The National Catholic Review
Understanding Pope Francis’ statements on homosexuality

Until recently, where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality was regarded as obvious. The stance of the church toward gays and lesbians and their distinctive activities was seen as negative, leading to judgments and condemnations. Of decisive importance was the negative moral judgment on homosexual acts as intrinsically evil. Even though the magisterium had distinguished between homosexual acts and a homosexual inclination, the intrinsic moral evil of the acts meant that while the sexual orientation was not sinful in itself, it represented an inclination to do sinful things and so had to be resisted.

Recently, the church in the United States has strongly resisted the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, arguing that it would legitimize intrinsically evil homosexual acts, that it would have very negative effects on the institution of marriage, and that it would pose a serious threat to religious freedom. Recent comments by Pope Francis in this magazine and elsewhere imply that there may turn out to be more complexity to the Catholic position. Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in church doctrine. Presumably, he does not want to contradict himself or the long tradition of Catholic teaching on this subject, which has biblical roots and has shaped legal norms in most Western countries for a long time. So, what is the pope up to?

Trying to decipher the mind of a sitting pope is a perilous enterprise, especially when he is opening up a highly controversial topic in both church and civil life. The most a friendly and admiring moral philosopher can do is read his words and actions and offer suggestions about how to construe them so that they form a coherent picture. This is something that should be done before people celebrate or condemn what the pope has been saying. It is important to keep in mind that on this topic the pope is not using the ordinary means of presenting and developing church teaching, which would normally be done by formal addresses, statements from Vatican officials and, in a more lasting form, through encyclical letters.

One way to characterize what the pope is doing is that he is prodding us to think about what the stance of the church toward homosexuality should be, rather than what it generally has been. Now the word stance, while common enough in English, is not a theological term. Theologians and most bishops speak of church teachings and doctrines, of norms and principles, of moral judgments and moral conclusions. Drawing on legal reasoning and moral philosophy, they aim at conclusions that can be applied consistently across a wide range of cases.

A ready starting point is the condemnation of homosexual acts as intrinsically evil. This approach is rationalistic rather than experiential, though those who employ it may turn to experience to support their arguments. For the moral rationalist, there is no need to encounter the people who perform the acts in order to learn what they experience or what the acts mean to them. This is not to say there are no emotional factors at work in the condemnation. They may be kept in the background, but such emotions can be quite powerful.

For many years a powerful set of forces shaped the rationalist approach. There were legal prohibitions against homosexual activity; experts in psychology saw it as a form of arrested or incomplete development; people were reluctant to recognize this inclination in themselves or in family or friends. Homosexuality was considered shameful, disreputable, dangerous and sinful. It was something to be shunned, denied, marginalized and condemned.

For a generation this severely negative set of social judgments and practices has been under attack. It has now come close to collapse in large areas of the world, though it is alive and vigorous in many other parts of the world. In an almost complete reversal, public opinion in the United States and many other Western countries has shifted to such an extent that homophobia has now become the reality to be concealed and denied. The traditional view is now widely regarded as vulnerable, embarrassing and unpersuasive. It no longer serves as a norm that needs only strict enforcement and louder commitment in order to achieve full acceptance.

The Church’s Response

In the face of such an unsettling change in society, what is the Catholic Church to do? If adamant opposition to homosexuality is unlikely to yield positive results at a time when the church’s influence on society is generally declining, should the traditional teaching be abandoned? This would be craven, especially given the often admirable character of the church’s critical response to many socially dominant attitudes and practices over the centuries. Bishops are right to insist that church teaching is not to be determined by opinion polls or election results. It would, however, be wrong to think that such shifts in public perception do not raise serious difficulties, which are perilous for Christians to ignore. It is unlikely that lasting good can come out of any stance on human affairs that in effect says, “We know what we know; what we don’t know is not worth learning about; and what contradicts what we think we know is not worth thinking about.” Such a stance is incompatible with the harmonious collaboration between faith and reason that Pope Benedict XVI saw as a characteristic strength of Catholicism.

What seems to be called for is a time of critical reflection on the tradition to clarify what strengths are to be preserved and what continuities are to be affirmed even while searching for the sources of limitations in the teaching and acknowledging the development of new questions and problems. Critical reflection also needs to be directed to public opinion and to those who would mold it in a new direction, who often harbor naïve, incoherent and immature views, even while they think of themselves as knowledgeable and progressive. Both kinds of critical reflection require time and support for research and careful dialogue that will assess what is known and what is not known, what is hoped and what is feared. There is an ongoing need to coordinate research and information across the fields of biology, medicine, social science and ethics as well as to look seriously at the development of Christian and other religious teaching on this topic down through the centuries.

A “stance,” as contrasted with beliefs or theoretical positions, normally brings with it a realization that other factors are at work. It involves a response to positions or movements in the broader social and intellectual world rather than merely to arguments and criticisms in scholarly journals. Adopting or modifying a stance provides an opportunity to weigh other factors beyond a specific judgment on the moral rightness or wrongness of an act. One can consider alternatives to the stance and think about how others will respond to it. One can consider changing factors in the social context. One can acknowledge the limits to knowledge and arguments once found persuasive.

There are signs that Pope Francis is in the process of thinking along some of these lines. In taking a critical view of the previous stance, one need not abandon it. In changing a stance, even one that has been widely held and is deeply persistent, one may not be changing or reversing church doctrine. Indeed, Francis has repeatedly said that he does not intend to change church doctrine. This produces disappointment in many journalists and advocates; but ignoring what he affirms will lead to more serious and lasting disappointment. There is also a risk that both those who hope for a radical transformation of Catholic teaching on homosexuality and those who dread such a change may miss the point of the more discerning, more compassionate stance that the pope seems intent on introducing. They may judge him by criteria that might be appropriate for legal, political and journalistic activities but that would distort the character of the church’s pastoral relationship with those to whom it is called to minister.

Humility Matters

Four important elements should mark a new stance toward homosexuals and homosexuality. The first is humility. We must acknowledge what we do not know and what we do not understand about the contemporary situation of homosexuals. This is an important point both for advocates of alternative lifestyles and for social and religious traditionalists. It is especially needed as we explore the difficult questions about how to understand the causes of homosexual inclinations and actions and how biological inheritance, historical experience and personal choice come together in shaping sexual orientation. Difficult questions also surround the social consequences of giving legal acceptance to same-sex unions, especially the effects of such a policy on the institution of marriage in Western societies. Humility is appropriate not merely for debate on broad social issues but also in the settings of family and friendship and in the decisions to seek and provide counsel and care for persons who are uncertain and distressed about homosexuality in themselves or others.

Second, we must show respect for the dignity of homosexual persons as creatures of the one God and Father of us all, as members of the community of the redeemed and as fellow citizens of the city and the world. The affirmation of traditional views needs to take place within an ethic of dialogue and must be marked by civility, compassion and charity. Desires that homosexuals should cease to exist, or that they should disappear from public space, or that laws should be enacted that would deny their human rights are simply not acceptable. Precisely because the disagreements over the moral assessments of homosexual acts and the future of relevant social institutions are real and are deeply felt, it is necessary to practice moral attitudes that will sustain conversation over time. This will help to bind the advocates of change and traditionalists. It should also restrain the mockery and denigration of people who in a spirit of honesty and faithfulness honor traditional social values. For in the church, we are called to show charity and mutual forbearance rather than to be victorious masters of cultural warfare.

The greater burden rests with those who, consciously or not, have been influenced in their attitudes and reactions by homophobia, by the fear and hatred of homosexual persons and acts. This can be manifested in schoolyard bullying, in malicious outing and violations of privacy, in blackmail and psychopathic violence. Many of those who are most critical of church teaching on sexuality have suffered wounds from homophobia, sometimes with the connivance of church members or, even worse, with their approval. For all these offenses against our brothers and sisters, there is need for repentance and conversion. As we turn to the future, there is a corresponding need to look critically at those who offer themselves as allies against gay and lesbian agendas.

Third, all parties need to show realism in acknowledging the problems of perception and trust that complicate our efforts to understand and collaborate with one another. We must be aware of the challenges to mature and responsible behavior that human sexuality presents to all of us, regardless of our orientation. There is a profound need for realism in acknowledging the ambiguities that mark our histories, both personal and social. God’s judgment is not likely to yield a simple division between heterosexual sheep and homosexual goats, just as God’s creation does not produce persons who remain consistently on one side of this divide. Expulsion of those with sexual differences from the sacred precincts of the church and expunging their acts and gifts from our institutional memory may express a detestation of intrinsic evil, but it also carries with it an effective denial of common humanity. We must not only be charitable with others, but also honest with ourselves. Realistic self-understanding leads to the abandonment of hypocrisy; realistic understanding of others prepares the way for acceptance in community. Looking seriously at the communities in which we participate will disclose a complex tapestry in which the multicolored threads of the rainbow catch and reflect light, increase splendor and range, and are to be gratefully received.

Realism also involves a recognition that the moral, personal and spiritual development to which we are all called in Christ is not identical with some form of legal or philosophical consistency or even with doctrinal orthodoxy. Nor, on the other hand, is it to be defined as the successful working out of one’s sexual orientation. Both of these distortions involve a reduction of the human person to one or more favored aspects of what is a richer, more complex reality. They also involve the substitution of an immediate, testable accomplishment for the movement of the soul toward the transcendent Other in faith, hope and charity.

Fourth, during this period of scrutiny and reassessment, we must be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the friends and allies of the contesting groups both in the public arena and in the life of the church. The tasks of sifting arguments, modifying laws and institutional arrangements, reshaping personal and social expectations and examining the effects of changes when they are proposed and when they are enacted are all tasks that are best done over time. The process of learning, listening, revising, beginning anew and encouraging participants on all sides and at all levels consumes immense amounts of time and energy. In the United States and elsewhere, the whole process is going to be conducted under the shadow of the sexual abuse crisis, which will be a continuing source of suspicion, fear and acrimony. The very American desire for quick and unambiguous outcomes will make the necessary patience shorter in supply and harder to sustain. We have to bear in mind that law and public opinion in the United States now understand and treat homosexual relations between consenting adults and the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons as significantly different realities.

Sexual Values

The new stance on the subject of homosexuality should open up possibilities for affirming the human dignity of homosexuals. It should also acknowledge their need for an appropriate form of pastoral ministry and should affirm a continuity of key values in a greatly changed social situation. For instance, the traditional teaching and practice of the church has presented faithfulness and fruitfulness as two of the great goods closely connected with sexual activity. Critics of homosexual practice have been honestly unable to see the continuing place for these values in same-sex unions. The desire of some homosexuals to adopt children as well as the desire of many homosexuals to enter into permanent unions can be seen as evidence of the power and attractiveness of these traditional values, even if they are being achieved in previously unacceptable ways.

Assessing the possibility for homosexuals to achieve these values in a sustainable way requires us to go beyond the current arguments about equal rights and equal protection for personal preferences to look carefully at actual lives and the way values are articulated and practiced. This can be one way of defending traditional marriage. But it is also a way of requiring the proponents of same-sex marriage to acknowledge the incompleteness of their approach and their arguments. Good intentions and earnest declarations do not constitute effective guarantees of lasting fidelity. The principal change would not be in the teaching of the church on the moral acceptability of homosexual activity, but in affirming and practicing pastoral ministry for persons engaged in irregular or questionable unions. Ministry would be carried on in a more tentative, inquiring spirit; it would be more intent on providing care and encouraging growth for persons, many of whom have known many sorrows, than in implementing policies within bureaucratic and legal frameworks.

Here we might apply a favorite metaphor of Pope Francis: those carrying on the ministry would function in a way like doctors in a field hospital. They would proceed from a genuine desire to understand the personal and spiritual aspirations of the persons in their care instead of simply repeating the equivalent of a fatal diagnosis, which is how repeated reliance on the notion of “intrinsic evil” will likely be perceived. This is not a proposal for adjudicating the numerous issues now under dispute, nor is it a theological program for resolving the problems of implementing change in this troubled area of the church’s theology and practice. But it may serve as a partial model for addressing similar problems in areas where Catholic Christians have been putting more energy into denunciation than into dialogue, where disjunctions and fractures have been growing in scale and lethality. Perhaps it is best conceived as a submission for the notice board in the field hospital.

John Langan, S.J., is the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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Timothy Saenz | 4/13/2014 - 7:28pm

@ Sandi

Let me see if I can clear it up for you.

The negative influence is the clamor to sanction the practice of homosexuality, the pretense that two men or two women may enter into a marriage just the same as a man and a woman. They can't. There is no basis for it - certainly not in Scripture or Tradition, not to mention reason, ethics, and morality, and certainly not in the biology of men and women. The effort to dress up homosexuality in "love" and "commitment" serves to fuel an illusion that endangers peoples' salvation.

The purpose of the hypothetical I presented was to illustrate that many of us may find ourselves in situations where we wish we did not have to bear the burden of a sanctified life. Christ has promised us the burden is light, but many times it seems too heavy to bear. I am sure that some gays wish they did not have the inclination that they do or, in the alternative, that it would be okay to satisfy their inclination. They are not alone: Every Christian has his or her cross to bear. Perhaps you and others are much further along in your spiritual growth. I am among those who struggle every day to live the godly life. Many of us wish God would overlook the sin - the thorn, to use a Pauline phrase - that punctures our hearts. In a real sense, He does; in another, however, we have to beware taking God's grace for granted, and unilaterally contradicting His instruction to us for our own gratification. Sanctioning what God has said is wrong would be a grave matter, indeed.

Michael Barberi | 4/13/2014 - 9:21pm


Your "claim" that the issue of same-sex unions/marriage does not have any basis in ethics, reason or morality is absurd. You may disagree that same sex unions/marriages are immoral, but you cannot claim that there is no scholarly work for reflection and debate on this subject. You may like to quote Scripture but this is nothing more than proof-texting if the meaning of such quotations are not given adequate context. The current theological debate and scholarly research focus on the principles, philosophies and ancient context/culture/knowledge that has anchor the teaching tradition. No one is "dressing up homosexuality in love and commitment to serve as fuel for an illusion that endangers peoples' salvation"…as you claim.

Magisterial teaching says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered for the following reasons:

a. they are contrary to the natural law, the principles of which are reflected in human nature itself;

b. they close the sexual act to the gift of life; and,

c. they do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.

As to "a" above, the essential order of nature must be respected as a promotion of man's dignity. However, the Church does not recognize homosexuality as an essential order of nature. This is a significant issue that has not been adequately explored and accepted as yet by the magisterium.

To quote prominent theologian Todd Salzman "No one is arguing that homosexual activity is moral because it is natural for those with a homosexual orientation, for that would treat natural facts as moral justification. To be moral, any sexual act, whether homosexual or heterosexual, must be not only natural but also just, loving and in accord with holistic complementarity (sexual, personal and biological). Holistic complementarity includes "orientation", personal, and biological complementarity, and the integration and manifestation of all three in just, loving, committed sexual acts (in a committed marital relationship) that facilitate a person's ability to love God, neighbor, and self in a more profound and holy way."

