Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fiddling While Rome Burns: Ryan Anderson's Lecture on the Catholic Crisis

Recently, Ryan T. Anderson was appointed as the first St. John Paul II Teaching Fellow at the University of Dallas, where he delivered his inaugural lecture on "Catholic Thought and the Challenges of Our Time."  Here's the video of his lecture.

He presents the history of the Catholic Church as a story of answering challenges to the truths taught by the Church.  First, the early Church answered challenges to its truths about God.  Then, the Church during the Reformation answered challenges to its truths about the Church itself.  Now, today, the Church must answer challenges to its truths about human nature--about man as created in the image of God.  He then spends most of his lecture arguing that Karol Wojtyla (who became Pope John Paul II) and Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) have rightly defended the Catholic truths about human nature, which can resolve the current crisis of the Church.

What is most remarkable about this lecture is not what he says but what he doesn't say.  He says nothing about scandals in the Church over the clerical sexual abuse of minors and over the predominant homosexuality of the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy that has been responsible for covering up priestly pedophilia.  In particular, he says nothing about the fact that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were surrounded by homosexuals who hypocritically condemned homosexuality as sinful, while protecting tens of thousands of sexually abusive priests, which included some of the greatest pedophiles and sexual perverts of the past 100 years--such as Marcial Maciel and Theodore McCarrick, who abused thousands of children and seminarians.  He says nothing about the evidence that in the United States somewhere between 6% and 10% of the Catholic priests are pedophilic sex abusers, and elsewhere in the world the proportion is much higher.

Anderson is utterly silent about the many revelations of these facts--such as Carlo Vigano's letters and Frederic Martel's book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.  Moreover, he has only one sentence (at the end of the lecture) about Pope Francis, while remaining silent about Francis's warning about the hypocrisy and corruption of homosexuality in the Church: "Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life."

This is the true crisis of the Catholic Church that has driven many Catholics away from their Church, and which may well soon destroy the Church completely.  I suspect that Anderson cannot confront this crisis because to do so would force him to consider the possibility that the crisis arises from the Church's false teaching about the human nature of sexuality, which can only be overcome by formulating a true account of the natural law of human sexuality.

As one illustration of the confusion in the Church's teaching on sexual morality, consider what Ratzinger has taught about homosexuality.  He has affirmed the traditional teaching that homosexuality is utterly abhorrent because it is "against nature" in that same-sex pleasure has no procreative end.  But then in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1986), Cardinal Ratzinger distinguished between the homosexual "condition" or "tendency" and homosexual "acts," and then claimed that only homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."  And yet he also said that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder" (sec. 3).  A few years later, however, in the New Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the Church embraced Ratzinger's distinction between homosexual "tendencies" and homosexual "acts," and affirmed that only "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."  The Catechism even declared: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity.  By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (par. 2359).

The "Christian perfection" of homosexuality?  Does this imply that priests and clerics and even popes can be homosexual in their inclinations as long as they don't actually practice homosexuality--or as long as they are homophilic without being fully homosexual?  Or is it self-contradictory to accept homophilic inclinations as natural but not homosexual actions?

There is lots of evidence that the recent popes--Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis--have tried to live a life of homophilic chastity with their homophilic inclinations sublimated into "loving friendships" (such as Benedict's love for Georg Ganswein), and in doing this they perhaps followed the example of Paul who struggled with "a thorn in the flesh."  But how is this consistent with Benedict's teaching that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder"?

Does the pervasive practice of homosexuality among priests and clerics show the failure of Benedict's intellectual project for separating homophilic inclinations from homosexual acts?  Is it unnatural to demand that homosexuals deny their sexual nature?

And does this confusion about homosexuality show a more general confusion in the Church's teaching about human sexuality that comes from a failure to recognize the natural goodness of sexual pleasure as serving the good of conjugal bonding even when it does not serve the good of procreation?

To answer these questions, Anderson--and other traditionalist Catholics--would have to recognize and speak about the true crisis of the Catholic Church as arising from its false teaching about human sexuality.

