So, a fuss in the newspapers last week — on the Catholic rights and wrongs of homosexual practice. There appears to be an assumption that Pope Francis had changed the rules when, in 2013, he said of a homosexual man “Who am I to judge?”. I gather that some bishops have allowed blessings of such partnerships. This of course is a mistake: the Pope was talking about the private conscience of this homosexual, not the objective morality of the activity.
The Church’s long term rule on homosexuality is based on the Natural Law. And this approach is fundamental to several of the Ten Commandments. Quite simply: the male and female sexual organs are clearly structured for bisexual activity. Similarly, the argument versus artificial contraception is based through the same principle.
There is history behind this. A form of philosophy developed in ancient Greece was called Stoicism. The name relates to a building in the marketplace of Athens. It was later taken up by the Romans (think Cicero), and significant in the early Church. Put simply, it taught that we should obey the principles of nature in all our activities. The enemy of Stoicim was feelings, passions and so on. These human rexponses were always a danger to the rationality of Stoicism. Nowadays the term is often used as a criticism: a tendency to hold on to our decisions rather than to be flexible and human.
Personally, I have alwatys been drawn towards Stoicism. But I am not prepared to condemn feelings and passions. What is necessary, I claim, is to distinguish between the feelings which support reasoning and those which lead us to irrational decisions.
As a plain example, think of marital bereavement. Yes, the feelings are strong. But I argue that they are rational because passion is proper, and usually necessary in marriage. But, if the strength of feelings prevents the survivor from taking the necessary actions brought on by bereavement, damage will be done.
So, back to Pope Francis. Here, we should take into account that the condemnation of homoxual relationships was initially based on the assumption that human beings, and their natural characteristics, were created directly by God. Ergo, homosexual behaviour was out. But now we know that the physicality of homo sapiens was a product of evolution. We may still judge that homosexual behaviours are damaging to society and so should be condemned.Other might argue that accepting homosexuality, including ‘marriages’, leads to a more peaceful society and reduces the dangers to health which develop from casual homosexual activity.
My conclusions here are similar to the views of good Catholics who argue that the use of contraceptives is permissible, and in certain circumstances obligatory. The levels of fertility in modern women were developed through evolution when the high mortality of the young required the conception of enough children to replace mortalities. The Stoic argument might be that we have inherited brains which are capable of matching new circumstances, and so we can (must?) alter our behaviour to fit the new situation. I am of course aware that contraception leads to other important changes, but not necessarily good ones, in our society.