The Pontifical Biblical Commission released a new work on anthropology that recognizes advances in modern scriptural scholarship. But reports that this work opened the door to same-gender sexual acts are incorrect, warned one Vatican official.
News broke in December 2019 that the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s latest work, What is Man? An Itinerary of Biblical Anthropology, offered novel insights on how the church should engage issues of homosexuality. The book examines various anthropological and theological questions in the Bible: the meaning of life and “how that meaning is found in biblical descriptions of the human relationship with God and with others.”
A section of the work’s third chapter addresses homosexuality, analyzing the few passages in the Bible that address the topic. In doing so, the authors caution against taking these few passages out of their historical context and making definitive claims about the validity of same-gender behavior and identity. The authors also draw an important distinction between sexual orientation and same-gender sexual activity, the former of which is not discussed at all in these Biblical passages.
The Commission’s analysis of the Bible’s well-known Sodom and Gomorrah passage provides a different interpretation of this story than has been the one traditionally used to justify the condemnation of homosexuality:
“The story, however, is not intended to present the image of an entire city dominated by irrepressible homosexual cravings; rather, it denounces the conduct of a social and political entity that does not want to welcome the foreigner with respect, and therefore claims to humiliate him, forcing him to undergo an infamous treatment of submission. . .”We must therefore say that the story about the city of Sodom (as well as that of Gibeah) illustrates a sin that consists in the lack of hospitality, with hostility and violence towards the stranger, a behaviour judged very serious and therefore deserving to be sanctioned with the utmost severity, because the rejection of the different, of the needy and defenceless stranger, is a principle of social disintegration, having in itself a deadly violence that deserves an adequate punishment.”
The Commission’s analysis of homosexuality is prompted by the “voices of dissent” who challenge the institutional church’s anthropology, especially its biblical sources. The Commission ends its treatment of homosexuality with a warning that the texts often referred to on this topic “require an intelligent interpretation that safeguards the values that the sacred text intends to promote, thus avoiding repeating to the letter what it carries with it, even cultural traits of that time.” It added, “pastoral attention will be required, particularly with regard to individuals, in order to carry out that service of good which the Church has to assume in its mission for people.”
While some news reports claimed What is Man? was an opening towards the church recognizing same-gender relationships, a Vatican official warned that this was not so. Crux reported of Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the Commission, firmly rejected such a possibility, saying, “[t]here does not exist any ‘opening’ to unions between persons of the same sex as some people erroneously have claimed.”
Unfortunately, the Morandi’s response shows a persistent reluctance to reexamine the church’s historical and theological approach to sexuality, particularly employing any contemporary interpretations of what it means to be a sexual person.
The Bible is a beautiful and powerful historical narrative. But despite its complexity and richness, the Bible does not provide a systematic treatise for many modern topics, particularly for same-gender relationships. There are countless examples of normative behaviors and mores from the Bible that are no longer culturally appropriate for our time period. For example, the biblical patriarchs of the Ancient Near East practiced slavery.
For LGBTQ persons, the Vatican’s continued veneration of the very few Biblical passages that discuss homosexual behavior continues to damage and exclude an entire population of God’s creation based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.
We urgently need to worry less about what the Bible says about an identity that was not coherently conscious in the Ancient Near East and move our efforts towards having a serious, intentional, and meaningful conversation about how we can be more loving disciples of Christ through the radical reconstruction of Church doctrine and teaching on sexuality. As New Ways Ministry and many other Catholic LGBTQ groups and individuals have said, the starting point of that conversation could be a Vatican-supported commission composed of LGBTQ Catholics from various ages, gender identities, ethnicities, races, and socio-economic backgrounds who can share their struggles and joy of how they are loved as well as rejected by a Church that can and should change to become a beacon of equality and love for all.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2019