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Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church

on Love, Sexuality and Marriage.

I have published a book based on this part of my WebSite.

The Witness of the Old Testament

In the beginning God created Man, and determined that his mate should serve as companion and helper [Gen 2:20], to share his life and work. As the Roman Catechism says:
"First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age." [Catechism of the Oecumenical Council of Trent: "On Marriage"]
God thus elevated human sexuality above the primary biological function of animal reproduction in keeping with the unique status of mankind, to serve as a reflection of the interior life of the Holy Trinity [Gen 1:27]. As Our Predecessor Pius XIth, of happy memory taught:
"By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God's decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Hence the nature of this contract, which is proper and peculiar to it alone, makes it entirely different both from the union of animals entered into by the blind instinct of nature alone in which neither reason nor free will plays a part, and also from the haphazard unions of men, which are far removed from all true and honourable unions of will and enjoy none of the rights of family life." [Pius XI "Casti Connubii" #7]
Although the fall led to a certain disassociation of human will and the appetites it was meant to govern, still the exercise of human sexuality in principle remained a reflection of the boundless Joy that is constitutive of the Divine Being.

The pursuit of pleasure in isolation from the good that is its proper finality, is always contrary to the dignity and constitution of the human person. It leads to a disorientation from personal well-being towards activity that is unproductive, vain and brutalizing. It has ever been characteristic of Man in rebellion from God and at war within himself. [Gen 19:3-7] This is equally true of the pursuit of sexual pleasure as of any other.

Of note is the practice of cultic intercourse in the ancient world. [Deut 23:17] This arose not just as a sympathetic fertility rite, but also from a conviction that human sexuality had something of the Divine within it. It was this dimly perceived truth that led Aaron to mis-conceive orgiastic rites as a form of pre-sacramental worship. [Gen 32:5-7] Certain homosexual practices are plausibly condemned in Scripture, alongside bestiality, as detestable [Lev 18:22,23; 20:13,15,16] and to be punished by execution; although this is not certain as the text is ambiguous. Heterosexual marriage, though not monogamy, is an unquestioned norm from the very beginning of the Biblical Witness; however, it is significant that David and Jonathan made a solemn covenant with each other of profound friendship. [I Sam 18:3-4; 20:4-17; 20:41-42, II Sam 1:26]

The Witness of the Gospels

Jesus affirmed heterosexual marriage by His participation and intervention at Cana. [Jn 2:1-11] He insisted, to the consternation of His disciples, that the marriage contract be absolutely binding; [Mk 10:2-12] as befitted both the gravity of its matter and its social, economic and psychological implications. Jesus welcomed physical intimacy with both Mary [Jn 12:3-8] and the Beloved Disciple. [Jn 13:23] He demonstrated profound affection for Lazarus, [Jn 11:35-36] His Mother and the Beloved Disciple. [Jn 19:27]

The Witness of St Paul

The Apostle Paul clearly taught the superiority of the single life over marriage. He justified this in terms of the freedom from familial and secular concerns which celibacy can give. [I Cor 7:32-5] However, he also taught that conjugal love [Eph 5:21-30] and sexual intimacy closely parallel the relationship of Christ and the Church. [Eph 5:31-32] As Our predecessor, Pius XIth taught:
"If we wish with all reverence to inquire into the intimate reason of this divine decree, Venerable Brethren, we shall easily see it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage which is fully and perfectly verified in consummated marriage between Christians. For, as the Apostle says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the marriage of Christians recalls that most perfect union which exists between Christ and the Church: 'Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico, in Christo et in ecclesia'; which union, as long as Christ shall live and the Church through Him, can never be dissolved by any separation." [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #36]
The Apostle implies that intercourse is only licit within marriage, [I Cor 7:36] but offers no account as to why this should be so. He re-affirmed the apparent teaching of Leviticus that certain forms of homosexual activity are dishonourable and shameful, giving as reason that they are beyond what is natural. [Rom 1:26-27] It is to be noted, however that he used substantially identical language in seeming to condemn men with long hair; or who pray with covered heads, and women who pray with uncovered heads. [I Cor 11:6-15] The Church has never doubted that these latter injunctions were cultural rather than ethical norms. [I Cor 11:16]