I will continue with this line of thought in my next post.

I have written previously about Ryan Anderson here and here.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Aquinas's Esoteric Teaching on Homosexuality as Naturally Unnatural

Pope Francis has opened up a debate within the Catholic Church as to whether homosexuality and same-sex marriage can be tolerated or even blessed by the Church.  On the one side, the anti-Francis priests and prelates insist that the orthodox doctrine of the Church is clear in condemning homosexuality as sodomy--the "vice against nature"--and thus contrary to both natural law and canon law.  On the other side, the pro-Francis priests and prelates suggest that this doctrine might need to be changed so as to recognize the moral dignity of homosexuals.

In his recently published book--In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy--Frederic Martel has made the shocking claim that the great majority of priests and prelates--including those in the Vatican--are homosexuals, and therefore the battle over homosexuality between the anti-Francis conservatives and the pro-Francis liberals is actually a battle "between two homosexualized factions of the Church" (90).  Oddly, then, the conservative Catholics condemning homosexuality display the hypocrisy of "homophobic homosexuals" (51).

Since Thomas Aquinas has long been seen as the authoritative philosopher and theologian for the Catholic Church, it's not surprising that part of this debate over homosexuality has been a debate over how to interpret Aquinas's teaching on the natural law of homosexuality.  What I find fascinating about this is how it reveals the two levels of Aquinas's writing--the surface level that conforms to the popular opinion of Aquinas's time and the hidden level that conveys to the careful reader Aquinas's secret teaching.  The anti-Francis traditionalists can point to Aquinas's exoteric teaching that homosexuality is the "vice against nature."  The pro-Francis liberals can point to Aquinas's esoteric teaching that homosexuality is natural for those individuals with a natural inclination to same-sex love.

Shortly after being elected Pope in 2013, Francis called for Synod on the Family to meet in Rome in 2014-2015.  This synod brought together all of the cardinals and a large number of bishops to debate questions about the doctrines of family--such as how the Church should judge divorce and homosexuality.  Francis asked Lorenzo Baldisseri, an Italian bishop, to organize the preparations for the synod with the help of one of the most gay-friendly cardinals--the German Walter Kasper--who would lead the fight for sexual liberalism against Francis's conservative opponents.

From his interviews with Cardinal Kasper, Martel learned that Francis found a way to enlist Aquinas as a supporter for his pro-gay agenda.  Adriano Oliva is an Italian Dominican living in Paris who is one of the leading scholars on Thomas Aquinas.  He is the president of the Leonine Commission which is the program of the Dominican Order for preparing critical editions of all of the works of Aquinas.  Early in 2015, he sent a letter to Kasper describing his work on a text that would interpret Aquinas as supporting homosexuality as a natural human propensity for some individuals, which might support the Church in recognizing same-sex unions.  Kasper passed the letter onto Pope Francis, who so liked this work that he asked that Oliva's text be distributed to the participants in the synod.  Later that year, Oliva's text was published as a book in French: Amours: L'Eglise, les divorces remarries, les couples homosexuels (Paris: Cerf, 2015).  It has not yet been translated into English.

                                                                                          Adriano Oliva

Although Aquinas is easily quoted as teaching that homosexuality is "against nature," Oliva points to some largely ignored passages in the Summa Theologica (particularly, I-II, q. 31, a. 7), where Aquinas says that the homosexual inclination is natural for homosexual individuals, and so homosexual love is part of the natural law for those inclined by their nature to it.  (Aquinas's works in Latin and English are available online.) In one sense, "nature" is what is common to humans and animals, such as the natural inclinations for the self-preservation of the individual (through eating, drinking, and sleeping) and for the reproduction of the species (through sexual intercourse of male and female that leads to procreation).  From this point of view, the sexual union of men is contrary to the nature of the species as inclined to reproduction.  But it can be "connatural" (connaturale) for those individuals who have a natural desire for same-sex union, just as it is natural for hot water to give heat.  (Connaturale generally has the same meaning as naturale, although connaturale seems to refer to what is "natural" for particular individuals or a group of individuals rather than the whole species.)  So, for those individuals naturally inclined to it, homosexuality is naturally unnatural!

