St. Peter Damian on the ‘plague’ of homosexuality in the priesthood: are we reliving the past?
ROME, November 18, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- The "cancer" of sodomy among priests threatens to bring down the wrath of God upon the Church, according to a Catholic saint and doctor who addressed a similar crisis in the priesthood over 900 years ago.
In his Book of Gomorrah, recently published in a new translation by Ite ad Thomam Books and Media, Damian takes special aim at the growing acceptability of homosexuality among the clergy, warning that it is “creeping through the clerical order, and indeed is raging like a cruel beast within the sheepfold of Christ.” He warns that unless this growing tolerance of homosexuality among clerics and the faithful is rooted out, “it is certain that the sword of divine fury is looming to attack, to the destruction of many.”
The Book of Gomorrah seems particularly relevant in the face of recent statements about homosexuality from the most influential leaders and groups within the Catholic Church which have led many to believe that the Church stands ready to adopt an open-minded perspective on homosexuality. Such statements include, but are not limited to, the abuse of Pope Francis’ famous statement in 2013 “Who am I to judge?”, and the statement from the 2014 Synod on the Family’s midterm report implying that homosexuals, on account of their proclivity to this sin, have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.”
Damian, an 11th century Italian Catholic reformer and a Doctor of the Church, argued that for the Church to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world, she must uncompromisingly preach the whole truth about God’s plan for sexuality and how terrible are the consequences, both temporal and eternal, to those who engage in the “unnatural sexual practices” of homosexuality, masturbation, and contraception.
Even though Damian, who lived from 1007-1072, wrote his Book of Gomorrah almost a thousand years ago, his analysis of the problem of homosexuality within the Church at that time has been viewed by many as remarkably contemporary, fresh, and insightful when read alongside current movements within the Church seemingly bent on changing the Church’s moral teaching. Damian addressed his book to Pope Saint Leo IX, asking him to take action against the practice of homosexuality among clerics and monks that was widespread at that time.
Translator Matthew Hoffman, who dedicated the new edition to Pope Francis, told LifeSiteNews that the book carries an important message for the present time, especially in highlighting what he called the “extremely destructive” effects of homosexual behavior on the human person, both spiritually and psychologically.
“Damian…is a powerful voice from our past reminding us of the terrible gravity of homosexual behavior, and indeed any perversion of the sexual act,” he said.
Following Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, Damian sees homosexuality as a “diabolical” corruption of God’s beautiful plan for sexuality between a man and a woman. It is a direct assault against God. Not only must it not be tolerated, but it must be condemned and stamped out, he writes. Homosexuality is a “lethal wound festering in the very body of the holy Church” that must first be recognized as a wound before any treatment and healing can take place.
Damian chooses his words carefully in warning about the severity of the disease.
“This vice [of same-sex activity] is the death of bodies, the destruction of souls, pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the intellect, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, introduces the diabolical inciter of lust, throws into confusion, and removes the truth completely from the deceived mind.”
“It prepares snares for the one who walks, and for him who falls into the pit, it obstructs the escape. It opens up hell and closes the door of paradise. It makes the citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem into an heir of the Babylonian underworld. From the star of heaven, it produces the kindling of eternal fire. It cuts off a member of the Church and casts him into the voracious conflagration of raging Gehenna.”
“For it is this which violates sobriety, kills modesty, slays chastity. It butchers virginity with the sword of a most filthy contagion. It befouls everything, it stains everything, it pollutes everything, and for itself it permits nothing pure, nothing foreign to filth, nothing clean,” he states.
While the outspoken defender of the Catholic faith may be seen by modern detractors as a “homophobe” and a “bigot,” Damian makes it clear that his words arise out of a profound love for others.
“For how am I loving my neighbor as myself, if I negligently allow the wound, by which I do not doubt him to be dying a cruel death, to fester in his soul? Seeing therefore the spiritual wounds, should I neglect to cure them by the surgery of words?” he said.
It is out of love and concern for others that Damian warns those engaging in homosexual practices of the punishment of eternal separation from God that awaits them if they remain unrepentant and die in their sin.
“I myself…weep over you, and from the depths of my heart I sigh over your lot of perdition. I weep over you, I say, O miserable soul given over to the dregs of impurity, you who are to be lamented with a whole fountain of tears.”
“You are most greatly to be wept over, because you do not weep. You are in need of the sufferings of others because you do not feel the danger of your ruin, and you are to be wept over all the more by bitter tears of fraternal compassion because you are not troubled by your own sorrowful lamentation,” he said.
