Unraveling The NYT’s “Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex”

The fellow in the mural is becoming rather an embarrassment to Notre Dame's faculty.
The fellow in the mural is becoming rather an embarrassment to Notre Dame’s faculty.

Archbishop Salvatore the Lion Hearted out in Sodom-by-the-Sea insisted recently that those who teach in Catholic (non-public, religious, if you don’t want to attend you don’t have to) schools swear to uphold Catholic doctrine, in much the same way, for instance, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) insists its employees support gay gmarriage.

Now you wouldn’t expect swarms of GLAAD office workers to hold candlelight vigils protesting that organization’s updating its HR manuals, but somehow that’s exactly what happened when Bishop Cordileone updated his. Publicity ensued.

And this caused academic philosopher Gary Gutting (Notre Dame, a once proudly Catholic school that does not insist its employees uphold Catholic doctrine) to put fingers to keyboard and submit to the New York Times “Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex”.

Gutting correctly notes the Church say homosexual acts are sinful because those acts are contrary to natural law. He also rightly states:

Unlike many religions, Catholicism insists that its moral teachings are based not just on faith but also on human reason. For example, the church claims that its moral condemnation of homosexual acts can be established by rigorous philosophical argument, independent of anything in the Bible.

But then Gutting veers left (ellipsis original):

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit…[For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

The answer to his last semi-rhetorical question is no. Why? Consider this line of thought from Yours Truly. A human-animal relationship, like a human male-female relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human and animal goods; it can bear good fruit, but it cannot bear human or animal children. For both human and human-animal couples, sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy. (And must I always remind readers that bestiality is legal in several places?)

Swap in animals or human infants or even inanimate objects and you reach the same conclusion. Corvino’s is not a viable line of argument; and it evades the question of what natural law means. Gutting knows this and has a go at representing it: “any sexual act that could not in principle result in pregnancy is contrary to the laws of human nature because it means that each partner is using it as a means to his or her pleasure.” I suppose he couldn’t help gilding that sentence with that pleasure nonsense, as if a man and a woman having sexual intercourse (which might lead to pregnancy) don’t and aren’t trying to enjoy themselves. Gutting, like many, gives the false and scurrilous impression that the Catholic Church doesn’t want its members to make merry. (The puritans weren’t Catholic.)

Gutting continues:

The awkward talk of “an act that could not in principle result in pregnancy” is necessary since those who put forward this argument want to maintain that heterosexual unions in which one (or both) of the partners is sterile are still moral. There’s nothing unnatural about their intercourse because it’s the sort of act that in general can lead to reproduction.

And this is true. But sex with a goat or a newborn baby or with your couch or with yourself cannot “in general” or cannot at all lead to reproduction. These are also against natural law: natural law thus tells us why these acts are wrong. Why is it critics of natural law always come at the fine points and forget the big ones? Gutting says there are “numerous subtle distinctions employed to defend [natural law], requiring equal subtlety to respond.” I don’t know if you can call the points I just made subtle, but I doubt it.

Gutting later steers off into waters non sequiturial, saying natural law makes sense “to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity.” No, sir. A blatant, insulting distraction; an unbecoming debating tactic.

More: “The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships.” Ad misericordiam. It would be a greater pity to acquiesce in acts which are of great harm to those who engage in them and to others indirectly.

And with that Gutting thinks he’s made his case, for he says, “the time is overdue for a revision of its philosophical misunderstanding of homosexual acts.” But what about those inconvenient Biblical passages condemning homosexual acts? He says we ought to “reject the view that this is what the Bible says…even if the biblical view is that any homosexual act is immoral”. Why? Because slavery. Views on Biblical support for slavery have changed, thus so should views on sodomy. Gutting appears unaware that slavery is equivocal and didn’t mean to people two centuries ago what it means to us. Anyway, it’s the wrong argument because the Bible merely flies well over that topic while it outright forbids homosexual acts.

Solution? Gutting implies Cordileone should lie. That the Bishop should say he’s for the Church while not enforcing its dogma. There it is again. For Gutting, the ends justify the means. What a frightening thing for a philosopher to say.

Update Kiddies in SF follow Gutting’s lead. “San Francisco Catholic Students Slam Morality Clauses In Latest Protest, Say Archbishop Is Out Of Step” and more proof that people have forgotten why they’re in the Church in the first place.

“It’s just ridiculous how he’s trying to represent the Catholic Church in a city of tolerance and a city of acceptance,” Archbishop Riordan alumnus Erick Orantes told KPIX 5.


  1. Katie

    I propose a new slogan to be in better step with the times: “Tolerate the sin, respect the sinner.”

