Three more bishops have expressed a desire for the church to reconsider the language of “disorder” in church teachings on homosexuality.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg stated his concerns with the Catechism’s language of “intrinsically disordered” in an interview with Glas Koncila. Hollerich, who is Relator General for the Synod and was recently appointed as a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, was asked about previous comments he made critical of church teaching on homosexuality. He responded:
“When Church teaching was made, the term homosexuality did not even exist. Homosexuality is a new word; even in the time of Saint Paul people had no idea that there might be men and women attracted to the same sex. . .
“Sodomy was seen as something merely orgiastic at the time, typical of married people who entertained slaves for personal lust. But how can you condemn people who cannot love except the same sex? For some of them it is possible to be chaste, but calling others to chastity seems like speaking Egyptian to them.”
Hollerich rejected the conflation of a homosexual orientation with the church’s condemnation of sodomy, saying “sodomy is also present among married men and women.” His focus instead was on how the church should welcome and accompany lesbian and gay people. Asked about the need for such people to remain chaste, the cardinal answered:
“‘We can only charge people with moral conduct they can bear in their world. If we ask impossible things of them, we will put them off. If we say everything they do is intrinsically wrong, it is like saying their life has no value. Many young people came to me as a father and spoke to me about being homosexual. And what does a father do? Does he throw them out or embrace them unconditionally? . . .[H]omosexual people must feel welcome in our house. Otherwise, they will go away. . .
“‘A homosexual person will always love people of the same sex. We should not reduce homosexuality to inordinate sexual relations. That is a very crude way of understanding a human person. . .
“‘I find the part of the teaching calling homosexuality »intrinsically disordered« a bit dubious. Still, we have to accept all the people and make them feel the love of God. If they feel it, I am sure it will change something in their heart.'”
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also called for a re-evaluation of the church’s language about homosexuality, though did not suggest that the actual teachings themselves should change. America reported:
“Asked if he agrees with the proposal to alter the language used in the Catechism, Cardinal Cupich said yes. ‘Anytime language comes across as hurtful to people, the church has an obligation to examine that,’ he said. ‘I would hope that the church would always be willing to examine the way it speaks, especially if it’s made known to us that it’s hurtful and that it is categorically exclusive of individuals.’
“Cardinal Cupich said that concepts present in church teaching can be preserved even while altering language to make it less ‘cold, calculated, harsh language that, in some ways, is a door-closer.’
“He said that the church must express its teaching in ways that attract people to Jesus.
“‘Language has to be, in some way, speaking to people in a way that brings healing,’ the cardinal said. ‘Maybe there are some concepts within an expression of doctrine that will have to be attended to, but that doesn’t mean that the language itself can’t change.'”
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, in a webinar for the National Catholic Reporter, stated that the language of “objectively disordered” needed change. Asked whether he agreed with Cardinals Cupich and Robert McElroy of San Diego, Stowe commented:
“‘I would love to see that language changed, because it does more harm than good in the church today. It does more harm to individuals who already struggle with their self-understanding and their relationship with the church.'”
These three church leaders add momentum to a conversation about harmful language that has been renewed under Pope Francis. Last month, McElroy stated on a podcast interview that the language of disorder does a “disservice” and is “a terrible word” that “should be taken out of the catechism.” Back in 2019, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said the language was “very unfortunate” and should evolve to be “a little less hurtful.” In 2015, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia said that the church needed “new language to speak about homosexuality.” The issue of church language about homosexuality was prominent during both the Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015, as well as the Synod on Youth in 2018.
Episcopal resistance to the language of disorder in church teaching, though suppressed for a time, dates back to the early 1990s. Several U.S. bishops criticized such a description in the wake of the Vatican’s 1986 letter on pastoral care for homosexual persons, in which the language was introduced. In their 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children,” the U.S. bishops omitted such language until the Vatican intervened and instructed them to add the language in footnotes for a revised version.
Insights from local reports for the Synod on Synodality show that Catholics worldwide seek more inclusive and compassionate treatment of LGBTQ+ people by the institutional church. Revising the language of disorder in the Catechism will not resolve that issue entirely, but it would be a significant step towards stopping harm and supporting reconciliation efforts.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 30, 2023