All that He made is good
This article was first published in “Doctrine and Life” (Dominican publication) January, 2016
THE CHURCH’S CURRENT DILEMMA: GAYS
Fr. John Mannion
Before the opening of the recent synod in Rome, a priest member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who was also professor at two Pontifical Universities caught the attention of the media by publicly declaring that he was gay and in a relationship. He called on the bishops for a change of attitude on the part of the Church. A similar scandal unfolded in Chicago where a priest in a similar relationship was dismissed. In his case, he apologised for any scandal he had caused.
In April of this year Pope Francis is quoted as saying: “I ask myself if the so-called gender theory is not at the same time an expression of frustration and resignation which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”. His use of the term “so-called gender theory” is interesting and illuminating. It reflects the traditional response to gays in the institutional church, a tradition fed by a historical separation in seminary formation between scientific advancement and Thomistic moral theology. That this attitude is not universal is borne out by the inflexibility on the one hand of many Third World bishops and their more tolerant European counterparts and on the other hand by the fact that in traditionally Catholic Ireland two out of three voters, mostly young, approved of gay marriage in the recent referendum.
What we are witnessing today in the church as regards sex parallels the struggle half a century ago between those who held that original sin was necessarily linked to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and those like the authors of the Dutch Catechism who held that original sin is compatible with evolutionary theory. Currently, except in the case of biblical literalists, most major denominations accept evolution as a scientifically valid explanation of existence. Probably from time immemorial, inspection of the genitalia of the new-born was the basis of identity and the official church appears wedded to that position as representing the plan of the Creator. At birth, you are either Adam or Eve, but medicine has long known that it is not quite that simple. Today there is a scientific theory, not an hypothesis, which explains a much more complicated and nuanced reality. Sceptics of the theory may be critical because no scientist ever claims that any theory is true.
The three fundamentals of any good scientific theory are the following:
(1). It gives a coherent explanation of existing data.
(2). It makes prediction possible?
(3). It can be shown to be wrong or inadequate.
For example, Aristotle’s theory of Earth, Air, Fire and Water held sway until Newton’s physics came along only to be overturned by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The current theory explaining the biology of sexuality conforms to the above criteria and has two complementary dimensions, one evolutionary, the other statistical.
It is currently accepted that life began with unicellular organisms, later came multicellular and the beginning of differentiation leading to the variety of living organisms on the face of the earth today. In animal ancestry, segmentation was a very early development exemplified in its simplest form in earthworms. They are also bisexual and today all living animals bear traces of this condition in their makeup. For the sake of clarity it is necessary to distinguish between primary and secondary sexual characteristics. The primary sexual organ produces sperm in males and ova or eggs in females. All other sexual characteristics are secondary. To Ernest Haeckel (German) is usually attributed the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (though the idea existed prior to him). In a strict interpretation it is now largely discredited scientifically, but it does offer a valuable insight into intrauterine development. Every human being begins life as a single cell, so what Haeckel implied was that the interval between conception and birth is marked by a series of developments paralleling what happened in species development over the millennia. In early development all human beings are initially bisexual with the exception of the primary sexual organs. It is the chromosomal inheritance that determines the modification of the secondary sexual characteristics during intrauterine development so that one is born either male or female. As a consequence, the uterus in a woman corresponds to the prostate in a man and female genital mutilation in many parts of the Third World constitutes the removal of a part corresponding to the male organ, but not deemed suitable in a woman. Equally, every man has nipples, no man will ever breast feed a baby, but if any man begins to take oestrogen pills; his breasts will begin to develop. That is a brief summary of the evolutionary dimension.
In human populations there are characteristics which fall into the category of either present of absent. Examples would be blood groups like A, B, AB and O or Rhesus positive or negative. Again, some people can roll their tongues, others cannot, some can sing, other cannot. Apart from the “present or absent” category, there is a universal biological principle which states that a statistical analysis of a large sample of any biological phenomena will yield a bell shaped curve (a curve of binomial distribution).
Characteristics of the latter which are of interest are
(a) there are no fundamental discontinuities in such a curve and
(b) the bulk of samples (roughly 95%) fall under the body of the bell (between two standard deviations from the mean).
