Pressure continues to be exerted on Church leaders to remove the language of Catholic teaching that states that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can be approved” — pressure that critics believe is part of an effort by some groups and individuals to normalize the sinful behavior within the Church.
The German bishops, who are in the midst of their two-year Synodal Way that includes a reassessment of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, are the most recent and visible group pushing to alter the teaching with a particular emphasis on changing the language which appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, said in an interview in December that changes were needed to the Catechism regarding homosexuality and specifically that it should express openness to blessings of homosexual unions — a possibility rejected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last month.
Father Christoph Behrens, a priest of the German Diocese of Dresden, said he believed the Catechism’s language was “simply embarrassing from my pastoral and theological point of view.” The priest, whose bishop, Heinrich Timmerevers, asked him to set up a ministry for homosexuals in his diocese and who advocated same-sex union blessings last September, added: “One can only hope that not too many people read this nonsense.”
Further calls to change the Catechism’s language have also come from some American Church leaders including Cardinal Joseph Tobin. The archbishop of Newark, New Jersey said in 2019 it the language was “very unfortunate” and added that he hoped the Church would use different words in its discussion of homosexuality that would be “a little less hurtful.”
For many years discussion has focused on Paragraph 2357 of the Catechism that states: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
The passage describes homosexual acts, and not the persons themselves, as “intrinsically disordered,” but goes on to state in Paragraph 2358 that homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” along with other sexual sins (the term “objectively disordered” mysteriously does not appear in Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism published on the Vatican’s website and one has to click on “hide the links to concordance” to see it).
The motives for removing the language vary with some, especially in Germany, wanting to see a change in the Church’s teaching. These include proponents of the Synodal Path as well as some German ordinaries such as Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, Germany. In February, he suggested in February that Catholics with homosexual inclinations cannot all be expected to live chastely and the Church should adopt a pastoral approach that acknowledges this.
Others are more ambiguous such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, secretary of the commission that drafted the Catechism in the 1990s, who has said he considers homosexuality to be similar to other sexual sins, such as divorce and remarriage, and so implicitly not an “intrinsic disorder.” At the 2014 Synod on the Family, he said he saw no reason to change the language at that time but noted “there are developments” in Catholic doctrine.
Similarly, Jesuit Father James Martin has called on the Church to amend the language with which it discusses homosexuality but has stopped short of publicly calling for a change in Church teaching on the matter. In a discussion in 2017, he said that the phrases “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically disordered” had made homosexual people feel “so subhuman,” and he relayed the story of a mother of a homosexual son who once asked him, “Do they understand what that kind of language can do to a 13-year-old boy? It can destroy him.” As an alternative, Father Martin has suggested the phrase “differently ordered” as he believes it could express the concept “more pastorally.”
Others believe a case could possibly be made to change the language while remaining totally faithful to the Church’s teaching on the matter. At the 2015 Synod on the Family, Archbishop Charles Chaput, then the metropolitan of Philadelphia, said he understood the desire to find new, more positive language to deal with the issue, adding that the phrase “intrinsically disordered” may have outlived its usefulness. “That language automatically sets people off, and probably isn’t useful anymore,” he said, while adding that any substitute should not obscure the Church’s view that “same-sex attraction is not part of God’s plan….”
The above comes from an April 20 story by Edward Pentin in the National Catholic Register.