Homosexual Orientation and Anthropology: Reflections on the Category "Objective Disorder."

Article excerpt

HOMOSEXUALITY is a volatile topic. Both an emerging awareness of sexual orientation and a humanitarian impulse have led many to question the traditional negative judgment on homosexual relationships. That there is something like sexual orientation is relatively new information. One's sexual orientation is discovered, not chosen. Sexual orientation embraces more than the object of erotic passion. Sexuality is a defining human characteristic and involves an individual's drive to the goods of friendship, intimacy, and romantic relationships.(1) Simple compassion suggests that individuals who find themselves homosexual ought not to be deprived of the common consolations and joys of human life. It seems unreasonable to insist that homosexuals live lonely, asexual lives. Nor should they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, and other public spheres. In turn, these trends have met with strong opposition and have led to frequently heated public debates. In recent years opposition to the "radical, homosexual agenda" has become the cause celebre of right-wing political and religious groups.

As one would anticipate, this frequently acrimonious discussion has found its way into Roman Catholic discourse. Some who minister in our Church have become more tolerant of homosexual relationships. Efforts to ban discrimination against homosexuals frequently find allies within the Church. Some theologians question whether the tradition's judgment that all homosexual acts are wrong ought not be reconsidered.(2) There is strong opposition in the Church to these developments.(3) Without doubt the most significant participant within the Roman Catholic debate is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). In a series of interventions the congregation has resisted efforts both to reconsider the tradition's negative judgment of homosexual relationships and to grant homosexuals civil protection from discrimination. At the core of that position is the assertion that homosexual orientation is an objective disorder. This judgment determines the congregation's interpretation of Scripture, its moral analysis, and its opposition to civil protection for homosexuals. Given its pivotal role in the congregation's interventions, the category "objective disorder" deserves careful scrutiny.

The following article first comments on the CDF's interventions and points out the pivotal significance of the category "objective disorder." Then I seek to clarify the meaning of this category by locating it within Aquinas's metaphysical anthropology. The doctrine of a directly created soul is an essential tenet of the metaphysical anthropology that grounds the universal application of the judgment "objective disorder." Finally I indicate the problematic character of Aquinas's metaphysical anthropology in view of evolutionary theory. Evolution of the human body is generally accepted. But what about human consciousness and intellect? Aquinas argued that humanity's intellectual functions require a subsistent, directly created soul. I suggest that the hypothesis of a subsistent and directly created soul is incommensurate with evolutionary theory and unnecessary. The major portion of this section treats an alternative explanation for the emergence of the human intellect. Leslie Dewart offers an explanation of how the human mind might have evolved. My aim is not to offer Dewart's work as definitive; I simply suggest that there are good reasons for adopting anthropological perspectives different from that of Aquinas. If such anthropologies can find a place in Catholic discourse, a space is opened for reconsidering the judgment that homosexual orientation is an objective disorder. The final section of the article considers some possibilities consequent on this opening.


In its 1975 "Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics," the CDF recognized something like sexual orientation in its comment that there are "homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable" (no. …