Paul Vallely: Why are the churches so rabid about gay sex?

The Vatican document is deeply un-Christian - I can't imagine Christ using such words about people

What is it with Christians and gay sex? The row in the Anglican Church is about to reignite at a conference in Minneapolis that could lead to a walk-out by conservatives, bringing schism to the Anglican communion. And now the Pope has waded in, telling all Catholics that they are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions and warning Catholic politicians that to vote in favour of them is "gravely immoral".

On the face of it, Protestant and Catholic objections to homosexuality are very different. Among Anglicans it's all a question of Scripture; the row is between those who take the Bible literally and those who apply their reason to it in the light of the latest scientific and psychological data. In theory the Pope is a reason man, too. Or so Rome's new 12-page diatribe keeps telling us. But somehow he manages to come down on the same side as the literalists.

The Catholic objection is based in what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which has issued the paper on the orders of the Pope, calls "the natural moral law". In reality it is inextricably entangled with the Catholic position outlawing artificial birth control. Both contraception and homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the transmission of new life". Allow the condom and, in Vatican logic, homosexuality will automatically push its way in too. The idea that sex is as much about bonding between people as about procreation is one to which Rome pays lip-service but never takes seriously.

The Vatican document doesn't say anything new. What is different about it is its irascible authoritarian tone. All the old stuff is there, about how homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered" and gay sex acts are "sins gravely contrary to chastity". But there are shocking new phrases. Rights for co-habiting homosexuals are the "legalisation of evil". Moves to allow gay couples to adopt children are a form of "violence" against children - a particularly pernicious innuendo that seems subliminally to associate gay parents with child abuse.

There is also something disreputable about the document's logic. It makes a number of statements about the nature of marriage - with which it is possible entirely to agree - and then suggests, without offering any argument or evidence, that appropriate models for stability in long-term gay relationships would somehow "devalue" marriage and lead to "grave detriment to the common good". The document creates a fantasy notion of gay marriage and then proceeds to argue against it. Had Rome spent time listening to the faith experience of gay and lesbian people - instead of preoccupying itself with what they do in the bedroom - it would know that what gay Catholics want is something very different from marriage.

But it suits Rome to muddy these waters. It prefers to peddle the old untruth that straights can be "corrupted" into homosexuality. Children adopted by gays, or born to lesbian couples by "recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction", will be exposed "to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon". (Presumably the Pope thinks children would be better off in care than in a stable, loving home where both parents happen to be of the same sex).

The truth is that the CDF, whose former title was the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Inquisition, knows that there are large numbers of theologians and bishops who don't buy all this. In many countries Catholic bishops, though they have opposed the use of the term marriage, have quietly supported various types of legislation that have given gay couples basic rights such as hospital visitation, inheritance and so on. The shrill rhetoric of the new document is an attempt to whip them into line.

There is a genuflection in the 3,000-word tirade towards previous church teaching that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" and not unjustly discriminated against. But overall the language is overwhelmingly harsh, and hostile about the "troubling moral and social phenomenon" of homosexuality. "Scripture does not permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it" - shame about that - "but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered".

There is about the tone of this the same homophobia we hear in the voices of the worst Anglican bigots. It is a deeply un-Christian document - I somehow can't imagine Christ using words like this about people. Its tenor is about as far from the language of the Gospel as you can get. It fundamentally misrepresents what lies at the heart of the life of compassion and love that most Christians strive to live. It will further estrange Rome from the ordinary Catholics in the pew, most of whom, surveys show, are in favour of legalising gay unions. And it will, once again, seriously weaken the credibility of the Church to speak prophetically to society about the dignity of all the people God has created.

"Moral conscience," the document says, "requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth." That truth, it says, is evident to right reason. Indeed. Which is why we Catholics have a duty to denounce malign documents such as this.

p.vallely@independent.co.uk

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