The Church condemns homosexual acts because they close the sexual act to the gift of life. However, this is contradicted in principle when the Church says that marital acts of infertile couples or menopausal women are not immoral. Nor are sexual acts immoral if they are objectively non-procreative by intention, end and choice as when couples deliberately restrict marital acts to infertile times to avoid pregnancy. In these cases, the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act are separated.

Finally, my biggest issue is that the magisterium has no adequate answers to those born with a same-sex orientation, something that they do not "choose". They must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence because, unlike heterosexual couples, they cannot enter into a committed, faithful and lifelong loving relationship with another person of the same sex.

What the magisterium has not answered is that sexual abstinence (and celibacy) is a gift from God given to the very few. Many seminarians do not take their final vows because they lack this gift. Yet, about 5% of the population are born with a same-sex attraction and must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence according to magisterium teaching. Lifetime sexual abstinence cannot be imposed upon individuals by authority but must be voluntarily chosen in order for it to work. At least heterosexuals have the option to choose lifetime sexual abstinence or marriage where they can express love for their spouses sexually. Homosexuals do not have this option according to the magisterial.

Lifetime sexual abstinence imposed or forced upon same-sex individuals by authority is an unreasonable and unnecessary burden that must be addressed by the magisterium.

Timothy Saenz | 4/16/2014 - 9:31pm


Do you really want to assert that context can alter the meaning of the text in this case or in the case of any sin? Let's look at Leviticus 20:13. The English Standard Version puts it this way: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them."

With the literal understanding of the verse, we know exactly what it means. If we ask, How did the Jews understand it and apply it, then we have to say that they understood it to mean the same thing we do today. What tortured reasoning will you entertain to get the verse to say that the practice of homosexuality in 2014 is not intended to be governed by that instruction?

Leviticus 20:13 governs an action, not the inclination nor a context. Now, you will object to my citation on the grounds that we do not execute practitioners of homosexuality today. No, we don't. Why? Because the Lord has taught us that sinners shouldn't punish sinners that way. Does that now make the act lawful? Does that mean the act will no longer be punished? No, it doesn't mean that.

If I commit adultery, no on has the right to execute me. However, if I commit adultery and do not repent, even worse, if I legitimize it, I expose myself to eternal punishment. Death remains a possibility for me, an even worse death than the physical death contemplated under Torah. A reason exists for why Christ declared to his audience that if your eye becomes a source of evil acts, tear it out; and if your hand becomes a source of evil acts, cut it off. Whether you take that literally or figuratively, the message is a strong one: Don't let your body's evil impulses and inclinations dictate your actions. Do what you must to master them.

After he saved the adulterous woman from execution, What did Christ tell her? Did He say, "Well, because of the new covenant and the spirit of the law and a new context, adultery is no longer sinful, and so not punishable by death." No, He didn't say that. He said, "From now on, sin no more."

A sin is still a sin.

Nothing in the New Testament controverts the instruction in Leviticus on the morality or immorality of the homosexual act.

Your claim that maintenance of this moral position imposes abstinence on those people burdened with a homosexual inclination is incorrect. In fact, many men with this inclination hid it and wedded women and fathered children. How did they do that if their women were not able to meet their needs? I suppose there is always the theater of the mind. How much that applies or makes a difference, I don't know.

Ultimately, each person has to do what they have to do to live a Christlike life. Yes, that may mean giving up sex. Not everyone gives up sex because they are called to the priesthood. God calls people within their contexts, to use your word, and He calls them to holiness. The idea is for them to overcome their contexts, not give in to them. I don't wish abstinence on anyone, but I don't wish giving up eternal life for 50 years of sexual gratification on anyone either.

We are all sinners, Michael, and we participate best in the Life of Christ, not by succumbing to our inordinate or unnatural desires, but by overcoming them. The answer to the trials we face with sexual or other types of sin is not to legitimize them but to fight and live the best we can. That doesn't mean perfection, but it doesn't mean surrender, either.

I wish you well.

Michael Barberi | 4/17/2014 - 7:42pm


I do not know why my previous reply to you did not get posted. I will try to summarize it below, perhaps with some other details.

First, I do appreciate and thank you for your comments but do not fully agree with them.

Your choice of Leviticus is interesting as a source of your condemnation of homosexual acts (I will address that below). However, you were very non-selective when you did not quote Deut 24 that justified divorce and remarriage (that you argued against in our previous exchanges). This is called proof texting or picking and choosing what texts to use (often without a full understanding of their meaning) and what texts to avoid.

In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, note that the texts do not condemn female same-sex behavior which points to the pre-occupation of Hebrews with the preservation of the male seed. From ancient times to the 16th century, spilling the male seed in a place not suitable for procreation was considered quasi-homicide because the male seed was thought to possess the full essence of the human and the only role of the woman was her vessel as a place where the seed could grow into a human being. Of course, no one today believes this or uses it as a principle in support of a teaching or moral norm. Per Todd Salzman, for a male to "lie with" another male, that is, to act passively and allow himself to be penetrated like a female, seriously compromised male honor, not only that of the male being penetrated but also that of every male in the family or clan. In such a socio-historical context, male homosexual acts would be an abomination, not however, qua homosexual acts but qua passive and therefore dishonorable acts that threatened the patriarchal and hierarchical sexual arrangement that pervaded the OT.

Consider for the moment if the social context was different: a context in which not every human being is assumed to be by "nature" heterosexual, and some are known to be "by nature" homosexual; a context in which honor is not a dominant concern; a context in which a male and female are understood to contribute equally to the procreation of new life? In such a context, male homogenital behavior need not be judged as dishonorable and immoral; and just and loving homosexual behavior, flowing from an innate homosexual orientation, cannot be regarded as a perversion of a universal heterosexual condition, and therefore, cannot be judged from this fact as immoral; and the spilling of the male seed would not longer be regarded as murder and an abomination.

If you want to talk about relevant texts, in the Sodom story, notice that Lot was willing to go extremely far to protect the honor of his guests by offering the angry crowd his daughters. Note that nothing is mentioned about this act and offering in the texts or in tradition. Clearly, rape is condemned as the most extreme definition of inhospitality and immoral. Nevertheless, if the story of Sodom is about moral judgment, then the magisterium needs to show us why this story cannot be used as moral approval of Lot's offering his daughters to save the honor of his guests.

There are many injunctions, prohibitions and so-called sins in Scripture. No one stones people for adultery and many so-called sins in the past are no longer sins. If fact, some things were considered perfectly moral and in accordance with the Natural and Divine law, but today are sinful and intrinsically evil (slavery).

I do not know the absolute moral truth but I do know that history has taught us that we only gradually understand the truth through continued scholarship in the sciences, scripture, anthropology, philosophy, theology, et al, and what it means to be human. You may believe that sexual acts in a committed, faithful and lifelong loving relationship between persons with a same-sexu orientation is wrong, but you cannot claim with any authority that the teaching of the magisterium with respect to homosexuality cannot be developed. Witness the fact that this issue will be the subject of a rethinking (a word that is commonly used in the theological community and even in the writings of Benedict XVI himself) during the Synod on the Family. It will be interesting how the bishops reformulate the pastoral application of general moral norms and somehow claim both as truth. Nevertheless, pray to God for his guidance and wisdom for the bishops and Pope Francis.

I am a faithful informed Catholic. However, I challenge you to explain and demonstrate how a lifetime of sexual abstinence imposed by authority on a large group of people with a same-sex orientation (about 5% of the population) is not harmfully burdensome and unreasonable. Celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to few individuals, not to a whole group. Many seminarians don't take their final vows because they lack this gift. To appeal to "heroic virtue" and "extreme self-sacrifice" as the only way to salvation and eternal life for people born with a same-sex orientation defies an adequate understanding of virtue, and what is considered reasonable, practical and achievable.

You may disagree with my augment, but there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasons why the magisterium should reconsider and rethink the teaching on homosexuality. I admit this may take a long time.

I also wish you well.

Timothy Saenz | 4/18/2014 - 2:30pm

A Happy Resurrection Day to you, Michael!

If I may, I will deal with the following part of your post first:

"Your choice of Leviticus is interesting as a source of your condemnation of homosexual acts (I will address that below). However, you were very non-selective when you did not quote Deut 24 that justified divorce and remarriage (that you argued against in our previous exchanges). This is called proof texting or picking and choosing what texts to use (often without a full understanding of their meaning) and what texts to avoid."

If you remember our exchange about divorce and remarriage, I cited a quote of Jesus from the NT that specifically addressed Moses' allowance of divorce, contradicting it as a deviation not designed by The Most High but allowed by Moses because of the "hardheartedness" of the people. So, no, I wasn't being selective. I could argue that you were selective in failing to remember that, but I won't. I am not aware of any statement in the NT that contradicts the Levitical scripture in regard to the practice of homosexual acts.

While the Jews, and unfortunately we Catholics at times, sought to catalog the sins they could think of, the spirit of the law, to which you have made reference on occasion, guides us into righteousness, clearing up matters along the way. Whether a specific prohibition against women exists or not in the scripture, we can by analogy say that women on women sexual acts are sinful just as man on man sexual acts are. Even if we were to accept your erroneous understanding of the Levitical passages, the woman who was acting like the man in woman on woman relationships would be engaging in sin.

Your interpretation of the Levitical passages is patently incorrect. The construction of the sentence does not allow for a distinction between the roles of the men. While a cultural norm that prohibited a man from taking on the role of a woman may have existed, it does not control the significance of the passage. In both Lev. 20:13 and 18:22, the man who lies with another man refers both generically to those who lie down to have sex and specifically to the active agent of the act, which would include both partners in a homosexual relationship anyway.

This can be understood by two means: 1. the common (and only that I am aware of) rendering of the verses in various translations is "as with a woman", not "as a woman." That is a huge distinction; 2. the construction "If a man lies" confirms both involvement and active agency. Otherwise, some of the verses around the prohibition against homosexual activity would not make sense, and would make culpable one offender but not the other.

For instance, the law covering "If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period..." cannot refer to man in your alleged passive role as a woman. Similarly, it would be an odd bit of reasoning to suppose that the lying with an animal prohibition applied only to a man assuming a passive role and not to a man assuming an active role.

You have suggested that the Magisterium can take a philosophical approach to correct, not merely a theological error, but confusion left behind by the Holy Spirit. whose inspired words lack the sufficiency to understand what Jesus and the apostles said and meant. I would not want to make such an allegation explicitly or implicitly. And I would not want to be in the position of being a slave to some kind of restriction on citing the Word of God to understand the Lord's message and the fallen world in which we live.Philosophy is secondary to the raw Word of God and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, and to the theology that is our Tradition.

Thus, when you analyze the morality of a homosexual act, you dredge up high sounding but irrelevant concepts like "holistic complementarity", as if somehow that could repel or undo the intrinsic unnaturalness of both the inclination and the act. We could do the same in regard to the killing of abortion doctors. We could dress up wiping them out as good because it prevents more baby killing, certainly a just and loving pretext. However, it would not change the intrinsic unnaturalness of taking the life of another human being. Only God may take away what He Himself has given and be righteous about it. All is and are His.

It is easy to get lost and stuck in the quagmires of philosophy and philosophical theology. Many times we overthink things, and in our zeal to let someone off the hook, because we are all looking for and needing mercy, we stretch God's word and our reason. The intention is good, but the result, disastrous. Let God's mercy heal and supply. He can cover it.

Michael Barberi | 4/18/2014 - 9:01pm

Happy Holy Week and Blessings to you Timothy,

Email commentaries are not the best communications medium and not a good substitute for personal conversation and debate. Let me try to clarify a few things, correct some of your misunderstandings and address your points in argument.

Before I begin, it is important that you understand my starting point. When I say that there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasons that justify a rethinking of the teaching about homosexuality (as well as certain other teachings), it does not mean that the reasons or arguments I offer are devoid of Scripture, anthropology, the sciences, human experience, et al. Nor do my arguments rely of philosophy or philosophical quagmires. I am mostly a practical man but understand that to argue about a teaching in the Catholic Church is to argue in a certain theological framework that is not merely or substantially philosophical, far from it. However, many principles that underpin a teaching are based on a range of relevant disciplines including philosophical anthropology. This also does not mean that my arguments lack sufficient faith or that I suffer from a distorted reason or profound misunderstanding of Scripture or moral theology because they disagree with the magisterium's argument (or yours). Now, to your points.

1. I was fully aware of our previous exchanges and your argument about what Jesus said about "hardheartedness" of the people as an explanation of the Mosaic law allowing divorce. I was referring to your choice of Leviticus in justifying the condemnation of homosexual acts (part of Mosaic law) while you implicitly rejected Deut 24 (part of Mosaic law) that allowed divorce and remarriage. Tolerating or permitting divorce and remarriage because of hardheartedness does not mean condemning divorce and remarriage as sinful and immoral regardless of the reasons. In this regard, you could not explain what Jesus said in Matt, namely the exception clause, which did not contradict Deut. I don't think we have to rehash our previous arguments. I did not want to make a big deal of this point. Let's move on to the heart of the matter.

2. Let me repeat what I said previously (the part of my argument that you said I was mistaken): Per Todd Salzman, for a male to "lie with" another male, that is, to act passively and allow himself to be penetrated like a female, seriously compromised male honor, not only that of the male being penetrated but also that of every male in the family or clan. I did not misrepresent Scripture here.

What the Holiness Code says could not be clearer: male homosexual behavior is an abomination. Note that I said that it is male acts that are prohibited in these texts; lesbian acts are not part of the prohibition. What you failed to see or address is that this restriction yields some insight into both the historical context in which Leviticus says what it says and what it might mean when it says it. The first thing to be noted about the Hebrew contexts is bad biology, which I won't repeat again…that is, about the male seed containing the whole essence of a human being. This is relevant because when the the male seed is not being placed in its proper place for procreation, it was consider quasi-homicide until the 16th century. I will also not repeat the cultural context that believed that all humans were born heterosexual and that homosexual acts were acts committed and freely chosen by heterosexuals.

In this ancient cultural and world view, homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons were an abomination. I agree with this. However, the part of my argument that you did not address was my argument about considering a different social context during ancient times that influenced this morality. The ancient belief about "universal" heterosexuality cannot be a reason and absolute moral justification for condemning as immoral, just and loving homosexual behavior flowing from an innate homosexual orientation. In other words, during these times homosexual acts were considered a perversion of a universal heterosexual condition. Nor can this ancient belief justify the condemnation of homosexual acts within a committed, faithful and loving lifelong relationship between two people born with a same-sex orientation.

Unless you can convincingly demonstrate that a homosexual orientation is a intrinsically distorted condition of a universal heterosexual orientation, then your argument is not persuasive. Nevertheless, I am open to be educated.

3. The other critically important issue you did not address is the end result or consequence of the magisterium teaching about homosexuality, namely, the unreasonable and overly burdensome moral requirement that the only way for salvation for those born with a homosexual orientation is to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. As I argued, lifetime sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to few "individuals", not to a whole group (5% of the population). I would like to you to address this point.

4. I never said that the Magisterium should take a philosophical approach to correct a teaching. Far from it. I already explained my point of view and starting point at the beginning of this reply to you. As to the Word of God, you should know that not everything written in Scripture is universally accepted by people of faith who have expertise in Bible studies. For example, the word "porneia" is highly disputed, as I mentioned in our previous exchanges on divorce and remarriage. There are dozens of other texts that do not have a consensus of opinion given language, translation, meaning, context, etc.

Make no mistake about what I say. I am not proclaiming the absolute moral truth or the perfect translation of biblical texts. I repeat my sense of things based on a long education of the Church's positions and teachings as well as the scholarly work of theological experts that respectfully disagree. I study both sides of the so-called argument before I formulate a decision of my informed conscience which is only a temporary conclusion because I do not see the full truth. This is an on-going process.

It is important, Timothy, that we both recognize that the Holy Spirit guides us to the truth in both agreement and disagreement. If not, think about what kind of world we would have if every moral teaching of the magisterium were considered the absolute moral truth and the book on debate were closed forever to a development.

As to your comment that holistic complimentarily is irrelevant to this discussion is misguided. Complimentarity has everything to do with this discussion and is used by the magisterium and theological apologists in argument. You might disagree that sexual orientation should not be part of complimentarily, but you have not given any reasoned argument to justify your position. I already addressed the issue of naturalness and unnaturalness, but never said that what is natural is to be considered the moral.

At least Pope Francis has called a Synod on the Family where this topic will be the subject of discussion and rethinking. It will be interesting to see how pastoral applications of moral norms will be handled and reformed. Nevertheless, I have hope and faith in the Holy Spirit.

God Bless.

Timothy Saenz | 4/19/2014 - 6:43pm

Hello, Michael,

I will make an effort to present the contrast our positions have with one another and see if that helps the both of us. So I will begin by representing a quote from you in your last post:

"Tolerating or permitting divorce and remarriage because of hardheartedness does not mean condemning divorce and remarriage as sinful and immoral regardless of the reasons. In this regard, you could not explain what Jesus said in Matt, namely the exception clause, which did not contradict Deut."

I believe this statement of yours is incorrect. In Matthew, Jesus does reject divorce and remarriage, and so he most certainly contravenes the Mosaic teaching, which allowed divorce and remarriage. The key is the phrase "divorce and remarriage", not divorce. Divorce, by itself, is permitted when one of the marriage partners has ruptured the marriage vows with some form of adultery. Despite that scenario, remarriage is not permitted. This is what the scripture indicates, and it has been the Church's teaching for centuries. Though Scripture and Tradition allow divorce under that one circumstance, the continued teaching urges men and women to seek and grant forgiveness and to heal the relationship. That is the spirit of the law. Let no man put asunder what God has joined. Only God can do that, and He has stated unequivocally in Malachi that He "hates divorce". I felt you dismissed that word of God too quickly. Does God hate something that is good? Or does He hate something that is bad?

I must not merely disagree with you on this point, but disagree with the lack of valuation you place on it, because it affects your understanding of the scriptures that prohibit homosexual acts. You dismissed God's hate of divorce on the basis that you had never heard anyone argue from it. Yet there it is, as plain as day in the Holy Scriptures. Instead, you introduce what I will again call irrelevancies from other fields which should complement and not erase the words of scripture.

Now, what I am saying to you applies to the character of the acts in question, not to whether there should be condemnation or to whether the Church should allow or disallow the divorced and remarried and the practitioners of homosexuality into a church service or into participation in the Life of Christ. Those are discrete questions that do merit a rethinking. I am focused on knowing and and understanding Original Sin and the sins that ramify from its presence and operation in our flesh. The moment we say something that is a sin is not a sin is the moment our eyes begin to go blind. We cannot repent of something we think is okay. And if we cannot repent, we interfere with the flow of the grace that we so desperately need.

Here lies another quote from you:

"Note that I said that it is male acts that are prohibited in these texts; lesbian acts are not part of the prohibition. What you failed to see or address is that this restriction yields some insight into both the historical context in which Leviticus says what it says and what it might mean when it says it."

Several problems exist in your line of reasoning here. The first is that since female homosexual acts are not specifically mentioned here, they must be allowed. No allowance is mentioned either, so it's presumptuous to then teach others that the Word permits female homosexual acts. It doesn't.

Secondly, it should be clear - by analogy - that if the Lord forbids male homosexual acts, then He forbids female homosexual acts. The Holy Spirit clarifies this in the first chapter of Romans, verses 24 through 28, where women forsake natural relations to engage in unnatural relations with other women; men also forsake natural relations with women to engage in unnatural relations with men. Verses in First Corinthians and Wisdom build further support for this understanding, if what has been given was not enough.

Let me step back for a moment, because I am going to agree with you about something. Two types of homosexuals exist: those who are born with the orientation and those who choose it out of sheer, disordered lust. I believe you are correct about that. I think we have seen in the present and in the past errant, rabid heterosexual and homosexual behavior fueled by disordered lust, a voracious and avaricious no boundaries mentality that refused any limits. The character of their behavior is monstrously wrong, and I believe it was those kind of folks whom The Most High judged at Sodom and Gomorrah, not, if my brothers and sisters of all ilks will forgive my expression, the average homosexual. This is a vital distinction, and I think in that sense you have been championing a good cause. There are many homosexual couples, some who have children, whose viewpoint is far more in line with traditional Christianity than many professedly Christian heterosexual couples. Not that it is for me to say, but it seems to me those homosexual couples are headed in the right direction, looking after their kids and raising them morally, while the heterosexual couples neglect theirs or even lead theirs into destruction. God sees the whole picture, and thankfully, His Love covers all.

So why do I insist on the literal and analogical understanding of Leviticus, etc.? God judges the heart, but He also judges acts, and sometimes acts are still wrong, even when done from a right heart. Is a homosexual orientation part of God's plan? Scripture and Tradition would seem to say, no. Since the Fall, Sin has infected us, contaminated our minds and bodies. We do not operate as we were originally intended. All of us have been altered from our original state, and the way that some of us have been altered is sexually. Who understands why some men and women have to experience physical and psychological pain to feel physical and psychological pleasure? Some are that way. Were they supposed to be? Is that the nature God gave them, or is it but one discrete deformation, one of the many Pandoran paradoxes of the Fallen Nature we have inherited?

The Fallen Nature is a tough reality to accept, because our ego is so tied up with our sexuality, and we all want to express ourselves and at the same time be good, whole people. Perhaps, as Christ said, "Let him accept it who can" as we bear one another's burdens and pray that God's tender mercies be upon us.

God bless you!

Michael Barberi | 4/19/2014 - 9:04pm


I am glad that we agree that there is a significant distinction between heterosexual and homosexual acts that are freely and voluntarily chosen for the end and intention of lust, and heterosexual and homosexual acts that spring from an loving innate heterosexual and homosexual orientation chosen in a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship. As you wisely noted, many homosexual couples have children and raise them up to be respectful and loving Christians, but also Jews and Muslims. Nevertheless, allow me to respond to your understanding of Scripture and the morality of voluntary human action.

1. In Matt, the exception noted is sexual immorality, understood primarily as adultery. There are actually 3 possible meanings of "porneia" but this is the one most theologians agree is the most likely definition. Your opinion that Jesus rejects divorce and remarriage is not correct. Let me explain. In ancient times, once a certificate of divorce is issued for adultery (mostly by men, but later by women), the marriage is terminated and cannot be restored. Adultery severs the original relationship of the parties and this is even assumed by Paul which implies that divorce is mandatory.

Matthew's addition of the exception clause is, in my view, best understood as spelling out what was already assumed from the beginning. Where a certificate of divorce is deemed legitimate, the certificate would free the woman to re-marry and we must assume this stands, even for the so-called guilty party. The one issuing the divorce would be free to marry but not someone wrongfully divorced. At most one might speculate that they might be allowed to marry a person not yet married or another innocent party from a divorce. It is possible to read Luke 16:18 as forbidding even the later, but we need to avoid confusing statements about divorce and divorced persons which assume all such action is illegitimate, from statements about divorce and divorced persons where valid grounds (adultery) assume the action is legitimate. In a Jewish context that is what a divorce certificate explicitly allowed.

I do not believe that the exception clause in Matthew should be read as a modification of the saying to bring it into line with Deut 24, because Matthew's Jesus distances himself from that provision in 19:8-9. Nor should it be seen as a softening on Matthew's part, but rather as an explication of what would have been assumed. In other words, without a legitimate divorce, the man's act forces the woman into a new sexual relationship and so into an act of adultery against the original marriage which is assumed to continue to exist. The focus is on what Matt 5:32 simply assumes must follow, namely remarriage.

Keep in mind that in ancient times, polygyny was permissible. In polygyny, dissatisfaction with one's wives, for whatever reason, was usually not resolved by divorce, but by changing one's favorites, or by taking another. Sensitivity to the place of polygyny in the tradition and in law, which nowhere opposes it, would be one of the grounds why Jesus would not cite bigamy as an issue in a man taking another wife. As monogyny became the norm, the issue of divorce became more acute.

In Matt Jesus was not going against the Torah which is different from saying that Jesus agreed with Deut. For this reason, many Christian Churches and the Jewish faith permit divorce and remarriage, for reasons as serious as adultery and abandonment. Nevertheless, divorce is taught to be avoided and everything possible should be done to preserve the marriage. However, this is not possible or practical in many cases. It defies common sense that an innocent spouse should never remarry and must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. This is an extreme and unreasonable moral requirement that few possess the gift and grace to do.

2. You cannot substantiate the claim that a homosexual orientation is not part of God's plan according to Scripture. There is nothing in Scripture that say so. More importantly, no one knows God's plan with moral certainty. In Genesis, God created Eve as a companion for Adam because God believed that man should not be alone. Genesis did not say that God created Eve as a spouse for Adam, nor did God force Eve upon Adam or command Adam to marry Eve. Additionally, nothing in Genesis mentions marriage. After the Fall, God commands them to go out and multiple, and we assume (philosophical anthropology) they are united in a marriage by a metaphorical leap and more importantly, that a marriage can only be possible between a man and woman.

I am not going to get into the morality of voluntary human action, and by extension sin. Suffice it to say that the moral species of a voluntary human action is based on a good motivation, end and intention, and circumstances. When one begins with a motivation, examines the concrete circumstances of the person(s) who ascertain good ends that need to be accomplished to act responsibly, and subsequently consider all the behavioral options that are appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in those ends, one lives and acts in an ethnical manner. This has been the guiding ethical model for the social teaching of the church for more than a century. The fundamental impasse that has been created through certain moral teachings is one of using incompatible ethical models for guiding ethical decision-making. As I had mentioned in a previous comment, the church does not formulate or utilize one ethical model for sexual ethics but it does have one moral model for social ethics. This frees the magisterium to declare any voluntary human action (sexual acts) as immoral without being consistent with any moral method. I could go on and on about this Timothy, but it is not ipso facto and automatic that a specific voluntary act is immoral and sinful because the magisterium said so, and more importantly, many of these acts cannot be declared the absolute moral truth where the book on debate is closed forever and development of the teaching is rendered impossible.

I hope we can agree that the magisterium should rethink the teaching about sexual acts by same-sex couples in a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship….and reform the teaching that the only way to salvation for those born with a same-sex orientation is to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. I also hope that we can agree that denying the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharist to the divorced and remarried should be the subject of a rethinking as well.

God bless.

Timothy Saenz | 5/4/2014 - 9:32am

Blessings to you, Michael!

I detect that we are largely at an impasse. I agree with the observations and critical interjections that the "other" Tim (forgive me, Tim!) has proffered. I think they complete the understanding that Scripture and Tradition convey.

My reading of Scripture and Tradition, as best as the Spirit of Truth has been able to penetrate my thick head, is that divorce with remarriage is never sanctioned as the Will of God and never sanctioned as morally or spiritually correct. We may tolerate it, but we must never say it is right.

Similarly, my reading of Scripture and Tradition impels me to receive the instruction that, in human terms, God created a heterosexual ideal meant to be borne out and practiced in marriage and sexual love. The practice of homosexuality, whether because of orientation or choice, is proscribed without qualification. The Fall of Man and the monster it created, Original Sin, have broken and scarred and disfigured our original image and nature, and that has led to all kinds of misbehavior that seems real but which is just another expression of sin.

That said, I laud your compassion for divorced and homosexual couples and your efforts to have the Church, and all its members, treat them with the dignity and love we all need.

As I understand the Scripture and Tradition, divorce and remarriage and homosexual relations or marriage will never be the right thing to do. But I don't want to seem selective in my observations: neither will the sins I cherish or the sins that others may cherish.

Since we are sinners, however, I think we should admit to church services and sacraments all who otherwise sincerely believe in Jesus Christ, who seek to honor Him with their lives, and who seek Eternal Life, even if their lives are not at present perfect, such as my own. We live in a constant state of repentance and spiritual quickening and maturation. I hope no person who professes Christ Jesus will ever sway from self-examination in the light of Scripture and Tradition and from the effort to imitate Christ, whatever sacrifices have to be made. We have come into possession of a Pearl of Great Price. Let us not dismiss it in favor of the transient cares of this World that bloom like alluring weeds in this season of Sin.

By the grace of God, our shared journey through life will produce fruit and growth so that when it is over, we will hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

God bless you richly, Michael!

Michael Barberi | 5/4/2014 - 4:34pm


Thanks for your belated reply. We are at an impasse but we do agree that we are all sinners and are in need of constant spiritual nourishment by the grace of God and by sacrament, et al.

I think we can agree that divorce and remarriage has not only divided the RCC but the Christian community as well. Nevertheless, I have much hope that a toleration of divorce and remarriage will manifest itself in a better pastoral application of the teaching. A thought for your reflection follows.

Below is an part of a recent speech given by Cardinal Walter Kasper, prefect emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. You can read the entire article at:

Noting that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 wrote that those who are divorced and remarried can make an act of spiritual communion, he asked, “Why, then, can [such a person] not also receive sacramental Communion?”

He claimed that, in the early Church, when someone entered a new relationship even though their spouse was still alive, “after a period of penance, had available … a life raft through admission to Communion.”
Suggesting a “way of conversion” involving the sacrament of confession, he asked, “Is it also the path that we could follow in the present question?”

When someone who is divorced and remarried “repents of his failure in the first marriage”; if he cannot return to the first marriage; if he “cannot abandon without further harm” the responsibilities of his second marriage; if “he is doing the best he can to live out the possibilities of the second marriage on the basis of the faith and to raise his children in the faith”; and if “he has a desire for the sacraments as a source of strength in his situation,” Cardinal Kasper said, then “should we or can we deny him, after a period of time of a new orientation (metanoia), the sacrament of penance and then of Communion?”

He clarified that this is not “a general solution,” but is “the narrow path of what is probably the smaller segment of the divorced and remarried, those sincerely interested in the sacraments.”
“Life is not just black or white; there are, in fact, many nuances.”

Cardinal Kasper emphasized the need for “discretion, spiritual discernment, sagacity and pastoral wisdom” in these cases. “This discretion is not an easy compromise between the extremes of rigorism and laxity, but, as is every virtue, a perfection between these extremes.”

Let us pray that the Synod on the Family will follow both Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper's reflections.

As for the morality of sexual acts by those born with a same-sex orientation in a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong marriage (civil or church), the issue is more complex and I will not repeat my arguments. It is important to reiterate that I do not claim my arguments to be the absolute moral truth, but offer these arguments as justification for a rethinking of the teaching in all of its aspects. You may be correct that God created a heterosexual orientation as an ideal, but he also created other orientations as well for a same-sex orientation is seen in about 5% of the population. I don't believe that a same-sex orientation is a intrinsic disordered condition of a universal heterosexual orientation, nor does the scientific community. Perhaps a lifetime of sexual abstinence for those born with a same-sex orientation will not become a moral absolute as it is today through a better pastoral application of the moral norm. Let's pray that we will be more enlightened by the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family.

Timothy, I believe we both have the love of God in our hearts and we both are striving toward of better understanding of truth even in disagreement.

God bless.

Timothy Saenz | 5/5/2014 - 6:53pm

Your post is in part excellent; the other part I would reject as factually incorrect or at least unsubstantiated.

Your quotes from the Cardinal carry a lot of weight, and they led me to think that part of our "disagreement", if you will, is a semantic one. The sacraments, I believe, should be open to all, since if being a sinner disqualifies participation, then we will all have to stay home. Our unspoken difference may be that while I understand Scripture and Tradition to teach that divorce with remarriage is wrong, that does not mean those who made that mistake should be forever separated from the sacraments. I might even go so far as to say that what the Cardinal suggested is what I have been writing to you. Is divorce and remarriage a sin? Yes. Can it be forgiven and the couple reinstated to enjoy the sacraments? Yes, I believe.

For me, a difference exists between the character of an act and the earthly consequence of that act. We may treat them separately because we treat all penitents, after a period of penance, separately from the sin they have confessed. I would make the same application to homosexual couples. The Church should identify their action as sin based on the understanding of our spiritual code and the effects of Original Sin. Under the mantra of "Let him accept this who can" and the understanding that our growth as Christians is a process, those couples should also be reinstated to the sacramental life.

Where we differ fundamentally is in the second part of the first sentence and the entire second sentence of the following statement you wrote:

"You may be correct that God created a heterosexual orientation as an ideal, but he also created other orientations as well for a same-sex orientation is seen in about 5% of the population. I don't believe that a same-sex orientation is a intrinsic disordered condition of a universal heterosexual orientation, nor does the scientific community."

No biblical nor scientific basis exists for the assertion that God created "other orientations as well". Nor is there any scientific basis to say that same-sex orientation is or is not intrinsically disordered. How could the mental or physical sciences make such a determination? All they can say is that homosexual tendencies and acts do, in fact, occur in the human population with a certain frequency.

This is where our Faith enters. Blessed by grace, we know better. We perceive that our world is contaminated with sin. Fragments of our original image can be found throughout our experience, but we are always pulled to sink into the contamination. Living would be so much easier if we could just let go!

Ancient Greece and Rome sank into the murkiest stench. In the depravity and decadence of the Empire, Romans pursued pedophilia avariciously (not to mention other entertainments such as the gladiatorial bouts), but even a pagan like Marcus Aurelius could see that it was a nasty business, and he praised those who extricated themselves from it.

Occurrence does not make an act or a disposition moral; nor does it make it natural.

Our world is defective and deficient. That's why we all need the Great Physician, the Great Provider. Let us not pretend we are not sick, for it is precisely the sick whom Christ has come to call.

My God richly bless you, Michael!

Michael Barberi | 5/5/2014 - 9:48pm


Well, we will have to agree to disagree on these points. At least we can agree that Catholics should not be separated from the sacraments whether they are divorced and remarried or have committed a sin, knowingly or unknowingly. If they are truly sorry for offending God, whether they believe that their actions are sinful or not, is the important point to stress. I may not believe that taking the anovulant pill for birth control for good reasons is sinful or offending God, but I will always say that "if" I have offended God I am truly sorry. This is where an informed conscience comes into play as well as the acknowledgment that we do not see the fullness of truth and must remain open to the possibility that we may have offended God. It is in confession that we acknowledge that we are heartily sorry for offending God so that we are brought to salvation and forgiveness of our offenses through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The issue of a firm purpose of amendment is a most difficult concept to understand in some cases, for example for those who practice birth control condemned by the magisterium as intrinsically evil, and those who are divorced and remarried and have sexual relations. I am familiar with the principle of graduation given to habitual sinners in confession. It is given to those who practice contraception but not to those who are divorced and remarried. If Holy Communion is given to the divorced and remarried in the future, must they confess sexual intercourse every time it is performed in a second marriage? I think not, because it would seem superfluous and disingenuous. Few confess the sin of contraception when they don't believe it is a sin. Once they discuss this with their priest (e.g., they disagree for good reasons based on an adequate informed conscience), it is not necessary to confess it every week before receiving Holy Communion. At least this is my experience with several confessors.

I stand on my arguments about sexual acts by same-sex couples in a committed, faithful and loving relationship (civil or church). If God did not create people with a same-sex orientation, then your argument that God created only a universal heterosexual orientation is not persuasive because you have not addressed my points in argument. No prominent scientific organization has called such an orientation "a disordered condition of a heterosexual orientation" nor have said that homosexual acts or a homosexual orientation merely "occur in the human population" without clarification. Rather than correct your misunderstanding of scientific research, I suggest you further educate yourself on this subject. I have read a recent doctoral dissertation on homosexuality and it covered, in detail, the historic scientific evidence. If you really want me to explain these things to you, just ask me. However, suffice it to say that your argument is not convincing. This does not mean that your arguments lack reason, but that they fail to address my arguments. This is especially important when address the unreasonable and almost impossible burden of forcing/imposing on people with a same-sex orientation a requirement of a lifetime of sexual abstinence as a requirement of their salvation. Lifetime sexual abstinence or celibacy is a gift from God given to few "individuals", not to a large groups of people (e.g., 5% of the population). I am hopeful , but not completely certain, that this issue will be addressed by the 2013-2014 Synod on the Family.

I understand full well the concept of Faith, and as you said; blessed by faith we know better. However, people of faith disagree for good reasons and such disagreement does not ipso facto make their judgments invincibly ignorance, distorted or "unfaithful". I remain open to the grace of God, prayer, sacrament and the advice of my spiritual and moral mentors.

You mention "occurrence" and I agree with you that mere occurrence is not the basis of morality. However, when 40% of priests disagree with certain teachings, for example when they believe that contraception is rarely or never a sin, then we need to reflect on whether this is a mere "occurrence" of a secular culture that has infected the clergy and Catholics with some type of diabolic evil, or is the Holy Spirit sending us a message? I believe that the Holy Spirit leads us to truth in agreement and disagreement. It is in dialogue that many past teachings have been reformed for good reasons. Today, we may live in a divided Church and in a crisis of truth, but I have much hope for all who live in the present and for the future of the Catholic Church and the faithful.

I never pretend to be sick because I am as sick and imperfect. I always need the mercy and grace of God for my salvation and guidance to live a life pleasing to Him.

Timothy, we can be confident in the grace and mercy of God, but little else. We should change our perspective and disagreements when there is adequate and convincing moral arguments, and there are many teachings that we must accept by faith alone. However, we can be open to the Holy Spirit and disagree for good reasons about certain moral teachings, and remain "faithful" Catholics.

God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/19/2014 - 11:14pm

Five comments to add to your conversation

1. The "increase and multiply" came before the fall. In Genesis 1:28: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." With the Fall, the births became painful ("painful labor" Gen 3:16) and the subduing of the earth became hard ("painful toil" Gen 3:17).

2. On the idea of knowing the moral law with certainty, from Persona Humana (from CDF under Pope Paul VI): ". It will especially be necessary to bring the faithful to understand that the Church holds these principles not as old and inviolable superstitions, nor out of some Manichaean prejudice, as is often alleged, but rather because SHE KNOWS WITH CERTAINTY that they are in complete harmony with the Divine order of creation and with the spirit of Christ, and therefore also with human dignity.

3. The Church strongly disagrees with Michael's interpretation. The Church and the Catechism is clear that a true marriage is for life, even if adultery has occurred. In CCC#2383 it addresses the innocent spouse: "The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense." They still remain married and unable to marry another (barring an annulment that finds the first marriage was invalid).

4. Holistic complementarity (chromosomes, sexual organs, parental roles, psychology, spirituality) is possible only between a man and a women, according to the Church and the Catechism (#2333). To sever the biological & parental roles from complementarity is to remove its specificity and its (holistic) completeness. Friends can be complementary in many psychological or other ways, but, this is completely unlike the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman.

5. On the distinction between 2 types of homosexuals, the CDF under Pope Paul VI said the following, again in Persona Humana (before gay "marriage" was invented):
"A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tendency comes from a false education, from a lack of normal sexual development, from habit, from bad example, or from other similar causes, and is transitory or at least not incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.

"In regard to this second category of subjects, some people conclude that their tendency is so natural that it justifies in their case homosexual relations within a sincere communion of life and love analogous to marriage, in so far as such homosexuals feel incapable of enduring a solitary life.

"In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But NO PASTORAL METHOD CAN BE EMPLOYED WHICH WOULD GIVE MORAL JUSTIFICATION TO THESE ACTS (emphasis added) on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God. This judgment of Scripture DOES NOT OF COURSE PERMIT US TO CONCLUDE THAT ALL THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM THIS ANOMALY ARE PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR IT, BUT IT DOES ATTEST TO THE FACT THAT HOMOSEXUAL ACTS ARE INTRINSICALLY DISORDERED AND CAN IN NO CASE BE APPROVED OF. (emphasis added).

Pope Francis in 2010 on the political push for gay marriage in Argentina: "At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts...Let us not be naive: This is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God...“[T]oday the country, in this particular situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to bring the light of truth on to the darkness of error, it needs this advocate to defend us from being enchanted by many fallacies that are tried at all costs to justify this bill and to confuse and deceive the people of good will."

Michael Barberi | 4/20/2014 - 4:37pm


All of your comments are the argument from authority; it is a repeat of magisterium teachings and the claim that every moral teaching is the absolute moral truth with certainty. I don't agree that none of these teachings can be the subject of development; the book is not closed forever on development. This is your starting point and world view, and you are entitled to it. My arguments go to the heart of the matter about certain teachings and are good reasons for a rethinking about the divorced and remarried and for morality of sexual acts between those born with a same sex orientation within a committed, faithful, loving and lifelong relationship. Unless you have something new and substantive to offer about our lengthly exchanges, we are done here. I will not repeat my arguments.

Happy Easter.

Tim O'Leary | 4/20/2014 - 10:36pm

Michael – I think you are hiding behind your authority claim. Recall that you use Salzman as your authority. You might at least accept the Church arguments as similar academic counter-arguments, even if you do not believe they are inspired.

It is true that I quoted the Church in points #2 & #3, but only to indicate that they have reasoned that their arguments are more cogent than yours. In #5, I show that they have already understood the distinctions of different homosexual acts (countering the idea they have not thought through this) and quoted Pope Francis as you think he might have a different view on gay marriage.

The argument on Complementarity stands on its own. One cannot abandon all the biology and still use the word holistic. The male and female organs are exquisitely matched in such a complementary way that they are also fruitful, completely unlike 2 men or 2 women.

But, in my argument from Genesis (#1), I just pointed out that you have misread the text. And your reading is a huge difference from the actual text. You thought that the goal of children was a post-Fall event, whereas it is written into the first chapter of Genesis, before the Fall. Perhaps, you can concede this one.

Happy Easter to you too.

Michael Barberi | 4/21/2014 - 5:36pm


Your claim that I am hiding behind my so-called authority is absurd and indicative of your frustration in argument with me. I quoted Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, not to claim "their authority" but to posit positions that are scholarly, contributory and reasoned to the issues under consideration. Other theologians argue similarly.

It is Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Human Experience that I use as sources of truth and not your absurd and unsubstantiated claim that I am using my authority as an euphemism for acting as my own magisterium. Let me be completely clear. I disagree with certain magisterium teachings, not because they completely lack reason, but because the magisterium rarely ever adequately addresses the many issues and concrete cases raised in legitimate argument. The reason is clear to most Catholics: the magisterium has an exaggerated fear of going against a teaching of a recent pope or tradition, and they are not giving adequate consideration to the human experiences and voices of the People of God. This is one of the reasons we have profound non-reception in the worldwide Catholic Church with respect to certain moral teachings.

As to biology and complementarity, in particular your opinion about a homosexual orientation as a intrinsic disorder or distorted condition of a universal heterosexual orientation, is not the professional judgment and conclusions of experts such as the American Psychological and Psychiatric Societies. You merely ignored this fact that I have made to you in one of our lengthly exchanges.

I also discussed the ancient tradition that assumed that everyone was heterosexual and a homosexual act was assumed to be a freely chosen act by heterosexuals and immoral. You never acknowledged this fact and I am not going to repeat my arguments.

I don't have any problem in acknowledging that the Genesis statement about "to go forth and multiple" was made before the Fall, but whether it was before or after the Fall is not relevant to the "heart" of my argument. All you do is pick a few minor things and exaggerate them into an illusion about how my "entire" argument is misguided and wrong.

Tim, you and I will likely never have a good exchange because of your starting position and world view about the absolute moral truth with certainty of every magisterium teaching. These teachings, according to you, can never be the subject of development. Any argument that disagrees with a magisterium teaching (regardless of the reasons offered) according to you and the magisterium, is distorted reasoning and misguided. "Why don't you concede this one."

I do not claim any authority except the authority of my informed conscience that is informed with respect and thoughtful consideration and a thorough education of Catholic Church teachings. I don't claim my arguments are the absolute moral truth or am I inventing my own magisterium. Let's get real.

Why don't we let those who follow our arguments decide for themselves. I am done here unless you have something new and meaningful to offer.

God Bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/21/2014 - 6:54pm

Michael - you often say you are done but you are not. In any case, you completely misinterpreted my "hiding behind authority." I did not mean you are claiming your own authority, but that you always respond to me claiming that all my arguments are about authority (I did a count - you discount my arguments 32 times in this string using the "authority" word), when they are definitely not. So, you avoid responding to arguments that I present just because I got them from some Churchman. It is human to err but you are so reactionary that you won't even listen to arguments you disagree with.

