At the Synod and After, Revolving Door for Homosexuals

First admitted with full honors, then driven out again. This is the way it seemed from how the discussions unfolded. But here’s what really happened. Martin Rhonheimer takes stock of the question

by Sandro Magister

ROME, October 22, 2014 – Homosexuality was one of the most controversial questions at the recent extraordinary synod on the family, as proven by the vast difference between the paragraph dedicated to it in the final “Relatio” and the three paragraphs of the previous “Relatio” halfway through the discussion.

Final “Relatio”:

“55. Some families live the experience of having persons of homosexual orientation within them. In this regard it was asked what pastoral attention should be paid to this situation in reference to the teaching of the Church: ‘There exists no foundation whatsoever for assimilating or establishing analogies, however remote, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family.’ Nonetheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy. ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ (Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Considerations on plans for the legal recognition of unions between homosexual persons, 4).”

“Relatio post disceptationem”:

“50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

“51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel,  while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

“52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to […] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”

First by cardinal relator Péter Erdö and then by president delegate Raymundo Damasceno Assis, the author of these three paragraphs has been indicated in the special secretary of the synod, Bruno Forte, placed in this role by Pope Francis.

But the prehistory of these paragraphs is also indicative. Two of the three synod fathers who had raised this issue during discussions in the assembly – the only ones out of the almost two hundred present – in fact supported their arguments with statements of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Archbishop of Kuching John Ha Tiong Hock, president of the episcopal conference of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, referred to the passage of the interview with Francis in “La Civiltà Cattolica” in which the pope urges the Church to mature and reformulate its judgments on the understanding that the man of today has of himself – including on the matter of homosexuality, the archbishop specified – with the same willingness for change that it demonstrated in the past in radically changing its judgments on slavery:

> A Big Heart Open to God

This interview was conducted and published in September of 2013 by the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, who had also transcribed and published in the same magazine, in January of 2014, a conversation from the previous November between the pope and superiors general of religious orders:

> “Svegliate il mondo!”

And it is from this second talk that Fr. Spadaro – appointed a member of the synod by Francis himself – took an exact quote of the pope’s words regarding a girl adopted by two lesbian women, to urge the Church to a renewed and needed “listening and discernment” on situations of this kind.

Fr. Spadaro, disobeying the orders of the secretary general of the synod, then made public these remarks of his in the assembly:

> Intervento di p. Antonio Spadaro S.I.

The “Relatio post disceptationem,” in the three paragraphs dedicated to homosexuality, revisited and further developed the things said in the assembly by the Malaysian archbishop, by Fr. Spadaro, and by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the third to speak on the issue.

But the subsequent discussion at the synod tore the three paragraphs to shreds, and almost nothing of them made it into the final “Relatio,” which on homosexuality limits itself to referring to what has already been said by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.

So after two weeks of heated discussion at the synod, the question seemed to have gone back to the starting point.

But what is this starting point, beyond the meager guidelines in the “Relatio”? What is the interpretation that the magisterium and Catholic moral theology, in its official agencies, is giving to the question of homosexuality?

From the theological and philosophical point of view, the following article is a concise picture of the classical vision on this matter, in the footsteps of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Its author is Martin Rhonheimer, a Swiss priest of Opus Dei and a professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

The complete text of the article can be found on this other page of http://www.chiesa:

> Same Sex Acts, the Sexual Inclinations and Their Reasonableness



by Martin Rhonheimer

I wish here to investigate the central idea of the “truth of sexuality,” the idea that human sexuality possesses a truth proper to it, which without relativizing or devaluing its intrinsic goodness as affective and sensual experience, nevertheless transcends and integrates it into the whole of the spiritual dimension of the human person. […]

The truth of sexuality is marriage: union between persons in which the inclination is lived as a preferential choice – “dilectio” – and in which it becomes love, mutual gift, indissoluble communion open to the transmission of life, and friendship in view of a community of life that endures until death. It is in this way, in this specific context – that of conjugal chastity which includes the good of the other person and transcends itself toward the common good of the human species – that sexual activity, including its affective, impulsive and sensual dimensions, is also seen as an authentic (“bonum rationis”, something intrinsically reasonable and good thus good for reason. […]

Sexual acts – i.e. sexual intercourse – and sexual activity, as reasonable acts, are therefore necessarily and by their very nature the expression of a love in the context (“ethical context”) of the transmission of life.

Sexual activity that in principle excludes this transmission of life, whether as intentionally procured (as with contracepted heterosexual acts) or “structurally” given (as with homosexual acts), is not a good for reason precisely as sexual activity. It falls to the level of a mere good of the senses, a truncated affectivity, structurally reduced to the sensual, instinctive and impulsive level.