If homosexuality is natural for the homosexual individual, then it would be naturally good for that individual, because, as Aquinas says, "everything to which human beings are inclined by their nature belongs to the natural law" (I-II, q. 94, a. 3), and because "that which is the end of certain natural things cannot be evil in itself, because things that exist naturally are ordered to their end by divine providence" (SCG, 3.126).  Every natural inclination aims at some end that is good.

This interpretation of Aquinas supporting a gay Thomism provoked a furious rebuttal from traditionalist Thomistic scholars.  Five Dominicans--three from the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, and two from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.--published a disdainful attack (published here in First Things).  They accused Oliva of misreading Aquinas in the most absurd ways.  So, for example, in considering the passage Oliva cites as supporting homosexual acts as natural (I-II, q. 31, a. 7), they explain:
"it can happen that what is unnatural for human beings in general can turn out to be somewhat 'natural' for certain individuals, because their nature has been altered.  For example, some sick persons enjoy eating earth.  This is not really natural for them, Aquinas explains, but is more properly understood as a corruption of their nature.  What is unnatural for most (eating earth) becomes 'natural' for them, but only in a qualified way."
"Aquinas then states that due to bad 'customs' or habits, some men eventually find delight in eating human beings, or in sexual union with animals or other men (coitu bestiarum aut maculorum).  So, for some people, cannibalism, bestiality, or homosexual intercourse can become pleasurable as quasi-natural, because past sinful acts distort their nature."
"Oliva celebrates this text.  He thinks it shows that homosexual acts are natural for homosexual persons.  And what is natural must be good!  Also, for Oliva, Aquinas places the origin of the inclination for gay sex in the soul of the homosexual person.  That is, this inclination comes from the most intimate part of his being, and it moves all the way to sexual union.  Oliva concludes that we can distinguish between gay sex sought simply for physical pleasure, and the tender gay sex that comes from the homosexual person's most intimate self.  Indeed, homosexual persons are called to live out the inclination which is natural for them, namely, in fidelity to another person of the same sex, and enjoying sexual acts not primarily for pleasure but as expressions of love.  The Church should bless such unions." 
 "Now if, as Oliva proposes, Thomas means that the homosexual inclination comes from the most intimate part of the person's soul, then the same reading must apply to Aquinas's mention of cannibalism and bestiality.  Yet this is clearly absurd.  Aquinas cannot mean that cannibals and practitioners of bestiality are following the inclinations of their most intimate selves.  That is precisely why Thomas mentions custom. . . . Oliva's claim that, for Thomas, some persons are born with a homosexual soul, is outrageous as a matter of textual interpretation.  It would mean that, for Aquinas, others are born with cannibalistic souls, and others with souls geared to practice bestiality."
But notice what the Dominicans have done here.  They cannot deny that Aquinas in this passage really does say that homosexuality is natural--or connatural--for some individuals, and that's what Oliva stresses.  But then they point out that in the context of the whole passage, Aquinas's teaching here is incoherent.  Homosexuality is natural for some individuals, but it's also unnatural, because it's actually a corruption of their nature by custom, as is the case for cannibalism and bestiality.  So, homosexuality cannot be natural after all, but only "quasi-natural" or natural "only in a qualified way."

(For the argument that this passage is coherent if one properly understands what is meant by the "connaturality" of homosexuality, see a paper by J. Budziszewski on "The Natural, The Connatural, and The Unnatural."  I must admit that I am struggling to answer his argument.)

