No, I’m not talking about turning 44, but about how this past Sunday members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Work/Study Group met at my home to continue planning our part in the 2010 Synod of the Baptized, “Claiming Our Place at the Table.”
Responding to areas of disconnect
As I’ve mentioned previously, a number of CCCR work/study groups have been established – each focused on an area of disconnect between current church practices and the church’s mission to manifest God’s love. These areas of disconnect include: Church Authority and Governance, Bishop Selection, Clericalism, Communication in a Polarized Community, Church as a Community of Equals, Catholic/Christian Identity, Catholic Spirituality, Emerging Church, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Social Justice, and Faith Formation of Children and Youth.
At the 2010 Synod each work/study group will present recommendations for church practices and policies that align with the Gospel message. Those present at the synod will also work together to develop an ongoing strategy within the local church to communicate these recommendations – recommendations for the building of a Catholic culture of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love. By changing church practices we envision transforming the culture of our local church into one that faithfully lives out its mission. In doing all of this we aim to model a type of participation led by a coalition of the baptized that will serve as a template for church reform within dioceses across the country.
An alternative theology
Five of us from the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Work/Study Group met at my home on Sunday. We shared a meal, discussed the book we’re reading together (The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology by Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler*) and brainstormed ideas for practices that, if implemented in the local church, would ensure the manifestation of the gospel values of equality, inclusivity, and love. In the view of the wider coalition, such manifestation comprises the mission of the church.
One thing that we all agreed on was that the recommendations we come up with and eventually present next September at the 2010 Synod should convey an alternative theology on human sexuality to the one currently being promulgated by the Vatican. This “alternative” theology would be open to being shaped by both faith and reason, i.e., by the presence of God within the lived experiences of all, and by the insights on sexual orientation and gender offered by the sciences.
We also discussed the idea of developing a list of inconsistencies within the Vatican’s current theology of sexuality. Such inconsistencies have been termed by Catholic author Garry Wills as examples of “intellectual dishonesty.” An example would be the church’s allowing of couples past the age of procreation – or where one or both persons are sterile – to marry, while at the same time the church is insisting that every sex act must be open to procreation.
In addition, we discussed educating ourselves about transgender issues, and decided that we would ask a local couple – a woman and transgendered man – to come and share their story with us.
Finally, we discussed some possible recommendations that even at this early stage of our work/study group process seem obvious, e.g., the practice within and by the church of distinguishing between sacramental marriage and civil marriage; the practice of a respecting the civil unions of all people – gay and straight; the practice of regular meetings between chancery officials and the LGBT community in which a mutual exchange of ideas, experiences and insights can be shared; the practice of archdiocesan-wide listening circles wherein Catholics can actually get to meet and know LGBT individuals and families, thus dispelling erroneous and damaging stereotypes and fallacies about LGBT lives, relationships and families; the practice of referring to LGBT people as “LGBT” people rather than as “people with same-sex attractions.” This last recommendation respects the basic courtesy of allowing individuals to identify and name themselves.
As you can see, making the case for these types of recommendations we will require a theology of human sexuality above and beyond that which the official church is currently prepared to explore, let alone embrace. Yet it’s a very different story within the church as “people of God.” Most Catholics already are living an alternative theology of sexuality to that dictated by the Vatican. As Simon Rosser has noted: “Whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention, the official Church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and ill-informed, that I’m confident that less than 5 percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching.”
An exciting endeavor
In short, an “alternative” theology already exists; we, as members of the CCCR Work/Study Group on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, are well aware that we don’t have to create it. It’s not only already being lived at the grassroots, but it’s been developed and articulated for decades by many highly respected Catholic theologians and scholars. We see our job as researching the writings of these theologians and scholars so as to find support for the recommendations we would like to see implemented within our local church. And, of course, our research will no doubt inspire us to come up with additional recommendations. To use the words of Salzman and Lawler, we’ll be exploring the “methodological and anthropological developments that invite a reconsideration of [the church’s sexual] norms and their justification.” It’s an exciting endeavor that we’re undertaking, to be sure.
I’ll conclude this post by sharing an insightful excerpt from the prologue of Salzman and Lawler’s The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology. This particular excerpt identifies and discusses the “intellectual conversion” that has and continues to take place with regard to the “tradition of Catholic sexual teaching.” The authors note that this type of conversion “reflects, stimulates, and affects moral and religious conversion.” Put another way, faith and morality can and should be capable of being informed and shaped by reason. They also observe that this intellectual conversion is reflected in a “disconnect between many of the Magisterium’s absolute proscriptive sexual norms and the methodological and anthropological developments explicitly recognized and endorsed throughout Catholic tradition, especially since the Second Vatican Council.”
