaching. Thomas Tan faults Fr. Renckens for "quot[ing] from a privately authored book and not the Catechism of the Catholic Church or some other conciliar document", and labels his article a "reckless exposition". Christian Frippiat’s main argument rests on his quotation of the conclusion from a CDF clarification dated June 2003. Francis Pushpam argues that what Fr. Renckens advocates is "individualism above the collective wisdom of the church and objectivity." The issue that is being insisted on is a slavish devotion to orthodoxy, with no thought at all being given to the heart of what Fr. Renckens had laboured so hard to give voice to -- the very real social, emotional and spiiritual deprivation that gay people daily experience by their exclusion from the life of the Church and of society.

One suspects that the letter writers have been blissfully sleeping through their many years of Sunday school and indeed, through the Gospel readings that form such a crucial part of the Sunday Mass. The Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus himself pitted themselves time and again against institutional teaching that had become ossified and socially unjust.

It’s a sentiment that permeates Jesus’ teaching -- one thinks of his injunction to heed the spirit of the Law, rather than to obsess about the letter -- but which finds its most forceful expression in Luke 1146, where Jesus condemns the religious authorities of his day and age "A curse is on you, teachers of the law! For while other people are crushed under the weight of the rules you make for them, you yourselves do not put as much as one finger to them."

Homophobia is in many ways the last great discrimination of our time. The Catholic Church needs to awaken to the fact that much of its teaching about homosexuality is not only homophobic, but runs deeply against the caritas of Jesus’ teaching and message. Church teaching on the subject rests chiefly -- not on anything which Jesus said – but on the Thomas Aquinas’ borrowing of Greek philosophy.

The Thomistic natural law understanding of homosexuality interprets homosexuality as immoral because it is un-natural in two main ways – it is not found in nature, and it runs counter to man’s nature (i.e. it 'perverts' how certain organs should be used and is non-generative). What biologists are increasingly discovering is that homosexuality is very much a part of nature -- it regularly recurs as a small minority in many animal species.

As for the second argument, Thomas Aquinas’ emphasis on 'generativeness', or the physical dimension of (pro)creation is unnecessarily limiting. One only needs to think of the important work which priests, teachers, artists and writers perform, to understand that we can think far more creatively and fruitfully about the idea of 'generativeness'.

Ultimately, the point is about how we want to approach the issue -- whether we want to let go of our prejudices, or whether we prefer to hold onto them, because they provide a comfortable structure with which to view the universe. Texts can be interpreted one way or the other, whether in support of or against homosexuality. Thomas Aquinas may have introduced one way of looking at homosexuality, but there is no real need to cling to what demonstrably produces an un-Christ-like response in institutions and individuals.

Gay people are not seeking to convert entire populations -- this is a myth that leads to the silly notion perpetuated by right wing thinkers, that ‘gay relationships will destroy society’. What gay people are seeking is the recognition of their lives and loves as a vital and important part of the Church and of society. Not the central tune, but a harmonic line that floats over and above the melody, and which complements it. The Church can continue to exclude and marginalize gay people -- or it can find the moral courage to acknowledge and honour the ways in which they are a blessing to the Church. Unlike sexuality, this is where the real choice is.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Chua


Foreword by Yawning Bread

See the essay Renckens' wrenching idea, that refers to an article by Fr. Renckens published in Singapore's Catholic News, and the many negative responses to it.

Dominic Chua wrote this letter on or around 15 January 2007, in response to those responses. It was addressed to the Catholic News (not yet published, but the writer permitted me to publish it here) and Archbishop Nicholas Chia.