Synod, Homosexuality, and LGBT ideology. A Critical Voice From Australia
The following commentary comes from Australia, a country hit hard by the scandal of sexual abuse committed by consecrated ministers, and so hard that in the territory of its capital, Canberra, as of June keeping the seal of the confessional can even be prosecuted as a crime, if while administering the sacrament the priest should become aware of an abuse of minors and does not report it to the public authorities.
The author of the commentary, Paul A. McGavin, a theologian who has also studied economics, happens to belong to the clergy of the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. And here he is confronting precisely the scourge that is wounding the Church so deeply, not only in Australia. He says why, in his judgment, this scourge has spread, and advances proposals for healing it at its root.
The readers of Settimo Cielo already know Fr. McGavin through some of his previous contributions, most recently, in 2015, on the criteria for the selection of bishops.
But this time he is touching on a question that is being debated at the synod of bishops currently underway in Rome, above all concerning homosexuality, beginning with the combative statement of the archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, against the introduction of the LGBT formula into the foundational document of the synod.
LIVING THE INCARNATE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
by Paul A. McGavin
The voice of Archbishop Charles Chaput on the introduction of LGBT in the “Instrumentum Laboris” for the Synod on Youth is a siren call that must be heard. Yet, his words do not say all that needs to be said and all that needs to be heard. With Archbishop Chaput, I am convinced that fidelity to the Gospel and lived proclamation of the Gospel must form the spine of the structure and process of the Synod. But – and it is a big “But” – our Gospel is a proclamation of Incarnation – a proclamation that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). And appropriating and living and proclaiming that Gospel remains essentially “incarnational.”
Being “incarnational,” means that the disciples of Christ are inserted into and engaged in the world, and build lives that deeply grasp the various everyday situations of the varieties of cultures and the variety of persons among whom the Church is inserted with missionary purpose. What is the sharp point of my so speaking? I so speak because the dreadful sexual abuse scandals in the Church universal that continue to unfold make clear that ministerial formation and character formation in the Church has been defective in the past – and continues to be defective in the present.
The LGBT acronym in its second term stands for “gay”. That was a term that was not even around in Australia when I was in ministerial formation in the early-1970s, or at least I was not aware of it. But I certainly was aware of the presence of what I would call a self-selection process of young men entering formation who had not achieved psycho-sexual maturation and integral sexual identity.
Although the general laxity of that era contributed to a widening laxity in behaviors, this deficiency did not start there. The earlier incidences of ministerial sexual abuses in the Church arose in a preceding era when a general public probity seemed more apparent. I say “seemed more apparent” because in significant respects it was less “seen”. There generally was a reticence in speaking of the complexities of human sexuality and of human development and of the processes of psycho-sexual integration. Indeed, these complexities were often simply not understood.
We saw this lack of understanding in the way that Bishops felt incapable of handling cases of clergy abusive sexual behavior. We saw this lack of understanding in the way that discomforted Bishops assuaged their unease by referring sexual abuse offenders to clinics offering remedial counseling programs. Too late was their recognition that there are certain failures in psycho-sexual development and character formation that are not amenable to late psycho-social therapeutic interventions.
In brief, there was not – and in my view there is not – a comprehensive appreciation of what is involved in the processes of character formation and of psycho-sexual integration. It is at this point that I am presenting a different perspective from the main thrust of Archbishop Chaput. And my reason is because simply a proclamation of the Gospel and the cultivation of a public piety that is supposed to inculcate the living of the Gospel does not suffice. And does not suffice because the work of reconciliation enacted in Christ and entrusted to the Church is “incarnational.” Although the Gospels give us a sound disclosure of the fleshly nature of Jesus, they do not speak of him in sexual terms – other than in his evident manliness. What is implicitly conveyed is the evident human integrity of Jesus.
