“Love is the test of truth . . .”
- Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI’s views on homosexuality and same-gender expressions of love are well known. Indeed, as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1980s, the present pope, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, played a key role in defining homosexuality as an “objective disorder,” a “more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil.” This “evil,” of course, is understood by the hierarchical Church as any type of non-procreative sexual activity. Such language and ideology informed Pope John Paul II’s so-called “Theology of the Body” – which remains to this day popular within certain Roman Catholic circles. More recently, Pope Benedict has been on record as saying that: “[The creating of] a legal form of a kind of homosexual marriage, in reality, does not help these people.”
Of course, here at The Wild Reed, I’ve critique the rationale behind such thinking many times (see, for instance, here and here). It should also be noted that a number of distinguished Catholic theologians and scholars, far more learned and articulate than I, have engaged in similar critique. Many of them have also offered alternative, more inclusive ways of understanding and speaking about the complex reality of human sexuality (see, for example, here, here, and here).
I take hope in such efforts of truth-telling, reform, and renewal within the Church, and do my best to be part of them. I have no doubt that they are authentically Catholic endeavors.
I also find hope in the fact that every now and then the pope’s narrow and impoverished perspective on sexuality is critiqued and refuted by his own words. (I actually see such subversive activity as the work of the Spirit, which Jesus promised would always be with us, and which I liken to the gentle yet relentless growth of a flower through cracks in seemingly impenetrable concrete.)
Looking for an example of what I’m talking about? Well, recently in Rome, the pope delivered a speech that according to John Allen, Jr., outlined the “theological and spiritual substructure” of the pope’s forthcoming social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”). While this particular speech may have lacked the specific economic prescriptions of the soon-to-be-released encyclical, it did contain the lifeless-as-concrete rhetoric favored by the pope whenever he explicitly or implicitly refers to homosexuality.
Yet in the midst of all this life-crushing rhetoric, there is a glimmer of hope, a sign of the light, refreshing breath of the Spirit. For at one point the pope observed that:
Love is the test of truth. Ever more we must be measured by this criterion, that truth becomes love and that love makes us truthful.
No doubt unbeknown to the pope, these words offer a way out of the closed-circuit system of ideas and beliefs that currently passes as Catholic sexual theology. What I believe we are witnessing in the above example is the over-arching ideals (truths, if you like) of the Christian enterprise (an enterprise that, at it’s heart, is about liberation and transformation) refuting the pope’s attempts to get specific. It’s as if he gets the “big picture” but has an extremely limited understanding of the diverse ways it’s embodied within and through human life. I guess you could account for this limited understanding by a lack of imagination - or, in theological language, a lack of openness to the Spirit. Either way, it’s an obstacle in our collective understanding, appreciation, and celebration of God’s transforming presence in the lives and relationships of all.
Recommended Off-site Link:
New Encyclical Introduced with Same Old Issues: Relativism, Abortion, and Gay Marriage - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, June 29, 2009).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
Truth-Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology
What is It That Ails You?
The Dreaded “Same-Sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Listen Up, Papa!
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
Making Love, Giving Live
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
Signs of Hope and Creativity
The Gifts of Homosexuality
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
Can You Hear Me, Yet, My Friend?
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
Opening image: A still from Jonah Markowitz’s 2007 film Shelter.