I say to Cardinal Marx, “The Holy Spirit calls me to change Ratzinger’s defective ‘dogma’ on homosexuality”

Aaron Milavec 9/14/22

Recently, at the close of the German Synod, Cardinal Marx gave an interview in which he declared: “We don’t want to rewrite dogma, but move the discussion forward” (La Croix 9/13/22).  He was, of course, speaking to the fact that the initiative of the Synod included an appeal to Pope to officially open dialogue and research in favor of offering blessings (rather than curses) to same-sex unions within the Catholic Church.  A vocal minority of bishops unexpectedly spoke out forcefully of the unthinkability of such a proposal since Ratzinger’s ‘dogma’ of homosexuality had already excluded such a proposal in 2003.

In this tense climate, Cardinal Marx made his statement “We don’t want to rewrite dogma.”  I, for one, wish that Cardinal Marx had said, “The Holy Spirit compels us to revisit some areas of Catholic moral teaching that cause severe and unnecessary suffering. . . .  It would be a mistake to categorize these areas as ‘off limits.’  As long as needless suffering continues, our Father in Heaven is concerned; hence, we have no option but to be concerned as well.”

Would Jesus be keen to meet homosexuals?

To such a question, I would have delivered a resounding “NO” if homosexuality was to be associated with the handful of unsavory encounters that I had with gays as a teen.  These early experiences disturbed and repulsed me.  Thus, I would very much doubt that Jesus would have wanted to meet those gays I encountered as a youth growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Had my experience of homosexuals been arrested at this point, I would have turned into a gay-basher for the rest of my life.  I might even have joined “concerned citizens” who prowled the back streets of my hometown in hopes of coming upon some unfortunate “queer” who needed to be taught a lesson that s/he would not soon forget. . . .

I thank God, however, that my experiences did not stop at this point and that I was granted three very significant positive experiences of homosexuals that set me on a path to become their advocate rather than their sworn enemy.  Some people never have any significant positive experiences and, as a consequence, they spend the whole of their life locked into some distorted version of homophobia.

A troubled teen asking for help

A teenager (I’ll call him Jim) came to me for help in 1966.  He confessed to me that he was tormented by the idea that he might be “a queer.”  This was a courageous act on his part.  For years, he had been frozen in fear.  I was the first person that he trusted to hear his secret fear.  I told him that teenagers sometimes feel a fleeting sexual attraction to someone of the same sex–but “this usually passes.”  I knew that some psychologists theorized that a domineering mother who fails to emotionally bond with her son can inadvertently inhibit her son from normal bonding with women later in life.  Jim had such a domineering mother.  I’m glad that I didn’t say anything about this to Jim because I have since discovered that such psychological theories are faulty and that the disposition toward same-sex unions appears to be genetically determined and that most boys with domineering mothers do eventually move into a passionate and lasting bonding with a woman later on in life.

An Extended Interview with a Lesbian Couple

My second encounter took place two years later, in 1968, when I was doing graduate  studies in the hotbed of social experimentation in Berkeley, California.  In the context of a course, Human Sexuality, the professor invited a lesbian couple just five years older than me to come in and talk about their experience of growing up, of dating boys, of discovering that they were “abnormal,” and. then, in the course of time, struggling within the unfamiliar lesbian turf that hopefully leads to a deep friendship that turns into a committed union.  I thank God that I had this very positive experience at a time when I was still only mildly hostile towards lesbians.  Here are some of my journal entries that I made at that time:

