Monday, June 3, 2019

Adriano Oliva's Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels — On the Pastoral Implications of Aquinas' Recognition That Homosexuality Is Natural

In my last posting some days ago about Adriano Oliva's Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2015), I noted that Oliva finds Thomas Aquinas teaching that sexual attraction to members of one's own sex is natural for those who are homosexual. As part of the natural order, the homosexual inclination some people have is to be treated with every bit as much respect as is reserved for the sexual attraction that the majority of people display towards members of the opposite sex.

Oliva also notes that Aquinas situates this homosexual inclination in the soul, and that's to say in the embodied soul, since, for Aquinas as for scripture, the human being is "une 'unité âme-corps'" (p. 91). Speaking of the soul as embodied and situating the natural inclination of homosexuality within the souls of those who have this inclination has important consquences for the moral assessment of the attractions and bodily expression of homosexuality among those for whom such an inclination is natural. This theological understanding of homosexuality also has important pastoral implications in Oliva's view.

As he writes,

L’homosexualité, située par saint Thomas, "du côté de l’âme," comporte le fait que l’inclination de la personne homosexuelle vers une autre personne de même sexe soit aussi une inclination physique et sexuelle, car la sexualité est exercée selon les inclinations connaturelles de l’âme qui donne vie au corps (p. 105).
[Rough translation:  
To situate homosexuality "on the side of the soul," as St. Thomas does, implies that the inclination of a homosexual person towards another person of the same sex will include a physical and sexual inclination, since sexuality expresses itself according to inclinations connatural to the soul that gives life to the body.]

If a homosexual inclination is natural to those who have this inclination, if it is rooted in their souls, and if their inclination to love another human being in a sexual way as a result of this inclination points them naturally to a loving affective union with another human being of their sex, then important pastoral and familial implications follow, Oliva insists:

Tous ces éléments obligent à reconnaître qu’une personne qui se découvrirait homosexuelle a la même dignité que toute autre personne et est appellée à se réaliser comme personne homosexuelle. 
Quand un membre d’une famille découvre une inclination, y compris sexuelle, vers des personnes de même sexe, il doit naturellement se faire accompagner dans le vérification de sa découverte, pour bien se connaître et s’apprécier parfaitement (pp. 92-3).
[Rough translation: 
All of these elements oblige us to recognize that those who will discover themselves to be homosexual have the same dignity that any other person has, and are called to affirm their nature as homosexual persons. 
When family members discover such an inclination, including a sexual inclination, towards persons of the same sex, other family members should naturally accompany them in affirming themselves and coming to know themselves better and appreciate themselves completely.]

Christian pastors should challenge themselves today, Oliva suggests (p. 97), to consider blessing same-sex unions, even if they cannot (as he thinks) see such unions as marriages given the centrality of procreation to the definition of marriage. There is historical evidence that such same-sex unions have been blessed by the church in the past. Blessing them is warranted as a way of recognizing and strengthening the union of a baptized Christian with his or her partner, and as an expression of ecclesial support for the monogamous union of two people of the same sex:

Baptized Christians who are homosexual are called to sanctity — in their loving unions — every bit as much as those who are heterosexual are, and deserve to have the church bless and support their loving, committed unions (pp. 118-9):

In an important passage towards the end of his book (p. 119), Olvia maintains that the teaching of Aquinas on the issue of homosexuality, along with contemporary theological reflection, places the magisterium today, if it would choose to pay attention to Aquinas and to contemporary theological reflection, in a position for a fruitful re-examination of its blanket condemnation of all sexual relationships between people of the same sex as "intrinsically disordered":

Such a theological reappraisal would, Oliva argues, also situate the church better to proclaim the gospel of love in a world in which people's understanding of homosexuality has been totally altered and is no longer the understanding that prevailed in even the recent past. This — this major shift in how homosexuality is viewed — is true not only within the gay community, he notes, but in society as a whole.

Aquinas' understanding of a homosexual inclination as natural to those who have this inclination, and as rooted in their souls, lays the groundwork, Oliva concludes, for a theological and magisterial reappraisal of this issue that enables the church to call gay people and couples to sanctity in the same way it calls straight people and couples to sanctity — without demanding the imposition of a forced lifelong chastity for gay couples, and with respect for the responsible choices gay people make based on their natural inclination to love members of their own sex.

And you can see, as you weigh Oliva's theological-pastoral reflections based on his probing of Aquinas' theology, why his book has elicited such outrage among the hard homophobic right, for whom the very definition of what it means to be Catholic today has been built around the imperative to denigrate, attack, and exclude LGBTQ people from the body of Christ.

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