Regarding the question of practicing homosexuals receiving Holy Communion, Damian is clear that homosexual activity cuts off the life of God in the soul and makes one “unworthy of receiving in his mouth the heavenly offering of the Eucharist.”
Hoffman told LifeSiteNews there is no hatred in the doctor’s words, only mercy.
“Quite the contrary; his work is all about mercy and love of the sinner, and therefore the hatred of the sin that harms him. He never expresses hatred of the sinner at all, but seeks his reconciliation with God.”
Damian begs those caught up in the homosexual lifestyle to abandon their sin and return to “the abundance of the divine mercy.” He encourages those who have fallen to repent, assuring them that by the route of humility they may progress to even greater spiritual heights than those from which they fell.
“Arise, arise, I implore you! Wake up O man who sinks in the sleep of wretched pleasure! Revive at last, you who have fallen by the lethal sword before the face of your enemies!…Enter into a constant struggle with the flesh, and always stand armed against the importunate fury of lust. If the flame of wantonness burns in your bones, the recollection of perpetual fire should immediately extinguish it,” he said.
Hoffman said that Damian’s words offer a severe warning to the Church if she fails in preaching the full truth about the danger of homosexuality.
“Damian warns that sodomy, particularly in the priesthood, is like a terrible plague that threatens to bring down the wrath of God. He warns that priests who are engaged in such evils are not proper intercessors for the people and, in fact, will tend to provoke divine vengeance rather than reconciliation.”
“He also warns prelates, such as bishops and superiors of religious orders, that if they fail to correct those who are under their authority, they will be held accountable for their sin. He denounces their ‘cruel mercy’ and ‘impious piety,’ in refusing to punish evildoers, which causes the wounds of their sin to fester rather than curing them.”
“Unfortunately our own prelates seem to have adopted the opposite idea regarding sexual sin in recent years, claiming to be ‘merciful’ by refusing to recognize the gravity of the evil and its destructiveness,” he said, adding that this will only cause great harm to the Church and to its mission to preach the gospel in season and out of season.
Editor’s note: LifeSiteNews readers can purchase The Book of Gomorrah at a 15% discounted price from Ite ad Thomam Books and Media here and will also receive a free copy of the e-book.
Complete interview with The Book of Gomorrah’s translator Matthew Hoffman.
LifeSiteNews: Do you see movements or stirrings happening within the Church today that are similar to what St. Peter Damian was fighting against a thousand years ago? What are some examples?
Hoffman: The situation of the Catholic Church in the 11th century, when Damian lived, resembles our own time in some disturbing ways. The priesthood back then had been infiltrated by a large number of morally lax men who had little respect for sexual morality, including homosexuals who made “prostitutes” out of their “spiritual sons,” in the words of Damian. Unlike today, however, many priests were openly living in immoral unions with concubines or illicit wives, and did little to hide other scandalous personal behavior. This behavior even included some popes, who set a bad example for the rest of the Church.
Damian reminded Pope Leo IX of the traditional law that was to be applied to priests who were caught in any kind of lascivious behavior with minors: they were to be publicly humiliated, their heads shorn of their tonsure, spittle rubbed in their faces, imprisoned in a monastic cell for six months and forced to fast on barley bread while they engaged in penance, and then to be held under the guard of two other monks for the rest of their lives. This very rigorous punishment reflected an understanding of the gravity of such evil that was diminished dramatically in recent decades.
The tough penances imposed by the Church for sodomy helped to maintain a sense of the gravity of the deed. Such penances could last for decades. Even clerics who might be readmitted to the clerical state would have to do those penances and would in fact be subject to harsher ones than those imposed on the laity.
Although the Church continues to teach that any sexual act outside of marriage is gravely sinful, its system of punishment for clerics who commit acts of sodomy and child sex abuse was relaxed very substantially following the Second Vatican Council. We reaped the fruit of that laxity in the form of a very large number of tragic sexual abuse cases that could easily have been prevented if the Church’s clerical leadership had adhered to traditional doctrine.
LifeSiteNews: Does Damian say anything about the spiritual consequences of active homosexuality? What are his warnings?
Hoffman: Damian regards homosexual behavior as extremely destructive to the human person, both spiritually and psychologically. He writes that “this vice is death of bodies, the destruction of souls, pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the intellect, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, introduces the diabolical inciter of lust, throws into confusion, and removes the truth completely from the deceived mind.” These interior torments are seen as a prelude to the eternal sufferings of hell, if the perpetrator does not repent before death.