  1. This ninety-minute encounter persuaded me that most homosexuals are not scratching messages on bathroom walls or answering ads for sexual encounters; it persuaded me that most homosexuals are confused, afraid, and feel very much “out of step” with the rest of their companions which they would describe as “normal” in so far as they embodied the “norm” as far as sexual attraction was concerned.
  2. Prior to this encounter, I was persuaded that a “normal” person could spot a “queer” a mile away. All one had to look for was effeminate attitudes or gestures in boys or the absence of femininity in girls.  But here, with these two women, there was nothing about the way they dressed, moved, or behaved that allowed me to even get a hint that they knew themselves to be lesbians.  They had to tell me, or else I would never have known.  Hence, this encounter happily challenged a popular stereotype that was potentially dangerous and demeaning.
  3. Thirdly, this experience opened up a whole new world that had been hitherto “closed to me.” I was now talking and listening across the boundaries.  I was now hearing how these two women had moved from “trying desperately to fit in”[1] by imitating patterns of flirting and dating exhibited by their friends.  Then, after years of frustration at not being able to develop a deep, emotional bond with a man that would confirm that they were “normal,” they slowly came to the frightening realization that they were irrevocably “queer.”  This destroyed any positive self-image that was left to them.  Now they entered the pit of hell—they hated who they were and hated God for playing such a dirty trick on them.
  4. Fourthly, after many trials and errors, they both “unexpectedly” found each other and, for the first time, they were mutually “surprised” and even “in awe” at encountering another human being who could “understand and cherish them to the very core of their being.” Their mutual love thrived.  Progressively they gained a powerful self-acceptance that kept pace with their mutual self-surrender that exceeded all human understanding.  “My partner’s love for me gave me back my lost love for myself.  It was magical.”
  5. Fifthly, I came to realize that, even given the healing power of true love, this lesbian couple still had occasional disagreements, they sometimes disappointed each other, and they felt pangs of jealousy–the whole host of human experiences that heterosexual partners also encounter.
  6. Sixthly, in the months following, I realized how tragically mistaken it was for me and for the hierarchy of my Church to presume that they were entitled to judge what was lawful before God when it came to the life-style choices of lesbian couples. Having deeply listened to these two women made me feel humble and utterly unequipped to offer them any sound guidance “from God’s side.”

Invitation to a Lesbian Vow Ceremony

I now jump ahead twelve years.  Two women in my parish that were very well known to me (let me call them Martha and Mary) approached me and invited me to join with a dozen others at their home to witness “our vows of permanent friendship.”   They asked me not to publicize this event since it was for them “very private” and they felt that it would only “have the effect of unsettling other members of their faith community.”

My mind raced ahead to the time that Jesus was invited to heal the son/servant of a Roman officer in the occupying army.  Undoubtedly Jesus did not agree with the brutality associated with Roman occupation; yet, since Jewish elders commended him saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5), he went.  He went not to approve the Roman occupation but to respond to an authentic human need.  He may have received flack for it later; yet, Jesus was accustomed to disapproval and didn’t act to gain the applause of his disciples or of the crowds.

My mind also raced ahead to the time that a menstruating woman came up behind Jesus and touched the tassels of his cloak.  According to the Jewish tradition, menstruation was no light matter.  Leviticus makes it clear that a woman in this condition is absolutely forbidden to circulate in society and prohibited from offering a sacrifice in the temple.  Even for men, any man deliberately having sexual relations with a menstruating woman was delivered over to death (Lev 18:19; 20:18).

Yet, Jesus appears to have regarded menstruation much differently.  Maybe his own parents, Mary and Joseph, already had a private opinion whereby they judged that the needs of others allowed them to override the rule of menstrual impurity.  Mary, for instance, might have visited a sick friend at a time when she was in her period.  She didn’t hesitate for a moment: “Her sick friend needed her” and she was quite confident the “God would have understood.”  In any case, Jesus does not upbraid the woman and use this occasion as a teachable moment to enforce the importance of God’s commandments regarding menstrual impurity.  Unexpectedly, healing power flows from Jesus to the woman.  Jesus does not take credit for this.  Rather, he congratulates the woman saying, “Daughter [of Abraham], your faith [in God] has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48 and par.).  This was not just an ordinary menstrual flow, to be sure.  She had been afflicted with unregulated spotting for the last twelve years.  So, prompted by these thoughts, I accepted the invitation of Martha and Mary.

When I arrived at their home, the couple greeted me warmly.  I met others who were invited.  Most were already known to me.

