The goal of this research project is to provide the Catholic hierarchy with a critical evaluation of the arguments behind official Catholic teaching on LGBT people and relationships.
The most comprehensive Vatican exposition of those arguments dates back to 1986 – a document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) called “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, also known as Homosexualitatis problema (HP). Some minor documents published since do not substantially expand the reasons provided in that document for a negative moral evaluation of all homosexual relationship as intrinsically immoral.
HP affirms that the church’s teaching is accessible to human reason and in agreement with, the natural sciences. Since the time it was written, however, biology and genetics have made some progress towards understanding the causes of homosexuality.
The same can be said of biblical studies on what the Bible affirms with regard to the meanings and purposes of human sexuality and sexual diversity. The question of homosexual acts is sometimes regarded as settled from the earliest days of Christianity and indeed in the Hebrew Bible. A process of debate and consultation would be tantamount to putting this in doubt, and so no such process has been initiated or encouraged by the Vatican. This reports aims at filling that gap.
Finally, another major development since that document was written has been the legalization of homosexual partnerships, including marriage, in many countries. The significance of this development is that it provides for the first time a wide empirical basis for checking the church’s teaching that lived homosexuality is immoral, and thus damaging to human and Christian flourishing.
The report will integrate those new findings, and investigate their compatibility with current Catholic teaching.
The Arguments behind the Vatican’s Condemnation of LGBT Sexuality
The Vatican’s condemnations of contraception, masturbation, and – more to the point – homosexuality are based on a single, simple tenet: namely, that “nature”, and specifically human biology, indicates that each and every act of sexual intercourse has reproduction (“procreation”) as its natural, biological finality. It further believes that it is always morally wrong to hinder such a biological finality, as it has been established in nature by God.
On the basis of those two assumptions, the Vatican condemns homosexual intercourse: as biologically infertile, homosexual intercourse goes against reproduction, which the Vatican understands as the “natural,” biologically-determined finality for all acts of sexual intercourse.
For the same reason, the Vatican also condemns same-sex attraction – the “homosexual orientation” – as “intrinsically disordered”.
The Vatican complements the above “natural law” condemnation of homosexuality by referring to select passages in the Bible that forbid or denounce homosexuality.
Finally, the Vatican affirms that homosexual “unions are harmful to the proper development of human society” and indeed to the partners themselves.
Initial Research Questions
Based on the above, the interdisciplinary research will address the following questions:
- What do evolutionary biology, psychology, and sociology tell us about the purposes of human sexuality, pair-bonding, and long-term socially monogamous (homo)sexual unions?
- Is it possible to affirm that according to human biology, every act of sexual intercourse always has reproduction as its natural, biological finality?
- What do psychology and sociology tell us about the purposes of (homo)sexual intercourse, and long-term socially monogamous (homo)sexual unions?
- According to Catholic theology, procreation is not the primary end of marriage: rather, “the good of the couple” is. Indeed, sterile couples can legitimately marry in the Catholic Church. Similarly, with regard to fertile couples “Sexual activity […] does not […] cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile.” (Humanae Vitae 11, 1968) Biological procreation is not understood as necessary, strictly speaking, to the existence of marriage itself. What are the consequences of this belief for the legitimacy of homosexual marriages?
- The concept of “homosexual orientation” does not appear to be present in the Bible. What consequences does this have on the biblical passages about homosexual acts?
- What does epigenetic and other sciences say about the etiology of sexual orientation?
- The Vatican did not provide any evidence in support of its statement that homosexual relationships are always “harmful to the proper development of [both] human society” and the partners involved. What do psychology and sociology tell us about the consequences of LGBT relationships, and in particular long-term socially monogamous unions, on the well-being of partners and their children?