NZ bishop wants theology-science dialogue on sexual orientation

Bishop Charles Drennan has called for theologians to engage with the science that says sexual orientation is neither a matter of choice nor of conditioning.

In his intervention at the synod on the family in Rome last week, Bishop Drennan appealed for mercy for a particular category of people who feel rejection – persons with homosexual tendencies.

“The mercy for which they yearn is not one of pity but of comprehension of the truth of who and how they are,” the Palmerston North bishop said.

“Decoupled from the question of same sex marriage which will never be part of the Christian way, the Church’s theologians can engage seriously with the voices of science that say sexual orientation is neither a personal choice nor a matter of social conditioning, but rests in the deepest ontological makeup of the individual and thus forms part of the mystery of human nature which is good,” he said.

Referencing section 69 of Fides et Ratio, Bishop Drennan said “such a dialogue of theology and science would deepen our understanding of the anthropological cultural context in which we evangelise, and would do much to protect the credibility of the Church, including our claim to be a people of mercy and truth”.

Also in his three-minute long speech, Bishop Drennan spoke of people who identify as Catholic in New Zealand, but who don’t come to Mass on Sundays.

“Analysis of them indicated clusters: the first marriage of a significant portion had come to grief; some were homosexual; and many simply did not recognise themselves in the language we use to describe marriage and the family.”

These groupings featured in responses to the questionnaires of the synod done in New Zealand, Bishop Drennan said.

“They, whom some describe as having drifted from the Church, in fact harbour a yearning to belong but their experience is one of being beyond the Church.

“For them the greatest cause of suffering is rejection – whether perceived or real. That suffering affects the wealthy as well as the poor.”

Nonetheless, most people, including the disaffected, indicated positive encounters with New Zealand priests and parish workers, Bishop Drennan said.

“It seems therefore that where renewal is most required is within the framework and language with which our faith is communicated at a public level,” he said.


News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

  • Lynne Newington

    Francis has already toned down his voice in trans-sexuals, maybe some theologian has been whispering in his ear on that subject too.

  • Peter Williams

    Long overdue that someone who knows the inner sanctum of the Vatican has spoken out. Spent 35 years as a professional social worker gave me some insight to many types of personalities.It has appalled me as a Catholic that the church was unable to address this issue in an open and factual way.

    • Lynne Newington

      The problem is going to be to get the consensus with so many ecclesiastics contradicting each other, even on the Family Synod in process if you haven't noticed…..

      • Margaret

        Consensus on what?

        • Lynne Newington

          To all agree…on anything not just sexual orientation which is the subject here.

          • Margaret

            Definitely some things need to be clarified and communicated.

  • Margaret

    I don't know what difference it would make if science could even come to such a definitive view.

    Even if all sorts of dysphorias or genetic makeups are established (which I agree there are such insights abounding) then in the end the call to Christ is the same.

    The burden of homosexuality in the Christian life is no worse than the burden of heterosexuality. No one can say they will find someone to marry. All are called to chastity in marriage and out of it. No one can fornicate with sin – whether homosexual or heterosexual.

    The fact is Christ wants out bodies to belong to him – in season and out of season.

    God forbid that we should end up with a gnostic Church where everyone can give their body to the culture and go to Church for spirituality.

  • Joy Cowley

    Thank you, Bishop Charles, for addressing this area of ignorance. Your words remind us of a statement from Charles Weinblatt: "Only when we learn to value the differences of others, can we achieve the true spirit of humanity.

    The Church is growing in grace-filled wisdom and compassion, and the day is coming when we will apologize for using words like "unnatural" and "disordered."

    In the meantime, let us pray a blessing of love for the people and places where these words are still used. Our faith teaches us that love will always overcome fear.

    • Margaret


  • Elizabeth Julian

    Charles, is it time for all gay bishops at the Synod to stand up together and say 'We are not intrinsically disordered'? Mark Coleridge speaks about the 'language of gesture' which Francis is so skilled at and the need for 'fearlessness'. Coleridge says, 'The problem is often within us and within the church. And we have to have the honesty and the clarity of vision to say that.' Is now the time for the big gesture?

    • Margaret


    • Margaret

      It is acts that are intrinsically disordered and not persons per se.

      So would the gay bishops have to rephrase that statement you pose in order to correctly state things as they are?

      • Lynne Newington

        The fact is, if they hadn't been "introduced" to the lifestyle as children or in seminaries [fair means or foul], they were all formed in their mothers womb God already knowing them, intristically woven as if embroided in many colours……..Who would dare to condemn them.

  • Brendan

    Talking science is a great idea, but unfortunately Bishop Charles has got his scientific facts wrong when he says that a homosexual orientation is not a matter of social conditioning.

