Friday, September 13, 2013

Matthew Fox, Letters to Pope Francis: On Homosexuality

I've begun reading Matthew Fox's recent book Letters to Pope Francis, and thought it might be helpful to readers if I posted excerpts (and perhaps some commentary) from the book--as I have done previously for Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God and Margaret Farley's Just Love

Letters to Pope Francis, which Fox published this year through the CreateSpace Publishing Platform, is a series of open letters he wrote to the new pope after Francis was elected. At his website, Fox has provided an excerpt from the book, and the journal Tikkun has also published an excerpt--and may publish more. Brief excerpts have also been appearing on the Facebook page for the book.

Here's an excerpt on the subject of homosexuality from early in the book, in a chapter in which Fox calls on Francis to move from the schismatic church of Popes John Paul II and Benedict, who sought to dismantle the reforms of an ecumenical council of the church, Vatican II, to an authentically Catholic one: 

There is no question that homosexuality is the Galileo case of our twenty-first century. Just as in the 17th century the Church insisted it knew the sun moved about the earth and refused to listen to science, so today the Church refuses to listen to science which informs us that 8 to 10% of any human population is going to be gay or lesbian and that at least 484 other species include gay and lesbian populations. Thus homosexuality is not an "unnatural" minority. In the United States today 83% of young adults favor gay marriage. The case is closed. The sensus fidelium has spoken. 
In arguing against abortion you invoke science saying the genetic code is present from the start and you conclude: "It's not, therefore, a religious question, but clearly a moral one, based on science"* Surely the same argument pertains to homosexuality. It is not a religious question but a scientific one and science has spoken. Have you ever known gay couples? Eaten in their homes and listened to their stories? Perhaps heard from some of their parents who may have had to learn along the way like you need to do? Why should a homosexual have to live a life of celibacy? My Bible says, "God is love"--not that "God is heterosexual love only." If marriage and commitment is a value to society, why would the Church not want to support committed gay couples as well as committed heterosexual couples? Invoking the Book of Leviticus against gays does not cut the mustard since the same book also calls eating shrimp an "abomination," teaches that stoning people to death for adultery is okay and endorses slavery. Among indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, Ireland and elsewhere it is well know that "trans-spirited" peoples carry special spiritual depth to the community. This is why the spiritual directors of most Indian chiefs in America were homosexual. A homophobic religion deprives itself of spiritual depth (pp. 19-20).

There are a number of points to note here. In the first place, Fox is grounding his theological appeal to Pope Francis to reconsider the current magisterial teaching about homosexuality in the classic Catholic theological method developed by Thomas Aquinas. Fox is speaking quite specifically as a Dominican theologian, one schooled in the theology of Aquinas, when he calls on the pope to listen carefully to the findings of science--since Aquinas insisted that all truth, from whatever quarter it comes to us, must be taken into account as we engage in theological reflection.

Because God is truth, and the same God who is author of truth channeled to us by divine revelation is the author of truth that reaches us by way of human reason . . . . The church stubbornly insisted for centuries that Galileo was incorrect in his finding that the earth revolves around the sun. It did so because it had theological investment in the notion that the scriptures dictate to us a belief in a geocentric universe. But, ultimately, the church paid a high price for its stubborn insistence that the truth mediated to us by scientific observation of the movement of the planets had to be subordinated to truth formulated by ancient texts that were not ever even intended to be declarations about scientific matters: that price was the price of alienating thinking, educated human beings who knew better.

With his framing of his discussion of homosexuality as the "Galileo case" of our time, Fox is, I think, suggesting that the same thing holds true today as the Catholic magisterium obstinately insists that scientific findings demonstrating the naturalness of homosexuality be subordinated to biblical texts that also forbid us to eat shellfish or pork, to mix meat and dairy products, and to wear clothing made from mixed fibers, and which enjoin us to execute adulterers or disobedient children or witches. Insofar as it continues to cling to pre-modern understandings of homosexuality in order to protect the teaching authority of its magisterial leaders, the church is increasingly alienating thinking, morally sensitive human beings who know better--and this alienation will only continue, as younger people who have grown up knowing gay people personally come of age.

Second point: Fox also appeals to Francis as a pastor, as one pastor to another. Have you ever taken a meal in the home of a gay couple? Have you sat down and listened carefully to their stories--as Jesus chose to do with outcasts, when he invited himself to their tables or brought them to his own table? Have you listened to parents who have had to journey towards greater understanding of this topic when they found that one of their children is gay? 

Having done all of that, do you really think the church can continue to call its approach to gay human beings loving, when it tags those very human beings with whom you have just sat down and shared a meal disordered in their very nature? And when it tells those same human beings (and anyone who loves them) that the price they must pay for being born gay is to live a life of celibacy, a life devoid of intimate relationship and deep personal contact with someone they love--a life they have not chosen?

(On the notion that the Catholic church has been in schism under Popes John Paul II and Benedict: Fox opens this chapter by recounting a conversation he had with his fellow Dominican theologian Schillebeeckx, in which Schillebeeckx told him that many European Catholic theologians consider the papacies of John Paul and Benedict to be schismatic, since, in attempting to dismantle Vatican II, they set up the authority of the papacy against the rest of the church represented by an ecumenical council of the church. This papal authoritarianism, which exalts the papacy to a level it has never enjoyed in authentic Catholic teaching, gutted the intellectual class of the church, silencing one theologian after another and resulting in the virtual demise of Catholicism in Europe.)

Any readers interested in my entire series of postings about Elizabeth Johnson's and Margaret Farley's two works cited above can click their names in the labels section beneath this posting.

*Citing Michael Warren, "Pope Francis in His Own Words, on the Issues," Yahoo News, April 22, 2013. 

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