Rev. Dr Shaji George Kochuthara CMI
Dharmaram College, Bangalore
1) An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender. This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey. Surveys in Western cultures find, on average, that about 93% of men and 87% of women identify as completely heterosexual, 0.5% of men and 1% of women as evenly bisexual, 0.5% of men and 0.5% of women as mostly homosexual, and 2% of men and 0.5% of women as completely homosexual. An analysis of 67 studies found that the lifetime prevalence of sex between men was 3-5% for East Asia, 6-12% for South and South East Asia, 6-15% for Eastern Europe, and 6-20% for Latin America. We may not have exact figures but the estimates given above indicate there is huge number of people with sexual orientations different than what is considered normal or heterosexual. Do you think there is real problem in our moral thinking?
Thank you for indicating some of the survey reports. Survey reports are so varying. In general it is pointed out that based on various surveys, we can say that the percentage of homosexuals and lesbians is between 2 and 10. We need not be confused at this wide ranging percentage. This is due to surveys conducted in different contexts – countries, continents, cultures, etc. If we take the minimum, there should be at least 15 crores of people with same-sex orientation [the world population is 7.5+ billion], that is, in India, there may be more than 2 crores [20 million] homosexuals and lesbians. We may also remember that even in confidential surveys, many may not reveal their real sexual orientation due to the fear of social rejection. That is, the real number of homosexuals and lesbians may be higher. If we include also Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queer (LGBTQ), the number may be even more.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible” (No. 2358). Why the percentage or number is important? Often, there are attempts to argue that the number of homosexuals and lesbians is very low, and hence it is due to some deviation, it is unnatural. But the number does not appear to be low. How should the Church deal with them? Will it be correct to consider their condition as ‘deviation’ or ‘abnormality’? Also, sometimes the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’/‘abnormal’ is influenced by the majority! Is it a correct criterion? If majority is the criterion, what shall we say about the violations and injustice done by the majority in the society, or by a government which has the majority?
I am not trying to argue that since there is a good number of homosexuals/lesbians, it should be recognised as moral. Instead, I am trying to point out that majority should not be the criterion to decide moral norms; we should take into consideration the equal dignity and rights of every person. We should also consider the suffering of so many homosexuals/lesbians.
2. Thirty years since homosexuality was removed from the list of recognized mental disorders, scientists persist in searching for a “cause.” Is there a scientific consensus on sexual identity that sexuality and sexual desire are social constructs or biological or genetically determined? Unless we have definite picture of sexual identity how are we going to determine the ethical dimension of sexual orientations?
In fact, in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed ‘homosexuality’ from the list of pathologies/abnormalities. American Psychological Association took a similar decision in 1975, and American Psychoanalytic Association in 1991. This does not mean that there is consensus about homosexuality in the scientific world.
Similarly, regarding the ‘cause’ of same-sex orientation too, there is no consensus. There are opinions that there is a biological reason for same-sex orientation, but so far nobody has succeeded in proving that. Has anyone identified a gene causing same-sex orientation? I am not arguing that there is no biological basis, but that so far studies haven’t confirmed it. Psychological theories also haven’t given any conclusive answers. In spite of all these, there are many homosexuals/lesbians who have ‘irreversible’ or ‘incurable’ condition of same-sex orientation, not because of any choice made, but because they are like that.
Are human sexuality and sexual identity and sexual desire biological/genetic or social constructs? I do not think that there is a precise answer for this. Many theories give more importance to one or the other factor/s. What we can say rather clearly is that sexual identity and sexual orientation are formed by an interplay of the biological and psycho-social factors. We cannot separate nature and nurture. Moreover, it is said that one’s sexual identity is formed by the age of five and only rarely it may change. All these point to the need of more studies.
I do not hold that moral norms are to be determined by scientists or by scientific knowledge alone. However, we should be open to new discoveries and developments in science. Sometimes we forget that many moral norms were formulated in light of the then existing scientific knowledge, philosophies, socio-cultural factors, etc. Many of the Fathers had profound knowledge in different branches of science and philosophy. So, one of the pertinent questions would be, shouldn’t we be open to evaluate some of the moral norms which were developed in light of the then existing scientific knowledge, if such scientific knowledge has changed? This is a very complex process as we have to reflect on the developments in science in light of our faith. Besides, to argue that there is no change or development in moral norms may not stand. As many studies have pointed out, moral truth does not change, but our understanding of moral truth may change or develop since we are limited human beings. However, this is not to be done in an individualistic manner; we belong to a community, hence developments in the understanding of moral norms should happen through discernment in the community.