I agree with Aquinas that relying on human authority is a weak basis to argue, but he also said that relying on divine authority is the strongest basis. The question is what part of the Church's teaching is based on divine authority and what part is based on human teaching. Not a lot, by your estimation. That is where we differ. But, your reaction against Magisterial authority even goes further. You will not even listen to their reasons, finding contradictions and incompleteness everywhere while thinking you are consistent.

You say you only claim "the authority of my informed conscience." What does that mean? That you will only agree with yourself. How open-minded! Didn't Luther follow his conscience? Didn't Calvin? Didn't Zwigli? Didn't Joseph Smith follow his conscience when he founded the Latter Day Saints. Apart from frauds, charlatans and montebanks, everyone believes they are following their informed conscience. Yet, all these men came to different conclusions, so the only logical conclusion is to think conscience cannot sort out truth from fact. Your own conscience even changed its opinion after being informed a little more, and will likely change again. So, you do not even agree with your former or future self. This is all so illogical. So much quicksand.

My understanding is that one needs to follow one's conscience (taking into account listening to correct authority, esp. divine authority) because one will be judged accordingly, but one should do so humbly because, while it can exonerate one on judgment day (hence the stipulation), one should not confuse fidelity with conscience with the authority to preach against stronger authority.

I know you are earnest and well-meaning, and I wish you well (the word count of your posts so far on this string comes to over 21,100 - mine are <50% of that). But, despite your frequency of posting, I just think you have not yet delved deeply into the consequences of some of your ideas. God Bless.

Michael Barberi | 4/21/2014 - 10:18pm


Most of your arguments, if not all, are based on your starting point and world view that I detailed to you, but you never admitted it. If this is not true, then say so. I am open to any presumption that I may have made in error when reading or interpreting your comments. If I did not respond to your arguments, list them. However, if you do so then give serious reflection to the all the issues I have raised with you many times and explained where and how you have not addressed them.

Some of the magisterium's "moral teachings" are based on Divine authority (Scripture) but some of the these Scriptural texts are disputed as to interpretation given the culture and knowledge during those times and such disagreements are for legitimate reasons. This is where we have an impasse because according to your world view (and that of the magisterium) most, if not all, of the moral teachings of the magisterium are based on Divine authority or the authority of the Magisterium. Any disagreement with these teachings are wrong regardless of the reasons. Is this not your world view?

The authority of my informed conscience is a good point. The magisterium and popes definitively have taught that one must never go against their informed conscience even if it is in tension with a papal encyclical (Benedict XVI). Yet you cry "what does that mean"? Educate yourself. It does not mean that I will agree with myself for any reason. I already explained to you "in detail" the process one must follow in informing their conscience especially if one is in disagreement with a magisterium teaching. I will not repeat that long email that you have conveniently forgotten. This process of informing one's conscience is all about being open-minded. This is one of the reasons we go around "in circles" all the time. Do I have to constantly repeat all of my arguments and comments to you?

If your point is that many people follow their informed conscience, but you question how informed their consciences really are, then I don't think you are being unreasonable in this judgment. However, just because a Catholic cannot put forth reasons that are perfectly formulated in disagreeing with a specific magisterium teaching (e.g., contraception, the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, or terminating the pregnancy of an unviable fetus that is threatening the life of the mother) does not ipso facto mean that their conscience is wrong. In a theological debate, one may use practical arguments but they must rely on philosophical, theological and other appropriate arguments in the right framework. To draw analogies with Calvin and Joseph Smith may give you some comfort in arguing against what I am saying, but they are intellectually unpersuasive because you are deliberating failing to draw the proper distinctions or getting to the heart of the matter (underlying principles, et al, that underpin a teaching).

My judgments of my informed conscience are a temporary conclusion because I do not see the complete truth and I am constantly being open to further education. According to your logic, everyone should follow every teaching of the magisterium regardless of the reasons of disagreement and how one informs their conscience because according to this world view one will never change their minds on any teaching or even argue for responsible reform. Think how absurd this line of reasoning is. Think about what type of world we would have if every Catholic accepted every moral magisterium teaching as the absolute moral truth with certainty.

The book is not close forever on development of the moral norms and magisterium teachings we have been discussing. You also never conceded this point. Lastly, word count is not a proper measurement of right reason.

God bless.

Tim O'Leary | 4/22/2014 - 12:51am

Michael - I can certainly agree with you that word count does not measure right reason. But, you completely missed my main point about conscience, which is that, according to all historical evidence, personal conscience is not a reliable guide to the Truth, no matter how well informed. You may think that Luther or Calvin didn't do enough to inform their consciences, but they didn't appear to know that themselves, and they were extremely prolific writers. My point is that divine authority transmitted from Jesus to his Church, is the only sure guide. I agree that individual bishops and even popes make bad judgments, but the teaching of the papal magisterium is protected.

You even believe this when it suits, as you quote with confidence a teaching about the conscience (your quote "The magisterium and popes definitively have taught that one must never go against their informed conscience even if it is in tension with a papal encyclical (Benedict XVI)"). This is the same Magisterium that has definitively taught about contraception, women priests and homosexual acts. But, notice there is a difference between one's obligation to follow one's conscience and determining what is doctrinal truth.

To rephrase your other sentence "Think about what type of world we would have if every Catholic accepted his own conscientious interpretation as the objective truth." That would be a repudiation of the teaching Church, it would result in pure subjectivism and a loss of confidence in any doctrinal truth, which is where our protestant brethren find themselves today.

Michael Barberi | 4/23/2014 - 3:13pm


This is one of your few comments where we can have a reasonable discussion.

There is much ambiguity in the teachings of the magisterium. On the one hand, they definitively assert that no one should go against their informed conscience. On the other hand, the magisterium claims that they are protected from all error when it comes to both faith and morals. It is not a matter of believing in who has the greater authority, one's informed conscience or the magisterium.

One is obligated to give priority and serious reflection to magisterium teachings. However, this does not mean to go against your informed conscience especially if your conscience is not troubled but is one of joy and peace and properly informed. All Catholics have the obligation to always seek and discern the truth. However, what we are discussing are certain teachings about sexual ethics. When it comes to teaching development, the process is highly complex involving many disciplines in deciding the morality of voluntary human action. You cannot disregard all the inconsistencies, contradictions, circumstances, ends, intentions, human experience and reason, especially in deciding the morality of concrete cases or the validity of moral absolutes.

With respect to conscience, you missed my point when I said if every Catholic accepted every moral teaching of the church, consider what kind of world we would have today. If every Catholic (clergy, theologians, and non-theologian laity) from ancient time to the present, merely accepted every moral teaching and never argued for responsive reform, argued in disagreement for good reasons, then slavery would be morally permitted, there would be no freedom of religion, the torture of heretics would be morally acceptable, and any form of interest on money lent would be prohibited…the list goes on.

I think we can agree that today's teachings, in many ways, are more complex than past teachings but the debates about development were no less heated. History has taught us that we are brought to a better understanding of truth when we grow in the knowledge of Scripture, Anthropology, Philosophy, Theology, the Sciences, et al, and what it means to be human. We must always seek the truth and this can only happen in respectful debate because it is only in dialogue that we can be enlightened about responsible teaching development or accept that some past teachings only partially reflect the truth.

What you and I disagree on Tim is that you hold to a classicist world view where the world is a finished product and truth has already been revealed, expressed, taught and known. According to this world view, in order to be a truth it must be universal and unchanging. On the other hand, historically-minded theologians look at the world and at truth as constantly emerging. They argue that we are learning more, not only about the world but about ourselves. This does not mean that there are no moral truths that both world views agree are unchanging, but that certain teachings are the subject of legitimate development because of a multitude of good reasons. Truth has it objectivity, but it is only gradually being grasped by us in our judgment over time, though experience, and with maturity.

Tim O'Leary | 4/22/2014 - 6:15pm

Michael - we continue to differ substantially on our understanding of the power of one's conscience and its relationship to objective truth. However, you approvingly say "historically-minded theologians look at the world and at truth as constantly changing." You are right that this is a major difference between us, perhaps the key difference. I could quote a lot of scripture and the greatest theologians who would defend the objectivity of all truth, or Truth, but we have gone on long enough in this thread but I will take it up again later. Do not get upset when I quote you on this.

God Bless

Michael Barberi | 4/22/2014 - 7:14pm


You can quote me as many times as you wish. I correct myself because I was typing to fast and not proofreading my comment carefully enough; I meant that "historically-minded theologians look at the world and truth as constantly emerging." This one correction is consistent with the rest of what I wrote.

I agree that traditionalist theologians disagree with revisionist theologians (a poor term of classification, but I hope you get the point).

Don't forget my correction.

God bless.

Michael Barberi | 4/17/2014 - 3:20pm


I do appreciate you comments, but I don't fully agree with them. Note that only male acts are prohibited in Leviticus; lesbian acts are not part of the prohibition. You seem to have no problem of quoting the OT, and you seem to assume that your interpretation of such texts are the absolute moral truth and can never be developed. Yet you would not quote Deut 24 to justify divorce (in our previous exchanges). This is called proof-texting.

If you want to quote the OT, you must understand the context. For that matter, it was perfectly moral and right according to Leviticus to stone people for adultery. These as well as other acts have since been abolished. The Hebrew texts are replete with bad biology where the understanding was that a male gave "seed" that contained the whole of life; the female simply provided ground or the field in which the seed was sown to develop into a fully-fledged human. Up until the 16th century, spilling the male seed on the ground, "coitus interrupts", was sinful because it was considered quasi-homocide. No one today believes such non-sense.

To quote Salzman: For a male to "lie with" another male, that is, to passively and allow himself to be penetrated like a female, seriously compromised male honor, not only that of the male being penetrated but also that of every male in the family or clan. The passivity of a male, who expected to be active in all things, including the sexual, was always abhorred and dishonorable. In such a socio-historical context, male homosexual acts would be an abomination, not, however, qua homosexual acts but qua passive and therefore dishonorable acts that threatened the patriarchal and hierarchical sexual arrangement that pervaded the OT.

What about an utterly different social context; a context in which not every human being is assumed to be by "nature" heterosexual, and some are known to be by "nature" homosexual; a context in which honor is not a dominant concern; a context in which male and female are understood to contribute equally to the procreation of new life?

Timothy, I could go on and on. However, I do not claim to know the absolute moral truth. I do respect the magisterium and I am a faithful Catholic. However, I do not completely agree with certain moral teachings. What I am saying is that their are many things in the OT and NT that is the subject of new scholarship and contribute to the development of teachings. This does not mean that every new contribution must evolve into a reform of every teaching, but rather, that history has taught us that our understanding of truth is gradual because we do not, nor will we ever, see the complete truth. Therefore, there are legitimate arguments about teachings (e.g., new scholarship) that should cause a rethinking (and the word "rethinking" is a common theological concept that is fully understood in the theological community and often mention by Benedict XVI).

Witness the fact that what was "not sinful or immoral" in past times is today considered not only sinful but intrinsically evil (slavery); what was prohibited, sinful and considered heresy in past times is today morally acceptable (freedom of religion). I could go on, but I hope you get my point.

You are entitled to your opinion that the so-called book is closed on the issue of homosexuality, but you cannot claim with any authority that it is closed to future development, nor that this issue should not be the subject of further research, scholarship and theological debate. Recognize that the Synod of the Family will be discussing this issue.

I agree that we should all control unnatural desires and any tendency to sin. We disagree on exactly that means. You don't seem to think that a lifetime of sexual abstinence for those born with a same sex orientation is not unreasonable and overly burdensome. Can you offer a convincing argument to support such a claim? You seem to think that such individuals need to do this, and can do this, to have eternal life. Yet, only the very few possess this gift from God given to the very few. Many seminarians don't take their final vow because they lack this gift. You cannot impose a lifetime of sexual abstinence upon individuals because in order for it to work, it must be voluntarily chosen and one must have this gift from God. Frankly, I do not judge people with a same-sex orientation the way you do, and I have offered legitimate philosophical and theological reasons for my position. I realize that this is not what the magisterium teaches, but there is hope for responsible reform. I also wish you well.

Tim O'Leary | 4/14/2014 - 1:45am

Michael - this is the same long comment you used just 6 comments below. And it is as wrong now as it was then. And you always complain these arguments go around in circles. I won't repeat my response again accept to say you are very presumptuous to assume the Magisterium has not thought through the existence of homosexuality. Furthermore, you take a stance of impartiality in saying that all you ask is for the Magisterium to re-look at the issue, which seems disingenuous as you have already made your choice that homosexual activity is natural and use "yet to accept" in reference to the Magisterium accepting this naturalness.

Anal intercourse cannot ever be seen as natural in terms of the natural function of the sex organs or the biological complementarity of the sexes. It is both a denial of biology and natural law and common sense and it is no argument to say that some people do it or prefer it. Isn't the latter the case for all sin? It cannot be moral for two men nor for a man or woman. This is the consistent teaching of Philosophy, Scripture, Tradition and he Magisterium. Aquinas (which you claim to know and follow) defended the normative teaching. And to say that avoiding anal intercourse for one's whole life is very burdensome is a new twist on what abstinence means, for men and women.

That is why apologists for the new gay ideology try to ludicrously reinterpret the episode in Sodom and Gomorrah as a judgment against hospitality or 1 Romans as concerned with heterosexuals engaging in homosex. This kind of scriptural jujitsu might work for the ever trendy subjectivists in the Episcopalian Church but cannot work in the Roman Catholic Church. And it is absurd for you to equate normal sexual relations among married infertile or post menopausal men and women as closed to the gift of life. To sow doubt in infertile couples as to the moral correctness of their natural lovemaking is wrong in itself. And, to close off the way of repentance and salvation to people with homosexual desires is no act of mercy on the part of these apologists.

But, here is a new question. In today's news an Anglican clergyman, a father of five children, has now gone and married a man in the UK, against the moral teaching of his church Can it be that he was going against nature when he sired those several children and is conforming to nature now? That would be ridiculous from a biological point of view, not just a philosophical point of view. He was obviously physically and psychologically capable for years of normal sexual activity. This is a clear case of a preference, a choice, an act of will, no matter how much he now feels compelled to follow this desire. I have not seen any Christian apologist for gay marriage address the issue of bisexuality or mid-life homosexuality and you avoided this question when I put it to you below.

Marie Rehbein | 4/14/2014 - 11:22pm

I knew a man who fathered two children before he accepted the fact that he was actually homosexual. His wife, by the way, was quite masculine in appearance and behavior, while he was rather effeminate.

Michael Barberi | 4/14/2014 - 5:15pm


My comment was a response to Timothy's posting because in a previous comment to Timothy I asked him specifically if he read my previous comments on this blog regarding same-sex orientation/marriage etc….for I did not want to repeat myself. He never answered me, so I repeated a part of what I wrote and this was appropriate.

As to your comments, I will address them.

