The secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, said Friday that a new document by the Pontifical Biblical Commission does not give an “opening” to the validity of so-called same-sex unions.
Morandi referred to the book-length document “Che Cosa E’ L’Uomo? Un itinerio di antropologia biblica” (“What is Man? An Itinerary of Biblical Anthropology”) published by the Vatican as an Italian-language book Dec. 16.
The report was written over several years by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which is a part of the CDF, and aims to provide a study of the whole of scripture on the topic of human anthropology, aimed as a resource for scholars and students.
One nine-page section of the book studies the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality.
In that section, “there is no ‘opening’ to unions between people of the same sex, as some people erroneously claim,” Morandi said in an interview with Vatican News published Dec. 20.
Morandi’s interview came after some media reports and commentators suggested that the book affirmed homosexual relationships, or appeared to downplay the significance of sexual sin in Scripture.
A report this week from InfoVaticana misattributed a quote from the book in order to suggest it argued in favor of homosexuality.
On Dec. 19, a tweet from American priest Fr. James Martin noted that the book argued the Biblical story of Sodom was not about “a sexual transgression,” but about aggression toward strangers. The tweet did not reference the study’s comprehensive treatment of homosexuality and homosexuality unions.
Morandi quoted a passage in the text which states that “the institution of marriage, constituted by the stable relationship between husband and wife, is constantly presented as evident and normative through the entire biblical tradition. There are no examples of legally recognized ‘unions’ between persons of the same sex.”
The passage which directly follows in the study has been the source of controversy for some commentators, who saw the inclusion of arguments in opposition to Church teaching as a kind of implicit affirmation of them.
The paragraph states that “for some time now, particularly in Western culture, there have been voices of dissent with respect to the anthropological approach of Scripture, as understood and transmitted by the Church in its normative aspects.”
Some even hold Scripture’s position to be an “archaic, historically conditioned mentality” or “outdated” in regard to the biological and social domain, the text notes.
It also notes that “it is deduced by some” that the “exclusive enhancement” of the heterosexual union should favor “a similar acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions as a legitimate and worthy expression of the human being.”
Because “it is sometimes argued” that the Bible says little or nothing against same-sex unions, the document states, it “seems therefore necessary to examine the passages of Sacred Scripture in which the homosexual problem is discussed”
The text then conducts an “exegesis,” an assessment of the places in the Bible which reference the subject.
Exegesis, Fr. Michael Kolarcik explained, is “bringing out to the surface the meaning of the text.”
Kolarcik is rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He told CNA exegesis is “a certain type of interpretation. It means that you begin with the text and you try to understand from the text what it is trying to say.”
This is opposed to eisegesis, which is “reading into the text” or reading “into the text what you want it to say,” he explained.
He said in Catholic exegesis “we try to use every tool available to help us to understand what the meaning of the text was when it was written, and its movement through history – how a text was interpreted previously – and also, what application it has today.”
The Biblical Commission’s study notes at its beginning that the Bible does speak directly about “the erotic inclination of a person towards the same sex, but only of homosexual acts.”
It examines the Old Testament stories of Sodom in Genesis 19 and of Gibeah in Judges 19, stating that the story of the sin and destruction of Sodom has become almost “famous for the question of homosexuality.”
Examining the Biblical passages, the book notes that the Sodom passage “is not intended to present the image of an entire city dominated by irrepressible homosexual cravings; rather, it denounces the conduct of a social and political entity that does not want to welcome the stranger with respect, and therefore insists on humiliating him, forcing him to undergo an infamous treatment of submission.”
That interpretation of the destruction of Sodom, Kolarcik explained, is “a completely reasonable interpretation,” and has been taught in theology courses for decades.
“That doesn’t mean that the other element, of any sort of sexual depravation is not there as well,” he added.
The study next examines the Book of Leviticus, in which “we find a precise list of prohibitions regarding immoral sexual acts and among these is listed homosexual relations between males.”
In Leviticus “the gravity of the perpetrated act, as well as the qualification of ‘abominable thing,’ is highlighted by capital punishment. There is no notice that this sanction has ever been applied; however, it remains that such behavior is considered to be gravely inappropriate by the Old Testament law,” the text states.
The law in Leviticus, it continues, is “intended to protect and promote an exercise of sexuality open to procreation, in accordance with the Creator’s command to human beings, taking care of course that this act is inscribed within the framework of a legitimate marriage.”
The study then examines the references to homosexual acts in the New Testament, in particular, Romans 1:26; 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:10.
Looking at these three texts, the report points out that the “unrelatedness” of homosexual acts to the “Christian way of living is accentuated by St. Paul’s introductory rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 6:9: ‘do you not know that…?’”
This, the report states, is “to point out a truth that should be evident to its audience.”
Like the Decalogue of the Old Testament and other Old Testament lists of unlawful actions, the actions referenced by Paul come at the penalty of “exclusion from the Kingdom,” it notes.
The study also examines the list of the “lawless” in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, which includes “sodomites,” concluding that “for Christians, homosexual practice is considered a grave fault.”
Looking at Romans 1:26-27, the report says that for St. Paul, there are some “consequences of an anthropological nature, first of all in sexual distortions … which are seen as ‘dishonor of their very bodies’; and all this is highlighted, almost emblematically, in the feminine and masculine homosexual practice.”
At the end of the section, the document states its conclusion that “the exegetical examination carried out on the texts of the Old and New Testament has revealed elements that must be considered for an evaluation of homosexuality in its ethical implications.”
“Certain formulations of the biblical authors, as well as the disciplinary directives of Leviticus, require an intelligent interpretation that safeguards the values that the sacred text intends to promote, avoiding therefore repeating to the letter what that carries with it, also the cultural traits of that time,” it continued.
The document closes the section on homosexual relations by noting that “the contribution of the human sciences together with the reflection of theologians and moralists, will be indispensable for an adequate exposition of the problem, only sketched in this document.”
It also advises that the Church provide pastoral care on this topic, in order “to implement that service of good that the Church must assume in its mission on behalf of mankind.”
Kolarcik said the book of the Biblical Commission, with which the Biblical Institute often partners, is trying to understand and present “what understanding of humanity comes out of the Bible?”
“Che Cosa e’ l’Uomo” is divided into four chapters: the human being created by God, the human being in the Garden, the human family, and the human being in history.
The forward is written by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF and president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
This project of the Biblical Commission, he said, is fundamental “for the mission of the Church in the contemporary world” in which are manifested “new needs, new problems, and new challenges” related to the history of man in the light of the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
“In the last decades the change mentioned above has accelerated further, with questions and behaviors of an anthropological nature that demand to be subjected to serious discernment,” he continued.
Ladaria writes that the desire of the Church is to be faithful to the commandments of God and place herself at the service of humanity, bringing the elements of truth “that favor authentic progress, according to God’s plan.”
“And it is by resorting to the divine Revelation, documented in the Holy Scriptures, that the Church fulfills its mission, bringing to the questions and the search for men that light which comes from the Word inspired by God, capable of shining in the heart of all the value and vocation of man, created in the image of God,” he says.