3. “They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” Why do you think the Pope has made this statement? What is the pastoral situation that impels the Pope to make such a statement? He is making new situation in Catholic moral theology where marriage as well as civil unions are defended. Does this stand call for a new understanding of the whole question? Is the Pope asking moral theologians to think anew?
I haven’t seen the documentary movie Francesco where the Pope is making the quoted comments, but read only media reports. There is also an explanation given by Vatican that the Pope’s comments were taken out of context, that two of his comments on different occasions were put together. But, it is not denied that these are comments given by the Pope. Clearly, these are not part of any official documents. The Pope himself has not given any further explanation for what he has said.
It is not the first time that the Pope made such comments about homosexuality and about other issues. For such comments and statements, he has not demanded the weight of an official teaching, nor has he made them as definitive statements. On the one hand, some people say that the Pope as the head and supreme teacher of the Church should avoid making such comments. Some others think that the Pope makes such comments to encourage dialogue on issues which need further study, and on which there are strong differences of opinion even within the Church. Although as an institution, the Church needs unity, that should not be identified with uniformity. It seems that he welcomes differences of opinion. Note also the freedom that the Pope gives to criticise him. There are bishops and cardinals who have publicly criticised him, but disciplinary actions were not taken against them on account of such criticisms. Through such comments, the Pope is perhaps trying to say that we should be open to think about a change in the Church’s position, or at least he is trying to facilitate and encourage further discussions. In fact, Amoris Laetitia, no. 251 is practically repeating a 2003 CDF document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, no. 4, “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” In spite of these teachings already given, if the Pope is giving such comments on same-unions, it is a clear indication that the Pope does not consider the issue as closed, but encourages further discussion on the question.
The pastoral situation that demands a more compassionate approach may be the following: There are a number of Catholics who are homosexuals/lesbians. They know that the Church does not allow same-sex union. They are also unable to change their sexual condition. Their faith is also important for them. They want to live as Catholics, they love the Church, and they want to be acknowledged as members of the Church. Since their sexual condition is in conflict with the law of the Church, they live in a situation of continuous suffering and conflict. Many of them find impossible the solution proposed, that is, ‘cure’ from their condition, or total sexual abstinence. This leads them to suffering, pain and feeling of being rejected, and thus depression. How can they be integrated into the life of the Church, accepting their sexuality, and their sexual needs, ensuring them social recognition at least in some forms? Moreover, lack of any form of social/legal recognition results in various forms of discrimination against them: they may not be entitled to the privileges offered to the family; they may be discriminated even in jobs. To avoid such problems, many homosexuals/lesbians keep their intimate relationship in secrecy, which brings about many other problems. Lack of the possibility of living an intimate stable relationship in a home, may lead them to promiscuous relationships, and health risks. These may be some of the pastoral concerns.
Regarding civil unions, I think that we have to consider various aspects. Clearly, there is difference between canonical sacramental marriage and civil marriage. At the same time, even in the case of civil unions [alone] between Catholics, do we hold that it is a crime or a sin? Perhaps, we can say that it is an ‘irregular’ union. Amoris Laetitia speaks about the possible pastoral responses and solutions to couples living in ‘irregular’ situations [divorced and remarried; cohabiting couples, etc.], though they are not explicitly extended to civil union between homosexuals. I think that canonists need to enlighten further on the legal aspects of such unions.
However, I acknowledge that there is lot of polarization and lobbying regarding same-sex unions. Without siding with any particular group, the Pope is inviting the Church for an open dialogue on the issue, I believe.
4. In the context of the Papal teaching do you think there is need of rethinking for the Catholic catechism which teaches homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law” (Nos. 2357-59.), consequently the homosexual orientation is regarded as “objectively disordered.”?
First of all, as already said, I do not think that it is correct to say that there is a new papal teaching on homosexuality. We do not know exactly what the Pope said, and in what context. However, on various occasions, the Pope has avoided using such judgmental phrases about homosexuality.
Regarding the teaching of the Catechism: It is very difficult to answer this question within the scope of this interview, because the concepts ‘intrinsically disordered’ and natural law are complex, and they have a long historical development. I do not know whether by answering briefly I would give clarity or create more confusion. I shall try.
In fact, one of the first documents regarding homosexuality is Persona Humana, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1975. There is a section [no. VIII] on homosexuality. The subsequent documents are actually repeating the teaching in Persona Humana, with some additions and specifications. In this document we already find that homosexual acts are considered ‘intrinsically disordered,’ that they lack an indispensable finality, a phrase coming from the natural law tradition. These concepts are more explicitly given in the subsequent documents.