When a careful thinker and writer like Aquinas writes an incoherent passage, we have to wonder why.  Maybe he just fell here into sloppy writing.  Or maybe he intentionally wrote this incoherent passage so as to convey different meanings to different readers.  Most of his readers--like the five Dominican fathers--will see him accepting the popular opinion of medieval Christians that condemns homosexuality as being just as unnatural in its corruption as cannibalism and bestiality.  But a few careful readers--like Oliva--will suspect that Aquinas is casting doubt on this popular opinion (even as he appears to endorse it) by saying that homosexuality can be natural for some people, while protecting himself from persecution by hiding this secret teaching from his popular readers.

The problem with esoteric writing, however, is that when it's successful, it's almost impossible to prove to those readers not inclined to look for it.  The best that one can do is to point to a pattern of writing that hints at a secret teaching that is unpopular for the writer's general audience, which must be hidden from their view, while being revealed to a few careful readers inclined to doubt popular opinions.  (I have written a series of posts on esoteric writing here and here.)

Consider this passage:  "certain special sins are said to be against nature, and so against the commingling of male and female, which is natural for all animals, is the sleeping together of men, which is specially said to be the vice against nature" (I-II, q. 94, a. 3, ad 2).  Immediately after this passage, Aquinas writes: "because of the diverse conditions of human beings, it happens that some acts are virtuous for some people, as proportionate and suitable for them, which are nonetheless vicious for others, as disproportionate for them" (ad 3).

So, having just said that homosexuality is "said to be" the "vice against nature," he then says that what is a vice for some people can be a virtue for others, if it is proportionate to their individual temperament.  Should the careful reader consider the possibility that while homosexuality is "said to be" unnatural by most people, who are naturally heterosexual, homosexuality can be naturally virtuous for those individuals naturally inclined to it?  That's the conclusion drawn by John Boswell writing about this passage: "In the end Aquinas admits more or less frankly that his categorization of homosexual acts as 'unnatural' is a concession to popular sentiment and parlance" (Christianity, Social Tolerance3, and Homosexuality [University of Chicago Press, 1980], 328).

Consider also how when Aquinas says that homosexuality is against nature because it violates the natural law of procreation, he contradicts what he says in defense of virginity as a virtue for those who choose to remain celibate (like himself) because this suits their natural temperament (II-II, q. 152, a. 2).  To the question of whether virginity is unlawful, Aquinas answers no.  The first objection to his answer is that virginity is unlawful because it violates the natural law of procreation as necessary for the preservation of the species.  Here is his reply to this objection:
"A duty may be of two sorts: it may be enjoined on the individual, and such a duty cannot be ignored without sin.  Or it may be enjoined upon a multitude; in this case, no individual in the multitude is obligated to fulfill the duty . . . . The commandment regarding procreation applies to the human race as a whole. . . . It is therefore sufficient for the race if some people undertake to reproduce physically."
Similarly, Aquinas argues that while natural law dictates marriage directed to reproduction and the rearing of children as a natural good for most people, because this is a general inclination, nevertheless some individuals will have a natural temperament that suits them for a life of celibacy, which need not impede the natural good of reproduction as long as most people marry and have children (ST, suppl., q. 41, aa. 1-2).  Aquinas leaves his careful reader to apply this to homosexuality and conclude that same-sex coupling does not impede reproduction by heterosexual couples, and thus does not violate the natural law of reproduction.  In this way, homosexuality is naturally unnatural.

In the nest post, I will have more to say about Martel's book on the Catholic priesthood and Vatican as the world's largest homosexual organization.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Is Masturbation Worse Than Rape? Thomas Aquinas's Esoteric Writing About Sodomy

Among the sins of lust, according to Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church, the greatest is the "sin against nature," which includes masturbation, homosexual intercourse, bestiality, and any "unnatural, monstrous, or bestial form" of sexual activity--such as fellatio, cunnilingus, or interfemoral or anal sex (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 154, a. 11).  Traditionally, all these forms of non-procreative sex--with orgasmic pleasure achieved outside the coital insertion of a penis in a vagina--have been condemned as sodomy.  Aquinas indicates that the first obvious objection to this is that surely the sins of lust that harm our neighbor--such as adultery and rape--are greater sins than the sins against nature that harm no one (ST, II-II, q. 155, obj. 1).

