Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Exciting Endeavor

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!

Above (from left): Mary Beth, David, Joe, and Henry
- October 25, 2009.

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).


Terence said...

Thanks Michael. It's a great job you guys are doing, and good to have the process described for all the rest of us. I'm glad you point out that the theology already exists (at least in outline), and not only in actual practice. It is clear to anyone who begins to go into the matter, that there is a huge disjunction between what the Vatican proclaims, and what the theologians are saying.

As James Alison has pointed out, it can be only a matter of time before the institutional church catches up. What your team are doing is what we should all be doing in one way or another to push the process along: God speed in your endeavours.

The only point where I take issue is with your preference for “people with same-sex attractions.” over LGBT, because "This last recommendation respects the basic courtesy of allowing individuals to identify and name themselves."

I don't believe that is how the community in general does describe themselves - there simply is no agreement on any terminology (I wish there were). Personally, I dislike the alphabet soup of LGBT or LGBTQI; I dislike your formulation as too lengthy. I like simply "gay", but accept that many people don't see it as inclusive. I also like queer, as a shorthand for including all sexual minorities, straight or gay - but some still find it offensive.

There is no solution - so until we find consensus (unlikely), I just flounder from one term to the next, using a range of words in different contexts.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Terence,

Thanks for your comment and positive feedback on our work here in the Twin Cities.

Just a point of clarification: we prefer "LGBT" over "people with same-sex attractions" as the former is what I think most gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people would opt for if given a choice between the two.

As I'm sure you know, the institutional component of the Roman Catholic Church (arrogantly, in my opinion) choices not to acknowledge or use the term LGBT - or gay, lesbian, etc. It does this because 1) without genuine dialogue or consultation with others, it’s attempting to frame and the issue from within its own closed circuit system of circular logic; and 2) it believes that terms such as gay or LGBT connote certain ideological commitments that are contrary to being a Catholic. Of course, it’s ludicrous to think that the term “same-sex attraction” and its substitution for “gay” or “LGBT” doesn’t itself connote certain ideological commitments.

For Catholics who can only ever talk of “same-sex attractions,” chief among these “commitments” is an unquestioning obedience to the Magisterium.

Yet as I note elsewhere, those who base their Catholic identity on such obedience have, in fact, grafted a reactionary, fear-based ideology onto a religion that in actuality is all about inclusion, justice, community, and compassion – all of which convey a sense of ongoing journey or pilgrimage when it comes to understanding and living our Catholic faith.

LGBT Catholics, and indeed all who advocate for the basic human rights of LGBT people within both church and society, embody such an understanding of the faith. Accordingly, they seem to me to be more aligned with the authentic Christian values of inclusion, justice, community, and compassion, than those who commit to unquestioning obedience to the teachings of the Magisterium and, by extension, an understanding of church modeled on the paradigm of absolute monarchy.

I think it’s important to remember that such unquestioning obedience to the Magisterium also means unquestioning obedience to the discredited science, impoverished sexual theology, and biblical and doctrinal fundamentalism which, sadly, goes along with the Magisterium’s understanding of human sexuality.

I know, Terence, that you would be in total agreement with me when I say that as Catholics we can and should do better.



Terence said...

Absolutely I agree with you Michael. I guess I must have just misread your words - sorry: should have done better.

I still weary of the need, let alone impossibility, of finding a simple agreed term to describe us. We don't need a word to describe those who like redheads, the Greeks did not need a word for guys who preferred men.

Nor should we.

Mareczku said...

That was an excellent article, Michael. Also, a great discussion between Terence and you. I don't get the expression, "people with same-sex attractions." In truth, I think that most people do have some attraction to people of the same sex. Many people find people of the same sex attractive. I think such a term reduces people to an attraction. I agree with you a little Terence about the term LGBT. I don't care for the term "queer" as I consider it a put-down. I prefer "gay". I go to a Catholic news site and they use the word "homosexualist." Do you know if this is actually a real word? Or is it just a slang term? I have never seen this word used before I went to this Catholic site. I feel that they use it as an insult. Is this a word that the Church uses?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your great comment. I have come across the term "homosexualist." It's another rather pathetic attempt by anti-gay elements to frame the issue using a term divorced from the experiences and insights of actual gay people.

If the potential consequences of such attempts weren't so dangerous and tragic for gay people, they'd be laughable. Still, I take heart that President Obama signed into law today the first major piece of federal gay rights legislation - one which, as I'm sure you're aware, adds acts of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the list of federal hate crimes.



Mareczku said...

Yes, Michael, that is wonderful that President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act. This sends a powerful message. I am still waiting to hear "Courage's" take on this. I hope that they approve of gay people getting added protection against hate crimes. It would be good if they could stand up against hate, bigotry and prejudice directed against gay people. Some of those people think that gay people should put up with ill treatment as part of "carrying their cross." On the other hand, they tend to go easy on the homophobes (even though they don't care for that term).

Paula said...

Your work/study group sounds great, Michael. As a relatively straight woman, I support your attempt to wrench church teaching into line with the Gospel of love. It is an exciting endeavor.

TheraP said...

I followed Terence over here from Colleen's blog. And I'd like to chime in here a bit as I've been thinking about this somewhat myself. Indeed, back in November, I posted something on a political website, though from a spiritual perspective. So I'd like to throw that into the hopper here, if you don't mind:

Because it seems to me that altogether too much has been made of "legalistic" proof texts to condemn people ("created in God's image"!), whereas the virtues (of hospitality and community and love and compassion and kindness and justice, etc.) would DEMAND that we love our neighbor - no matter who that neighbor is or is called to be.

I always like to start with the Trinity. With "relationship" being an essential component of everything, from the Divine Life on down to the smallest iotas like the quanta of the universe. And I like to ground my ethics in the principles which one can derive from the way Jesus interacted with others.

I'm not a theologian, though I've studied some theology. I'm a therapist, a psychologist. And a believer that part of being human is being spiritual.

It seems to me that sometimes we've allowed conservatives to decide on the "playing field" of an argument, a debate. Instead of defining the "playing field" for ourselves. I'd far rather see playing fields which insist that any "rule" apply to everyone. The rule of love. The rule of justice. The rule of fidelity. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Etc. Instead, the RC hierarchy of late seems to have cordoned off little sections, where "rules" apply to some but not to all and rules exclude these "some" - whether gays or women, etc.

So I start with the Trinity. And I start with the assumption that virtues, rather than legalistic "proof texts" be the basis of ethics. And I insist that whatever the rules turn out to be, they must be ones that apply equally to all of us. Beyond that, of course, there's the whole issue of ethical decision-making of how one balances "goods" or refrains from doing harm to anyone - again a balancing act.

I have one more thought prompted by the post and discussion here. The absence of "language" is a way of making people or problems invisible. Eskimos, for example, have something like 20 terms for "snow". And they can talk about snow in ways we can't even conceive! Without words, without language, experience remains "unformulated" and unavailable for analysis. Yes, we need words for how to discuss this! And we need to convert society into using those words! Or the silence and secrecy will continue....

Peace be with you. I remain very interested in the future of the Church (in its widest sense) - the people of God - ALL God's people!

Michael J. Bayly said...

Wonderful comments, TheraP. Thank you for sharing them here at The Wild Reed. I hope you visit here again and share on a regular basis your wise and passionate thoughts and insights.