Earlier today, I wrote about the move by the German bishops to re-examine Church teaching on human sexuality — particularly pertaining to the questions of homosexual acts and contraception. In that same analysis, I mentioned some early reporting on a 300-page study commissioned by Pope Francis and published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) on the question, “What is Man?”
I am writing here to update my earlier coverage with additional information.
The PBC text, which is available only in Italian, has a section on re-evaluation of the Church’s understanding of lived homosexuality, which one writer described as “a major theme” of the book. But for the English-speaking world, there’s not much available to work with on the PBC text. Even the commentary on it is predominately in Spanish or Italian.
There has been some pushback on the early foreign-language reporting pertaining to the PBC text. Hannah Brockhaus, Rome Correspondent for CNA, for example, tweeted an objection in response to a translated excerpt from the Spanish-language report at Infovaticana claiming that the PBC document posits an “anthropological vision in the Bible in which the conception of homosexuality is radically revised.”
“I read the section on homosexuality in the Biblical Commission’s new report,” Brockhaus writes, “and this article is simply incorrect. The quote (which InfoVaticana attributes to the commission by leaving out a key part) is actually attributed to ‘dissenting voices’ in the report.”
Kevin Jones, also of CNA, echoed Brockhaus’s tweet, saying, “The claim about the Pontifical Biblical Commission report is not accurate.”
Nicolas Senèze, on the other hand, writing from Rome for La Croix, concedes that “Some of the conclusions of the study run counter to the fundamentalist readings of the Bible.”
Rorate Caeli’s “New Catholic” warns against a “rush to judgment” on the document due to lack of context, “even though so many bad things are to be expected from the Vatican in the current pontificate.”
In his own piece on the topic, Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register is more diplomatic. He cites “The leftist Italian La Repubblica newspaper” which he says “went so far as to claim the text says ‘the homo-erotic relationship is not to be condemned.'” Pentin then asks the question: “But does the document really say this?”
Instead of answering his own question, Pentin merely lays out larger excerpts of the text which he personally translates into English, and allows the reader to decide for himself.
In his version of the text, we see a more nuanced view of the PBC document, which posits the traditional understanding of homosexuality alongside of the Western “voices of dissent…about the anthropological approach of Scripture, as it is understood and transmitted by the Church in its normative aspects…”
Pentin’s translation continues:
…in fact, all this is judged as the simple reflection of an archaic, historically-conditioned mentality. We know that many biblical statements, in the fields of cosmology, biology, and sociology, have gradually been considered outdated with the progressive affirmation of the natural and human sciences. Similarly — it can be deduced by some — a new and more adequate understanding of the human person imposes a radical reservation about the exclusive value of the heterosexual union, in favor of a similar acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions as a legitimate and worthy expression of the human being. Moreover — it is sometimes argued — the Bible says little or nothing about this type of erotic relationship, which is therefore not condemned, because it is often unduly confused with other aberrant sexual behaviors. It therefore seems necessary to examine the passages of Sacred Scripture in which the problem of homosexuality is discussed, in particular those in which it is denounced and blamed.
It is doubtful that the Bible does not speak of the erotic inclination towards a person of the same sex, but only of homosexual acts. And it deals with these in a few texts, different from each other in terms of literary genre and importance. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, we have two accounts (Genesis 19 and Judges 19) that wrongly evoke this aspect, and then some norms in a legislative Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) that condemn homosexual relations.
This lends more context to the section I quoted from the Italian edition of Aleteia this morning, but also presents a new issue: we see no value judgment nor condemnation of this new “Western” view, only a proposal of what it is, alongside the traditional view.
This strange silence was picked up on by Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews in her own analysis of the PBC document. Montanga writes of the troubling paragraph on the “Western” view:
This paragraph has been misquoted in the media to make it seem as though the PBC endorses positions whose existence it merely notes. However, in noting the existence of these radical dissenting voices, it positions itself rhetorically between them and the traditional teaching of the Church. Therefore, the document is certainly not without blame in this question, as it is employing a rhetorical strategy to move the perceived teaching of the Church toward the radical gender ideology of our day, without attempting to reverse the whole of that distance in a single bound. [emphasis added]
An informed source in Rome commented on the book’s treatment of homosexuality, saying: “This book is utter banality, which is evidenced first and foremost in the fact that it can be abused by everyone.”
That the piece can be “abused by everyone” is, in fact, a hallmark of this pontificate of weaponized ambiguity, and it is a fact that should not be ignored by the wary observer.
The PBC study was commissioned by Pope Francis, who has a track record of promoting and empowering clergy who advance the homosexual agenda and/or lifestyle. There is a list of names one can easily reach for here: Ricca, Radcliffe, Capozzi, Coccopalmerio, Zanchetta, Peña Parra, Forte, Schonborn, the radical German bishops, and of course, James Martin. (This list is by no means comprehensive.)
One can’t help but recall the insertion into the mid-synod relatio during the 2014 Synod on the Family of language specifically prescribing the “gifts and qualities” that homosexuals had to offer the Church, that asked whether “our communities” were “capable of … accepting and valuing their sexual orientation,” and proposed that “without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons.”
Both Pentin and Montagna note that the PBC document also appears to give weight to the idea that the sin of Sodom is not, per se, homosexuality. Per Pentin, the document indicates that it “should be noted first of all that in other passages of the Hebrew Bible that refer to Sodom’s guilt, there is never an allusion to a sexual transgression practiced against people of the same sex.”
Pentin observes that the study goes on to “quote passages from the New Testament and the second century of the Christian era that offer a ‘different interpretation’ which it says’has become established by becoming habitual reading of biblical accounts.'”
Once again, there appears to be an attempt to present both sides on an even footing – an attempt that Fr. James Martin — an official consultor to the Vatican communications team, I might add — wasted no time exploiting:
New Vatican study on Bible looks at, among other topics, Sodom (Gen 19) and Gibeah (Judges 19). In both cases, says the study, what is condemned is not "a sexual transgression," but pride and aggression toward a stranger or strangers needing assistance. https://t.co/TCI1zefBN2
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) December 19, 2019
Montagna’s translation of the conclusion of the study’s section on homosexuality makes me wary of anyone urging that the PBC isn’t pushing for a re-examination of Church teaching on sodomy:
“The exacting examination conducted on the texts of the Old and New Testaments has revealed elements that must be considered for an evaluation of homosexuality, in its ethical implications. Certain formulations of biblical authors, as well as the disciplinary directives of Leviticus, require an intelligent interpretation that safeguards the values that the sacred text intends to promote, thus avoiding repeating to the letter what it carries with it, even cultural traits of that time. The contribution provided by the human sciences, together with the reflection of theologians and moral theologians, will be indispensable for an adequate exposition of the issue, which has only been sketched out in this document.”
The study is 300 pages, and does not exist in English, or even in a fully-accessible online format. There is no doubt it will be examined more carefully in the weeks and months to come. That said, the fact that homosexuality is discussed in a PBC document without clear condemnation and with a “marketplace of ideas” approach offering equal time to opposing views is sufficiently concerning in and of itself.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.