Father James Alison

I’d like to commend to everyone the work of a n English Catholic theologian, the Rev. James Alison . He recently gave this talk at the “Anatomy of Reconciliation” conference at Trinity Institute in New York City, January 30–February 1. To promote the conference, Trinity produced this brief documentary on him.

His book, Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay is receiving widespread attention.

I’d like to focus our attention on an essay called “Good Faith Learning and the Fear of God”, which strikes me as perhaps the most faithful, rigorous discussion of same-sex affections from a Christian anthropological perspective that I have ever read.

a sample:

…it seems that there exist some people, a minority which occurs more or less regularly in all societies and cultures, as well as in the groupings of other animals, who just are “like that”. This doesn’t appear to be an individual aberration, but it just appears to be the case that there is a class of people with the common and recognisable

characteristic of a lasting and stable emotional and erotic attraction towards the members of their own sex. At the same time, it seems to be the case that if you remove from the psychological profiles of a hundred people only the detail concerning each one’s sexual orientation, there is absolutely nothing in the profiles which would allow you to indicate in a regular and accurate way what the orientation corresponding to the profile in fact is. That is to say, the presence of an orientation towards a person of the same sex does not appear to bring along with it any emotional

or psychological configuration, even less any deformation, which is not found equally among people of the majority orientation.

The conflict between the two elements of Christian teaching raises its head, then, because while the discussion was about acts and not being, it was thought possible to say to someone at the same time “Don’t do that!” and “Flourish, brother!” because it was thought that the acts didn’t flow from what the brother was. However, it has

become ever more problematic to bring together in the same phrase “Don’t do that!” and “Flourish brother!”, since if it is understood that someone is just “like that” then in part, at least, his flourishing will be discovered starting from what he is.

Now this conflict is by no means a merely academic matter. It is lived, very intensely, by many young people for whom working out whether it is a matter of “I’m just like this, and so I must be this in the richest way possible” or whether it is rather a matter of “I’m not like this, but I suffer from very grave temptations which in some way I

must overcome” is a gravely tortured experience. Evidence suggests that more and more young people are overcoming this conflict by working out that they just are “like that”, and it is starting from this that they are going to risk constructing a life.

Click for another excerpt

Another excerpt:

Please notice that there are two logical barriers which the ecclesiastical argument cannot jump without falsifying its own doctrine. The first is this: The Church cannot say “Well, being that way is normal, something neutral or positive, the Church respects it and welcomes it. The Church only prohibits the acts which flow from it”. This position would lack logic in postulating intrinsically evil acts which flow from a neutral or positive being. And this would go against the principle of Catholic morals which states that acts flow from being – agere sequitur esse. The second barrier is this: the Church cannot say of the homosexual inclination that it is a desire which is in itself intrinsically evil, since to say this would be to fall into the heresy of claimingt that there is some part of being human which is essentially depraved – that is, which cannot be transformed, only covered over.

Faced with these two barriers, ecclesiastical logic did a backward double-flip worthy of an Olympic gymnast so as to arrive at the following formulation: “The homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, constitutes a tendency towards behaviour that is intrinsically evil, and must therefore be considered objectively disordered.” With this phrase, the Vatican Congregations sought to maintain the absolute prohibition of the acts without describing the desire as intrinsically evil. Nevertheless the price of this definition is very high. It obliges its defenders to insist

that the homosexual inclination, independently of any acts flowing from it, is something objectively disordered. And the kind of objectivity they have in mind is deduced not from what can be known through experience, but is an a priori which depends on the Church’s teaching concerning marriage. That is to say, the a priori of the intrinsic heterosexuality of all human beings. In other words, from the presupposition of the intrinsic heterosexuality of all human beings, it is deduced that the person whose inclination is towards those of the same sex is a defective


Well, let us not delude ourselves here. This characterisation of the gay or lesbian person as a defective heterosexual is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the prohibition, as the authors indicate with the “must be considered” of their phrase. The problem is that, for the characterisation to work properly within the doctrine of original sin and grace, it would have to be the case that the life of grace would lead the gay or lesbian person to become heterosexual in the degree of his or her growth in grace. That is to say, in the degree to which grace makes us more patient, faithful, generous, capable of being good Samaritans, less prisoners of anger, of rivalry and of resentment, just so would it have to change the gender of the persons towards whom we are principally attracted. The problem is that such changes do not seem to take place in a regular and trustworthy way, even amongst the United States groups which promote them with significant funds and publicity. As the senior representatives ofsuch groups indicate: at most, and in some cases, a change in behaviour is produced,

but the fundament al structures of desire continue to be towards persons of the same sex.

This then is the conflict: for the prohibition of the acts to correspond to the true being of the person, the inclination has to be characterised as something objectively disordered. However, since the inclination doesn’t alter, unlike desires which are recognisably vicious, the gay or lesbian person would have a desire which is, in fact,

intrinsically evil, an element of radical depravity in their desire. And we would have stepped outside Catholic anthropology. Or, on the other hand, the same-sex inclination is simply something that is, in which case grace will bring it to a flourishing starting from where it is, and with this we would have to work out which acts are appropriate or not, according to the circumstances, and we will have stepped outside the absolute prohibition passed on to us by tradition.

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