Past Teaching

Sadly, our predecessor Benedict XVI had just cause to remark:
"Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed." [Benedict XVI: "Deus Caritas Est"]
Many of the Fathers, in particular Augustine, Chrysostom and Leo the Great promote such views; expressing the idea that sexual pleasure is a result of the Fall and should be avoided as far as possible, ought never welcommed or sought out, and that it has a sinful character. They have said that the only justification for coitus and the toleration of sexual pleasure is the deliberate intent and purpose to procreate. Nevertheless, the Magisterium has always affirmed, in accordance with the Scriptural testimony, that marriage, human sexuality and its legitimate expression are not only good, but of considerable significance, wonderfully surpassing the endowments of lower forms of life [Gaudiem et Spes #51, Casti Connubii #7]. Moreover, erotic love is a pale reflection of the inner life of God:
"The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her - but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape." [Benedict XVI: "Deus Caritas Est"]
Marriage is the pattern of life intended by God from the beginning in conformance with human nature for the procreation and education of children, [Casti Connubii #12-17] and is a dignified vocation; of great benefit to the State and most worthy of the favour of the civil law. [Gaudiem et Spes #52] In accordance with the Will of Christ, and Natural Justice, the only marriage contract envisaged by the Church is one that binds absolutely until death. Such an unequivocal spousal commitment is recommended first by the character of romanto-erotic love, and second by the importance of providing a stable environment for the proper rearing of children. [Gaudiem et Spes #48, Casti Connubii #16] Both of these are threatened by any diminution of the pair bond which is itself re-inforced by the bodily worship of the spouses. [Gaudiem et Spes #49]

In defence of the dignity of marriage, the Ordinary Magisterium has affirmed as a basic ethical principle that the biological finality of the procreative act is determinate of the ethical licity of its performance. It has further been argued that any separation of one from the other is necessarily an offence against the divine order and for this cause gravely sinful. [NB. This position is itself a derrogation from the teaching of Saints Augustine, Chrysostom and Leo. Whereas these Doctors insisted that for coitus to be moral a clear and definite intention to procreate was necessary; popes of the modern era have allowed that sexual pleasure can be sought and enjoyed (not merely tolerated) in good faith and justice, even if precautions are taken to avoid conception - so long as no definite impediment is introduced to frustrate it.] Medical technology has recently made it possible to intervene at various stages in the reproductive process as never before envisaged. In order to defend the principle that "procreation should never be separated from the natural exercise of human sexuality", almost all of these possibilities have been declared illicit and gravely sinful.

Friendship

Human beings in general are often called children of God. Christians are enjoined to address God affectionately as Father. All earthly fatherhood is named from the Universal Fatherhood of the first person of the Holy Trinity. Nevertheless, the basic human value championed by Christ; the ideal that all else should be judged by and all should aspire to was friendship. [Mat 12:46-50] Abraham, who argued with God for the lives of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, is called God's friend. [Is 41:8, Js 2:23] Moses, who argued for the forgiveness of his people after they had committed idolatry under the leadership of the priest Aaron, is also called God's friend. [Ex 33:11]

Our predecessor Benedict XVI reminded us that:

"As for the term philia, the love of friendship, it is used with added depth of meaning in Saint John's Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples." [Benedict XVI: "Deus Caritas Est"]
Jesus told his Apostles at the Last Supper that they were now his friends. [Jn 15:14-15] He said that no greater love existed than that someone lay down their life for their friends. [Jn 15:13]

The Angelic Doctor teaches that the greatest love is that of friendship. St Aelred compares the friendship of Jesus and the Apostle John to a marriage. The holy martyrs Sergius and Bacchus were united in their passion by a profound and intimate affection and an intense mutual regard. The mutual devotion of saints Polyeuct and Nearchus as also that of Symeon and John is an example to all the faithful.

