Ben Wardle's first-class honours (84%) dissertation, submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the BA(Hons) in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at Kings College London, is now available as a paperback publication.
A critical analysis of the exegetical foundations for the Catholic Church's condemnation of homosexual acts and relationships.
This essay aims to provide a critical analysis of the exegetical foundations for the Catholic Church’s condemnation of homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and a ‘serious depravity’ (Ratzinger 2003:4). Indeed, homosexuality is described by the Catholic Church as a ‘troubling moral and social phenomenon’ (2003:1) that is ‘harmful to the proper development of human society’ (2003:8). The Vatican makes these claims ‘on the grounds of scriptural evidence’, specifically the Pauline verses of Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. These three verses are cited as providing the solid foundation for the Catechism’s declaration that ‘under no circumstances’ can homosexual acts ever be approved (Catechism 2357). Instead, all homosexual persons are ‘called to chastity’ (Catechism 2359).
This essay will primarily focus on the importance of considering circumstances and context when reading Pauline scripture, especially when applying this scripture to the contemporary debate on homosexuality. For example, this essay will consider how the types of homogenital act Paul condemns in the New Testament may – or may not - relate to the contemporary same-sex acts that the Church condemns today. This essay will also consider the broader theological and sociological circumstances that surround Paul’s condemnation of homogenital acts, such as their relationship to idolatry, lack of procreative potential, and challenge to the patriarchal order of 1st century Greco-Roman society. In our efforts to understand what Paul was saying – and the relevance of his comments to the contemporary debate - this essay will survey different translations and interpretations of the Pauline verses, drawing upon both conservative and liberal perspectives from the past one hundred years.
In light of this exegesis, I will consider whether Paul’s condemnation of particular 1st-century homogenital acts concerns something intrinsic to them – for example, their lack of procreative potential – or whether Paul’s condemnation is only applicable to specific acts taking place within a specific context.
Ultimately, I will conclude that there is no scriptural authority for the claim that Pauline scripture justifies the condemnation of all homogenital acts as ‘intrinsically disordered’ (Ratzinger 2003:4), but that – like any sexual act – the morality of homogenital acts depends on the nature of the particular act in question, as well as the wider context.
Essay length: 8,000 words / Print length: 43 pages