French Bishops On Love and Gay Marriage

[This post by Eric Sundrup, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post, where the author is an Associate Editor]

Facebook got something right. When it comes to our love lives… “It’s complicated.” Whether gay or straight, they’re fraught with tensions and vulnerabilities and, frankly, they’re often quite messy. Our feelings and our identities are tied up in these discussions – we’re not just talking about a theoretical person who ought to act some particular way, we’re talking about people we know. And tempers flare, and people get hurt, and then we just avoid the discussion because the price of a mistake is too high. Inside the Church and out, speaking about our love lives has become either the stuff of tabloids, or utterly taboo.

There has got to be another way. There must be other angles to pursue.

Which is exactly where the French Bishops Council on Family and Society comes in.1 This past September, the council released a document that is, courtesy of a few very unofficial translations,2 currently making the rounds in the English speaking blogosphere.

In a climate where most discussions are narrowly focused on the Church teaching that homosexual actions are dis-ordered because they are not oriented toward procreation and, hence, that homosexual persons are called to chastity, acknowledging and respecting the lived reality and sincerity of homosexual persons is essential.

The diversity of homosexual practices should not prevent us from taking seriously the aspirations of those who wish to engage in a stable relationship
La diversité des pratiques homosexuelles ne doit pas empêcher de prendre au sérieux les aspirations de celles et ceux qui souhaitent s’engager dans un lien stable.

The document clearly names the real conflicts present in the French debate about love and gay marriage within the Catholic Church, and as I read it I was struck by the similarities between that scene and our own here in the U.S..  The council seems to have found a way to give a clear and compassionate overview of Church teaching and the lived experience of homosexual persons without demonizing or resorting to sound bites. They write:

While affirming the importance of sexual difference and of the fact that homosexual partners differ from heterosexual couples being unable to procreate naturally, we can respect the desire for a commitment to fidelity of affection, of a sincere attachment, of concern for others and solidarity that goes beyond the reduction of the homosexual relationship to a simple erotic engagement.
Tout en affirmant l’importance de l’altérité sexuelle  et le fait que les partenaires homosexuels se différencient des couples hétérosexuels par l’impossibilité de procréer naturellement, nous pouvons estimer le désir d’un engagement à la fidélité d’une affection, d’un attachement sincère, du souci de l’autre et d’une solidarité qui dépasse la réduction de la relation homosexuelle à un simple engagement érotique.

Although it might seem like a small thing, by taking on the question of how we might elucidate the current teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and gay marriage without reducing the entire reality of homosexual relationships to sex, the council is forging a path toward mutual understanding.

There is nothing earth shatteringly new in the document. They are not proposing any new teachings. Yet the French Bishops Council – by looking closely at the real aspirations and desires of homosexual persons for meaningful relationships – avoids the quagmire of reducing all discussion of homosexuality to a simple call to chastity and thus radically alters the contours of the discussion. In a discussion that all too often leaves homosexual members of the Church feeling left out or personally attacked, such sincerity and compassion is crucial. As a Church I feel that we have failed too often in this regard.

Which is why I am so encouraged to see a document that takes the desire of homosexual persons  to love and to be loved seriously. Surely much good can come from acknowledging that homosexual people might not be aiming to destroy marriage, but instead yearning honestly and openly to find a path to live full, loving, and relational human lives. And while we’ll have to wait for an official translation or statement from the French Bishop’s Council on Family and Society for complete clarification, this document opens the doors to mutual understanding by simply, quite seriously, stating: “Let’s open the debate!” Ouvrons le débat!

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  1. The members of the Council are listed at the beginning of the document.  The members listed include a number of bishops as well as experts.
  2. Translations can often lose nuance and subtlety.  I encourage readers to compare any unofficial translation against the official French document.  Tom Luce translated English excerpts at the New Ways Ministry blog.  William D. Lindsey offered a full translation on his blog.  TJP and Millennial are grateful for the work of these bloggers in translating this document while recognizing that linking to unofficial translations on various blogs is not an endorsement of these sites or their viewpoints.

Eric Sundrup, SJ, a native of Cincinnati, OH and graduate of Xavier University is a 1st year M.Div student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. During the last few years he has split his time between Bolivia, Peru and the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, where he taught at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. He enjoys running and creating new projects that take up all of his free time.

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