Theologians use Pope Francis’ teaching to argue gay sex no longer ‘grave sin’
January 17, 2018 (Joseph Sciambra) – In a January 16, 2018 “Commentary” for “The National Catholic Reporter,” Creighton University Professor Todd A. Salzman, chair of the Department of Theology at Creighton, and Michael G. Lawler, professor emeritus, disagreed with the decision by certain US Bishops to possibly deny a Catholic funeral for someone who died while in a same-sex “married” relationship. They single out Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield for specific criticism.
From of a “Decree” issued by Paprocki, Salzman and Lawler are especially troubled with the following directive:
Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who have lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In the case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary, whose judgment is to be followed.
Concerning those individuals in a same-sex “marriage,” the “Decree” also included the following instructions, which Salzman and Lawler do not mention:
Pastors aware of such situations should address their concerns privately with the person in such circumstances, calling them to conversion…
In danger of death, a person living publicly in a same-sex marriage may be given Holy Communion in the form of Viaticum if he or she expresses repentance for his or her sins.
Lastly, Bishop Paprocki added:
…I remind all those who exercise a ministry within the Church that while being clear and direct about what the Church teaches, our pastoral ministry must always be respectful, compassionate and sensitive to all our brothers and sisters in the faith, as was the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepard and our everlasting model for ministry.
Although Bishop Paprocki offers the possibility of redemption and salvation through the Sacraments of the Church for those involved in a same-sex relationship, Salzman and Lawler contend that there is nevertheless something deeply flawed with the entire Catholic approach to homosexuality:
The language of the church describing homosexuality as an “objective disorder” and the specious language from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about “not unjust discrimination” of homosexuals in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act have caused infinitely more scandal than any church funeral for a deceased same-sex spouse has done or is likely to do.
But this is not the first time these two professors have openly criticized Catholic teaching with regards to homosexuality.
In 2007, their radical theories caught the attention of Archbishop Elden Curtiss, then Archbishop of Omaha, where Creighton University is located. He stated that Salzman and Lawler proposed a sort of “new natural law theory” and “argue for the moral legitimacy of some homosexual acts.” Following the publication of their 2008 book “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology,” from Georgetown University Press, the USCCB issued a lengthy and scathing condemnation of the book; according to the 2010 document from the “Committee on Doctrine:”
…the authors insist that the moral theology of the Catholic tradition dealing with sexual matters is now as a whole obsolete and inadequate and that it must be re-founded on a different basis.
They explained further:
For the authors of The Sexual Person, the scriptural condemnations of homosexual behavior are nothing more than expressions of the sociohistorical assumptions of the writers. In their view, this is evident from the fact that the scriptural writers condemn homosexual behavior “specifically as a perversion of the heterosexual condition they assume to be the natural condition of every person.” The basis of the condemnation is thus taken to reveal the scriptural writers’ assumption about the naturalness of heterosexuality, an assumption that has supposedly been disproven in the modern world. For the authors, there can be no perversion of the heterosexual condition by homosexuals since their natural orientation is not heterosexual, but homosexual. “In its modern meaning, homosexuality is not and cannot be a perversion of the heterosexual condition because homosexuals, by natural orientation, do not share that condition.”
The Committee on Doctrine wishes to make it clear that neither the methodology of The Sexual Person nor the conclusions that depart from authoritative Church teaching constitute authentic expressions of Catholic theology. Moreover, such conclusions, clearly in contradiction to the authentic teaching of the Church, cannot provide a true norm for moral action and in fact are harmful to one’s moral and spiritual life.
Despite these protestations, Salzman and Lawler continue to advocate for a revolutionary reinterpretation of Catholic teaching; from their 2018 piece for “The National Catholic Reporter:”
In the established Catholic moral tradition, any behavioral decision must discern not only the objective moral truth proposed to it but also any and every relevant subjective circumstance in which moral action takes place.