Their rite was very simple.  They emphasized that they were not thinking of “marriage” but of a “permanent partnership.”  They also mentioned that they were living in dangerous times wherein they could be easily punished for what they were now doing; yet, it seemed to them that it was “vitally necessary to share who they truly were” with a few trusted friends. Accordingly, they joined hands and faced each other and promised an exclusive friendship and fidelity in sickness and in health for the rest of their lives.  They then exchanged rings as “a visible sign” of their permanent partnership.

The unwelcomed condemnations of Cardinal Ratzinger

At the time when these things were taking place in Ohio, Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927) was being elevated as the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 25 November 1981.  Ratzinger held this office until 2005 when he was elected as Pope Benedict XVI.  Within his twenty-four years as head of the CDF, Ratzinger, more than any other man in the Church, had full authority to formulate and promulgate a string of four binding statements respecting the theological analysis and pastoral response that was required by the new wave of public homosexuality that was emerging worldwide.

Ratzinger decided not to consult the worldwide bishops in this matter. Nor did he call upon the Pontifical Biblical Commission or the International Theological Commission—the latter being the international group specifically designed to advise the CDF regarding important doctrinal matters. Seemingly Cardinal Ratzinger was not interested in open consultation.  He appeared to be self-sufficient and entirely competent to deal with the biblical and anthropological dimensions of homosexuality.  Overall Ratzinger was trained in systematic theology—developments in biblical and moral theology were largely outside his specialization.

His first publication was the Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons (01 Oct. 1986).  His last was the Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons (03 June 2003).  Let me briefly remind my readers of the key proposition made in his 2003 letter:

Proposition: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.  Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law (§4).”

Analysis:  Cardinal Ratzinger here takes an essentialist viewpoint.  For him, every sexual act is permitted only to married couples, and every conjugal act of intercourse must be open to procreation (hence, contraceptives are prohibited).  By contrast homosexual acts have neither the sanction of an exclusive life-long commitment nor the prospect of conceiving a new life.  According to natural law, same-sex partners cannot conceive.  Their sex acts, consequently, are automatically to be classified as “intrinsically disordered and able in no case to be approved.”[2]  Thus, it naturally follows from this that homosexual unions cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous” to marriage.

Critique:  Cardinal Ratzinger fails to properly evaluate marital sexuality.  In some marriages, sex functions as a tool for dominating and humiliating of the subordinate partner.  It brings forth bruises and tears of pain from one partner and cries of triumph from the other.  In such instances, the vows of marriage are mocked and trampled upon.  To call this “holy” and “what God intended” would be a farce.  From an essentialist perspective, one never gets to notice that, even in the case of marital sex, things are not always what they ought to be.

On the other hand, what can one say of the union of Martha and Mary (described above)?  Have not these two women mutually accepted each other “as God has designed them”?  Has not their mutual love brought self-acceptance and healing to the injuries and disappointments that have been visited upon them by hateful strangers and enemies?  Does their promise of mutual and faithful love “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part” nor draw down the blessing of God and of those who share their affection?  Cardinal Ratzinger mentions none of these things.  This is a serious defect.  He appears to be blissfully unaware of the experiences of Martha and Mary and, even though he considers himself “the expert” in this field, he is a blind to them and deaf to those who cherish them.

For Cardinal Ratzinger, everything hinges on the assumption that same-sex couples are having sex.  Sex, as Ratzinger relates it, is firmly tied to reproduction.  Ratzinger never explores how, even for heterosexual unions, the vast majority of their sex acts function to consolidate their mutual love and to produce a pleasure bonding that celebrates and enhances their developing intimacy.  If I have found this to be true in my heterosexual love-making, who am I to judge that Martha and Mary are incapable of functioning “in many ways similar and analogous” (and, at times, even superior) to what I have discovered within my heterosexual marriage?  These questions occur to me because of the three earlier experiences that I related above.  Ratzinger, on the other hand, cannot even entertain my questions as pertinent to the discussion at hand.  And why not?  Because he never had the requisite sympathetic encounters with same-sex couples to begin with.

