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Vatican publishes new book reducing ‘sin of Sodom’ to ‘lack of hospitality’

The new volume uses a rhetorical strategy to move the perceived teaching of the Church on homosexuality toward the radical gender ideology of our day.
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Diane Montagna By Diane Montagna

Diane Montagna By Diane Montagna

ANALYSIS

ROME, December 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In what many see as an effort to normalize homosexuality in the Catholic Church, the Vatican has released a new book that reduces the “sin of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1–29) to “a lack of hospitality.”

“The story about the city of Sodom … illustrates a sin that consists in the lack of hospitality, with hostility and violence towards the stranger, a behavior judged to be very serious and therefore deserving to be sanctioned with the utmost severity,” the new book asserts.

Sources consulted by LifeSite described the book's treatment of the sin of Sodom as “utter banality” and “obviously ridiculous.” One theologian exclaimed, “Thank God this stuff isn’t magisterial.”

The new volume, titled What Is Man? An Itinerary of Biblical Anthropology (Che cosa è l’uomo? Un itinerario di antropologia biblica), was released on December 16 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) and endeavors to examine the scriptural understanding of the human person. Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati, secretary for the Pontifical Biblical Commission, said the work was carried out at the express wish of Pope Francis.

With a preface by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S.J., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the volume is composed of four chapters: The human being created by God (ch. 1); The human being in the garden (ch. 2); The human family (ch. 3); and the human being in history (ch. 4).

Its 10-page treatment of homosexuality comes in chapter three, in a section entitled “transgressive ways” that also includes incest, adultery, and prostitution.

The treatment on homosexuality begins by affirming 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 commission then notes the emergence, particularly in the West, of “voices of dissent” with respect to the “anthropological approach of scripture, as understood and conveyed by the church in its normative aspects.”

The authors continue:

All this is judged to be a reflection of an archaic, historically conditioned mentality. We know that various biblical affirmations, in the cosmological, biological and sociological spheres, have been gradually considered outdated with the progressive affirmation of the natural and human sciences; similarly — it is deduced by some — a new and more adequate understanding of the human person imposes a radical reservation on the exclusive value of heterosexual unions, in favor of a similar acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions as a legitimate and worthy expression of the human being. What is more — it is sometimes argued — the Bible says little or nothing about this type of erotic relationship, which should therefore not be condemned, also because it is often unduly confused with other aberrant sexual behavior. It therefore seems necessary to examine the passages of Sacred Scripture in which the homosexual problem is the subject of homosexuality, in particular those in which it is denounced and criticized.

This paragraph has been misquoted in the media to make it seem as though the PBC endorses positions whose existence it merely notes. However, in noting the existence of these radical dissenting voices, it positions itself rhetorically between them and the traditional teaching of the Church. Therefore, the document is certainly not without blame in this question, as it is employing a rhetorical strategy to move the perceived teaching of the Church toward the radical gender ideology of our day, without attempting to reverse the whole of that distance in a single bound.

An informed source in Rome commented on the book’s treatment of homosexuality, saying: “This book is utter banality, which is evidenced first and foremost in the fact that it can be abused by everyone.”

Sodom’s inhospitable mob

While the Pontifical Biblical Commission cannot straightforwardly be accused of simply endorsing the positions voiced above, it certainly goes a long way in insinuating them, particularly in its treatment of the sin of Sodom.

The commission in fact examines several Old and New Testament passages (Gen. 19, Judges 19, Lev. 18:22 and 20:13). The analysts preface their examination, noting that “the Bible does not speak of the erotic inclination towards a person of the same sex, but only of homosexual acts.”

Turning to the “sin of Sodom” and the city’s total destruction by divine justice for a “wickedness” beyond remedy (Gen 19:1–29), the biblical commission asks: “But what was Sodom’s sin, that deserved such an exemplary punishment?”

The authors observe that “in other passages of the Hebrew Bible which refer to Sodom’s guilt, there is no allusion to a sexual transgression practiced against people of the same sex.” Instead, they note, these passages (Isaiah 1:10; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:49) speak of “betrayal,” of “adultery,” and of “pride.”

