Making Gay Okay at the Vatican Synod

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by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 28, 2015   

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By Anne Hendershott

While conservative commentary on the Vatican Synod on the Family has suggested that the lobbying for change in Catholic teachings on homosexuality is likely the result of the decades of theological dissent that occurred since the Second Vatican Council in 1962, it is likely that this current battle over "modifying the language" describing homosexuality in the Catechism has more to do with sociology than theology.

According to Vatican commentator Robert Royal, a stray remark that Abp. Chaput made revealed that "certain elements within the Vatican are pressing forward immediately" on the softening of the language surrounding homosexuality. But, he also added that "no amount of softened language is ever going to satisfy people whose basic objection is that the Catholic Church regards homosexuality to be, per se, as intrinsically disordered as the Catechism says."

While Fr. Rosica, the English language representative for the Vatican Press Office, gave some hope to those who wished to see the Church remove the "disordered" label from homosexuality in the Catholic Catechism when he tweeted that the Synod delegates were moving toward a practice of "Embracing People Where They Are," African cardinal Napier responded to Fr. Rosica on his own Twitter feed by posting: "Meet people where they are sounds nice, but is that what Jesus did? Didn't he rather call them away from where they were?" Father Rosica has been described in much of the faithful Catholic media as "promoting a gay narrative."

And, that exactly captures the ongoing debate at the Synod — between those who view the Synod sociologically as a way to reconstruct Catholic teachings on homosexuality, and those who want to begin with the Gospel and the official teachings of the Church on what has always been described in the Catholic Catechism Sections 2357–2359 as the "disordered" inclination of same-sex attraction. In some ways, the lobbying for defining down the disordered nature of homosexuality by gay advocates at the Synod is reminiscent of the lobbying used in 1973 when advocates for the gay community succeeded in convincing a skeptical psychiatric community that homosexuality was in fact normal. Until 1973, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. In fact, homosexual behavior was viewed as so deviant in 1953 that it was included in the first edition of the DSM as a "sociopathic personality disturbance."

No one — including Catholic leaders — wants to return to the days when homosexuals were feared and stigmatized. It was a time when homosexuality was viewed as a problem so profound that it affected the total personality. Gays were routinely fired from teaching jobs, denied security clearances and U. S. citizenship. They were barred from practicing psychiatry because it was believed that you could not allow someone who is pathological practice medicine on those suffering from pathologies.

Yet, it is instructive to look at the ways in which homosexuality became successfully redefined in 1973 in order to understand the current lobbying effort to define Catholic doctrine down by well-funded and highly motivated LGBTQ advocates from groups like the Soros-funded Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

This global coalition includes gay advocacy groups like DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry — both of which have lobbied the Church to recognize same-sex marriage as a sacrament — as well as Westminster Pastoral Council, as well as the Polish gay rights group Wiara ITecza, the Italian group Nuova Proposta, the Chilean group PADIS, and the Maltese group Drachma. In addition to Soros, the National Catholic Register has reported that gay billionaire Jon Stryker has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars through his Arcus Foundation to "change the conversation" on Catholic teachings on homosexuality. This is just an extension of Stryker's attempt to use a "counter-narrative to traditional values" at the Synod.

The lobbying strategies these global activists have used at the Vatican Synod mirror those that were used at the Annual Meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. And, just as homosexual leaders within the Catholic Church are currently coordinating the change in doctrine surrounding homosexual behavior, gay leaders of the American Psychiatric Association similarly led the efforts to define the deviancy of homosexual behavior down. 

According to a 2002 interview on Chicago Public Radio with Alix Spiegel, the grandson of Dr. John P. Spiegel, the President-elect of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, there was tremendous pressure from closeted gay psychiatrists within the organization — combined with equally strong pressure from the outside — to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. In the interview Alix Spiegel recalls that when he was growing up in the 1970s, his grandfather was viewed heroically as "the man who singlehandedly changed the DSM because he was a big-hearted visionary, a man unfettered by prejudice who worked on behalf of the downtrodden." But Alix Spiegel claims, "It turned out that my grandfather had had gay lovers throughout his life, had even told his wife-to-be that he was homosexual two weeks before their wedding."

Of course, Dr. John Spiegel did not change the DSM single-handedly. While the American Psychiatric Association was a very conservative organization in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, there were a number of other gay psychiatrists — so many, in fact, that informally they began to meet each year during the APA conventions. A loose underground group which they jokingly called the GayPA, they began to publicly question traditional psychiatric ideas about homosexuality. They were supported in the 60s by other psychiatrists who were "medicalizing" homosexuality as the result of brain chemistry, or an overbearing mother. It was no longer the homosexual's "fault" that he was compelled to engage in same-sex behavior. By the late 1960s the sociology surrounding homosexuality was beginning to change with the gay rights movement — and many of the psychiatrists became swept up in the change. In his public radio interview Spiegel recalled that on May 14, 1970 the Washington Post reported that "[t]he gay liberation and their women allies out-shrinked the headshrinkers today and took over an American Psychiatric Association session on sex. Before the morning was over, the 500 psychiatrists who had gathered to hear scientific studies on sexual problems demonstrated that they're just as prone to anti-social behavior as anyone else."

This was just the start. Dr. Spiegel continued his campaign by enlisting "liberal-minded easterners who had decided to reform the American Psychiatric Association from the inside. Specifically, they decided to replace all the gray-haired conservatives who ran the organization with a new breed of psychiatrist. ... And one of the things this group was keen to transform was American psychiatry's approach to homosexuality." Calling themselves the Committee for Concerned Psychiatry, the formerly closeted psychiatrists proposed candidates for office and advocated for change from the inside. Traditional psychiatrists like Dr. Charles Socarides and Dr. Irving Bieber who were currently treating homosexuality as a mental illness were marginalized — and began receiving death threats. Maintaining that his views on the pathology of homosexuality were the "most solid clinical and theoretical studies on homosexuality," Socarides was booed by the audience when he presented a paper on reparative therapy in Honolulu, Hawaii.

After three years of lobbying, it became clear by 1973 that the APA could no longer sustain the mental illness label for homosexuality. There was no professional debate on the scientific merits, there was no scientific breakthrough on the pathology or lack of pathology surrounding homosexuality. But, more importantly, there was a sociological change taking place — one that had nothing to do with science or the sway of scientifically sound argumentation, but rather by raw pressure politics explainable sociologically. The gay liberation movement had won the day. Sociological explanations were then offered as the reason for any impairment or distress that gay men or lesbian women were experiencing — it was not the result of pathology, but rather the result of social forces such as stigma and social repression. In 1973, the DSM removed the offensive language of homosexuality as pathology and replaced it with the more palatable Sexual Orientation Disorder. By 1987, homosexuality completely disappeared from the DSM.

The same sociology that surrounded the gay lobbying of the APA in the early '70s is now driving the debate on the goodness of homosexual acts at the Synod. The teachings may not change this year — but the gay community has learned to be patient. They are well funded and highly motivated and will return again next year — and the year after — and they will continue to draw upon sociology rather than theology to make their claims. The advocates for change have powerful Church leaders — like Cdl. Kasper and a number of Vatican insiders on their side. But, no one should underestimate the power of what faithful Catholics believe to be the truth of Catholic teachings.

Originally published at The Huffington Post.

Dr. Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics and Public Policy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The author of several books, including The Politics of Abortion (2006) and The Politics of Deviance (2002), Hendershott is known for her research and writings that fuse Catholic social teachings with contemporary cultural issues. 

 

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