The Church cannot change her language about homosexuality

Bishop Mark ColeridgeSince the Ordinary Synod began the “summaries” of the interventions of the synod fathers given by the Holy See press office have been dominated by calls for a change in the language used by the Church when speaking about the moral law.

It is clear that the Church’s traditional way of expressing herself is a particular target of those working to undermine Catholic doctrine at the synod.

In his “summary” last Tuesday Fr Thomas Rosica said:

“There must be an end to exclusionary language and a strong emphasis on embracing reality as it is. We should not be afraid of new and complex situations… The Jubilee of Mercy also requires a new form of language, both public and private. [It] requires a language of mercy.… The language of inclusion must be our language, always considering pastoral and canonical possibilities and solutions.”

In an interview with Crux, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia (pictured), said:

“[We need] a new way of speaking about the situation of those who are same-sex attracted or in a same-sex partnership of some kind, or those who are divorced and civilly remarried … I think there would be very large support for [more positive, inclusive language about homosexuality], something like 70/30. There’s very strong support for a less condemnatory approach, and language is at the heart of that.”

Voice of the Family wishes to point out that such views are contrary to the Church’s directions to bishops. In 1975 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration, approved by Pope Paul VI, on “Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” (entitled “Persona Humana“), which said:

“It is up to the Bishops to instruct the faithful in the moral teaching concerning sexual morality, however great may be the difficulties in carrying out this work in the face of ideas and practices generally prevailing today. This traditional doctrine must be studied more deeply. It must be handed on in a way capable of properly enlightening the consciences of those confronted with new situations and it must be enriched with a discernment of all the elements that can truthfully and usefully be brought forward about the meaning and value of human sexuality. But the principles and norms of moral living reaffirmed in this Declaration must be faithfully held and taught.”

Regarding the comments of Fr Rosica and Archbishop Coleridge, Voice of the Family points out that such a change in language will undoubtedly serve the machinations of those groups seeking to thwart the Church’s witness to the truth about human sexuality. In 1986 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) issued a Letter, approved by Pope John Paul II, to bishops “on the pastoral care of homosexual persons”. The Letter

“ask[ed] the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful.”

These admonitions by the CDF are not simply disciplinary norms for bishops for dealing with controversial issues. The admonitions are based upon the knowledge that for the Church to alter her language would be to risk corrupting the Church’s teaching itself.

Here is the language which St Paul uses regarding homosexuality (Romans 1:24-27):

“Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.”

In that passage, St Paul is both (a) using the type of “condemnatory” or “exclusionary” language (“shameful”, “filthy”) which many synod fathers seek to banish and (b) making clear the link between counterfeit theology (“changed the truth of God into a lie”) and immorality.

Elsewhere in his Epistle, St Paul warns about how a lack of clear teaching will lead to indifference and heresy:

“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise you, except you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall it be known what is said? For you shall be speaking into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:8-9)

“Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

This is why in 1905 Pope St Pius X instituted the Oath against Modernism, to sworn by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries. The person swearing the oath said:

“I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously.”


“I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.”

In brief, the calls for the Church to put aside its doctrine and use new language instead stem from an unacceptable desire to marry the spirit of the age, as Voice of the Family has warned in its analyses of the Ordinary Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris and of the Extraordinary Synod’s Relatio Synodi.