Reconciling Laudato Si (2015, Reaffirmed 2020-2021) with the Papal Response to Dubium on Same-Sex Unions (2021)

In this essay, I’m going to expand on my general frustration with the inconsistencies in the teachings of  the Roman Catholic Church (The Church) on Homosexuality and Ecology. What is natural, what is “God’s Plan” and who gets to decide it? The church’s stance on homosexuality stands in direct contradiction to her passionate arguments in Laudato Si, and moreover supports civil inequality, separation, shunning, and ultimately violence. I would like to make the case that accepting humans as part of nature—including those with homosexual tendencies—makes them inherently part of “God’s plan,” and should change The Church’s viewpoint.

In Laudato Si the Vatican makes such welcome integral ecology statements as:

  • “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
  • God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)
  • The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”.
  • Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”.
  • God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance.
  • God gave the Earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone.
  • [We must] Take into account the nature of each being and its mutual connection in an ordered system
  • God’s original gift of all that is.
  • The book of nature is one and indivisible.
  • Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.
  • It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation.

Yet, In the directive on same sex unions on March 15, 2021, The Church presumes to know differently about “God’s Plan”, saying:

  • According to the designs of God inscribed in creation…only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.
  • The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.
  • Since blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit.
  • “…there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family
  • [Can still give] blessings… to individual persons with homosexual inclination], who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.
  • [Cannot] approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God
  • [Cannot] bless sin: He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him.

In general,  we aren’t separate from the planet. What happens to the planet happens inside of us, too. We are nature. 

For example, the loss of species diversity at the mammalian scale is mirrored by the loss of mMicrobiome dDiversity inside the human body. Societies with more ancestral lifestyles have more microbiota than people in the West. “Western societies have diverged significantly from the microbiota we coevolved with, both through compositional changes and changes in the number of species present.”

We are even creating a  “microbial Noah’s Ark” to “gather beneficial microorganisms from human populations whose microbiomes are uncompromised by antibiotics, processed diets and other ill effects of modern society.”

Another example is the decline in what is happening to human fertility. When we pollute the planet, and limit her fertility, and make her sick, … it actually impacts our own fertility, and makes us sick. Male fertility is in rapid decline worldwide. From

“The quality and quantity of men’s sperm dropped by over half in the past fifty years—and no one understands exactly why.

We know that per-milliliter sperm concentration plummeted 52.4 percent and total sperm count dipped 59.3 percent across North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe between 1970 and 2011 and shows no sign of leveling off. The limited data available in South America, Asia, and Africa did not reveal the same steep decline, but it cannot be ruled out either. While skeptics claim that sperm counts are technically still in an acceptable range, if the average were to continue to drop at the same rate, then projecting this trend out into the future would suggest that over half of all men in the West could have little to no viable sperm as soon as 2045.”

With this in mind, that we are inextricably tied to and mirrors of the planet, what then is God’s Plan, and how did The Church’s view that homosexuality isn’t part of it come to be?

Although sodomy was prohibited in Leviticus, and there were many early Christians decrying same sex intercouse, it was still common. For example, “In 1102… the Council of London decided to promulgate a decree against the newly defined sin of ‘sodomy’, — only to have the publication stopped by the archbishop of Canterbury, who remarked that “this sin has hitherto been so public that hardly anyone is embarrassed by it.”

But along came Thomas Aquinas, who was influential in setting church doctrine against homosexuality (along with sex outside of marriage and masturbation, incidentally, with one stroke of the pen). He argues that just because something exists doesn’t mean it ought to exist: It has to serve a purpose, have a logical reason. This thinking is of course flawed, in that what constitutes a logical “reason” is fundamentally biased by cultural values and scientific knowledge.

Aquinas argues that homosexuality is not ordered in God’s plan, that is it not nature. It basically comes down to sacred semen:

Now, though the male semen is superfluous in regard to the preservation of the individual, it is nevertheless necessary in regard to the propagation of the species. Other superfluous things, such as excrement, urine, sweat, and such things, are not at all necessary; hence, their emission contributes to man’s good. Now, this is not what is sought in the case of semen, but, rather, to emit it for the purpose of generation, to which purpose the sexual act is directed. But man’s generative process would be frustrated unless it were followed by proper nutrition, because the offspring would not survive if proper nutrition were withheld. Therefore, the emission of semen ought to be so ordered that it will result in both the production of the proper offspring and in the upbringing of this offspring. (SCG III, 22)

