Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Disconnect: Official Catholic Teaching on Sexual Ethics and the Experience of Gay and Lesbian People by Katie Hennessey

There seems to be a growing disconnect between the institutional church’s understanding of homosexuality and the experience of gay and lesbian people. My driving purpose in this paper is to determine the cause of this disconnect between official Catholic pronouncements and teaching on sexual ethics and the lives of gay and lesbian people. In researching official Catholic teaching on homosexuality over the past four decades, I noticed two important shifts in the documents on homosexuality that I believe are particularly illuminative of the disconnect: one is a significant change in ethical reasoning that began in the mid-nineteen eighties, the insertion of the concept of complementarity; the other is a change in terms from “orientation,” or simply “homosexual,” to “inclination,” or “persons with a homosexual tendency.” What these concepts point to is a need for more information from the realm of the human experience of sexuality.

My methodology, then, will begin by looking at the development of the concept of complementarity in official Catholic sexual ethical teaching and the body of teachings from which it arose, John Paul II’s theology of the body. Within these teachings, I will focus my critique on John Paul II’s use of Scripture and the anthropology he derives from it. Next, I will look at the change of terms, noting where and when the shift occurs and why it is problematic. I will finish by looking at how Catholic sexual ethical teaching might better reflect the information gleaned from experience that I see missing in the Church’s analysis. I will do this by looking at how ethicists such as Lisa Sowle Cahill and Margaret Farley have used human experience as a resource for ethical reflection. Cahill and Farley have different approaches to the use of experience as a resource, but both approaches aim at incorporating the experience of women into Catholic ethics. I will draw on their examples to begin looking at how the use of experience as a legitimate resource might inform a better sexual ethic dealing with homosexuality, one that speaks logically to the experience of homosexual people.

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