On my “incarnational” reading, St Joseph is central in that wholesome manliness of Jesus. The Conception and Birth narrative does not give Jesus his human nature in an adequate understanding of incarnation. An adequate understanding of incarnation engages not simply the biological nature of the human person, but the social nature of the human person – and the social processes whereby a human person develops in integral human maturity. The “growth in wisdom and stature” of Jesus (Luke 2:51) was not only an “obedience” to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). Jesus was referred to as the “carpenter’s son” or as “the carpenter” (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3) not simply because that was the common attribution of him. The manhood of he who in his person was and is “true God and true Man” was formed in the heart of a family and in the heart of a society, and the Jesus whom we encounter in the Gospels matured under paternal mentoring as the ‘“son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). In short, the strong and gentle masculinity of Jesus, the psycho-sexual integration that we see in the recorded behavior of Jesus did not just “happen” because the divine Word by the operation of the Holy Spirit assumed humanity through his Virgin Mother. There was an integral human development in the person of the God-man Jesus of Nazareth.
I need now to make explicit what so far has been implicit. Jesus was conceived and born of male sex.
The human development of Jesus showed forth an integration of the social and behavioral aspects of his maleness with the physical aspects of his maleness. Translating this into contemporary social science language – Jesus was male in sex, and Jesus was male in gender. That is, we encounter in Jesus a gender identity that is coherent with his sexual identity. This is an important recognition. It is important because the recently concocted term “trans” that is the fourth term in the LGBT acronym is indicative of persons whose gender identity is poorly integrated with their biological sexuality.
The processes or the failures of processes that give rise to this gender/sex disparity are complex and not well understood. But they have significant components of social misconstruction. Similarly, we may not well understand the processes or the failures of processes that give rise to a dominant same-sex sexual attraction – the ‘lesbian’ and the ‘gay’ of the first and second terms of the LGBT acronym.
Although I have not engaged in high-level academic psycho-social research, at 75 years I have a long life of observation and reading on these issues. My conclusion is that it is one thing to encounter a degree of same-sex attraction, and it is quite another thing to cultivate or to give free reign to same-sex attraction. That is, making recognitions that may lead to the descriptor “homosexual” is not the same as being “gay”, and these terms should not be conflated. The presence of homosexuality does not equate to being “lesbian” or being “gay.” The issue is not fundamentally different from that of a married heterosexual man or woman who may have strong other-sex attraction that is not played-out because spousal fidelity is sustained. And spousal fidelity is a matter of character, of character in an ethics or moral sense. And such character is a product of complex human character development and of psycho-sexual maturity and integration, including religious integration.
It is the same for a man in the Sacred Ministry. Where he has not been realistically and naturalistically formed in human development and in character development that is consonant with the incarnate Gospel of Jesus Christ, it will be found that he does not live out his celibate commitment with strength and love. Indeed, his life and enactments may become perverse across the whole range, and not just in matters sexual.
I said that ministerial formation remains unsatisfactory today, and this is because we have a “new” version of Puritanism that is marketed as “safeguarding” or “protection” policy that cultivates only a rule-based performance and a protocol-based observance. This quite fails to build a strong, warm, and confident human identity. It is a “no touch” pietistic policy such that one is not even to be allowed in the presence of someone aged under 18 years without another presence. It is a “no trust” culture, and a culture where sober “risk assessment” is not cultivated. It is a culture of heightened skepticism and of fear and of exaggerated precaution. It is a culture that inhibits the appropriation and living the beauty, generosity and freedom of life in Christ.
Strangely, these reactive responses present an awry reproduction of the earlier culture in which hidden sexual perversions grew unseen and without “safeguarding” or “protection.” The present exaggerated reactive policies reproduce a culture where the integral human development that we see in Jesus of Nazareth is inhibited rather than fostered. We need to open our eyes and our hearts that we may see and understand the confusions in which we live as represented by the LGBT acronym, and generously lead people to encounter and to discover the beauty, the grace, the strength, the joy, and the disciplined ease and honesty of living the incarnate Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rev Dr Paul Anthony McGavin is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia, now resident in Sydney.