Friday, 5 February 2010

The exasperating Tablet

The editorial in this week's edition of the Tablet is classic Tablet. It does, in effect, call for the Catholic Church to change its teaching on homosexuality, but doesn't exactly say that. And it does claim Cardinal Hume and Pope Benedict in support of that call, but of course implies it or hints at it rather than actually saying it. And neither of them, of course, would really countenance any such change.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales did not experience first-hand the super-heated reaction of the mass media... the Church must take seriously, and ponder deeply, the underlying reasons for this week’s furore. It is a pity the bishops missed it.

Not true. I heard Archbishop Nichols interviewed on the Today programme - by telephone from Rome - on the same morning as the furore was at its height. He performed brilliantly, IMHO. The nervousness in his voice was quite noticeable; but what he said and how he said it was superb. I think the Bishops certainly experienced the furore, and Archbishop Nichols showed in his short interview that he understood the issues being raised by the media coverage.

The focal point of this reflection needs to be the Catholic attitude to homosexuality...
Ah, the ambivalence of that word "attitude", with its suggestion of changeability, and how different would this sentence read if it were replaced by the word "teaching". And how easily an attitude to "homosexuality" morphs, in the mind of the reader, into an attitude, a hostile one, to people who are gay.
What gay Catholics say is that it is not so much the Church’s disapproval of their sexual activity that hurts and damages them, as its inability to comprehend and value their emotional lives, their relationships. The deepest human desire of all is to love and be loved. Many have found that desire realised in one other person of the same gender as themselves.
Now, look at those two uses of the word "desire", and recognise how the editorial would like us to read them both univocally, in the same sense; and that's before we explore the meaning of the word "love", deliberately ambivalent, in this context. Yes, every person has a vocation to love and to be loved or, to express it another way, to live in a community (wide sense) with their fellow men and women; in that sense they have a desire (St Thomas would use the word "inclination") to love and be loved as a matter of objective constitution of the human person. But the second "desire", the subjective one of an individual person, might or might not be in accord with the objective one that is rooted in the truth of the person. And the editorial's ambivalence in its use of the word "desire" makes it sound as if it is arguing in accord with a personalist principle when, in fact, it is denying it. It sounds very important and authoritative - but verges on the directly dishonest.
Fifteen years ago, the late Cardinal Basil Hume issued a ground-breaking statement of impeccable orthodoxy which included the passage: “In whatever context it arises, and always respecting the appropriate manner of its expression, love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected … When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. To love another is in fact to reach out to God, who shares his lovableness with the one we love.”

And elsewhere he said that just because two men or two women love each other does not mean they have to be assumed to be in a sexual relationship – which suggests that even being in a civil partnership does not necessarily imply defiance of church teaching on sexual activity.
Those oh so critical words - "and always respecting the appropriate manner of its expression". Don't they mean that Cardinal Hume assumes that, be it in a heterosexual or a homosexual context, the Church's teaching is being obeyed? And, yes, a same sex couple do not have to be assumed to be sexually active - but that should not hide the likelihood that, particularly if they have entered into a civil partnership, they are going to be sexually active. To achieve the love being referred to by Cardinal Hume, should not the same sex couple also publicly profess their celibacy?
There is also a context supplied by the present Pope, in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. He asks, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, “Doesn’t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?” His subject is eros, and the task he sets himself is the reintegration of erotic love into Christian spirituality ...
In context, Pope Benedict asks these questions, not because he approves of the criticism of the Church that they express, and certainly not because he thinks they have a specific application to the situation of homosexuals, but because in the subsequent paragraphs of his encyclical he is going to answer it. And a key theme of those next paragraphs is the "purification" of eros in "agape", and the specific and exclusive development of love lies in this process of maturation and purification :
Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or “poisoning” eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur. [Deus Caritas Est n.5, cf also n.6].
To try and imply a support of Cardinal Hume and Pope Benedict for the thesis of the Tablet editorial is misleading, if not dishonest.

Let's recognise dissent for what it is; it is not a reasoned contribution to a debate.


Anonymous said...

zero says
Of course you don't get all this in" The Universe"

Kate said...

Thanks for this great post! Yes indeed, Let's recognise dissent for what it is; it is not a reasoned contribution to a debate.

Fr John Abberton said...

For those who feel in need of some sound Scripture study on this topic, I recommend a visit to Peter Ould's blog (Anglican priest). His Scripture study and commentary is awe-inspiring