Sexual identity and sexual orientation fall under this classification, (i.e. they are not “present or absent” characteristics). It follows that IF we managed to get accurate figures in a survey of sexual orientation in any human population, the results would give a curve of binomial distribution and surveys generally bear out this prediction. The midpoint would represent the average male or female who grows up, falls in love, marries and procreates and gives little or no thought to sexual orientation. But as we move towards the homosexual end of the spectrum, the vast majority would again be heterosexual but with an increasing tendency towards and tolerance of homosexuality the farther we move from the midpoint (the mean). At the 2.15% end we would find those who are exclusively homosexual. On the other side of the curve we would find the reverse. Again the vast majority would be heterosexual but the farther we move from the mean, the greater the hostility and rejection of homosexuality. At the 2.15% end we would encounter a phenomenon found in all societies i.e. the small group who are totally and instinctively hostile to homosexuality. Nobody draws attention to this group which is a menace in all societies. This is the group which favours imprisoning or killing gays. Interestingly in societies where they flourish, women are also treated as inferior to men and are usually abused in and out of marriage. We find this in many parts of the third world today. So interestingly, in these societies we find women held in low esteem and in many countries, gays are threatened with imprisonment or death.
The above theory explains the major sexual phenomena currently the focus of controversy in most societies. It explains why people at one extreme of the curve find the sexual behaviour of those at the polar opposite extreme repugnant. The extreme repugnance experienced by those at the heterosexual end of the spectrum usually receives wide coverage, but many find it difficult to comprehend that for those at the homosexual end of the spectrum, the idea of a heterosexual liaison is equally experienced as repugnant. In medical circles, the curtain has irrevocably set on those who think that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured with psychological treatment.
Conclusion: If as Christians, we believe that all that God made is good, it follows that the biological diversity we find in human populations must also be part of God’s creation and therefore also good. We live in a country which still calls itself Christian but where the level of scholarship needed to bridge the gap between modern man and a heritage of thousands of years is often conspicuous by its absence in much of contemporary discourse.
I expect most of you will have already read Cardinal Sarah’s most recent enlightened contribution to this debate. You have to wonder why Francis ever appointed him to a senior position.
Interesting reading and thanks to Paddy also for the article. Personally I believe that the attitude towards homosexuality in the RCC to be “intrinsically disordered” and the cause of enormous suffering to those who happen to be made in God’s image and gay. Mind you, the attitude to women is also “intrinsically disordered” and the cause of enormous heartache and suffering to those of us made in the image of God who happen to be female.
I expect many will sigh at this seemingly preoccupation with sexuality but we cannot make any real progress at fulfilling the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy until we learn to accept and reach out to those we have treated with derision and disrespect down through the centuries. That’s making it sound simplistic and I suppose a bit naive but seriously, most ordinary people have no problem accepting gay clergy and the idea of a female perspective in the governance of the Church. We badly need a full and open discussion on all of this. My prayers for all those suffering in silence. Do not despair. We are slow learners but we ARE making some sort of progress.
AS the author of the above article, and taking a cue from Paddy Ferry’s reference, I have just read the comments of Cardinal Sarah. In the course of a speech he made recently at a breakfast in the U.S. he is quoted as saying that “non-traditional family arrangements ’cause damage to children’ such that children experience ‘a deep existential doubt about love'”.
In the past, while working in the U.S. and saying an occasional Mass for the Dignity group, I came across a study done over 12 years ago on children being reared in same sex households. As good scientists, the first thing the researchers did was to determine the size of the population under study to ensure that they had as subjects a statistically significant population. It turned out that research showed that the number of children being so raised exceeded one million. The study set out to determine if children raised in that situation were adversely affected socially, mentally or psychologically. On the conclusion of the study it turned out that such children were no more or no less likely than children in heterosexual households to be adversely affected.
The eminent cardinal makes no reference to any study to substantiate his assertion, which raised the issue of the basis on which he makes the assertion. It can scarcely be from biblical sources since any reference to “a deep existential doubt about love” is far removed from any biblical reference to love. Without such a basis a critical thinker might have some difficulty in accepting his assertion, whereas those conditioned to unquestioning obedience will have no difficulty in accepting a comment from so eminent a source.
Thank you Fr.P.@3. I wish I had known about that piece of research during the debate before the marriage equality referendum. Virtually everyone I discussed the issue with, who intended to vote “no”, justified their intentions on the basis that not having a mother and a father would have a damaging affect on the children.
I think young people have since moved past this debate and it is a common leftover of the silent generation and the boomers – those who were taught this to be an evil and those who were conditioned to believe it was simply counter-culture.