Such a sensual reduction of love and affectivity is also logically possible with heterosexual acts, even apart from contraception, and in marriage. In the case of homosexuality, however, this reduction is not only intentional and voluntarily sought, but “structural,” i.e. given by the very fact that it involves two persons of the same sex who, for biological reasons and by their very nature, cannot be procreative.

The ultimate cause of this reduction is in the fact that we are dealing – as a result of conscious and free choices – with a sexuality without a task or without a “mission, a sexual inclination that does not transcend itself toward an intelligible human good beyond the sexual activity itself, and that cannot therefore become the expression of love between persons and mutual gift. Experience – including that of practicing homosexuals, often deeply anguished – confirms this. […]

With homosexual acts, therefore, the separation between sexuality and procreation is structural. This is why its acts are structurally non-reasonable and therefore morally non-justifiable by their very physical structure or nature. They are what moralists have traditionally called a sin “contra naturam”, even if such acts can seem reasonable and justifiable in the context of an affectivity oriented toward the satisfaction of the sensual impulse.

The separation of sexuality and procreation in contemporary culture makes the understanding of the intrinsic non-reasonableness of homosexual acts more difficult. This culture of separating sexuality and procreation, which is encouraged at the global level by easy access to contraceptives, is now the norm; it is the distinctive character of that “sexual revolution” that is a true and proper cultural revolution. One consequence of this revolution is the increasing loss of the understanding of marriage as a project of life, and more specifically, as a project with a social transcendence, capable of uniting two persons who look to the future with the common objective of founding a family that will endure through time.

Homosexual unions cannot define themselves as families in this sense, even if children are present, either as adopted or as “made” through reproductive technologies. Such “families” formed by same-sex couples are only an imitation of a true family, which is a project carried out by two persons through their love and their reciprocal gift in the fullness of their bodily and spiritual being. The “families” of homosexual couples can never realize this project of spousal love at the service of life because the love that is at the basis of these same-sex unions – that is, the sexual acts that claim to be acts of spousal love – are structurally and necessarily, based on their very nature, infecund.

Different, certainly, is the case of a heterosexual couple which, for reasons independent of the wills of the partners, cannot have children and for this reason adopt one or more children. In this case, in fact, their union is by its nature – that is, structurally – generative. For this reason the intentional structure and moral character of the act of adoption also changes, taking on the value of an alternative way of realizing something to which conjugal union is by its nature predisposed, and in their case is only “per accidens” impeded. The infecundity of such heterosexual couples is not from the nature and structure of their acts but unintentional (“praeter intentionem”); their infecundity is, therefore, not the result of moral disorder so their act of adoption is able to participate in the structure of the intrinsic fecundity of marital love.

The same cannot be said about a couple formed by persons of the same sex: in this case the infecundity is structural and intentionally assumed through the free choice to form precisely this kind of union. In this case there is no link between authentic marital love and adoption, since the former – a marital love that includes an openness to the procreative dimension – is completely absent. For this reason the act of adoption in a homosexual union is purely an imitation – a counterfeit – of that to which marriage is predisposed by its nature.

A final observation: any judgment on homosexuality and its intrinsic non-reasonableness and immorality refers, obviously, solely to sexual acts between persons of the same sex. This does not include a judgment on the mere disposition to such acts which, even if it is considered unreasonable, to the extent that it is not acted upon does not have the character of a moral error.

Even less are we dealing with a judgment on persons with homosexual tendencies, on their personal dignity or their moral character. These are undermined not by tendencies but by free choices to engage in homosexual acts and to adopt a corresponding lifestyle. Precisely these are morally erroneous, and thus evil, choices which alienate their agents from the true human good.

A non-practicing homosexual, on the other hand, who abstains from the practice of homosexual acts, can live the virtue of chastity and all of the other virtues, attaining even the highest degree of holiness.


The complete text of the final “Relatio”:

> Relatio Synodi

And that of the “Relatio” produced halfway through the discussion:

> Relatio post disceptationem


In an interview with Elisabetta Piqué in the Argentine newspaper “La Nación”of October  21, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires, brought to the synod by Pope Francis to whom he is friend and confidant, and charged with writing the final message and “Relatio,” gave this answer to a question about the paragraph on homosexuality:

“The fact that this brief paragraph did not gain a two-thirds consensus is not explained only by a negative vote of the conservative sectors, but also by a negative vote of some bishops most sensitive to this issue, who were not satisfied by the little that was said. […] Probably there was a lack of will to say, with Pope Francis: ‘Who are we to judge the gays?'”

The complete text of the interview:

> “El Papa espera más apertura de los obispos”


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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