Yawning Bread. January 2007

Renckens' wrenching idea




Christian Frippiat was "shocked" to read in the Catholic News, Singapore's diocesan newspaper, that a Roman Catholic priest hoped that the church would understand homosexual orientation as "a ‘variant’ or ‘diversity’ of our human condition".

"The church is quite clear on homosexuality," Frippiat insisted.

Thomas and Cecilia Chua even objected to the use of the word 'homosexuals': "They are man or woman, and not a third sex called 'homosexuals'," they wrote. "The person and the action (or tendency to the act) is different. If they are different, the person has a choice, a freedom of will to act. Labelling tends to combine the person and the act as one and the same."

The article in question

These were among the responses to an article, the first of two parts, titled 'Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?' by Father Albert Renckens, published in the Catholic News in December 2006.  Renckens, originally from the Netherlands, has been in Singapore for over 30 years, and is currently retired. He was formerly based at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, near Queenstown metro station.

In the article, which was clearly prefaced as representing only his personal views and not that of the very hierarchical church, the priest began by saying that, 

some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore do have the impression that they are not welcome in our church. Is their impression wrong, or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Are we right in rejecting them or are we guilty of pushing these people out of the church due to our own ignorance?

He then attempted to provide an alternative view of how the church should see homosexual people. 

What is in the sexual nature of heterosexuals (or straight people) -- to be attracted to, to admire, to fall in love with, to hold hands, to hold each other, to dance with, to be in each other's company, to kiss each other, to have the desire to be one body; all  these with somebody of the opposite sex -- is also in the nature of homosexuals (or gays, as they are sometimes called), but with people of their own sex.

Further on, he wrote,

Homosexuals have not made themselves what they are. It is also not their choice to be different.

It's a point of view that would later be a bone of contention.

They find themselves to be homosexual in the same way people find themselves female, or Chinese, or short, or shortsighted. So, to ask them to change is a sign of ignorance. It is like asking somebody who is Chinese to be Indian instead.

Then he waded in deeper: 

Homosexuals, however, are able to enter into a permanent relationship of love and care with a partner of their own sex. In such a homosexual relationship, there is a kind of similarity with marriage....

Renckens acknowledged Catholic teaching on the subject, which was that, 

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.

This was quoted from a book 'The Homosexual Person' by J. F. Harvey, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1987, pp. 16-23. He would later be slammed for citing from merely a book, not the Vatican's official catechism -- though both say the same thing.

He then concluded by saying, 

The first line... is very important: it is not a sin, and you are not less loved by God when you are homosexual.

The rest of point 2, however, I fail to understand. The term 'objective disorder' is clearly based on the Thomistic philosophy of human nature from the 13th century. I hope in future documents the homosexual orientation will be understood as a 'variant' or 'diversity' of our human condition. 

And that was what elicited the "shocked" response from Christian Frippiat, as mentioned at the start of the essay.

There are no homosexuals, or being gay is not natural, or it's natural but should be suppressed... whatever

As Renckens himself expected, his article would draw much controversy. [1]

Thomas and Cecilia Chua refused to entertain the idea of a distinct class of people under the term 'homosexuals'. In their view, they were either male or female, just like other males or females, except that they have an intrinsic tendency to moral disorder. The Chuas argued that the "person and the action" are different. It seems to them that  biological males should act on their maleness, which they have assumed to mean attraction to and sex with females, and vice versa for females. They do not question this assumption.

In fact, they went on to dispute Renckens' assertion that it is not homosexuals' choice to be different.

The article tends to give the impression that it is a fact that such people are born (created) with this orientation -- i.e. it is 'natural' (which then makes it easy to say the homosexual act is 'natural').

The comparison with people who are born 'taller' or of a certain race, tends to again emphasize the author’s opinion that this is an inborn characteristic (similar to height or race). Is this indeed the case? When we last read the many websites on this subject, the information suggested that, as yet, there is no scientific evidence to support this opinion. Does the author (or CN) have new scientific evidence accepted by the church, to support this opinion?

It's not clear what websites they have been reading, but it isn't difficult to find scientific evidence that points to a biological basis for homosexual orientation. Of course one has to be careful to distinguish between the many pseudo-scientific websites put up by creationists and fundamentalist Christian anti-gay organisations and real scientific ones. Their last qualification -- "scientific evidence accepted by the church" -- was particularly interesting; even if there is scientific evidence, it is not admissible for argument until the evidence has been accepted.

Another letter, from Evonne Lee, also took issue with Rencken's positioning of homosexuality as natural. She wrote,

There has been tremendous debate on whether homosexuality is nature or nurtured, but there has been no conclusive scientific evidence to date.

Lee felt that Renckens was wrong when he voiced the view asking homosexuals to deny their orientation would be an ignorant request equivalent to asking them to change their race.  

This line of reasoning is highly illogical and weak.

Thomas Tan held the same view. In his letter, he wrote, 

The analogies used in comparing natural dispositions like height and race to disordered sexual orientations defy common sense and is irrelevant. There is little distinction in this article between homosexual persons and homosexual lifestyles, attitudes and practices.

On the contrary, to make too much of such a distinction is to let agenda distort reality. Despite his dismissal -- "irrelevant" -- the analogy is sound, for homosexual orientation is intrinsically natural to some people; the only way this can be refuted is to deny the rapidly accumulating scientific literature. 

And as limned by his second sentence, his fall-back position is that even if it is natural, humans have free will, and the free will should be used to suppress that inclination and 'turn straight'. However, it should be noted that he and others like him offer no rational reason why people should turn straight or be celibate; why being straight or celibate is considered morally superior (short of referring to sectarian scriptures to argue the case). Why should homosexual people pay the psychological price of even trying to abjure an essential part of their being? For whose sake? Indeed, the psychological damage has been well documented for decades.

Absent better arguments, the comparison between sexual orientation and other intrinsic characteristics such as height, race and lefthandedness remains valid.

Different views not welcome

St Peter's Basilica, the heart of the Vatican 


The other objection that was evident through a number of letters was that Renckens' article should never have been printed in the newsletter. 

Francis Pushpam said it was "disturbing that it was allowed to go to print." Many lay Catholics, in his view, "regard priests’ views almost to be Gospel truth," and Renckens' "deviant views" should not have been in the newsletter.

Thomas and Cecilia Chua concurred. "The average reader tends to accept what is written without much question."

Thomas Tan too felt that "the article [was] disturbing, .... because Father Renckens’ arguments and claims [were] clearly not in line with Catholic moral teaching."

It was wrong for a priest to be given space in the diocesan newsletter to air his personal views, he argued.

Tan also took Renckens to task for quoting from a privately authored book and not the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Doing so, he said, constituted "selective reasoning", though Tan didn't explain how relying on the Catechism wouldn't be selective. Finally, he castigated Renckens for "question[ing] the wisdom and righteousness of church teaching."

These writers all believed that it was terribly destabilising for dissenting views to be aired. Their idea of a strong faith seemed to be one of unquestioning  obedience to the Catechism handed down from the Papal office.

Dominic Chua was aghast at the "intellectual and spiritual torpor" that such an attitude signified. His letter in response can be seen here.

© Yawning Bread 



  1. The letters responding to Fr. Renckens' article (part 1 of 2) were published in Catholic News, 15 January 2007. They can be seen at http://veritas.org.sg/?dispall=1. Once at that page, you will need to scroll down to look for the line: 
    24 Jan 07 "Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?" draws strong views 
    I don't know how long the page will remain up.
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