1. First Paragraph: I never claimed that the magisterium has not thought through about the existence of homosexuality as you assert. Your statement is in error because you are putting words in my mouth or exaggerating something I said. You do this far too often regardless of how many times I bring this to your attention. Tim, please try to be careful about what you write especially your implications and assertions about what my position is. I ask you: Where have I said such a thing? I mentioned naturalness but not to claim that something natural is morally determinative. In fact, I quoted Salzman on this point and you ignored it. My comment about "yet to accept" referred to the fact that sexual orientation as one part of holistic complementarity has not been accepted by the magisterium. I also questioned the claim made by the magisterium that homosexuality is a disorder. The U.S. and world-wide psychiatric and psychological associations do not agree with the magisterium's claim. As to its precise cause, it has confounded experts for centuries with no consensus especially in modern times. I am not arguing that all homosexual acts are morally right. My position is that the arguments advanced by the magisterium to sustain the judgment that "all" homosexual acts are morally wrong need to be revisited.

2. Second Paragraph: Your definition of the "natural" function of the sex organs is a point that has been widely disputed for the past 50 years, but your claim does not make your assertion the complete truth. Your other claim that some people do not prefer homosexual sex is absolutely false and you cannot justify your assertion by anything in existential reality or with widely accepted scientific evidence.

Your statement about my statement that a lifetime of sexual abstinence for people born with a same-sex attraction is very burdensome "is a new twist" on what abstinence means is absurd on its face. How is a lifetime of "abstinence" from sex different between heterosexuals and homosexuals? How is abstinence different in a committed, faithful and loving marriage? I will grant you that sex between heterosexuals and homosexuals is different but abstinence is abstinence. A lifetime of sexual abstinence is very burdensome and it is unreasonable if it is "imposed" upon individuals from authority. Forcing or imposing an unreasonable requirement upon people to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence can never work and this is the point that you failed to address. For your information, apologists for the magisterium, for example moral theologians Janet Smith and Christopher West, argue that anal sex between heterosexual couples in a marriage is not immoral as long as completion does not take place. You never explained that one to me.

3. Third Paragraph: Your assertion that another interpretation of the episode in Sodom and 1 Romans is Scriptural jujitsu by trendy subjectivists engaging in the Episcopal Church but not in the Roman Catholic Church, is another unsubstantiated error on your part. Many prominent Catholic theologians who do scholarly research, teach and publish, have been debating alternative readings of the OT and NT relative this specific point. These Catholic theologians are not subjectivists.

Precisely, how is it absurd of me to make the arguments I have made that sexual relations between married infertile couples and post menopausal women are not procreative? Please explain how the marital acts of couples who practice periodic continence (NFP) are not non-procreative? These examples were part of my argument but you did not address this particular example, but ignored it.

As to your statement about closing off salvation to people with a same-sex orientation, I ask you Tim: Is the only way to salvation for those born with a same-sex orientation is to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence?

4. Fourth Paragraph: An example of a man who fathered five children, then married a man is an exaggerated case to justify your position or implication that all people born with a same-sex attraction can and should marry a person of the opposite sex because they can perform the procreative act. Scientific studies demonstrate that people born with a same-sex attraction have no natural desire to marry a person of the opposite sex. For homosexuals, to marry and have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex is unnatural, just as it is for heterosexuals to marry and have sexual relations with a person of the same sex. No one is arguing that a homosexual cannot perform a sex act with a person of the opposite sex that is procreative. A physical ability to do something is not justification for your argument.

As for the issue of bisexuality, I have not studied it. However, my preliminary position is that "if" such a person is born with a same-sex and opposite sex orientation, such persons should choose heterosexuality because it would not be going against the order of their nature.

I will repeat my argument:

Some homosexual acts and some heterosexual acts, those that meet the requirements of holistically complementary, just, and loving sexual relations, are truly human and moral; and some homosexual acts and some heterosexual acts, those that do not meet the requirements of holistically complementary, just, and loving sexual relations, are immoral.

Tim O'Leary | 4/15/2014 - 12:24am

Michael - your recent tactic is to repeatedly respond with 3x-4x text. You might follow Mark Twain's advice. He apologized for the length of a letter by saying it would have been shorter if he had more time. Try to keep your points succinct as it helps the conversation.

Just because some theologians dispute a Church teaching does not give it weight. Theologians have no protection from error from the Holy Spirit. Their opinion is just that, opinion, and they are just as much swayed by the trends in the popular culture, including the highly dubious trends in academic culture.

I have not read the claim you make about Janet Smith, but I have no need to defend it as I do not at all agree with it at all. Even from a purely medical perspective, anal intercourse is injurious to the receptive partner and is highly unhealthy, both from the future normal function of the anal sphincter, and the great danger of infection. Hence the very high incidence of venereal disease and development of resistant strains. But, in my opinion, it is also unnatural and immoral and I know of no teaching of the Magisterium that counters that opinion.

As to the Anglican clergyman who sired 5 children over several years, how could he not be at least bisexual (there is of course no physical test for these non-scientific categories, as they are ideological and not scientific)? He certainly does not suffer from a lifelong abstinence. But, in either case, from your unstudied opinion, either he is bisexual and should avoid homosex, or he is homosexual and sired his 5 children unnaturally. That is why I think your stance is absurd.

Your final paragraph is the clearest statement you have made that reveals your belief that homosexual acts can be moral and good. You have taken a position diametrically opposed to the Teaching of the Church, Scripture and Tradition. You started out making fine distinctions with the Church's teaching on contraception, and have ended up this far from orthodox teaching. Like a ship initially slightly off course, in time one can see how far off course a seemingly minor disagreement can get one.

Michael Barberi | 4/15/2014 - 4:37pm


When you start from a position that firmly believes with certainty that any argument that disagrees with a moral teaching of the magisterium is wrong, and "any" conscience that also disagrees with a moral teaching of magisterium is wrong regardless of the reasons and how one has informed their conscience, then you see everyone's reasoned argument as absurd.

When you start with a position that every moral teaching of the magisterium is protected from error by God and is the "absolute moral truth", you see everyone's reasoned argument that challenges a specific teaching as wrong.

You can pick and choose what points in my argument you want to address or not. You can also disagree. However, if you do not address my arguments such as the unreasoned imposed requirement of a lifetime of sexual abstinence the magisterium says is the only answer for those born with a homosexual orientation, then your arguments are selected and intellectually unpersuasive. When you do not address the arguments I have made challenging the condemnation of homosexual acts as being not open to procreation (e.g, one of the arguments of the magisterium), in particular the examples I gave in argument to prove my point, then your argument does not address my argument but is selected and intellectually unpersuasive. When you do not address the context and knowledge in ancient times that all people where believed to be heterosexual and a homosexual act was believed to be an chosen act by heterosexuals and not in accordance with their nature and immoral, then your argument deflects from my points and are selected and unpersuasive.

Your example about the Anglican clergyman is irrelevant. Can you provide proof that he was "at least bisexual"? Also, what does your assertion that "he does not suffer from a lifelong abstinence" have to do with your argument or mine? Here you only want to deflect from my arguments and take the discussion into another direction, and then ipso facto you think my entire argument is absurd. I, nor you, know whether this clergyman was homosexual or bisexual.

My preliminary conclusion about this clergyman had nothing to do with the topic of the morality of the sexual expression of love between two people with a same-sex orientation who are in a lifelong, faithful, committed loving relationship (civil or church marriage). A homosexual does possess the physical ability to sire children. However, that has nothing to do with the argument under consideration. In the early part of the 20th century, if you were homosexual you were frequently castrated from society. Things changed and being homosexual is not shameful, immoral or evil. However, being a clergyman and homosexual today is different and not widely accepted. This clergyman who may have been homosexual married and had children. This person either had secret homosexual relations (adulterous because he was married) or he decided to divorce his wife and marry a man. I will not nor should I judge him because I don't know all the facts.

"If" someone is born with a heterosexual and homosexual orientation, then they should choose one or the other of their orientations, not both. Honestly Tim, I have not argued about bisexuality and choosing to push the discussion into this issue avoids the larger argument that we were discussing.

Why don't you admit that every argument and every conscience that disagrees with a moral teaching of the magisterium is wrong according to you. Why don't you admit that there can be no debate because any argument is condemned as absurd based on your philosophy. Why don't you admit that no argument that challenges a moral teaching of the magisterium can be reasonable; no argument can have any sense of truth; and every one of "your" arguments is right because it agrees with the magisterium.

My position is clear: I believe the teaching on same-sex orientation and sexual acts within a committed, faithful, loving relationship, should be the subject for reflection and rethinking by the magisterium. Witness the fact that Pope Francis has called a Synod on the Family and this issue is one of many issues that will be the subject of debate and reflection because it is a problem. According to your philosophy, Pope Francis and the world-wide bishops should not rethink this issue because this teaching can never be developed.

Marie Rehbein | 4/15/2014 - 3:21pm

Tim, are you suggesting that lesbians are OK?

Also, don't you think the clergyman who fathered five children might have been doing what he perceived to be his duty according to conservative cultural norms? Like everyone, until recently, he grew up with the example that men marry women and father children. It is also the case that those who become clergymen of whatever religion are considerably more conservative than the general population, which suggests that he might have denied the reality of his homosexuality to himself.

Tim O'Leary | 4/16/2014 - 1:11am

Marie - I was referring to Michael's comment that I quote directly from above "For homosexuals, to marry and have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex is unnatural." So, for the Anglican clergyman we are discussing, one would either have to conclude like you suggest that a) he was always homosexual, and Michael would say that his five children were conceived "unnaturally." Or, b) they were conceived naturally and he was not an exclusive homosexual but was choosing that form of sexual activity late in life. I think it absurd that his children were conceived "unnaturally."

I bring up the bisexual situation because it is always included in the LGBT acronym and implied to be addressed by gay marriage but I believe proponents of gay marriage have used inconsistent arguments for them.

My own position is that I do not believe the categories of LGBT or LGBTQIA (or whatever) are scientific at all. They are ideological, dressed up in self-serving scientific jargon, using junk science, which then has contaminated theological discussions and departs from the Gospel.

My contention is that we are all created either male or female, right down to our chromosomes, and right up to our souls, including our personalities and spiritual callings. Some people have proclivities, sometimes strong and even overwhelming, to abnormal sexual activities. These are possibly due to genetic mutations, intrauterine hormonal imbalances, early life abuse or experiences or just sexual experimentation (science has not settled on the causes). These orientations do not change their nature, although they can be a great burden for them to lead the moral life. They should be treated with love and respect, and offered friendship and support.

But, it is a disservice to them to pretend that the moral law does not apply to them as it does to all humanity, including me. I hold the same view for addicts born with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, or who might develop an addiction early in the womb (if the mother is an addict). No one should be cut off from the call to the full Gospel, the full moral life. This is the example of Jesus (love the sinner while rejecting the sin) and the teaching of the Church, which always offers forgiveness for sins "7x7," but never abandons the full Gospel.

I will of course listen with openness to the teaching that comes from the synod and Pope Francis's teaching to see how a ministry to those who believe they fit in the LGBTQIA categories can be improved. We are all in acute need of salvation, which I believe can overcome any physical challenge. I would point out that Pope Francis has used wording regarding the political push for gay marriage that are far stronger than anything I have said.

Michael Barberi | 4/16/2014 - 5:16pm


Your argument is an illogical leap when you say that the Anglican clergyman was (a) always homosexual and the fathering of children were conceived "unnaturally" or (b) they were conceived naturally and he was not an exclusive homosexual. I agree that his children were not conceived "unnaturally". However, you conflate and distort words and argument. Some homosexuals who married a woman and had children, were conceived naturally. The martial act and the act of procreation was natural in every sense of the word. When I say that for homosexuals to marry and have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex was unnatural, I meant it was against their nature, a nature they were born with, meaning a homosexual orientation. This does not mean that some, meaning very few, homosexuals are not married to a woman and have children. In this case the homosexual went against his nature, but this does not axiomatically mean that every homosexual can and should marry a person of the opposite sex and have children. Your logic is ridiculous. Most homosexuals, if not almost all of them, don't marry a person of the opposite sex because it is unnatural for them to do so unless they are fearful of the consequences of society and culture and forced to do so. This was case in the past and in a few cases in the present. However, society and culture has changed and homosexuals are now not hampered to choose a lifestyle in accordance with their nature. The clergyman is a different story because homosexuality in religious circles is still not widely accepted. I don't know all the details about his clergyman, but this case is not a case in argument about the larger fundamental issues. To be perfectly clear, I am not arguing that what is natural is moral, as I have mentioned. It is merely a fact. I will not repeat my position about sexual acts in a just, loving committed and faithful relationship. I suggest you go back and reread what I said in particular Salzman.

You may believe that there are no scientific categories as heterosexual, homosexual etc, but the American Psychological and Psychiatric Societies disagree with your opinion. These categories are not "dressed up in self-serving scientific jargon" as you assert.

I recently read a doctoral dissertation on homosexuality by a student who got his PhD from a prominent Catholic University. He covered all the scientific studies and conclusions used from the 1800s to the present time, as well as every moral factor and argument pro and con. I will not give you a lengthly argument about sexual orientation, but suffice it to say that homosexual, or same-sex orientation, are accepted categories within scientific circles and the professional associations that represent such expertise. There is very little evidence that a person born with a same-sex orientation can be "cured" of this so-called disorder. It is a fact of life.

The moral law applies to all, but your view of what is right and moral in circumstances, and what the magisterium says is so, has been the subject of a heated debate for the past 50 years with respect to certain teachings. These debates and the principles and philosophies, moral methods, et al, that underpin a teaching and the attempt at responsible reform of certain teachings is critically necessary and important to move the conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth. This is the responsibility of theologians, but also clergy and laity. In the end, the voices of all the people of God should be considered as the sensus fidelium and not the few when it comes to doctrine formation and development.

Tim, you and I have very different starting points when we debate. I try to "See the Person" fundamentally and adequately considered, and not merely the magisterium whom I respect. I am done unless you have something new and substantive to offer.

Marie Rehbein | 4/16/2014 - 11:54am

Tim, I agree that there is little to no science involved in categorizing people as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. It's pretty much what people claim they are. The one exception is a hermaphrodite, which isn't even one of these categories.

I'm not sure where you, Tim, would say a hermaphrodite belongs in your classification of male and female that is based on the X or the Y chromosome. However, keep in mind that much of our genetic material is actually dormant and identical to that of other creatures. Within the animal kingdom, there exist species that change their sex organs from male to female in response to environmental circumstances. I believe one is the clownfish.

In humans, the development of sex organs is only partially directed by the X or Y chromosome. Other factors, like exposure to hormonal substance during pregnancy can affect the development of these organs. There is more on this subject at

While I don't totally reject your position on the matter, it's not the position a scientist would take. And, if science is necessary to take an absolute position on this, then certainly, relying on the Bible is out.

Tim O'Leary | 4/17/2014 - 9:02am

Marie - I think we generally agree here. The term intersex (the i in LGBTQIA) is the more standard term today. It is thought to occur in <1/2000 births. As to classification, and with my scientific hat on (which I mostly am in my professional life - biomedical research), I would define male by the presence of a Y chromosome, the rest being female, but I agree that there is much uncertainty in this area. As to the animal kingdom, there are indeed many strange intermediates, but they are at best only preambles to the human being, which was the goal of creation. They have no moral impact, which is only the purview of rational beings.

