The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) made an intervention, on December 20, 2019, in hopes of dissipating the concerns rightly raised by the publication, a few days earlier, of a study by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, touching on the Scriptural view of homosexuality.
On December 16, the Biblical Commission, which falls under the CDF, released a study over 300 pages long, published by the Vatican Publishing House in Italian, called Che cosa è l’uomo ? (Sal 8, 5). Un itinerario di antropologia biblica. [What is man? (Psalm 8:5) An itinerary of biblical anthropology]. It is a systematic investigation into the whole of Sacred Scripture on what the Bible teaches about man, his nature, his origins, the manner of his actions, his values and his destiny. News agency Zenit explains that based on the book’s introduction, it is intended to provide experts, catechists and teachers with “a reference text” to help reflect “on themes at the heart of social and civil debate: divorce, adultery, homosexuality, or in other contexts, priestly celibacy, to name only a few.”
The Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati, secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, stated that the work was done at the express request of Pope Francis. He was responsible for overseeing the work of around 20 persons over five years. Its preface is by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S. J., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. The book contains four chapters: 1) The Human Being Created by God; 2) The Human Being in the Garden [of paradise]; 3) The Human Family; and 4) The Human Being in History.
But the publication raised a number of concerns by its treatment—in nine ambiguous pages—of the issue of homosexuality, raised in chapter 3. We publish here two analyses showing the dangerous confusion in this document.
A Repositioning of the Texts
Website LifeSite News said on December 19 that the document recalled and affirmed that “the institution of marriage, consisting in the stable relationship of husband and wife, is constantly presented as obvious and normative throughout biblical tradition. There are no examples of legally recognized ‘unions’ between persons of the same sex.” The Commission notes nonetheless emerging “dissident voices”, especially in the West, with regard to “the anthropological approach of Holy Scripture, as it is understood and transmitted by the Church in its normative aspects.”
The theologians of the Biblical Commission, quoted by LifeSite News, continue: “All that is judged as the simple reflection of an archaic mentality, conditioned by history. We know that a variety of biblical affirmations in the cosmological, biological and sociological domains, have gradually come to be considered out of date, in keeping with the gradual affirmation of natural and human sciences; in the same way—some deduce—a new and more adequate understanding of the human person requires radical reservations about the exclusive valuing of the heterosexual union in favour of a similar acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions.”
From then on, LifeSite said, having noted the existence of these radical dissident voices, the work adopts a rhetorical position somewhere in the middle ground between them and the traditional teaching of the Church. Therefore, the document is certainly not innocent in the matter, for it uses a rhetorical strategy to shift the teaching received from the Church towards contemporary radical ideology.
Diane Montagna, author of the analysis, made the excellent point that by tweaking the traditional understanding of the sin of Sodom, the Pontifical Biblical Commission is able to advance this new interpretation: according to the Commission’s exegetes, “the story (of Sodom in the Bible) is not intended to show the image of an entire city dominated by irrepressible homosexual passions; rather, it condemns the conduct of a social and political entity that refuses to welcome the stranger with respect, and therefore attempts to humiliate him, forcing him to endure an infamous treatment of subjection.” “This way of reading the story of Sodom is confirmed by the Book of Wisdom (19:13-17) where the punishment of sinners as an example is motivated by the profound hatred they showed towards the stranger.” The Commission concludes: “It must therefore be said that the story of the city of Sodom (and of Gomorrah) illustrates a sin consisting in the lack of hospitality, together with hostility and violence towards the stranger, a behaviour judged very seriously and therefore meriting the most severe sanction, because the rejection of what is different, of the defenceless and needy stranger, is a principle of social disintegration, in itself containing a mortal violence that merits adequate punishment.”
A Rereading of Scriptural Texts
On Italian news site La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Luisella Scrosati analyzed on December 20, “Certain anticipations of a study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, requested by the pope, have been hailed by the media as an opening of the Church to divorce and homosexuality. Things are in fact more ambiguous than that, but according to what has been read up until now, an approach to Scripture emerges that is distancing itself from Tradition. ...In reality, the interpretation given by the Pontifical Biblical Commission is clearly influenced by the current cultural climate, to the point where it is good to avoid quoting Scripture literally when it conflicts with the dominant homosexualist mentality. (However), at this stage, one can legitimately suspect that the dissident positions have been summarized in the document in order to clarify them in time.”
Thus, on December 20, without actually disclaiming the text of the Commission, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, emphasized that “the institution of marriage, consisting of the stable relationship between husband and wife, is consistently presented as obvious and normative throughout biblical tradition.” He added, “There are no examples (in the Bible) of legally recognized unions between persons of the same sex.”
At the same time, Avvenire, the Italian bishops’ conference’s daily, clarified: “It is forbidden to banalize these reflections, but also to draw from them simplistic conclusions, like those presented in recent days by certain members of the media, who read into the study—especially as regards divorce and homosexuality—“openings” and “novelties” that can only make one smile. “It’s a biblical study, not a treatise of moral theology or a pastoral manual,” Fr. Pietro Bovati commented.
However, Avvenire declared in conclusion (and the sting is in the tail): “A text that does not offer prefabricated solutions therefore, but presents problems, questions, goes into depth, opens scenarios while erasing the field of certain clichés (sic) consolidated in our tradition… How do we read the exacting message of Jesus on indissolubility in the complexity and fragility of concrete situations? Can there be well-founded and comprehensible reasons in the choice of separation? Here, biblical experts leave the floor to pastoral discernment, which, in fact, has already treated the question in depth in Amoris Laetitia.”
And it adds that in the chapter devoted to homosexuality, “…in three dense paragraphs, exegetes, with an attentive analysis of the text, have concluded that “the story (of Sodom in the Bible) is not intended to show the image of an entire city dominated by irrepressible homosexual passions,” but rather to condemn “the conduct of a social and political entity that refuses to welcome the stranger with respect, and therefore attempts to humiliate him, forcing him to endure an infamous treatment of subjection.” This does not mean that homosexuality in the Bible is a behavior to be tolerated or welcomed. ...It’s a demanding reading, therefore, authentic and sometimes counter-cultural, but above all, Fr. Bovati concludes, it is “an invitation to hope in the welcoming mercy of God who always surprises us.”