Monday, 11 January 2010

Pope Benedict's address to the Diplomatic Corps

This address will no doubt attract headlines as Pope Benedict once again "attacking gays". Dolphinarium gives a taste, and the link to the Reuters report gives us an example of how this will look in the main stream media over the next day or two. The address concerned is that given at an annual new year meeting that the Holy Father has with diplomats from around the world who are accredited to the Holy See.

I write this post as an act of support for, and solidarity with, Benedict XVI and what he has to say in this address.

The Holy Father's address is very wide ranging, covering as it does many different topics relating to the  protection of the environment and diplomatic activity in favour of that protection. Subjects such as poverty, the huge sums spent on weaponry, prevention of conflict .... As usual, to get a full picture of what the Pope says it is necessary to read the whole and not just to take one or two aspects out from the whole, giving the impression that they are the sum total of the entire address. The text of the full address is here, at the ZENIT website. Humble Piety communicates something of the balance of the address when seen as whole.

Now, ignoring what I have just written (!), I quote below the passages that are likely to be attracting media attention:
To carry our reflection further, we must remember that the problem of the environment is complex; one might compare it to a multifaceted prism. Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes. I am thinking, for example, of certain countries in Europe or North and South America. Saint Columban stated that: "If you take away freedom, you take away dignity" (Ep. 4 ad Attela, in S. Columbani Opera, Dublin, 1957, p. 34). Yet freedom cannot be absolute, since man is not himself God, but the image of God, God’s creation. For man, the path to be taken cannot be determined by caprice or willfulness, but must rather correspond to the structure willed by the Creator.
As a science teacher (physics specialist, but I have taught general science in the lower years of secondary school, so will claim experience here) I really have wondered how it is possible to defend homosexual or lesbian behaviour as being equivalent to heterosexual behaviour when one considers the clearly heterosexual nature of the physical human body, male and female. And, indeed, the move from asexual reproduction in the lower plants/animals to sexual reproduction in the higher. There is a question of truth here, which all the discussions of the social construction of sexual behaviour really ought to face up to. Pope Benedict is saying nothing other than this, and it appears to me well founded.
It is proper, however, that this concern and commitment for the environment should be situated within the larger framework of the great challenges now facing mankind. If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown. As Saint Thomas Aquinas has taught, man represents all that is most noble in the universe (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3). Furthermore, as I noted during the recent FAO World Summit on Food Security, "the world has enough food for all its inhabitants" (Address of 16 November 2009, No. 2) provided that selfishness does not lead some to hoard the goods which are intended for all.
Perhaps central to properly understanding why Pope Benedict feels able to address issues such as abortion and gay rights in an address to the diplomatic corps is this next passage, where he talks about an appropriate secularity. In the text of the address, this paragraph occurs immediately before the first quotation above:
Ladies and Gentlemen, to this point I have alluded only to a few aspects of the problem of the environment. Yet the causes of the situation which is now evident to everyone are of the moral order, and the question must be faced within the framework of a great programme of education aimed at promoting an effective change of thinking and at creating new lifestyles. The community of believers can and wants to take part in this, but, for it to do so, its public role must be recognized. Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular. It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion. But such an approach creates confrontation and division, disturbs peace, harms human ecology and, by rejecting in principle approaches other than its own, finishes in a dead end. There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility. Here I think of Europe, which, now that the Lisbon Treaty has taken effect, has entered a new phase in its process of integration, a process which the Holy See will continue to follow with close attention. Noting with satisfaction that the Treaty provides for the European Union to maintain an "open, transparent and regular" dialogue with the Churches (Art. 17), I express my hope that in building its future, Europe will always draw upon the wellsprings of its Christian identity. As I said during my Apostolic Visit last September to the Czech Republic, Europe has an irreplaceable role to play "for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent 'home'" (Meeting with Political and Civil Authorities and with the Diplomatic Corps, 26 September 2009).
As for Catholics, and other Christians who hold orthodox views with regard to human sexuality, I would encourage you not to be dismayed when the media tries to portray Pope Benedict as inhumane, backward, a persecutor of gays, full of intolerance etc. Go to the original source, and read the whole of the address, not just the bits extracted by the media. See that Pope Benedict is intelligent, has a very wide ranging and clear minded grasp of the issues at stake, is thoroughly modern in his presentation of the issues within a framework of environmental concern.