As to positions of scientists, they are frequently in flux, and in certain ideological areas highly disputed even within fields. For a very recent example, when the American Psychiatric Association came out with DSM-5 and defined pedophilia as a "sexual orientation" meaning a "profession of sexual preference devoid of consummation," and distinguished it from "pedophilic disorder," defined as "a compulsion used in reference to individuals who act on their sexuality,” there was an outcry on the internet, especially from those who have invested a lot of political effort in connecting the term "orientation" with an immutable and positive connotation. The APA rapidly responded to the pressure by saying they made an error and would correct their definition.

I also agree with you that the Bible is not a scientific work. The scientific method is a marvelous investigative tool for determining the physical reality of things and making classifications based on experimental validation. But, it is wholly incompetent in determining ethics or morality, and it is often subject to ideological bias, especially in politically controversial areas. The Church should always avail of the latest science, while keeping a skeptical eye on any scientific claims to moral determinism and watch out for ideological biases (that will shift like the wind over time). The Bible is her best guide to the morality as taught by Jesus Christ.

Marie Rehbein | 4/18/2014 - 9:57am

Tim, we largely agree on what science knows about what influences a person's sexuality. However, we probably disagree that those inclined differently than the majority should consider their acts immoral behavior. I prefer to describe it as unwise behavior.

I do wonder why it is that a homosexual man would find anal sex satisfying, but presumably find sex with a woman unsatisfying. I wonder what it is about another man that is so compelling that engaging in this form of sexual behavior, which I sense as being at best uncomfortable, would be tolerable.

It seems obvious to me that no one would want to encourage people to use that particular form of expression. However, I do think that a man can "fall in love" with another man the way a more typical man would "fall in love" with a woman, since that seems to involve mysterious mechanisms involving various senses (sense of connection, being one).

You obviously feel that the man in love with another man should just get over it, while I feel that there is so much alienation in the world that someone who is in love with another person and chooses to make a commitment to that person should be supported. I do not see that this necessarily requires calling this commitment a marriage and solemnizing it with a religious ceremony, but a do think that our laws should spell out responsibilities and privileges for such a relationship if that the couple wishes their relationship to be governed by laws the way heterosexual marriages are.

I do think that the Church teaching that sexual behavior outside of a marriage is immoral puts homosexual couples into a Catch-22 since the Church does not recognize homosexual marriages and gives no weight to commitments other than marriage. However, I also don't think that celibacy is the huge sacrifice that it is made out to be in our current culture. I can imagine sustaining, supportive, non-sexual relationship, because that is what most female friendships are.

Tim O'Leary | 4/18/2014 - 1:01pm

Marie - When Jesus said that even to lust alone was committing adultery, He was teaching something deep about human dignity and our holy destiny. Natural philosophy can well lead one to the understanding of why it is good and "natural" for marriage to be between a man and women, for the optimal physical and psychological raising of children. While polygamy could also be a natural state, I think natural philosophy can show why monogamy is superior for the well-being of both spouses (especially women) and the children, and the community. Our civil laws should provide for wide discretion in personal choices and relationships, but the community also has rights, as is recognized by our environmental laws and marriage laws and children protection laws. I believe the whole community is hurt when it accommodates or even promotes weak marriages (through, no fault divorce, gay marriage, widespread pornography, etc). The next generation is especially hurt. I'm sure it is only a matter of time before polygamy and polyamory is approved and the age of consent laws are whittled away, by the same currents so welcomed today. This cannot be good for our society.

However, Jesus is calling us to a greater dignity, a sacred destiny. And, it is the Church's mission to pass on that teaching. The opening sentence in St. JPII's Veritatis Splendor is "The splendour of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God." It follows with "Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord." This encyclical is well worth a re-read as I believe it gets to the heart of the matter, from a spiritual perspective.

Marie Rehbein | 4/18/2014 - 4:58pm

I think that on the whole, a few especially vocal and legally educated homosexual people have succeeded in the effort to make homosexual marriage no different from heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the law. Along with that, though, come a whole lot of followers who did not ever have the issue nagging at them the way the activists did. These people are now marrying because they are in love, and I'm fairly sure that their experience of marriage will be similar to that of heterosexual people who jump into marriage because they feel in love. In time, this freedom to marry will lose its luster, and it seems possible that everyone will look at marriage more the way heterosexual people have started to do -- as something to enter into cautiously if one hopes to make it last.

robert hergenroeder | 3/31/2014 - 6:18pm

Orsy SJ & Vitoria OP & Langan SJ – Thank you!!!
At the sunset of Benedict’s papacy, my prayer and hope was that the tone of the catholic rhetoric would change for the better. No hope nor expectation for respect or acceptance, just please stop feeding the Christian hate, bigotry and violence towards our LGBT brothers and sisters. Pope Francis came along and very simply did exactly that in a simple five word question. “Who am I to judge?”
Soon after that question, a long history of catholic teaching, enhanced by a current Christian fervor, took a very dangerous and ugly turn in Uganda and Nigeria. The Church now finds its own leadership among the enflaming crusaders against LGBT rights and dignity, including their right to life, supporters of policy that feeds hate, bigotry and violence and, yes, murder.
I now pray and hope and believe that Pope Francis is writing papal script to those leaders with his five word question as the subject line. While I have maintained my safe Catholic space, I have worked/struggled for years now to accept my non-acceptance in the Catholic community. Just please tone down the negative condemnatory rhetoric. It is directly connected to the violence and the murder.
Though I firmly believe that the five word question is all we need, I am respectful and grateful to John Langan SJ for his many more. Very well done. Thank you.
Bob Hergenroeder LCSW
Houston Texas

Timothy Saenz | 4/12/2014 - 5:52pm

To Bob:

I don't know any Christian that hates gays. I do know Christians who hate the negative influence many gays have exerted upon society.

Why are you surprised that people kill and commit violence, whether on gays or anyone else? Are they not acting in accord with their fallen nature as a person with homosexual tendencies acts on theirs?

You want to focus on yourself and your sin, but what about everyone else? What about the man who's given his life to another woman who has gone through a life change, and she no longer meets his intimate needs, or his emotional ones? Does her failure to respect his dignity and needs as a man grant him permission to commit adultery?

Outside of the crazies at Westboro, I don't know anyone - ANYONE - in this country who advocates violence toward or murder of gays. Are there individuals who do? Yes, and they are in the wrong. Unlike other sinners, however, gays seem to insist on being gay. While the rest of us are trying to give up our sins - our lust, our anger, our frustrations at life, our envy of those who have much more than we do for no apparent good reason, and I could go on - gays demand that their persons be accepted AND their inclinations be accepted as morally good. That's an unfair playing field.

If you don't want to try to give up your sin, don't expect others to give up theirs.

I can't say I have done in-depth research, but I have read news articles about studies of gay demographics, and in this country gays have done and continue to do quite well socio-economically. The persecution you allege doesn't exist systemically in this country.

If there is bigotry and partiality, it exists in those people who insist that the unnatural conjunction of male with male, or female with female, merits the same standing and consideration as the naturally ordained union between a man and a woman. It doesn't.

I care what happens to people, but I am more than willing to let each person do what they want to do in their own dwelling. Each person is the captain of his or her own soul, and they should enjoy their privacy as they want.

But when you start to tell me, no, it has to be more than that, it has to be accepted as just the same as a heterosexual relationship, including legally sanctioned marriage, or else; that's when I throw, no, back at you. You're wrong, and it doesn't, and quit trying to foist your sin on me and everyone else, and foisting it in public. I have enough of my own to deal with, and I'm not going to make the public accept my sins.

Sandi Sinor | 4/12/2014 - 9:53pm

Some questions. First, please specifically describe precisely how gays have been "a negative influence on society" and document this negative influence with sources of your information.

Second - where on earth did you ever come up with this - "What about the man who's given his life to another woman who has gone through a life change, and she no longer meets his intimate needs, or his emotional ones? Does her failure to respect his dignity and needs as a man grant him permission to commit adultery?" It's hard to even figure out what you're trying to get at. And what exactly are you referring to by "life change"? ,

Timothy Saenz | 4/16/2014 - 9:37pm


I answered in a post that was not positioned to follow yours, for some reason. For the time being, it's near the top.

Michael Barberi | 3/22/2014 - 7:58pm

There continues to be profound confusion over an "addiction" (e.g., sex, alcohol, drug) that is caused by a deliberate decision and choice of agents where such acts are not mediated by the virtue of temperance, and a normal human desire that is a natural appetite that agents are born with (e.g., eating, sex) that is mediated by the virtue of temperance. No one is born with a natural evil propensity to kill an innocent person or a profound hatred for people. Analogies used to draw similarities between addictions and natural desires of agents that are appropriated controlled (e.g., controlling the desire for pre-marial sex) are sometimes used to condemn certain human behaviors that the magisterium declare are sins. Clearly, some acts are sinful, while other acts need to a carefull moral analysis.

The morality of sexual acts in a committed, faithful, loving and life-long relationship between same-sex couples, must be determined by a holistic integration of ends, intentions, circumstances and the act/object that is appropriate, suitable and proportionate to the good in those ends. I propose that this issue should be the subject of a re-thinking by the magisterium. For example, to impose upon persons with a same-sex orientation, a life-time of sexual abstinence, is both unreasonable and overly-burdensom. Voluntary celibacy or life-time sexual abstinence must be voluntarily chosen, not forced or impose on agents by authority, for it to work. Even some seminarians do not take their final vows because they lack this gift from God given to the very few.

Tim O'Leary | 3/22/2014 - 11:38pm

Michael - you are confusing a deeply held desire, even an innate one, with a good desire, and you are not distinguishing a desire with a decision to act on a desire. The desire, while it may not be healthy or even wanted, is not in itself a sin. Since time immemorial, many people have found themselves drawn to, or oriented to, or desire, an activity (drug use, violent acts, homosexual acts, pedophile acts, pre-marital and extra-marital acts, and even certain acts among married people) that are objectively wrong. The desire itself is not the locus of the sin. It is only the act (lust is a mental act of the will) that can be a sin. Love is often used to justify compelling desires. People (esp. since the feel-good 60s) believe they have a right to "follow their bliss." as Joseph Campbell put it. The conscience is sometimes appeased if the desire is seen as overwhelming.

Sadly this life is often a vale of tears. We hear of tragedies every day. Some people describe themselves as bisexuals. What is their moral path to holiness? Also in the news are people who wish to have two wives. Can that be approved, in your opinion? If two young people fall in love, even if one is already in a marriage with children, is it overly burdensome that they should never consummate their love? For example, in a recent event I read about, a young married man was injured so that he could not have further sexual activity. His wife was faced with a life without normal sexual activity. It is tragic and sad and may seem overly burdensome. Is there any type of sexual activity that is unlawful for a married couple to do together? Are there any sexual acts that homosexuals are objectively prohibited from doing, in your opinion? I really think you and many other people have not even thought through these questions, and have assumed the Church hasn't, when the Scriptures, Tradition and Natural Law are clear on this.

Jesus offers salvation for all who will accept His grace, and desire in their hearts to turn away from sin (even if they fail again and again). His greatest anger seemed to be to those who would deprive another of the possibility of salvation, by calling a sin a good, and a good a sin.

Michael Barberi | 3/23/2014 - 5:30pm


I do not confuse a desire, any desire, and declare such a desire and an act chosen in accordance with such a desire as sinful or morally right. We keep circulating back to moral methodology and ethical decisions about right and wrong behavior.

Before one begins a process of examining behavior options, one already has at least an implicit notion of the end or goal that serves as the reason for choosing any behavior at all. Persons do not act unless they are motivated. Personal motivation cannot be deducted from a mere observance of material behavior. A doctor who amputates a limb cannot ipso facto be accused on engaging in unethical mutilation any more than a soldier who shoots at an advancing enemy can be accused of wanting to murder a fellow human being. When one begins with a motivation, examines the concrete circumstances of the person who ascertains good ends that need to be accomplished to act responsibly, and subsequently considers all the behavior options that are appropriate, suitable and proportionate tot he good in those ends, one lives and acts in an ethical manner. The issue of sexual acts performed by same-sex couples in a committed, faithful, loving and life-long relationship (e.g. civil or church/religious marriage) AND the issue of sexual acts performed by heterosexual coulees in a similar relationship must be the subject of a rethinking. Todd Salzman in his book 'Sexual Ethics' makes clear, Magisterial teaching says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered for the following reasons:

a. they are contrary to the natural law, the principles of which are reflected in human nature itself;

b. they close the sexual act to the gift of life; and,

c. they do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.

As to "a" above, the essential order of nature must be respected as a promotion of man's dignity. However, the Church does not recognize homosexuality as an essential order of nature.

Salzman also says "No one is arguing that homosexual activity is moral because it is natural for those with a homosexual orientation, for that would treat natural facts as moral justification. To be moral, any sexual act, whether homosexual or heterosexual, must be not only natural but also just, loving and in accord with holistic complementarity (sexual, personal and biological). Holistic complementarity includes "orientation", personal, and biological complementarity, and the integration and manifestation of all three in just, loving, committed sexual acts (in a committed marital relationship) that facilitate a person's ability to love God, neighbor, and self in a more profound and holy way."

The Church condemns homosexual acts because they close the sexual act to the gift of life. This is contradicted in principle when the Church says that marital acts of infertile couples or menopausal women are not immoral. Nor are sexual acts immoral if they are objectively non-procreative by intention, end and choice as when couples deliberately restrict marital acts to infertile times to avoid pregnancy. In these cases, the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act are separated.

The magisterium does not formulate a moral method when it comes to sexual ethics. This frees them to declare any act immoral or righteous without being consistent with any moral method. On the other hand, the magisterium does provide a moral method regarding social ethics by providing principles and boundaries that guide ethical decision regarding voluntary human acts. Thus, when it comes to sexual ethics and social ethics we have incompatible models for guiding ethical decision-making.

Tim, I realize that you are not a student of moral theology. However, you never discuss the profound problems with the magisterium teaching when it imposes a moral requirement on same-sex individuals to practice a life-time of sexual abstinence. They cannot enter into a committed, faithful, loving and life-long relationship with a person of the same sex (both of whom were born with a same-sex orientation) and express their marital love sexually in any way. This is almost an impossible and unreasonable burden that must be adequately addressed. Does their salvation rest on a life-time of sexual abstinence?

Tim O'Leary | 3/23/2014 - 8:19pm

Michael - I know you are not an expert in Theology or Scriptures (as you have previously stated), but I think we can still have a discussion on the consistency or logic of your arguments. I disagree with several of your premises or arguments and I will address some as briefly as possible.

1. Scripture, Tradition and Natural Law provide an ample basis for making a decision on sins of the flesh. The Church does not need to formulate any new moral method. Do you hold that the Church cannot teach that adultery is wrong or divorce is not permissible or pedophilia is evil without displaying a new "Moral Method" that you find acceptable?