  2. Sander van der Wal

    If a relationship must be meaningful according to natural law, then all meaningless relations (and there are a lot of them, much more than there are gay marriages) must be unmade, because they are unnatural. Which is a much better attack on the Church’s position than gay marriage.

    If a relationship can be meaningful according to natural law, then natural law and the meaning of relations are separate, and this line of attack on the Church doesn’t work.

  3. What “natural law?” It doesn’t matter.

    There’s a long history that explains why the faiths of Abraham developed their rules against homosexuality, from the Jews dealing with the Babylonians, to Paul dealing with the Greeks, and the Muslims picked up the angry torch and went on with it. The religious aspect of this is what it is, and there isn’t much anyone can do but try to ignore it.

    There is no rational basis for anti-homosexuality. “Natural Law” is a silly old joke, another back-door for religion to impose itself on science, another silly attempt at proving the existence of God. The only natural laws we know of only serve to explain homosexuality, not condemn it, and do nothing to prove anything regarding God.

    If a human’s mind is wired such that it derives natural sexual pleasure with others of the same gender, than so be it. We don’t know yet why people are gay, or how that wiring happens or works, or if we even want to know, so all we can do now is try to make life as pleasant for gay people as we do for everyone else.

    Catholic institutions, beyond the Church itself, should keep the sexual rules muted, as they are not in accord with reality, let alone modernity, and never have been. It is just an unfortunate quirk of history that the Church takes the stand it does, and there isn’t anything that can change that now. The passing of time and eventual disappearance of religion should resolve this particular issue. In the meantime, if the church wants to have schools, and hospitals, and such, then in those places the religious rules that directly harm people, like anti-homosexuality, should be muted. Otherwise, the Church should find other ways of spreading backwards, ancient stupidity.


  4. SFO a city of ‘tolerance.’ Tell people you are a practicing Catholic family with 5 kids, oppose gay marriage, and support the Tea Party and see how ‘tolerant’ they are.

  5. Katie

    If, according to you, “it doesn’t matter”, then why are you so concerned with what the Church does or doesn’t teach? No one is forcing you into Church membership or compelling you to send your children to Catholic schools.

    Honestly, I don’t understand why non-Catholics are so obsessed with the Catholic church and insistent on “converting” Catholics to support and endorse non-Catholic (that is, worldly or secular) views and practices. Who can’t leave well enough alone?

  6. Katie, “Natural Law” doesn’t matter. It’s just a subjective notion to the religious.

    I should clarify, when I say “muted” I mean the Church should mute itself on such issues when engaging in otherwise non-ecclesiastic activities, as all they do is cause harm in those spheres.

    I went to Catholic school, was born in a Catholic hospital, went to Catholic hospitals when I was sick or hurt (my mom worked in one for many many years), and was raised in a Catholic environment. I have a Catholic way of seeing things whether I like it, see it, or am personally “Catholic,” or not. I can’t help it. It’s who I am. I am not personally religious, however, and I certainly do see some flaws in Catholicism, like this pointless animosity for homosexuality, but culturally, I’m a pretty “Catholic” kinda guy. I’m just not backwards, conservative.


  7. JohnK

    I liked “lion-hearted.”

    What makes me the most rueful is the crickets from Archbishop Cordileone’s ‘brother’ bishops.

    Which is to say, a coordinated approach is thought to be, or simply is, impossible. No band of brothers, who have his back, who simultaneously affirm the Faith equally with him. Just him, twisting in the wind.

    He probably knew it would be this way. But he did it anyway. ‘Lion-hearted’ indeed.

    And which is worse, that the following headline never happened because it was merely thought to be impossible (‘lion-hearted’s’ error then), or because it actually was impossible, because ‘lion-hearted’ wisely sought a coordinated effort, reached out to those at least who might be orthodox, and was simply rebuffed out of hand, or laughed at, thought a fool, by the rest of his American ‘brothers’ anxious never to see the following appear in the media:

    Fifty American Catholic Bishops Simultaneously Promulgate Anti-Gay, Anti-Abortion ‘Morality Clause’ In Church Contracts
    –Employees of Catholic Schools, Hospitals, Parishes instantly affected
    –Outrage, opposition mounts…

  8. JH

    Mr. Briggs,

    So you do get Gutting’s point that Bible was written by people who had different views and knowledge about many things, e.g., slavery. Gutting, a religion professor, evidently doesn’t think that the Bible outrightly declares that any homosexual is immoral. The church does.

    Anyway, both the Bible and the church teachings are written by men, fallible men.

    (Gutting conducted a series of interesting interviews on various religions on The Stone – Opinionated. I highly recommend the series. Sorry, too lazy to find the links for you at this moment.)