Salzman and Lawler contend that, as noted above, “this conversion is marked by methodological and anthropological developments that invite a reconsideration of norms and their justification.”
The methodological developments include a fundamental shift from a primarily classicist worldview to a primarily historically conscious worldview. The classicist worldview asserts that reality is static, necessary, fixed, and universal. The method utilized, anthropology formulated, and norms taught within this worldview are timeless, universal, and immutable, and the acts condemned by these norms are always so condemned.
Historical consciousness, grounded in existentialism, fundamentally challenges this view of reality. According to the historically conscious worldview, reality is dynamic, evolving, changing, and particular. The method utilized, anthropology formulated, and norms taught within this worldview are contingent, particular, and changeable, and the acts condemned by these norms are morally evaluated in terms of evolving human knowledge and understanding.
The shift from the classicist to the historically conscious worldview is reflected, for example, in the Magisterium’s endorsement of the historical-critical method for interpreting scripture articulated in Divino afflante spiritu and Dei verbum, which requires that scriptural texts be read in the “literary forms” of the writer’s “time and culture.” Through this method is clearly established and marks an explicit shift in the Catholic tradition in how scripture is to be read, interpreted, and applied to ethical issues, magisterial teaching continues to proof-text scripture to justify absolute norms condemning sexual acts, which reflects the exegetical method of the moral manuals rather than the historical-critical methods of recent tradition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, references Genesis 19:1-29, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as a scriptural foundation for the absolute prohibition of homosexual acts. Most biblical scholars, however, relying upon the historical-critical method, assert that the central meaning of this passage is about hospitality or homosexual rape and has virtually no relevance to the discussion of people with a homosexual orientation in monogamous, committed, loving relationships. Though the Magisterium espouses the historical-critical method for interpreting scripture and advocates utilizing other methodological resources such as the sciences to formulate its teachings, it fails to fully consider and integrate the normative implications of those methodological developments into its teaching, especially with regard to many absolute sexual norms. It continues to cite certain scriptural passages to condemn many sexual acts, whereas its own method indicates tht these passages are peripheral, if not irrelevant, to the acts it is condemning. The historical-critical method does not support this classicist approach to justifying norms.
A similar disconnect exists between sexual anthropological developments in Catholic tradition and the formulation and justification of absolute norms. Gaudium et spes marks a radical evolution in Catholic sexual teaching and, by implication, the sexual anthropology reflected in this teaching, by eliminating the language of the hierarchy of the ends of marriage. Before the Second Vatican Council, procreation was the primary end of marriage and union between spouses was the secondary end of marriage. In Gaudium et spes, hierarchical language for the two ends of marriage is rejected and “the nature of the human person and his acts” is posited as the foundational principle for harmonizing the ends of marriage. This marked a fundamental shift and development in Catholic sexual teaching and anthropology, but there is little evidence that the Magisterium has fully incorporated this shift into its sexual anthropology or into its formulation and justification of norms. As we will demonstrate throughout this book, the emphasis in its teaching continues to be on the “nature” of the act rather than on the “nature” of the human person and his or her acts.
* Salzman and Lawler note that they intend their book to be “part of a genuine dialogue,” as they believe that “genuine and respectful dialogue about sexual morality, and indeed about all that is involved in the life of Christian discipleship, is sorely needed to clarify Christian truth today.” Yes, it seems the perfect book for our work/study group!
For my first report on CCCR’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Work/Study Group, click here.
For previous Wild Reed post concerning CCCR, see:
The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
Many Voices, One Church
“Something Exciting and Joyous”
See also the related Wild Reed posts:
A Time to Rethink the Basis and Repair the Damage
The Call to Be Dialogical Catholics
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology
Recommended Off-site Links:
Work/Study Groups Underway - Michael Bayly (Progressive Catholic Voice, June 12, 2009).
In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics? - Progressive Catholic Voice (February 10, 2009).
CCCR’s 2010 Synod: A Progress Report - Michael Bayly (Progressive Catholic Voice, July 23, 2009).
Chancery Issues Statement on CCCR - Progressive Catholic Voice (August 12, 2009).
CCCR Responds to Censure from Chancery - Progressive Catholic Voice (August 13, 2009).
The Church’s Mission: Turned Upside-down by Its Culture? - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, September 1, 2009).
CCCR’s 2010 Synod: A Second Progress Report - Michael Bayly (Progressive Catholic Voice, October 14, 2009).