Damian writes that those who are given over to sodomy are provoked to fight “impious wars against God,” and are consumed by guilt and shame. This analysis might be seen as explaining much about the modern homosexual movement, which seems obsessed with attacking Christians and forcing them to cooperate in the recognition of homosexual unions. “His flesh burns with the fury of lust, his frigid mind trembles with the rancor of suspicion, and chaos now rages hellishly in the heart of the unhappy man,” Damian adds regarding sodomites.
He also anticipates modern critiques of homosexual attraction by noting that no authentic complementarity exists between people of the same sex. “What do you seek in a man, that you are unable to find in yourself—what difference of sexes, what diverse features of members ...?” he asks.
However, his message is not merely one of condemnation, but also of hope for those who have fallen into sexual immorality, that God may liberate them and restore them to himself. He expresses profound grief over those who have fallen into sexual perversion, and urges them to “Arise ... Wake up O man who sinks in the sleep of wretched pleasure! Revive at last, you who have fallen by the lethal sword before the face of your enemies!” He assures those who have fallen into the sin of sodomy that they can rise to even greater spiritual heights than those from which they fell, although he is also clear in his view that those guilty of the worst kinds of sodomy cannot be permitted to return to the clerical state.
LifeSiteNews: What is Damian's most important message to the Catholic Church today in which we find influential Catholic leaders seemingly trying to open a door to an acceptance of homosexuality?
Hoffman: Saint Peter Damian, who has the title of Doctor of the Catholic Church because his teaching is regarded as so authoritative, is a powerful voice from our past reminding us of the terrible gravity of homosexual behavior, and indeed any perversion of the sexual act. His definition of “sodomy” includes contraception and masturbation as well, reminding us that all forms of sexual perversion are condemned by the Church, and that they all exist on the same continuum of evil.
Damian does not regard the condemnation of sodomy as a mere technical matter of Church doctrine, as many prelates in the Church appear to do today. He sees it as “the worst of sins,” and even evidence of demonic possession. This is in keeping with the Scriptures that regard sodomy as one of the four sins that cries out for the revenge of God. His perspective on this matter is also clearly affirmed by Pope St. Leo IX, who wrote to Damian that “everything that this little book contains has been pleasing to our judgment, being as opposed to diabolical fire as is water.” It is also consistent with the Holy Office’s 1962 decree on priest sex abusers that called sodomy and child sex abuse “the worst crime.”
LifeSiteNews: Does Damian preach hatred of homosexuals?
Hoffman: Quite the contrary; his work is all about mercy and love of the sinner, and therefore the hatred of the sin that harms the sinner. He never expresses hatred of the sinner at all but, seeks to have the sinner reconciled with God.
LifeSiteNews: According to Damian, what are the principal dangers the Church faces in not preaching the full truth about homosexuality?
Hoffman: Damian warns that sodomy, particularly in the priesthood, is like a terrible plague that threatens to bring down the wrath of God. He warns that priests who are engaged in such evils are not proper intercessors for the people and in fact will tend to provoke divine vengeance rather than reconciliation. “Beware of inextinguishably inflaming the fury of God against you, lest by your prayers you more sharply provoke Him whom you patently offend by your evil acts, and while your ruin is certain, beware of being made guilty of the ruin of another,” he writes.
He also warns prelates, such as bishops and superiors of religious orders, that if they fail to correct those who are under their authority, they will be held accountable for their sin. He denounces their “cruel mercy” and “impious piety,” in refusing to punish evildoers, which causes the wounds of their sin to fester rather than curing them. Unfortunately our own prelates seem to have adopted the opposite idea regarding sexual sin in recent years, claiming to be “merciful” by refusing to recognize the gravity of the evil and its destructiveness.
LifeSiteNews: Some scholars have claimed that Pope St. Leo IX “rejected” Damian’s recommendations for rigorous punishment of sodomy and even “rebuked” Damian. Is there any truth to that claim?
Hoffman: No, and in fact the preface I wrote at the beginning of the book examines the issue and finally puts this myth to rest. As I noted above, Pope Leo IX praised the Book of Gomorrah in the highest terms, and moreover Leo responded with a stronger system of punishment than Damian had requested.
Some scholars have taken a single phrase in which the pope recognizes the ancient laws of the Church regarding sodomy but then says “we, acting more humanely,” and then lays down his judgment in how to deal with the matter. This phrase “we, acting more humanely” is not a rebuke of Damian, as I show, but is in fact a citation of an ancient council of the Church which used the same phrase to justify a less rigorous form of punishment. The punishment decreed by Leo, however, exceeds what Damian himself requests at the end of the Book of Gomorrah, so there is no rebuke at all nor rejection of anything Damian wrote.