2. You ask if someone's salvation might rest on a lifetime of sexual abstinence. The wording of your question is a problem. For example, I would not say that someone's salvation rested on a lifetime of avoiding murder. But, murder is still a sin. As to a moral obligation for sexual abstinence, that is the case for pedophiles, and for many heterosexuals in certain circumstances (I described some of those cases above but you did not address any of them) and even for those who cannot find a marriage partner, for Catholic religious and for those in many difficult marriages. God is merciful and forgives repentant sinners over and over again. The important point is that the sinner be open to repentance. A denial of sin closes off the possibility of repentance.

3. You seem to be saying that homosexual acts are only moral if done in "a committed, faithful, loving and life-long relationship." That is a very modern test and is one that would be rejected by most homosexuals. They want the option to have marriage but not the obligation. In any case, it is not in scripture or tradition and (as in "a" above) is not part of the natural law. It would be very helpful if you would address the case of the bisexual, or even the case of some married people who decide or discover only late in life that they are really homosexual or bisexual after all. How does your moral method address their situation? Maybe, Todd Salzman addressed these situations?

4. You say the Church is contradicting itself by condemning homosexual acts as closed to the gift of life yet approving of sexual acts between married infertile couples ("b" above). But, most people will see that these are totally different situations. If married couples were willfully deciding on using contraception for their whole marriage, you might have a point (this connection was even argued by some opponents in the Anglican Church against approving contraception). But, a more apt comparison would be a heterosexual couple who decided to only engage in sodomy.

5. You say sexual complementarity includes sexual "orientation," (the "c" above) but that is also a completely novel and frankly wrong way to look at the complementarity as understood in Scripture and Tradition. Complementarity of men and women requires all three - our physicial, psychological and spiritual natures. Again, how does this relate to the bisexual situation?

Michael Barberi | 3/23/2014 - 11:05pm


Your arguments are extraordinarily perplexing and illogical and point to judgments that take a extreme position. Let me address some of them.

1. Scripture and natural law can possess an ample basis for the morality of many voluntary human acts. I never said that they did not. Adultery is certainly one of them. However, you cannot justify "any voluntary human act" as immoral merely because some acts are immoral such as adultery (or because the magisterium say so). As for divorce, and remarriage, that is an act that is highly disputed as I have mentioned many times. Matt 5:32 and 19:9 contain the exception clause where the exception is for "porneia" a word that most Christian scholars believe means adultery. This continues to be a major problem for the RCC and this, hopefully, will be addressed by the Synod of the Family.

It was Aquinas that gave us a moral method and his ethics has guided the Church for centuries. Unfortunately, the interpretation of some of his teachings (the Summa Theologia) are disputed. Nevertheless, his thinking is respected and used in condemning or justifying certain voluntary human acts by the RCC and theologians. Killing a person is not simply immoral or morally righteous as an act in itself. It can be immoral if for vengeance or justified to safe-guard justice. Murder is immoral, however this is a judgment based on a moral method that includes an analysis of ends, intentions and circumstances, and if the act is appropriate, suitable and proportionate with the good in the end. I propose no new moral method. The method I use is Aquinas.

2. I asked you if a person with a same-sex orientation must practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation. You argue that you would not say someone's salvation rested on a lifetime of avoiding murder. That is preposterous when you try to compare murder, a judgment as sinful, to sex in a marriage between two people with a same sex orientation. Thus, you conflate avoiding murder with a lifetime of sexual abstinence. You are conflating one act and sin such as murder with homosexual acts that you are also calling immoral and must be avoided even in a committed, faithful and loving life-long relationship. I am challenging the underlying principles and philosophy that is used to condemn certain acts of same-sex agents in a marriage. You missed my point and your argument is off base. You also conflate a life time of sexual abstinence with pedophiles as if this justifies your argument that a lifetime of sexual absences for same sex persons are the same thing. You are merely using what the magisterium says are immoral acts and sinful. I am challenging the underlying arguments. However, your arguments are based based on authority. We keep coming back to this argument.

3. Where is your justification for saying that homosexual acts in a committed, faithful and life-long relationship are "rejected" by most homosexuals? Because many single homosexuals have sex? For that matter, most heterosexual persons have sex while single. We are not discussing pre-marital sex! I am only discussing sex between two people who are born with a same-sex orientation in a civil or church/religious
marriage. Stay on point Tim and do not deviate from my argument, which you often do. I gave you my argument (Salzman's). You gave me the argument from authority.

4. Most people do not see any difference between the use of natural family planning to avoid conception in marital acts and contraception. Both have the same end-goal and intention. Both acts separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act. Marital acts using both methods of birth control are non-procreative. Most married Catholic couples use birth control most of their fertile married life. Yet, you do not address this argument. For your information, many traditionalist moral theologians who support Humanae Vitae (e.g., Janet Smith and Christopher West) do not think it is immoral for married couples to practice sodomy as long as the act does not result in completion. Try explaining that one!!

5. Just because a new interpretations about Aquinas's moral method, or new scholarly contributions in moral theology, are new does not mean that they are wrong because they challenge authoritative teachings proclaimed by the magisterium to be the absolute moral truth. If we only accepted tradition, then usury, slavery and a lack of freedom of religion would be with us today. You say that it is "frankly wrong" that sexual orientation should not be part of a holistic complementarity. Based on what? Authority and tradition? You keep coming back to the same argument over and over again. Try going deeper into the underlying principles and philosophy that underpin the teaching.

Just to be clear Tim. I am arguing that sex between same-sex oriented persons in a committed, faithful and life-long relationship (civil and church/religious marriage) should be the subject of a rethinking by the magisterium. I have offered a solid reasoning and scholarly argument to justify this suggestion. Why don't we let the other bloggers and readers on America Magazine make up their own minds about this issue. It is highly unlikely that we will reach any sense of agreement. Nevertheless, I have hope for you.

Tim O'Leary | 3/24/2014 - 2:14pm

Michael – I am not surprised you are perplexed as you seem to think those who disagree with you are full of contradictions, when it is more likely that you are not fully understanding the arguments you don’t like. You make the same objections to Church teachings, claiming that the Magisterium is contradicting itself, or hasn't considered the issues, or doesn't use a moral method, and just relies on some arbitrary authority. For example, you say to me “you cannot justify "any voluntary human act" as immoral merely because some acts are immoral such as adultery (or because the magisterium say so). ” When did I possibly say that any voluntary human act is immoral? Adultery was the example because it involves sexual ethics!!!

On divorce, you insist that Jesus was endorsing divorce for sexual immorality, but you do not seem to understand His argument. In Mt 5:32 (NIV), Jesus says: “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” This means that someone who divorces his wife for sexual immorality is not making her a victim of adultery, because she has already committed adultery. It does not in any way countenance divorce, which is covered by the second clause and by what Jesus said in Mt 19:6: “They are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Marriage is for life. These are arguments on logic, not on authority, apart from the authority of the word of Jesus.

You seem to forget your own postings. I quote you from above “The magisterium does not formulate a moral method when it comes to sexual ethics” and “It was Aquinas that gave us a moral method and his ethics has guided the Church for centuries.” You even say you use the Aquinas Method. So, is adultery not a part of sexual ethics? And does the Magisterium not use Aquinas?

You agree with my statement that the Church can teach that murder is immoral. Can the Church not also say that the act of sodomy is immoral? You frequently say Janet Smith supports some form of sodomy among heterosexuals. I do not. What is your opinion?

For the gay arguments against monogamy, please do some research. For starters, here are some links: (,, Note the quote in the pro-gay Gawker article” The gay rights movement has made a calculated decision to highlight the similarities, not the differences, between straight and gay love on the road to marriage equality.” The article goes on to point out that only a minority of gay couples want life-long monogamy, even as a goal.

Finally, you often complain about ignored points, yet you keep ignoring my question on the bisexual path to holiness. I think it is because you have not thought your arguments through to the end.

Michael Barberi | 3/24/2014 - 4:12pm


You are confused again and only see what you want to see in our exchanges. Let me be clearer so you will understand.

1. I was not objecting to your use of adultery as an immoral act. You were asserting that the magisterium does not need a moral method to declare certain acts, as adultery, immoral. This is absurd. There are many moral methods: authority, the Commandments, deontology, et al. My point, that you missed, was that the magisterium does not formulate a specific moral method for sexual ethics. That is correct. They use various moral methods. This frees them to declare any voluntary human act immoral without be consistent with any one method. This not only creates inconsistency and contradiction but leads to unreasonable burdens for Catholics in many cases.

The moral method the magisterium uses in sexual ethics is quite different from the moral method they use for social ethics for making ethical decisions. Why have multiple moral methods? It is clear to me, and others, that what is morally right and wrong in your way of thinking (and the magisterium's) is: whatever the magisterium says is right or wrong is right and wrong. Forget about any good end, intention and circumstances of the agent and if the act/object is in accordance with virtue. Forget about any inconsistency, contradiction, and unreasonable moral requirements or consequences for the agent(s) in following a church teaching.

Your analogy of the burden of resisting the temptation to murder with the burden of practicing a lifetime of sexual abstinence is both absurd and ridiculous. The case in point in my previous comment is a good one. One of the reasons the magisterium declares homosexual acts immoral is because they are not procreative. On the other hand, the marital acts of infertile couples and couples who practice natural family planning are also non-procreative, but are morally right in the eyes of the magisterium. What don't you understand about this contradiction?

2. The exception clause in Matt is disputed and I brought it up because the interpretation is quite different not only among Catholic theologians but across the Judeo-Christian community. In Matt 5:32 the husband is permitted to issue a certificate of divorce to his wife for adultery (porneia, as translated by most scholars). The certificate of divorce protected her against the accusation of adultery. Usually there was a repayment of the dowry which the woman brought into the marriage as a gift from the bride's parents. The woman is then free to return to her family or/and to be married to another man without being accused of adultery. "Makes her commit adultery" assumes that the divorce is "invalid" and the original marriage is still in tact and that therefore, should she marry another man (and the text assumes this is inevitable), then the second marriage would be adulterous. The saying protects the woman from this. The second half of 5:32 which forbids marrying a divorcee, would not apply to her, if she is legitimately divorced, because it would not entail adultery against anyone, no marriage currently existing. In the spirit of Matt, theoretically the husband legitimately divorcing his wife may legitimately remarry a legitimately divorced woman, assuming a legitimate certificate of divorce in each instance.

3. You are not reading what I said about Aquinas's moral method. Aquinas uses Scripture and reason to formulate his method but Scripture is a small but important part of it. The focus was on giving priests a framework and moral methodology to discern the morality of a voluntary human act in confession. Up to that point, the moral manuals were a listing of sins (acts), but this became unworkable because of the many other morally relevant factors that had to be considered in the moral decision-making process. The Summa Theologia was a brilliant piece of work that is used today. The magisterium uses Aquinas in some teachings, and sometimes incorrectly, as in the assertion that the moral object is, in short, the proximate end of the act of choice (as asserted in JP II's VS 78). I will not go into this detail because I have done his before without a response from you. Nevertheless, the "important point" I made was that the magisterium uses many different methods to support their sexual ethical teachings. Even among traditionalist theologians, there are different moral methods used to argue for and against such things as "using a condom by discordant couples". If someone can use something like "end and intention" to justify one act, and then say that end and intention is irrelevant in the moral analysis of other acts, then we have inconsistency and contradiction.

4. The argument I am making concerns the morality of sexual acts in a committed, faithful and lifelong relationship between people with a same-sex orientation (emphasis-added). Let's keep our exchanges on point and not deflect the argument to some gay people who do not want to be in a lifelong, faithful, and loving marriage. Let us not also deflect from this argument and push the argument to bi-sexual people. This is not the issue under consideration and you usually use this strategy when you cannot offer a convincing counter-argument to my own. Therefore, your assertion that I am ignoring your bisexual question is off point and irrelevant to my argument.

As to your question whether the Church/magisterium can say the act of sodomy is immoral is a moot point. The magisterium has the authority to teach. It also has the responsibility to learn before it should teach, and this means listening to the people. Let me be clear: I disagree with some of the moral teachings of the magisterium and by this I mean that certain teachings should be the subject of a rethinking and others the subject of responsible reform….and I have given you an intelligent, scholarly and reasoned argument on the subject in question.

As usual, we have drifted from the major argument. If you have questions that are relevant and on point, let me know. If not, we can end our discussions for the moment.

Tim O'Leary | 3/24/2014 - 4:07pm

Lots of words but no answers. Your point as always is that the Magisterium is contradicting herself and you are not. They appeal to the authority of Scripture and Tradition and you appeal to Reason. They misread Aquinas (or Aquinas is wrong) but you are right. They even misread Scriptures (this time on divorce) and you have it right,. You are your own Magisterium.

Michael Barberi | 3/24/2014 - 4:26pm


Nice try, but no cigar again. I gave you examples of contradiction and inconsistency. You gave me assertions that I gave you no answers. You assert I only appeal to reason. Once again you are making false and misleading accusations. I appeal to Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Human Experience…please try to remember that Tim because I have said this frequently to you many times. I repeat what most theologians say in argument. I have read and studied both sides of every issue before I make up my own judgment of an informed conscience. Yet all you continue to say false and misleading statements such as…when you say that it is my opinion that everyone who supports a teaching of the magisterium, is misreading Aquinas when he is relevant, and I am right. I only offer you my sincere thoughts that reflect many years of study. I do not see the complete truth. Few do.

I do have legitimate theological and philosophical arguments in support of my informed conscience. My temporary conclusions (I am always open to further education) about the issues in question is no different than most Catholics. God bless.

Timothy Saenz | 3/21/2014 - 1:32pm

If we believe in Original Sin, we possess the understanding of why each and every one of us sins. The deficiency of our ability to sustain our moral inclinations, and our inability to manage those improper and immoral inclinations which found purchase in our nature after the Fall of Man, propel us to choose temptations we are often too weak to resist. We began spiritually dead. We are, at best, spiritual cripples in this material world.

The notion that the Church and each of its members should exude humility and charity when confronted by sin or sinners is not new. It is something we should have been doing all along. We sinners who seek compassion should tender compassion to our fellow sinners.

That said, we nullify our faith, our hope, and our charity if we think "contemporary" circumstances in any way justify a rejection of what the Lord has declared to be sinful, and with what the Church has so wisely concurred with and promulgated this score of centuries. The Lord assigned us all the same task, which boils down to: "Trust me. Tell people what I have done for them and live a Christ-like life." God saves. We should not interpose ourselves or any trendy thinking between what God is doing and what people are doing. If we labor to "modify" what we know to be true, then we really do condemn someone.

The role of the chosen people - the Commonwealth of Israel, the Body of Christ - has never been to go along with what everyone else is doing. It has been loyalty and and faithfulness to Him who has loved us so much that He laid down his life for us. We're in a war. Let us don the full armor of God and avoid the deception of a well-laid gambit.


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