    What is the natural law about sex? Is it inscribed on a stone tablet as if it is indestructible? Itemized descriptions would be appreciated. What sexual acts are permissible by your natural law? A penile-vaginal intercourse for the sole purpose of having children ? No birth control pills?

    It sounds like that by the natural law , an incestuous relationship is not wrong because it can lead to reproduction. Furthermore, since it’s possible to contract harmful TD, no one should have sex. Masturbation is not natural because again the natural law demands the qualifier of reproduction for all sexual behaviors to be natural.

  9. Ray

    Why does everybody think the puritans were dour, serious and against having a good time. It isn’t true. They wrote the King James bible and it’s almost pornographic.

  10. Steve H

    I think it all boils down to the fact that, while some men want to sodomize other men, and as long as those others wish to be sodomized, that’s fine by most. The problem occurs when we are all enjoined, nay encouraged, to accept this as “normal” and even to, heaven forfend, “celebrate” it!!

  11. John B()


    Thanks for that insight into you.

    I told my Protestant pastor from about ten years ago:
    You can take the “boy” out of the Catholic Church but you can’t take the Catholic Church out of the “boy”.
    (My pastor had been ostensibly “Catholic” but he’d never really been Catholic.)

    I have a brother who is still “very Catholic”, but “came of age” during Vatican II, ecumenicism, Liberation Theology, etc. (Everything he knows either comes from the 60’s liberal Catholicism or NPR.) We’ve had hundreds of discussions about Global Warming and Renewable Energy. The only inroads I’ve ever been able to make was with regard to Renewables (specifically Wind Turbines) and that was because another brother told him renewables were crap.

    But I think it only gave him pause. NPR couldn’t be wrong

  12. Sylvain Allard

    Here is a text that most here will disagree with but will undoubtly faill to find any convincing argument against.


    “Proposition 1: Strictly speaking, the New Testament says nothing at all about homosexuality.

    There is not a single Greek word or phrase in the entire New Testament that should be translated into English as “homosexual” or “homosexuality.” In fact, the very notion of “homosexuality”—like that of “heterosexuality,” “bisexuality,” and even “sexual orientation”—is essentially a modern concept that would simply have been unintelligible to the New Testament writers. The word “homosexuality” came into use only in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and, as New Testament scholar Victor Paul Furnish notes, it and related terms “presume an understanding of human sexuality that was possible only with the advent of modern psychological and sociological analysis.” In other words, “The ancient writers . . . were operating without the vaguest conception of what we have learned to call ‘sexual orientation’.”1 (In the rest of this article I shall use the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality” strictly for the sake of convenience.)”

    Most devout Christian fail to recognize that there was no such thing as sexual orientation before the advent of psychiatry which tried to define what was normal and abonormal behavior.

    1) Fact homosexuality is not mentioned in any of the commandent or is not part of the 7 Deadly sin.

    2) The person who commit the sin is the one who is refused the kingdom of heaven, not the society at large, ence god is the ultimate judge.

    3) The thing I find the funniest is that those that judge homosexual are commiting a bigger sin than the homosexual themselves. Pride or vanity of oneself to believe that he is so Superior to homosexual that he can play god and denigrate homosexual.


  13. Sander van der Wal

    @Silvain Allard

    The Bible forbids men to have sex with each other. The Bible does not forbid women to have sex with each other. At least not in Leviticus.

    So, the sex bit of homosexuality is forbidden to men, and everything else is not. As long as you describe the acts that are actually forbidden, there is no need to name all the activities that are allowed.

  14. Sylvain Allard


    Read the link I posted.

    1) in antiquity , classical age and medieval age there were no concept of homosexuality. There were homosexual, hetorosexual, bestiality, and pedophilia in those time but there were no label applied to them. There were no natural law. It just was.

    Sodomy describe just anal relations and it include male-female anal relation, as well as male-male.

    The current translation of the New Testament only show three passages that mention homosexuality. The last translation was done in the 19th century after psychiatrist defined human sexual behavior.

    In the original text homosexuality doesn’t happen anywhere but any kind of sex done for simple pleasure is covered under the sin of lust. It include anal and oral sex.

  15. ” in antiquity , classical age and medieval age there were no concept of homosexuality. There were homosexual, hetorosexual, bestiality, and pedophilia in those time but there were no label applied to them. There were no natural law. It just was.”

    It is rather silly to declare that because things are not mentioned in old texts, there were no words or even concepts to describe such things. What writers of these periods preoccupied themselves with are very different from what we preoccupy ourselves with today. For example, colours are seldom mentioned in ancient texts. This doesn’t mean that ancients had no concepts of colour or specific colours, such as blue. (Although I have recently read scholars silly enough to try to argue that because old texts seldom mention the colour blue, old ancestors could not recognise the colour blue. Yes, seriously.)