In response, Aquinas bites the bullet and replies to this objection by insisting: "Just as the ordering of right reason proceeds from man, so the order of nature is from God Himself; wherefore in sins against nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature" (q. 155, a. 1).  To support this claim, he quotes a passage from Augustine's Confessions (3.8.15), in which Augustine speaks of the "disgraceful acts against nature" (flagitia contra naturam) committed by the people of Sodom (reported in Genesis 19) as a violation of God's law deserving God's punishment by annihilation of the city. Augustine explains:  "the social bond which should exist between God and us is violated when the nature of which he is the author is polluted by a perversion of sexual desire."

Notice what this means: masturbation, fellatio, and cunnilingus are worse than rape!  Most of us--including most Catholics--will find that hard to swallow.  Some readers--myself included--will find Aquinas's reasoning here so implausible that they will suspect that Aquinas himself does not believe it, and that he is engaging in some esoteric writing--suggesting that his exoteric endorsement of the Catholic Church's condemnation of the "vices against nature" is stated in such a way that careful readers will see a secret teaching contradicting the public teaching.  (Previously, I have written posts here and here about Aquinas using secret writing to take the side of reason against revelation while living in a community where the Church enforced belief in revelation.)

This raises at least two questions.  Are there any persuasive arguments for condemning and punishing all forms of sodomy as contrary to natural law?  And if these arguments turn out to be remarkably weak, does that suggest that there might be some hidden motivation in the Catholic Church for professing these arguments--perhaps a hypocritical opposition to homosexuality from homosexual priests who live double lives?

My post here is on the first question.  My next post will be on the second.


There are three strange features of Aquinas's reply to that objection.  The first is that the quoted passage from Augustine's Confessions does not explicitly identify the "disgraceful acts against nature" committed by the people of Sodom.  The Old Testament is not clear about whether the people of Sodom were punished specifically for homosexuality or for some other misconduct.  Shortly after the passage in the Confessions quoted by Aquinas, Augustine quotes Paul in Romans (1:26) as condemning lust for "that use which is against nature."  But Augustine does not quote the entire passage from Paul here identifying this sin against nature as homosexuality: "Among them women have exchanged the natural use for the use which is against nature; and men too, giving up the natural use of women, burn with lust for one another" (1:26-27).  (This passage from Paul in Romans 1 is noteworthy in that it is the only statement in the Bible that condemns not just gay men but also lesbian women.)

The second strange feature of Aquinas's reply is that he does not challenge the objector's claim that the "vice against nature" does not harm other human beings.  This is a crucial point for determining the legal regulation of sodomy, because since Aquinas says that it is not proper for human law to prohibit all vices, but only to prohibit those vices that are harmful to others--such as murder and theft--it follows implicitly that even if Christians must condemn sodomy morally, they cannot rightly punish it with legal coercion (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 2).

In the Old Testament, sodomy is punished with death (Leviticus 20:13); and for that reason, sodomy had been a capital crime throughout much of the Christian world until the 19th century.  In the United States, sodomy was a crime in many states up to 2003, when the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down such laws as unconstitutional.

In contrast to the Old Testament, the New Testament does not recommend any legal coercive punishment for sodomy, although it does recommend that Christians condemn and punish it as practiced by members of the Christian churches.  Paul teaches the Christians in the Corinthian church that those in the Christian community guilty of sodomy and other sexual immorality must be punished by being banished from the community; but the Christians should not go to the courts in Corinth to seek judgments against these evil-doers (1 Corinthians 5-6).  Sodomites and other such sinners banished from the churches will be punished by God with eternal damnation in the afterlife.

