“Infallible” Teaching on Gay Sex

September 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments
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A couple of weeks back, I posted an article about my letter to the Tablet, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, in which I suggested that the bishop would do better to address the harm effected by the increasing wealth gap in this country than to fixate on gay marriage. This week a reader, Dan, posted a comment in response to that blog. I don’t get many comments, so I thought I’d paste it below and then reply. (I’m putting Dan’s comment in italics so you won’t confuse it with my response.)

Do you accept the infallible Catholic Church teaching that homosexual acts are gravely sinful, Marian?

As a Catholic, you are required to.

Just a friendly reminder ;-)

In Christ,

Dear Dan:

Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate feed-back.

I have a feeling you’d like a yes or no answer to your question, but I’m afraid the issue is more complicated than that. From your photo, I’d say you’re a good deal younger than I am, so our experiences are different. And I do sympathize with your desire for something like the morality of homosexual acts to be clear and unambiguous; the world is in a terrible mess, and a person needs something to hang onto.

Unfortunately, for me, growing up before Vatican II, there were lots of things the Church taught, and that I therefore assumed I was required to believe, that then changed. And it was a good thing, because some of them they were mean and hurtful. For example, priests and nuns regularly told us that all Protestants were going to hell–kind of a problem for me, since one side of my family was Protestant . And that the “perfidious” Jews were, too, for being Christ-killers. And before that, back in the 19th century, the church taught that advocating the separation of church and state was as serious a sin as abortion.

This, and a good deal else, changed with Vatican II.  Another thing that happened at the Council was that the church acknowledged human freedom of conscience in a way it never had before. So since 70% of American Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and since we have seen so many other absolute truths change, myself, I’m betting that eventually the church will see the error of its ways on this one (and on the ordination of women as well).

My second rejoinder has to do with your use of the word  “infallible.” I hate to have to break this to you, Dan, but “infallibility” applies to very few teachings of the Catholic Church. The institution is pretty careful not to declare too many things infallible because if such teaching changes, it undercuts the church’s authority. In particular, most theologians agree that no specific moral teachings have been taught infallibly. If you doubt what I say here, feel free to read the work on infallibility by Catholic University of America moral theologian John T. Ford SJ in The New Dictionary of TheologyBut quite apart from that, according to Catholic canon law, if it isn’t clear that something has been taught infallibly, then it hasn’t. You don’t have to take my word for this. Consult the entry on  infallibility  in Beal, Green and Coriden’s New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

So I guess before I accept that Catholic teaching on the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts is infallible, you’re going to have to refer me to the official declaration that says it is. Till then, I’m going to continue to honor the freedom of conscience of my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers and argue that the US bishops ought to spend more time  focusing on the extreme injustice of the gap between the rich and the poor.

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