Friendship is blind to culture, gender, race and status. [Acts 10:28, Rom 10:11, Rom 11:32] It is based on the mutual regard and utility of persons, [I Cor 12:13] who defer to each other out of respect and affection. [Eph 5:21] The Kingdom of God which Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ constantly proclaimed is a perfect society built on friendship. It subsists in the Catholic Church, which is the Fellowship of the Friends of God: the Mystical Body of Christ. It was on this basis that Our sainted predecessor, Pius IX confidently enjoined his episcopal brethren:

"Let us also seek the suffrages of the Most Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of Paul, his Fellow Apostle, and of all the Saints in Heaven, who having now become God's friends, have arrived at the heavenly kingdom, and being crowned bear their palms, and being secure of their own immortality are anxious for our salvation." [St. Pius IX: "Quanta Cura" #11]
In recognition of this, in medieval times, the Church developed liturgical forms for the celebration of both heterosexual marriage and homosexual unions of friendship, in which She prayed: "Grant them unashamed faithfulness and true love. Accept now these Thy servants to be united in spirit and faith to prosper in virtue and justice and in sincere love, that they be joined together more in spirit than in flesh."

Yet in this age, friendship is generally undervalued. It is judged to be ephemeral, expendable, a matter of convenience and of no account compared to familial ties. It is rarely, if ever, given any recognition or status by the State. Typically, children have friends; adults (especially, and sadly, married men) generally do not. It should be remembered that Our Lord cautioned that unless we "became as children", we could not hope to enter the Kingdom of God. [Mk 10:15]

The Church has been at fault here for not preaching the fundamental significance of friendship with sufficient clarity and force. Whereas the family has been proclaimed to be the foundation of society, [Gaudiem et Spes #52] and this with no little justice; the more fundamental virtue of friendship has been neglected. Sadly, without the leaven of friendship, the boundaries of the family become the fracture lines of society. The very word "insula" means both "family home" and "isolationist". Friendship is the only basis on which a strong civic society can be built. It is at the core of what it means to be Church. [I Cor 13] Without a profound appreciation of friendship, no human relationship can have value or persist. In particular, a conjugal love not based on friendship (which, as we have already pointed out is the heart of Christian Fellowship), but rather on the passing phenomenon of sexual attraction is sub-human and unworthy of the christian faithful. [Gaudiem et Spes #49] It would not be sacramental of the relationship of Christ and the Church. It would be an incontinent union, an affront to justice and Holy Spirit.

Our predecessor Pius XIth taught:

"This conjugal faith, however, which is most aptly called by St. Augustine the "faith of chastity" blooms more freely, more beautifully and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, the love of husband and wife which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage. For matrimonial faith demands that husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church...
This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further; must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love toward God and their neighbour, on which indeed 'dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets.'"
[Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #23]
adding that:
"This mutual moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof."
[Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #24]

Philosophical-Psychological Developments

Now that technology has in practice disassociated intercourse from conception; it is no longer possible to pretend a rigorous ontological or teleological association between them. On the contrary, the basic disconnection of sexual intercourse and conception has become clear, as never before. In principle, the Church has always known this to be true; and so has never hindered the marriage of persons known beyond all reasonable doubt to be infertile because of age, injury, anticedent medical treatment or infirmity. [Gaudiem et Spes #50]

Sexual activity can only be evaluated objectively within the context of the whole lives of the people involved, and in accordance (or not) with their conformance to the two foundational injunctions of the Torah: to love God with one's whole being and one's neighbour as one's self. Moreover it is now clear that a substantial minority of men and women are, as a result of no personal choice, physiologically, psychologically and emotionally oriented towards others of their own gender. [Personae Humanae #8] It is impossible to draw any ethical conclusion concerning either homosexual orientation or activity from the isolated premise that they are biologically dysfunctional. [Acts 10:28]

If the proximate end of sexual activity entered into freely and joyfully by such individuals is the celebration and affirmation of their mutual affection and their shared communion of life, [Gaudiem et Spes #49] it is not possible to find anything but positive virtue in their deliberate decision. [Veritatis Splendor #78] As our predecessor, Pius XI, wisely taught:

"Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved." [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #59]
Their "sexual activity" whereby they "are intimately and chastely united with one another" is "noble and worthy" and "legitimate", though "for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of" their union "is not thereby suppressed." [Paul VI "Humanae Vitae" #11] Moreover, our predecessor, Benedict XVI wisely remarked that:
"The biblical account of creation speaks of the solitude of Adam, the first man, and God's decision to give him a helper... So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' [Gen 2:23]. Here one might detect hints of ideas that are also found, for example, in the myth mentioned by Plato, according to which man was originally spherical, because he was complete in himself and self-sufficient. But as a punishment for pride, he was split in two by Zeus, so that now he longs for his other half, striving with all his being to possess it and thus regain his integrity. While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole..." [Benedict XVI: "Deus Caritas Est"]
In referring to Plato's myth, he was undoubtedly aware that the Philosopher used it to explain the natural diversity of human sexuality.

Providentially, some gay and lesbian christians have been graced with a prophetic role in the Church. It has been largely left to them - who have had to meditate profoundly on patterns of morality - to rediscover and insist on the central importance of friendship, both to ethics and Ecclesiology.

Theological Conclusions

Taking all these considerations into account, it is clear that homosexual activity can no longer be dismissed as depraved, un-natural, self-indulgent, contrary to God's Will, or essentially hurtful: but rather must be accepted as a part of the Divine Providence.

It is also clear that the necessary defence of the dignity of marriage can, and should, be separated from more general ethical considerations of human sexuality. Nevertheless, the following principles still hold:

The apparent negative judgements of Leviticus and the Apostle Paul regarding homosexuality must be understood within the historical context of cultic prostitution. The close correspondence of the language used by the Apostle with other judgements he makes on matters undoubtedly of social convention; the minor weight given to the matter in Scripture as a whole; and the developments in scientific understanding of the issues involved makes it unsafe to understand any unfavourable judgement as being of general application. Christ is Himself reported three times to have loved a man, and the covenant between David and Jonathan is a model of fidelity and affection that should be taken as an example by all who seek to be devoted in love.

The adverse judgements of Augustine, Chrysostom and Leo must be read bearing in mind that they were hardly more favourable towards heterosexual coitus than homosexual. Their general disparagement of sex must be dismissed as a weakeness in their judgement, perhaps attribuatbe to an understandible disgust with the endemic sexual practice with which they were familiar, in particular pederasty.

It is a cause of much regret that historically gay and lesbians have been treated with dishonour, contempt and even hatred within the Church; both informally and in the exercise of juridical authority. As our predecessor, Benedict XVI remarked in a different context:

"At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them... he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint." [Benedict XVI: "Letter to the Bishops regarding the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988" (March 2009)]
I hereby express the sincere repentance of the Magisterium in this matter and commit myself to systematically revoking all particular and specific ecclesial sanctions and restrictions that have heretofore afflicted them; with regards to their participation in the general life of the Church; their exercising of leadership and authority within the community; their admission to to the clerical state and their ordination to the Apostolic ministries. In particular, in accordance with the chief purpose of marriage, [Casti Connubii #24] We hereby determine, direct and decree that:
  1. Couples of either or both sexes who are unable of their own bodies to conceive shall from hence forth be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
  2. Male impotence shall no longer be an impediment to marriage.
  3. The theological question as to what constitutes the consummation of marriage is hereby referred to a commission of Cardinals whose composition we shall announce separately.
We desire that these norms for the present and future be established and effective not withstanding teaching and regulations of our predecessors and all other prescriptions.

We invite you, Venerable Bishops, Our Friends, to share with us in the great work of cherishing and defending what is divine in human love. We urge you to proclaim ever more clearly the Gospel call to holiness, the subjugation of base appetite to the gentle yolk of justice and the direction of the affections towards the Most Blessed and Undivided Trinity; the God who is Love Substantial and Joy beyond measure.
 

Leo XIV

For a Perpetual Memorial

In Festo John Henry Newman Anno Domini 2112


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