Paul writes: "For what is it to me to judge those outside?  Is it not for you to judge those inside?  But God is to judge those outside" (1 Cor. 5:12-13).  Here is the New Testament scriptural basis for a Christian libertarianism, which enforces Christian morality among those within the voluntary association of the Christian churches, but which does not coercively enforce this morality through law.  So as long as sexual immorality like sodomy does not harm others, it can be permitted by human law, with the understanding that it will be judged by God in the afterlife.  (I have written about this Christian Lockean libertarianism here, here., and here.)  Aquinas seems to agree with this.

And yet even if sodomy is harmless, Aquinas indicates, it is worse than harmful sexual sins like rape, because sodomy is against the order of nature and thus an injury done to God as the Author of nature.  But this is a third strange feature of Aquinas's reply to the objection, because he must assume a sexual teleology of procreation that is too narrow to account for the full range of human sexual nature.

John Corvino has made this point well in his book What's Wrong with Homosexuality?  He very briefly explains this in a video here.  Here is a longer (1 hour) video with his famous lecture "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?"

Homosexuality and other forms of sodomy, Aquinas claims, are all "unnatural," because they cannot result in procreation.  Just as eyes are for seeing, ears are for hearing, and feet are for walking, genitals are for procreating.  It is immoral to use one's genitals to achieve orgasmic pleasure without achieving procreation, because that violates the natural purpose of those organs.

Aquinas does recognize that nature is variable in that human body parts can have multiple uses, so that one can properly use a body part for something other than its primary natural purpose.  For example, one can choose to walk on one's hands.  But still, Aquinas observes, in walking on one one's hands, "man's good is not much opposed by such inordinate use" (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3.122.9).  By contrast, it might seem that sodomy undermines the natural human good of procreation.  "Every emission of semen in such a way that generation cannot follow is contrary to the good of man" (SCG, 3.122.5).

There are three obvious problems with this reasoning, however.  The first problem is that sexual pleasure can serve some natural ends other than procreation.  Aquinas himself concedes this when he says that marriage is naturally directed not only to procreation but also to the conjugal bonding of the couple.  Heterosexual couples often have sex so that mutual pleasure strengthens their bond to one another, even when they don't want to procreate or cannot procreate; and to do this, they might engage in non-coital sexual acts such as fellatio, cunnilingus, or interfemoral sex. This being true, homosexual acts can promote this same natural end by reinforcing the intimate bonding of homosexual couples.  To deny this, one would have to argue either that conjugal bonding without procreation is not a natural human good or that gay men and lesbian women cannot achieve this good.

The second problem with the claim that sodomite sexual acts cannot achieve procreation is that couples can contribute to the procreation and rearing of children through adoption or in vitro fertilization, even though the adoptive couple has not produced the children through coital intercourse.  Consequently, gay and lesbian couples can achieve both of the natural ends of marriage--conjugal bonding and parental care.
The third problem is that those who choose not to directly procreate themselves are not necessarily undermining the good of procreation.  After all, Aquinas himself was a celibate monk, and he claimed that those who chose celibacy might have a "natural temperament" for celibacy.  So refraining from procreating does not deny the natural good of procreation.

These obvious problems with the Thomistic natural law of sodomy as against nature have led some proponents of natural law to propose an alternative--the "new natural law."


Robert George of Princeton University is one of the leading proponents of the "new natural law."  He has indicated that the Thomistic natural law argument against sodomy as unnatural fails:  "It is often assumed in treatments of sexual ethics that the central argument from natural law theory against non-marital sexual acts is simply that such acts are unnatural, that is, contrary to the direction inscribed in the reproductive or procreative power.  This argument, often described as the 'perverted faculty argument,' is easily disposed of" (1999, 161).  He explains: "It is not clear, for example, that acting against the orientation of a biological power is necessarily wrong, nor is it clear that somomitical and other non-marital acts are really contrary to that direction" (1999, 181, n. 2).

So, the Thomistic argument against sodomy is "easily disposed of," because it is not clear that non-procreative sex is necessarily wrong or really contrary to procreation.  As an alternative to this argument, George follows those like Germain Grisez and John Finnis in arguing that sodomy is wrong because it violates marriage as a "basic good" of human life.

Following Grisez's lead, Finnis in 1980 (in Natural Law and Natural Rights) proposed a list of seven "basic goods" or "basic values" that could be self-evidently known by intuition as the basic aspects of human well-being:  life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness, and religion (Finnis 1980, 86-90).

This list resembles what Aquinas identifies as the "natural inclinations" of human nature or what I identify as the 20 "natural desires."  But unlike Aquinas and myself, Finnis is a Kantian rationalist who wants these basic goods to be known by pure reason alone without any grounding in the natural inclinations or desires of human nature.  For that reason, Finnis does not even like the idea of "natural law": he speaks of "the rather unhappy term 'natural law,'" because he wants a natural law without nature (1980, 374).  He wants to move from Thomistic naturalism to Kantian rationalism.  (I have criticized the Kantianism of the new natural law here.)

Notice that the list of seven basic goods does not include procreative sex or marriage.  Finnis indicated that sexual intercourse could fall under more than one of these goods: "as a human action, pursuit and realization of value, sexual intercourse may be play, and/or expression of love or friendship, and/or an effort to procreate" (1980, 86).  This suggests that non-procreative sex could satisfy one or more of the basic human goods.  But, then, years later, after the first edition of Natural Law and Natural Rights, Finnis added "marriage" to his list of "basic goods," so that he could criticize homosexuality as a violation of this basic good (Finnis 1996; 2011, 446-48).

According to the new natural lawyers, marriage as a basic good is a comprehensive "two-in-one-flesh" union of a male and female, for whom their coital penis-in-vagina sex renders them literally a single organic reproductive whole.  Consequently, the sexual union of a same-sex couple cannot ever be a "real marriage," because they can never experience that penis-in-vagina coital union for reproduction.

There are some obvious objections to this reasoning, which I have brought up in some previous posts hereherehere, and here.

The most common objection is that if the new natural lawyers were right, sterile heterosexual couples could not have a "real marriage," because they cannot reproduce.  The reply to this objection is that a heterosexual married couple do have a "real marriage," even if they are sterile, because their sexual acts can still be "of the reproductive type."  This is said to be analogous to a baseball team that never wins a game: this is still a baseball team because it is oriented to the goal of winning, even if it always loses.

The fallacy in this analogy, however, is that it does not distinguish between a goal that does not occur, although people are intentionally seeking it, and a goal that cannot occur, so that no one aware of its impossibility can intentionally seek it.  A losing baseball team can continue trying to win, as long as winning is a possibility.  But if the team knows that winning is impossible, they cannot honestly strive for this.  Similarly, an infertile heterosexual couple who knows that they are infertile cannot honestly try to procreate; and so if they engage in sexual acts, this must be for some end other than reproduction.

Moreover, why should we say that coital union--penis-in-vagina--is the only human good that human beings can achieve through sex?  Why can't both heterosexual and homosexual couples express their love for one another and build their conjugal bond through mutual pleasure-giving without coital union?

Can't we also assume that most of those people who might adopt the new natural law argument for "real marriage" cannot consistently adhere to it?  They will appeal to the argument for the sake of condemning same-sex coupling.  But they won't accept the argument's claim that heterosexual couples who engage in contraception, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, and interfemoral sex are engaging in sodomy.  Isn't that because they recognize that sexual activity serves human goods other than reproduction through coitus?

If the arguments for the Catholic Church's condemnation of sodomy are so weak that even most Catholics do not believe them, we must wonder whether there is some hidden motivation for the Church's position.  Recently, Pope Francis hinted at the answer: "Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life."  I will pursue this thought in the next post.


Corvino, John. 2013. What's Wrong with Homosexuality? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 1980. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 1996. "Is Natural Law Theory Compatible with Limited Government?" In Robert George, ed., Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, 1-26. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 2011. Natural Law and Natural Rights. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George, Robert P. 1999. In Defense of Natural Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.