If the only experience I had of homosexuality was ads for sex scratched into the bathroom walls and the public wildness and nudity of gay parades, then I would expect my peers to challenge my competence to write and publish a credible Catholic position paper on the morality of homosexuality.  In the case of Ratzinger, however, he seemingly surrounded himself by yes-men, and there was no one there to save him from the shame of having passed judgment on a group of Catholics that he never knew (and never wanted to know).

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson to the rescue

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney, Australia, spoke at the Ways of Love conference on pastoral care with LGBT people (14 Oct 2014, Rome), as follows:

It was God who created a world in which there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals.  This was not a mistake on God’s part that human beings are meant to repair; it is simply an undeniable part of God’s creation. . . . The only sexual acts that are natural to homosexuals are homosexual acts.  This is not a free choice they have made between two things that are equally attractive to them, but something that is deeply embedded in their nature, something they cannot simply cast aside.  Homosexual acts come naturally to them, heterosexual acts do not.[3]

What Bishop Robinson was affirming, therefore, is that Cardinal Ratzinger’s judgment that “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law” only applies to heterosexuals.  God has uniquely designed homosexuals such that “homosexual acts” are natural to them while “heterosexual acts” are repulsive.  Bishop Robinson would therefore say that Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis is not trustworthy because he makes the categorical error in taking the natural law formulated for heterosexuals and applying it indiscriminatingly to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Oh, how do I wish that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson had been chosen by Cardinal Ratzinger as his personal advisor and critic.  Things could have been so different. . . .


I began with my personal experience because, when everything is said and done, my concrete encounters with homosexuals massively impacts how I regard gays and lesbians within my society and within my Church.  In this, there is no neutral starting point for me or for anyone else.  No matter how many degrees one has earned or how many ordinations that one has experienced, no one can escape their personal experiential base.  Anyone denying this is not sufficiently self-aware and cannot be trusted.

By virtue of my encounters with homosexuals, I can be absolutely certain that Cardinal Ratzinger does not speak for me.  The same goes for most of those bishops and delegates at the German Synod.  Cardinal Ratzinger speaks forcefully to those who have had uneasy or traumatic encounters with homosexuals.  This is why I needed to clarify why Ratzinger mistakenly believes that he had a public duty to preserve the Church and civil society from the inherent evils of going soft on homosexuality.

Ratzinger’s ‘doctrine’ is pernicious because it continues to outlaw the positive experiences that Catholics like myself are having with neighbors and friends who are happy and productive people who thank God for having gifted them with their “special” sexual orientation. I know a mother of four who prays to God every night that at least one of her four children will turn out to be gay, because she feels that she has “a special gift for raising that sort of child.”  I am not ashamed to say that I join my prayer with hers every night.  I look forward to the day when my entire parish would have parents ready to nurture a gay child.  My parish will be ready to sponsor a “Parent Support Group for Special Children” quite soon.  Six months ago, two handsome men presented their adopted male twins for a public baptism on a Sunday.  They were enthusiastically accepted!

So, in the end, I want to say to Cardinal Marx, “If ‘dogma’ serves to protect the tacit homophobia of some of those within the Church, then my calling from God is to expose that ‘dogma’ as a dangerous heresy that dishonors God and his special children.”

[1] To appreciate the full scope of “fitting in” to the dominant heterosexual culture, consider reflecting on “30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US”  URL = <http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/01/29-examples-of-heterosexual-privilege>

[2] Ratzinger uses the phrase “intrinsically disordered” to indicate those actions which can never be considered as permissible due to special circumstances.  Ratzinger further judges that “although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin [because it is not freely chosen], it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil [illicit sex]; and thus the inclination [toward unnatural sex] itself must be seen as an objective disorder” (Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §3).

[3] To fully understand all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, I urge interested persons to read his entire text.  URL= <https://waysoflove.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/bishop-geoffrey-robinson-towards-a-new-understanding-of-lgbt-lives-and-love/>