It is no surprise, therefore, to see [Pope] Francis clearly teach this doctrine in Amoris Laetitia, his 2016 apostolic exhortation on family life known in English as “The Joy of the Gospel,” in several different ways, without in any way abandoning or diminishing Catholic moral doctrine or behavioral norms.
The church, he argues, “possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”
Even though the behavior is wrong in the church’s eyes, “deliberate consent” may be mitigated on the part of the agent and, if deliberate consent is lacking, there cannot be grave sin.
Francis limits his consideration of irregular situations to couples who are divorced and remarried without an annulment and couples who are cohabiting, but his analysis applies also to other situations considered gravely sinful, such as a same-sex union. Factors may exist in all irregular situations which limit “deliberate consent” and the ability to make a fully informed moral decision (Amoris Laetitia, 301).
In 2014, several months before the Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage, Creighton allowed same-sex spouses of employees to join the University’s health plan. According to the “Student Counseling Services” at Creighton, in a section of the official University website, which attempts to correct certain “myths” about homosexuality:
Myth #1: Homosexuality is “Unnatural”
THE TRUTH: From a scientific point of view, it is “natural”. Any animal, including humans, is capable of responding to homosexual stimuli. Research suggests that homosexuality is almost universal among all animals and is especially frequent among highly developed species. There has been evidence of homosexuality in all human cultures throughout history. In fact, one anthropological study of non-Western cultures found that 64% of their sample considered homosexuality “normal and socially acceptable” for certain members in society.
The University also maintains a “Gender and Sexuality Alliance” (CUGSA). On their website, the GSU states as part of their “mission:”
The Alliance will uphold the spirit of Catholic teaching regarding the confrontation of fears about homosexuality and the need for the Christian acceptance of all persons. In promoting equality and justice for all students, the Alliance will exemplify Catholic teaching by fostering acceptance of homosexual persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
A number of the claims made by Salzman and Lawler have been recently repeated by Jesuit author James Martin during the promotional tour for his book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.” In terms of the language used in the Catechism, specifically the term “objectively disordered,” Martin wrote:
The phrase relates to the orientation, not the person, but it is still needlessly hurtful. Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is “disordered” in itself is needlessly cruel.
God made you this way. You are wonderfully made, just like Psalm 139 says. You were knit together in your mother’s womb this way, you know, it’s a mystery why you were made this way, but this is part of your identity.
Martin has gone on to say that perhaps not just the language is problematic, but the teaching itself:
I’m no theologian, but I would say that some of the language used in the catechism on that topic needs to be updated, given what we know now about homosexuality. Earlier, for example, the catechism says that the homosexual orientation is itself “objectively disordered.” But, as I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful. A few weeks ago, I met an Italian theologian who suggested the phrase “differently ordered” might convey that idea more pastorally.
As a justification for this departure from tradition, during a June 8, 2017 Facebook Live Q & A session, Martin contended that:
All these Bible passages people throw at you…Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and even the stuff in the New Testament where Paul talks about it once or twice, has to be understood in their historical context. The Bible is written in a particular time; it’s the inspired Word of God, but it is written, certainly, in a particular time and in a particular historical context. Certainly, in Old Testament times, they didn’t understand the phenomena of homosexuality, and bisexuality I would say, as we do today. I’d also like to say that there’s a lot of other stuff in Leviticus that we sort of understand in its historical context, like what kind of slaves can we have, whether or not we can wear certain kinds of clothes, whether or not our crops can be next to one another. We don’t look at those passages in an a-historical way, so why should we look at passages on homosexuality that way?
In 2016, Martin delivered the commencement speech at Creighton.
On January 16, 2018, Martin posted a link to Salzman and Lawler’s “Commentary” to his official Twitter account.
Notwithstanding a blunt critique from Cardinal Robert Sarah, so far there has not been any official rebuke of James Martin’s statements. Instead, he continues to offer addresses and lectures at prestigious Catholic universities and at the upcoming 2018 LA Religious Education Congress.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at josephsciambra.com. It has been reprinted here by permission of the author.