In my over 20 years of Catholic LGBT ministry, there is nothing that has sparked more anger and more questions and confusion than the Vatican’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” or “objective disorder” to describe, respectively, homosexual acts and homosexual orientation. They are terms that are not easily understood, and, even when they are, they still cause much pastoral damage and misinformation.
An Australian Jesuit legal scholar is calling for church people to stop using those terms in their discourse. In an essay on EurekaStreet.com, Fr. Frank Brennan, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, has urged Catholic leaders:
“It’s time we dropped the unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder when respectfully trying to determine appropriate laws and policies for all people who want to support and nurture each other and their children.”
Fr. Brennan, who, in the past has supported civil unions for same-gender couples, and has since professed support for civil marriage equality, notes a criticism of the “disorder” language from an Australian politician who is a lesbian:
“Penny Wong, a very eloquent and poised politician who is known to be lesbian, sharing with her partner the parenting of their child, addressed Monsignor John Woods saying, ‘I think it’s interesting you use words like respect at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not homosexuality is in fact natural or, by implication, you know a result of some form of disorder. I don’t think that’s particularly respectful.’ “
Instead of the “disorder” language, which is divisive, Fr. Brennan calls for a perspective that stresses the common humanity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation:
“Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord’s purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ “
And this Australian Jesuit is hopeful that his Jesuit brother who is now the pope is signaling a new direction towards discussing homosexuality that puts aside the pastorally harmful terms, and replaces them with a more positive approach:
“I called to mind the media press conference that Pope Francis gave recently on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day. He was asked about homosexuality and he said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?’ I think Pope Francis now gives us a better way of engaging in respectful discussion in our Church and in the community about the complex issues relating to homosexuality, including civil recognition of same sex marriage.”
The language of “disorder” is philosophical language. It is not intended to mean medical or psychological disorder, but that is how the overwhelming majority of people hear it. Because of that misunderstanding, it should definitely and immediately be stricken from church discourse. It is a term that was applied to discussions of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. As pope, he used it as the basis for his discussions of any issue related to gay and lesbian people.
Pope Francis has already indicated that he will be moving the discussion of homosexuality away from the “disorder” language. Let’s hope that his papacy will banish this term from Catholic discussions.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry