The effect of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia on divorce, remarriage, and reception of the Eucharist has been profound. Bishops of Malta, Sicily, and Buenos Aires have decided that the divorced and remarried may receive Communion. But do the principles upon which those decisions were made apply to other areas of sexual morality, and specifically to homosexual unions and relationships?
Indeed, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis himself said that “I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.” (297). And he then goes on to say that “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and deprived of sanctifying grace.” (301). And “an objective situation of sin” “may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such.” And the “Church’s help” can “in certain cases” “can include the help of the sacraments.” (305, and footnote 351.) And “individual conscience needs to be incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.” (303).
And: “This offers a framework and a setting which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues.” (312).
Concerning co-habitation, Francis says in Amoris that “respect can be shown for those signs of love which in some way reflect God’s own love,” (294). Quoting the final document, Relatio Finalis, of the 2015 Synod on the Family, he points out about civil marriage and co-habitation, “when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring,” they can lead to “the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriage.” (293).
Concerning homosexuality and homosexual acts and relationships, there are only two passages in Amoris. Neither refers to doctrine or moral theology. In a sort of sociological observation, Pope Francis says that “de facto or same-sex unions” are not “beneficial” to society. (52). As for “persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Francis holds that they “ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ [citing the Catechism]is to be carefully avoided.” (276). He goes on quote the “Synod Fathers” that homosexual unions “are not remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” (251).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are three consecutive paragraphs dealing with homosexuality (2357-59). The first paragraph, rarely cited in contemporary Church discourse, describes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered.” The third paragraph, likewise rarely referred to, summons homosexual persons to “chastity.” The second paragraph repeats language about the disorder, but its emphasis is that persons of “homosexual tendencies” must “be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Those three words are the dominant theme of Building A Bridge, published this summer by Jesuit priest James Martin. They are the “three pillars of the Catechism’s approach to LGBT ministry,” Martin says.
In one of the two chapters on “respect,” he says about “LGBT Catholics” that “respect means calling a group what it asks to be called.” (emphasis in original). He points out that Pope Francis has used the term “gay.” He also argues—convincingly, in this writer’s opinion—that LGBT Catholics should not be “selectively” fired from Catholic employment, when those who are divorced and re-married, co-habitees, and parents of children out of wedlock are not similarly fired.
Under “compassion,” Fr. Martin says that the Church should “listen” to LGBT Catholics, make public “statements specifically in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters,” and be “joyful with” and “rejoice in the gifts and talents” of LGBT (or LGBTQ) Catholics.
Under “sensitivity,” he laments that many Church leaders do not know “on a personal level, LGBT people who are public about their sexuality.” He maintains that Jesus’ message was always about “inclusion” and “community” first, and “conversion second.” (emphasis in original). Sensitivity means, Martin says, “heightened awareness of what might hurt or offend someone,” as, for example, the phrase “objectively disordered.”
In probably the most emphatic passage of the book, Fr. Martin quotes Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected is his or her dignity and treated with consideration.” “Before all else” (emphasis in original) is an “immense statement.” Fr. Marin argues. He points out that nowhere in Amoris Laetitia does the pope “mention anything about an ‘objective disorder.’”
Nowhere is his book does Fr. Martin speak of chastity. At one point, he does refer to “objectively disordered” but not to “intrinsically disordered”. He claims that “some bishops have already called for the church to set aside the phrase ‘objectively disordered.’” To label “the deepest parts of a person – the part that gives and receives love” as “disordered” is “needlessly hurtful,” says Fr. Martin. It is “needlessly cruel.”
In a response to criticism of his book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Fr. Martin said in August: “Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed inaccurately states that my book is critical of church teaching, which it is not. Nor am I.”
All three American cardinals appointed by Pope Francis—namely, Cardinals Cupich, Farrell, and Tobin—have strongly endorsed Fr. Martin’s book. Included on the dust jacket of the book itself is the statement of Cardinal Keven Farrell says that the book will help “church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community.” Likewise on the jacket, Cardinal Joseph Tobin states that “LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed” and calls Fr. Martin’s book “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.” When Fr. Martin was recently disinvited to a couple of events after the publication of his book, Cardinal Cupich defended him and “affirmed what he was doing . . . I support him.”
In another included endorsement of the book, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy asserts that “The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not.” And in a September article in the Jesuit magazine America, Bishop McElroy vouches for Fr. Martin as a “distinguished Jesuit author” and engages in an extended ad hominem attack on “those” critics of Fr. Martin who are acting out of “long-standing bigotry” and a “cancer of vilification.” In his article, Bishop McElroy says in defense of Fr. Martin’s book that “chastity is not the central virtue in the Christian moral life.” Chastity does not have “a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character or our relationship with God.” To think that it does is “a distortion of Catholic moral theology.”
Thus, Fr. Martin, himself using the phrase “LGBTQ” as well as “LGBT Catholics,” says in Building A Bridge that “respect means calling a group what it asks to be called,” and Cardinals Farrell and Tobin and Bishop McElroy, in endorsing the book, have specifically used the phrase “LGBT Catholics.”
Then, in August, the National Catholic Reporter, in an editorial, thanked Fr. Martin for his book and fully endorsed changing moral doctrine:
Inescapable in this bridge-building project, however, are deeper questions that cannot go unexamined. Can dialogue be enough to achieve a truly inclusive church? Without a change in the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality, can LGBT people ever hope to be treated with equality and justice by the hierarchy?
The editorial urged the Church “to continue the work of developing the doctrine of sexuality that began in Vatican II.”
At the October conference at Boston College convened by Cardinal Cupich and Jesuit Fr. James Keenan, papal advisor and confidant Jesuit Fr. Anthony Spadaro stated that “It is no longer possible to judge people on the basis of a norm that stands above all.” He said that “the pope realizes that one can no longer speaker of an abstract category of persons and . . . [a] praxis of integration in a rule that is absolutely to be followed in every instance.”
In a current lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, by a teacher at a Catholic high school who was fired for entering into a same-sex marriage, an extended op-ed article by a staff writer for the Charlotte Observer went into detail citing Fr. Martin’s book and especially noted Fr. Martin’s point that the Church does not fire other employees for transgressing other sexual teachings of the Church. The article also mentioned the recent Pew Research poll showing that two-thirds of Catholics support “same-sex marriage”.
We have been emphatically told that old understandings and practices “no longer” hold. So, it is now a question of what “before all else” governs the moral teaching and practice of homosexuality in the Church.