It is evident … that every emission of semen, in such a way that generation cannot follow, is contrary to the good for man. And if this is done deliberately, it must be a sin. Now, I am speaking of a way from which, in itself, generation could not result: such would be any emission of semen apart from the natural union of male and female. For which reason, sins of this type are called contrary to nature. (SCG III, 22)

“Hence, after the sin of homicide whereby a human nature already in existence is destroyed, this type of sin appears to take next place, for by it the generation of human nature is precluded.” (SCG III, 22)

This “sacred semen” argument is rendered pointless by science. We (and The Church) now know that “ a man’s supply of sperm is continually replenished. We know that this process, known as spermatogenesis, continues throughout a man’s adulthood” and thatthe average male will produce roughly 525 billion sperm cells over a lifetime and shed at least one billion of them per month.”  Basically, a man can emit as much semen as he wants (and each sperm is more or less a copy of a man’s sperm blueprint).

Another bias in Aquinas thinking is that things done only for pleasure aren’t part of God’s plan. Sex is solely performed for the transmission of life. But what if pleasure is the plan?

One might also postulate that creation doesn’t only think of the individual, but the individual in context of the family, tribe, and culture. “God’s plan” includes people who don’t always reproduce—yet play critical roles in human systems. The “helper-in-the-nest” theory, now supported by science, says that childless uncles and aunts play immense and important roles. And, because nothing is black and white, 37% of gay couples raise children, 60% of whom are biological. Sexuality exists on a continuum of both/and, not neither/nor..

In the modern era, there is abundant evidence that homosexuality is both natural and genetically supported.

A large study by Andrea Ganna of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory group found that:

“Across human societies and in both sexes, some 2% to 10% of individuals report engaging in sex with same-sex partners, either exclusively or in addition to sex with opposite-sex partners….[The study]  includes a dataset of 477,522 individuals from the United Kingdom and United States…[The study] found five autosomal loci were significantly associated with same-sex sexual behavior. Follow-up of these loci suggested links to biological pathways that involve sex hormone regulation and olfaction….Same-sex sexual behavior is influenced by not one or a few genes but many.”

Finally, there is an unexamined shadow of inherited bias and internalized self-loathing within the priesthood itself. If gayness and gay union were blessed, then what was their own secrecy, shame and suffering for? From Andrew Sullivan  in The Intelligencer: “In the United States…where there are 37,000 priests, no independent study has found fewer than 15 percent to be gay, and some have found as many as 60  percent. The consensus in my own research over the past few months converged on around 30 to 40 percent among parish priests and considerably more than that — as many as 60 percent or higher — among religious orders like the Franciscans or the Jesuits.” Sullivan also documents a power struggle in the church on this issue between the “lavender mafia” (the closeted gay leadership) and conservative anti-homosexual factions, who argue that not only is liberalism on the issue wrong-headed, but what is needed in The Church is “more hate of homosexuality.”

The Church declares, with one side of the mouth, that gayness is a disordered phenomenon, while out of the other side of the mouth (in Laudato Si) it insists that “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.” This inconsistency is frustrating.

I would encourage a different, more consistent view of homosexual tendencies not as a diversion from a norm, but as a form of biodiversity. In the microbiome world, it is said that “Ecologically, low-abundance species and strain populations are essential reservoirs of genetic and functional diversity.” Laudato Si says that “…. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems. …” and that “we have no such right” to remove them.

Laudato Si also speaks to the importance of equitable relationships between humans, which makes the bias against people who don’t conform sexually stand out even more:

  • A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others.
  • Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God.
  • Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.
  • We cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.

What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.  If we deny gay people the The Church’s blessings on partnered love, we create a separation, a class that is “less than” other favored groups. The Church’s stance contradicts its own words in Laudato Si, stands against love and justice, and is out of alignment with an integral worldview—as well as with science.

From Andrew Sullivan:

“Five years ago, Pope Francis made his watershed “Who am I to judge?” remark after being asked about a flawed gay priest. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” Francis went on. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.”

We should be in awe of that statement. While it never made it into Church doctrine, it reflects a deeper mystery. The Church, in trying to determine what is ordered, is giving an inconsistent response to “not understanding.” If we don’t understand something, we don’t demonize it—we inquire.  It’s not that difficult.  Integral ecology and spirituality require holism, and The Church could take a much more active role in promoting acceptance and justice of the sexuality continuum as an expression of God’s infinite creativity and imagination.

Integrative spirituality sees humans a part of nature. Laudato Si says “the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” This should include homeosexuality, and all its attending loves, unions, and families.

-CMM, March, 2021

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