And, as Dolphinarium suggests in her own style, we really should not be surprised when the Pope argues, in the context of international diplomacy, the implications for that context of Roman Catholic teaching.

5 comments:

Francis said...

Joe, I ran readability statistics on the second long quote. 22% passive sentences; Flesch Reading Ease 37.2; Flesch-Kencaid Grade Level 15.2. All well beyond the capabilites of the average Sun journalist...and church-goer, I suspect. It's not exacltly gripping reading so it is a wonder anybody has the patience to read on long enough to work out what he's saying.

As for the equivilence of Hetrosexual and Homosexual sexual behaviour, I believe there is some overlap in activity (bit like a Venn diagram)...but I'd rather not go there.

But you are right, clearly from a reproductive point of view we are made hetro. I wonder about emotion, though. If a man and a woman find themelves romantically in love is this different to two people of the same sex finding themselves in love?

I seem to recall (and this is going back a long time) that in David Lodge's 'How Far can You Go' a character suggests that the church's antipathy to contraception is really because once if it entertianed the idea of people indulging in sex for the sheer fun of it, it would open the argument for homosexual behaviour (partly on the grounds that Jesus had never expressed an opinion on where men put their penis).

Joe said...

Quickly, early in the morning:

1. On the questions of emotion, a writer like Pope John Paul II (as philosopher rather than as Pope) writes about integration of the person - by which he would in part mean that the level of emotions needs to remain faithful to the bodily level.
2. David Lodge and the question of having sex for the sheer fun of it - I have seen similar comment in pro-life writing.
3. I was posting late at night ... but OK, I'll try and edit the quote later on! I wonder if the address was originally given in Italian and translated into English?

Interesting, given the spirit of my post, to see how this is reported on the BBC News website this morning:

"Pope Benedict XVI lambasts Copenhagen failure"
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8452447.stm

Francis said...

Joe, you write: by which he would in part mean that the level of emotions needs to remain faithful to the bodily level.

Does he mean that it is KK for two peole of the same sex to fall in love (emotional level) with each other as long as they don't try to gratify themselves with each other physically?

This may move him into an area proposed, I believe, by DH Lawrence. He believed that a woman (even as a wife) was necessary but not sufficent for a man. Men needed another, close, emotional relationship with another man. This relaitonship didn't have to express itself in a sexual act, though possibly it could be expressed in a sublimated sexual act,such as wrestling together. I think he explores this in 'Women in Love'.

Mind you, he was a bit of a crank.

Joe said...

Thank you, Francis, for your contributions.

The idea that love - perhaps in a wider sense than that normally intended by the phrase "falling in love" - is in essence spiritual and that it is possible to be in love without that love having a sexual expression - I think this is OK. Married love has a particular charism towards its sexual expression - but otherwise love that is not expressed sexually seems to me to be something of a good thing. In the past the word "friendship" might have been used to describe this sort of love, and we might have talked about two friends being "inseparable".

But I am not sure that this is what D H Lawrence would really have had in mind with the idea of a sublimated sexual act ... I am not at all convinced that what is written of as sexual sublimation is what would really be intended by the term integration.

Love has an emotional aspect - but to talk about love as spiritual also means more than just this. It has an element of the objective as well as the subjective.

Says, of course, one who is a quite determined single .....

Francis said...

Your comment about the past reminded me that in Shakespeare's time there was a lot of discussion of the idea of love- in a sense of a deep friendship- between men as compared to the love between a man and a woman. There was some debate as to which was a higher love, I seem to remember (this is dragging up stuff I studied- don't ask me why- 30 30 years ago)

As for remaining determinedly single, I am reminded of a batchelor friend who says he likes the idea of marriage but doesn't fancy the hours!