Natural Law concept in the Christian tradition comes from Greek philosophy, and Roman legal system developed it further. The application of the natural law concept identified procreation as the goal/end/purpose of sexual relationship. This was one of the major influences behind the Christian tradition’s identification of procreation as the primary end of sexual intercourse. We may also remember that in the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas, regarding sexuality, St Thomas is quoting the definition of Ulpian [170-228 AD], the Roman lawyer, namely, ‘What nature has taught all animals.’ The natural law tradition was also influenced by the sexual roles expected of man and woman, that is, a man is supposed to take the active role, and the woman the passive role. That is, in same-sex relations, these roles are confused, and hence against natural law. These concepts have undergone changes in the course of time, especially in recent centuries. So, it may be good to evaluate whether continuing with such terminology would be helpful today. Many are not convinced how an orientation itself can become disordered. Besides, such terminologies cause lot more suffering to same-sex persons who are already suffering from their condition as it is rejected by the society at large and by the Church.
Also, considering the context of a pluralistic society, these terms may need some reconsideration. For example, in many countries, homosexual union is legal. In some such countries, using such language may invite legal consequences, considering that they are offensive.
5.“A direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation. This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.” This is from Dutch bishops’ statement On February 20, 1980. Do you agree with the above stand?
This is an interesting question, especially as it highlights different viewpoints within the hierarchy itself regarding the question on homosexuality. Often, highlighting some passages, it is argued that the bible condemns homosexuality. Genesis 19:1-29 (Sodom-Gomorrah story), Leviticus 18:22; 20:13, and Romans 1:18-32 are the main passages cited for this purpose. In fact, for more than half a century, many biblical scholars have pointed out that we cannot use these passages to say unequivocally that the Bible condemns homosexuality, at least as we understand it today. Though a detailed analysis of these passages is beyond the scope of this discussion, very briefly their arguments can be summarised:
Sodom-Gomorrah story: The crime of the people of Sodom is not that of homosexuality, but that of in-hospitality and sexual violence. For example, would it have been justified if they had accepted Lott’s proposal to offer them his own daughters, or if they had committed violence to some other women?
Besides, scholars also point out that the Old Testament never explicitly identifies Sodom with the practice of homosexuality. Regarding the nature of Sodom’s sin, there is no uniform tradition: Isaiah speaks about the offence of Sodom as lack of justice (Is 1:10; 3:9); for Jeremiah it was adultery, lying, and the unwillingness to repent (Jer 23:14); for Ezekiel it was pride, ignoring the poor (Ezek 16:49); Wisdom tradition speaks of the sin of Sodom in terms of folly, insolence and in-hospitality (Wis 10:8; 19:14; Sir 16:8). Similarly, in the Gospels, Jesus refers to the sinfulness of Sodom, but without any indication of its specific nature. From the context, it would seem that in-hospitality is the offence (Mt 10:14-15; 11:23-24; Lk 10:12; 17:29). It is not connected to homosexuality or sexuality as such. However, two of the later books in the New Testament make a connection between Sodom and sexuality (Jude 6-7; 2 Pet 2:4; 6-10). Scholars opine that the last two texts are influenced by the apocryphal writings.
Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev 18:22). “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” (Lev 20:13). In the Old Testament, the duty to marry and procreate, and the patriarchal models were foundational. This is the main concern of Leviticus, many scholars point out. The concept of sexual roles according to the patriarchal understanding is also at work here, that is, the male is supposed to take the active role, and the female the passive role in sexual relationships. But, in same-sex union, there is a reversal of the role/order (‘lie with a male as with a woman’) at least by one of the partners.
Rom 1:18-32: Referring to the Pauline expressions such as “exchanged natural relations” and “gave up natural relations,” some theologians argue that Paul is speaking about women and men who willingly abandon heterosexual relations in order to participate in same-sex sexual relations. That is, Paul is speaking of cases where an element of free will and deliberate choice is present. So, they argue that Paul’s words do not apply to those who are naturally attracted to persons of the same sex, because today when we speak about homosexuals/lesbians, we are not speaking about those who are abandoning their natural desire for the opposite sex. Their natural desire is for the same sex. Moreover, Paul is also speaking in the background of the natural law concept of his times.
Here, we have to note that CDF, in the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (1 October 1986), rejects such interpretations of the passages.
Though CDF has prerogative to give official teaching for the universal Church, it may be clear from the Dutch bishops’ statement that differences in such matters are there in the hierarchy as well. Many theologians also point out that there is a valid argument in the interpretations given by biblical scholars, though such interpretations are different from the traditional position. They are not arguing that homosexuality is acceptable, but pointing out that we cannot unambiguously claim that the bible condemns homosexuality.
What I would suggest is that we need further study and discussion on such matters, though we have to abide by the directions given by the official teaching authority.