Now, the phenomena that few are tackling is endocrine disrupting chemicals and how it plays havoc on the body’s hormonal processes at an early stage in the womb and how this might lead to the mental and physical gender bending attributes we recognize today. “All that he made is good.” That point we can certainly all agree on but there are everyday influencers that mankind has made that could be having a greater effect on the planet as we know it.
If the science behind phthalate exposure is correct (believe me it is), then not only is the church behind the times, it is completely backwards. How can Francis champion a document like Laudato si and completely disregard the fact that biology is the only determiner in a child’s eventual sexuality and that pollutants can impact this?
With a son born with hypospadias and a daughter recently diagnosed with PCOS (who may have irreversible effects on both their fertility) I am proud to say that although I understand that adaptation is our greatest attribute, I would never deny that an unhealthy chemical environment can have catastrophic effects on causality.
If Catholics world wide do not see this as the greatest threat to mankind, I don’t know what we are waiting for. This is happening all around us – children are being stripped of their ability to procreate by whom exactly : corporations who have fetishized a commodity that we are in control of.
I’d like to have 5 minutes with Cardinal Sarah. Better yet, I’d like him to get 5 minutes of questioning from my 14 and 16 year old. They are like “Turing” – they’d be quick to point out his artificial intelligence.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer – Francis employs this strategy well in my mind.
Lloyd @ 5:
The contraceptive pill has wrecked havoc on wild fish in rivers and streams. The hormone residue has caused male fish to have female attributes, and this is a big problem for fish populations and us. We often drink the same water. Teflon frying pans, BPA in plastic bottles, additives in almost all health and beauty products, and foods, we are truly awash in synthetic female hormones. These are synthetic estrogenic compounds. I wonder if this is a cause of the culture of softness and diminished fertility in men? I read that Testosterone levels in today’s men are much reduced on past generations. Perhaps this is part of the rise of gender confusion in society too.
There is no question in my mind, Mark @6.
I don’t believe in gender confusion though – there is no confusion and that would be my point to Cardinal Sarah. There is only clear evidence. Gender confusion is implying that the person is mentally unstable. The fish population is not confused, is it? Alas, this is the world we support and create in our day to day decisions, believers or non.
There is a certain comfort in knowing that testosterone levels in men have decreased but balance is what is needed. The only question I have is where is this balance to be found and who is the provider? Now that men have possibly become more feminized, will we be blessed with the ability to rally more courageously to fight for a civil right (a chemical free existence, perhaps)?
Thank you to Lloyd for continually reminding us of the need to care for creation and of man’s part in the destruction of it. We need reminding!
Aren’t we all on a learning curve re gender issues? Wasn’t life so much more simple in the old days when men were MEN and women, the ‘soft’ sex, full of compassion and caring qualities. Well, women don’t have a monopoly on such qualities. There is nothing more attractive than a man pushing a pram, caring for an elderly relative or doing his fair share of mundane household chores and thank God for women who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and use their God given intelligence and chutzpah to try to make the world a better place for all.
Mark @6 I’m not quite sure what you mean by a “culture of softness” in men and will try not to jump to possibly false assumptions. As I said, we are all on a learning curve. Do we really want to go back to a world where men were MEN and women knew their specific, definite place in society and there was nothing in between? Do you remember the lads who were bullied in school for not being conventionally masculine in appearance and behaviour? The girls who were considered odd because they didn’t conform to how society expected them to dress and behave? Thank God we have a little more understanding of difference now but we still have a long way to go before each child is accepted for who and what they are. Made in the image of God.(and God has to have a sense of humour looking at some of us!!) If only each child born into the world could know she/he was loved unconditionally we could get on with honouring our neglected Works of Mercy. Also all this fuss about gender bathrooms is taking precious time and energy away from trying to save the planet from our own destructive forces.
Amen, Mary @ 8.
We are all on a learning curve and we can learn a lot from the coming generation.
We owe it to them to take the lead on this – the boomers and the silent generation. Is progress our weakness? I’m still unsure because I still haven’t figured out what is going to catalyse the occasion despite it being my field of study the last 17 years or so.
If the environment is what binds all these world issues together (care for the earth as if she had her own civil right), then what will be the straw that breaks the back of elite (they are the power brokers and architects that keep all this disparity in play)?
How does this unfold?