Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Belgian Primate Léonard Continues Careening Down Wrong Side of Highway: Disingenuousness of Catholic Conservatives' Attempts to Deny Implications of Rhetoric of Homosexual Disorder

I've noted repeatedly on this blog that there's a strong strategy among conservative Catholics today to deny that the Catholic magisterium says precisely what is says about homosexuality as a disorder.  As Catholic homophobia is placed on the defensive both by shifting cultural consensus and by strong opposition from within the lay ranks of the church itself, the claim is being made that the magisterium does not define gay and lesbian persons as disordered, but only gay and lesbian acts.  Note that claim in the thread following the America posting to which I've just linked.

This claim is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst.  As I've noted previously, the 1986 pastoral letter that the current pope wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, specifically states that the "homosexual condition" is disordered, and that those who are homosexual exhibit disordered "inclinations."  The 1986 document notes, in fact, that it is correcting misunderstandings of a 1975 CDF document that was taken to mean that the "homosexual condition" is either morally neutral or good.

The 1986 CDF document is now replicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that the "inclination" of those who are gay is "objectively disordered."  While it is true that these definitions of disorder depend on a natural-law view that all homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, because the goal to which homosexual sex moves is not conception, the magisterium has never suggested that, when heterosexuals engage in "disordered" sexual acts, they exhibit a disordered "condition" or disordered "inclinations."  

The definition of disorder--a disordered condition, disordered inclinations--is applied by the Catholic magisterium exclusively to those who are gay and lesbian.  As I've previously stated, it's interesting to note that the 1986 CDF document that began the language of disorder as applied to gay and lesbian persons did so in response to a 1975 CDF document that sought to address the consensus of professional medical bodies--including the influential American Psychiatric Association in 1973--that a homosexual orientation is not a mental disorder.  The language of disorder in the Catholic magisterium keeps alive, in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, the suspicion that those who are gay or lesbian are mentally disordered.

And so the attempt to deny that the magisterium defines gay and lesbian persons as intrinsically disordered, but speaks only of their acts as disordered, is an attempt to disguise and soft-sell what the magisterium actually says about those who are gay and lesbian, while continuing to capitalize on a cultural suspicion deeply held by social conservatives that gay and lesbian human beings are mentally aberrant, disordered in their natures, a threat to the well-being of society.

What is at stake in the current Catholic two-step about magisterial teaching re: homosexuality is apparent in a fascinating exchange recently involving the beleaguered Catholic primate of Belgium, André-Joseph Léonard.  As I've noted, Léonard's statements suggesting that AIDS provides ''a sort of intrinsic justice'' for those who have engaged in homosexual sex are now eliciting outrage.

Archbishop Léonard is under fire, as well, for having stated that homosexual love is a travesty of nature.  When pushed on this point, the archbishop denied that he had sought to imply that homosexuality is "abnormal." 

But his qualification of this denial is fascinating, for the reason I have sketched above: while scurrying away from the language of disorder, he wishes precisely to keep alive the suspicion that homosexuality is, indeed, disordered and aberrant, a threat to the health of society.  Léonard states that 

there is in the homosexual tendency and practice an orientation that is not coherent with the objective logic of sexuality.

Homosexuals have a "tendency" that issues in practice, and which is "not coherent with the objective logic of sexuality."  I'm denying that gay and lesbian persons are disordered.  But I'm also saying that their "tendency" moves in the direction of practices that contravene the objective logic of sexuality, which it is the business of a society that desires health to enforce.  

It would be hard to find a clearer picture than this of what those promoting the papal language of disorder at present intend to accomplish with that language.  Though they are quickly distancing themselves from the claim that gay and lesbian persons are disordered, they insist on keeping alive a language of disorder referring to inclinations, tendencies, and conditions--none of which can exist apart from a person who has these inclinations, tendencies, and conditions.

It is intellectually dishonest to claim that this language does not, indeed, define those who are gay and lesbian as disordered.  The statement to which I've just linked by Lieve Halsbergh, Belgian director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) rightly challenges Léonard's claim to have been "misrepresented" and that his words about gay and lesbian persons have been "twisted."

As Halsbergh notes, Léonard is a smart, highly educated man with other smart, highly educated men under him.  He knows perfectly well what he is doing and what he is suggesting with his statements about AIDS as intrinsic justice and homosexuality as a "tendency" that is "not coherent with the objective logic of sexuality."

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