    Be careful also in using the word ‘antiquity’. Romans were a conservative people and certainly understood the concept of ‘sexual deviancy’. Caligula’s orgies were the exception, not the rule. Tacitus mentions such things because they were of considerable ‘shock value’ in those times. Gaius Suetonius’, The Twelve Caesars, for example, would very unlikely to have survived today had it not been for its ‘shock value’ through the ages.

    The most plausible reason why these topics were not found mentioned in the intellectual writings of these various peoples was not because these concepts did not exist, but because where people stuck their appendages was not deemed of special intellectual importance (unlike our self obsessed modern age).

  16. Tim K

    Notice the uniformly poor quality of the pro-gay marriage/homosexuality comments here. They use arguments that are specious, often even pompous, emotional, etc. I am sure these people consider themselves well educated, but their ability to construct a coherent argument is lacking. For many of these arguments, you can plug in “alcoholism” etc instead of “homosexuality” to show how their argument fails. We live in a country that has lost the ability to think carefully about things. As a result, gay marriage may win out in the end.

  17. Joe C

    In fact, the very notion of “homosexuality”—like that of “heterosexuality,” “bisexuality,” and even “sexual orientation”—is essentially a modern concept that would simply have been unintelligible to the New Testament writers.

    Exactly. These concepts are modern inventions, hence, made-up BS. The Church doesn’t condemn “gays” because there is no such thing. Sodomy is an immoral act, not a “race” or “creed” or “identity”. Catholics must condemn homosexual acts, and should never concede the point (the lie) that certain people are “born that way” and the wisdom of the centuries doesn’t apply in their case.

    A good rule of thumb is that if someone claims to discover something astonishingly new about human nature, and there’s no evidence that anyone ever heard of it before 1900, it’s probably a load of bull-stuff.

  18. Sylvain


    The difference between having no words or concept for blue is different than for homosexuality because in the 1800s when they revised the translation of the bible they attributed homosexuality to ”malakoi” and ”arsenkotai”.

    This is how the the King James bible defined 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 before the revised translation:

    ”Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,”


    Now this is how it can be read:

    ”Or do you not know that the unrighteous2 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: xneither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,3 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”


    Somehow ‘effeminate’ became ‘nor men who practice homosexuality’. The problem is that in medieval time effeminate did not mean homosexuality.

  19. Sylvain

    Tim K,

    Where is your well constructed argument?

  20. Mal

    Even if the Church can justify its stand on marriage by using philosophical arguments that are independent of anything in the Bible, it should always emphasize its absolute faith in the Bible and, in particular, the teachings of Jesus.

    On Marriage, Jesus made it very clear that, at the beginning of creation, God made us Male and Female which, as we know, makes a unique marriage happen. The organs associated with these genders beautifully and meaningfully complement each other. There are many kinds of relationships – husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces, members of a club or sports team, teacher and student and so on – and, hopefully, all are loving ones. However, there is only one relationship, namely the husband and wife one, that naturally provides stability and continuity to society. This has been recognized – and communally celebrated – in all cultures from the beginning.

    Marriage is to humanity what gravity and time are to the material world.

  21. Bill K.

    Those who join, or work for, a particular Faith must adhere to its Doctrine / mission.
    It is hypocritical and dishonest to act otherwise. If someone does not adhere to the Doctrine or mission they should look for employment elsewhere.

    People (especially children) learn from words as well as by example.
    – – – – – – –
    Regarding homosexual acts: Gen 19:1-29; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10;
    1 Tim 1:10; Jude 1:7.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997, second edition, dark green cover in the USA, aka CCC) – CCC #2357, 2358, 2359, & 2396.
    Catholics must adhere to a Catholic Bible, and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church in entirety”.

  22. Bill K.

    Regarding Divorce – with civil remarriage when the first marriage is valid – being “Adultery” :
    JESUS about divorce and remarriage – Mk 10:6-12; Mt 5:32.
    JESUS about adultery, mercy, and required repentance – “Go and Sin NO more” Jn 8:11.
    “Thou shall not commit Adultery” – GOD’s Commandment – Ex 20:14 ;
    Deut 5:18.
    “Thou shall not covet thy Neighbor’s wife” – GOD’s Commandment –
    Ex 20:17 ; Deut 5.20.
    – – – –
    CCC: # 1649, 1650, 1651;
    and Divorce without remarriage CCC: # 2382 – 2386

  23. SouthCoast

    “San Francisco Catholic Students Slam Morality Clauses…” Students, eh? By definition, if they actually *knew* anything, rather than simply emoting around like the characters from a Victorian melodrama, they would not be “students”.

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