    Recent research has actually shown that many different factors play a part in same-sex attraction, and that social conditioning definitely appears to be a factor in many cases (the link between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent homosexuality is one classic example of this.)

    At the end of the day though, as Margaret points out above, it's actually not particularly relevant what conclusions science makes about the causes of homosexuality – the issue still remains that we are all called to Christ, and that only through striving to live lives that are ordered towards the good (which homosexual acts are not) can we ever find the fullness of human flourishing.

    Bishop Charles seems to be implying that if homosexuality is deep-seated in the person, then this is somehow to be considered part of the God-given human nature, which is good.

    The problem of course is that he seems to have completely forgotten that human nature is in a fallen state now, and that not everything you experience, or are attracted to doing is good simply because you feel such impulses in the deepest part of your being.

    Such an ideology would also have to be applied to paedophilia, alcoholism and even psychopathic tendencies if we were to accept what he is saying at face value.

    • Margaret

      Good insights here.

      The other issue regarding science and its psychological companions is that it takes only a material view of the human person. This probably brings a tendency to consider human person knowable in a factual way.

      I think it will the science will remain a side issue as essentially it only deals with part of what is human.

      Human persons are as great a mystery to themselves as they are to others.

      We have to respect this mystery about persons and realise that we can't come to serious comfortable conclusions.

      Therefore we have to trust that God knows us and that the teaching given to us through scripture and Tradition in the Church is true – an in this era uncomfortably true. We don't have to be successful with trite conclusions just faithful to teaching, say what we teach in clarity and love in order that people may fairly hear it and respond or react to it accordingly.

      As Jesus said 'He who is able to receive it, let him receive it".

      Jesus was completely real; he implied some would and some wouldn't – that also is a mystery we have to accept.

      Inclusivity doesn't seem to be Jesus main premise?

  • Kati

    Why has homosexuality become such a paramount issue? Are homosexual people in the Western world really worse off than – say – lonely single people? Or in need of as much help as lonely elderly people?

    The situation is not good in other parts of the world where homosexual people need protection. But is it really the synod on family where the bishops should discuss what they could do for them?

    Should homosexual sex really be thought equal with the heterosexual sexual act? Should homosexual relationships be made equal with the ideal of Christian marriage?

    Is this what parents truly want for their children when they think about their future? Do we really think that a lifetime of practice of homosexual sexual acts is indifferent or even good for the people involved?

    It’s not about theory and magnanimous words. It’s about the reality.


  • Kati

    My comment above has been politely edited to cut out sentences describing both the male and female homosexual acts in neutral terms.__This is precisely the problem. Instead of calling a spade a spade the discussion is about principles and love and equality and the human condition etc etc. __Whilst this is very edifying it hides the fundamental issue. What homosexual people do – indeed have to do for the lack of other options – in their sexual relations is why these acts are considered disordered. __It is not polite to spell out what exactly is done the same way the heterosexual act is not normally talked about in explicit terms. And everyone knows anyway.__But I think we should recall this not insignificant detail in no ambiguous terms as part of this discussion. Then we can consider what we truly think about these very acts and whether we think they are recommendable for the human person.

  • Tony Broad

    Kati, the same censoring seems to apply to the adverse health effects of homosexual activity. The impact on life expectancy is very significant. If the progressives are so keen to enact laws and regulations to eliminate smoking because of its harm to smokers and their families, why are they not similarly keen to stamp out homosexuality wherever it occurs? Any argument of privacy etc is irrelevant, since anti-smoking laws are starting to extend to private places, like cars. And anti-smoking campaigns are aimed at the world-at-large, just as the anti-homosexuality campaign should be…

    • Kati

      Tony, thanks for reading and replying my comment.

      The "bring science to the discussion" suggestion sounds very enlightened. According to the ruling mentality of our age a thing is true if it is scientifically proven. This elevates science to a revered position where even theories put forward by popular scientists are accepted as truth.

      The details of these theories are more or less incomprehensible for people not possessing science degrees. Consequently when discussion takes place about things where there is no undisputed final conclusion from science (if there is such a thing ever) and which no person can know from first hand experience scientific arguments can be voiced with impunity.

      Therefore people can have jolly good discussions about things like how the world started or whether a person is homosexual from the moment of conception – every argument (scientific or otherwise) is based on what the speaker has chosen to believe.

      But when it comes to facts which are known to a lot of people from personal experience or from the experience of others then suddenly people choose to ignore these facts which incidentally are not disproven by science.

      Life starts at conception so if there is an abortion then one person will not live. A man and a woman is needed to have a baby. Sexual union between two people of the same sex equals such and such acts. Often there are negative health effects of these acts with adverse impact on life expectancy.

      No matter. Facts can be ignored and replaced by unproven scientific arguments that better fit the agenda.

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