The commission concludes that a “significant [Old Testament] biblical tradition, attested by the prophets, has labeled Sodom (and Gomorrah) with the emblematic, but generic, title of the evil city.”

But, they argue, at the dawn of the New Testament (particularly 2 Pt 2:6–10 and Jude 7), in the second century, a “different interpretation” of the sin of Sodom began to emerge and became the “customary reading” of the biblical account.

“The city of Sodom is then blamed for an unseemly sexual practice called ‘sodomy,’ consisting of the erotic relationship with people of the same sex,” the commission writes.

The PBC continues: “This would seem to have, at first sight, a clear support in the biblical narrative. In Genesis 19 it is said, in fact, that two ‘angels’ (v.1), hosted for the night in Lot’s house, are besieged by the ‘men of Sodom,’ young and old, the whole population (v.4), with the intention of sexually abusing these strangers (v.5).”

Turning the traditional understanding of the sin of Sodom on its head, the Pontifical Biblical Commission then makes this claim: “The story, however, 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 foreigner with respect, and therefore claims to humiliate him, forcing him to undergo an infamous treatment of submission.”

Confident in their interpretation, the commission members write: “This way of reading the story of Sodom is confirmed by Wisdom, (19:13–17) where the exemplary punishment of sinners (first Sodom and then Egypt) is motivated by the fact that they had shown a deep hatred towards the foreigner.”

The commission concludes:

We must therefore say that the story about the city of Sodom (as well as that of Gabaa) illustrates a sin that consists in the lack of hospitality, with hostility and violence towards the stranger, a behavior judged very serious and therefore deserving to be sanctioned with the utmost severity, because the rejection of the different, of the needy and defenseless stranger, is a principle of social disintegration, having in itself a deadly violence that deserves an adequate punishment.

LifeSite consulted a theologian, who, speaking on condition of anonymity, offered these thoughts:

The idea that the Sodomites attacked Lot’s house not because they were consumed by perverted lust but because they were so hostile to immigration that they could not bear the thought of Lot entertaining two guests is obviously ridiculous. Were they concerned that these were just the beginning of a huge influx of Angels who were going to flood into Sodom, completely changing the character of the city until a rational animal hardly felt at home there anymore with the bars and restaurants overflowing with immaterial beings? It is obvious that voracious perversion and not a lack of tolerance for the ‘other’ is the source of the Sodomites’ crimes.

Spinning the abomination

In its book-length study, the Pontifical Biblical Commission then examines Leviticus, which says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” punishable by death (18:22; 20:13).

Noting that this sin is counted among “incest and other sexual deviations,” the commission observes that “the legislator gives no reasons, neither for the prohibition nor for the severe penalty imposed. We may, however, consider that the Leviticus law intended to protect and promote the exercise of sexuality open to procreation, in accordance with the Creator’s command to human beings (Gen 1:28).”

Subject to discernment?

Moving to the New Testament, the commission affirms that the “reason for homosexuality” does not appear in the Gospels but is presented in three of St. Paul’s letters (Rm. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10). The authors consider what they call the “lists of sins” offered by St. Paul and note that, in 1 Cor. 6:9–10, male sodomy is preceded by adultery and effeminate behavior and is “sanctioned by exclusion from the Kingdom.” They note that other sins (like avarice and calumny) are subject to discernment, as their gravity may be more or less from case to case. The New Testament, they argue, enables us to see that “for Christians the practice of homosexuality is considered a grave sin.”

Commenting on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1:18–27), the Pontifical Biblical Commission stresses the connection between idolatry (1:20–25) and sexual deviation (1:26–27). The Pauline text reveals that “man ought to see in a sexuality that no longer recognizes ‘natural’ differences the symptom of his distorted notion of truth.” Man’s failure to acknowledge the true God, the commission notes, leads to “societal disorder and violence” (1:29–31).

The Pontifical Biblical Commission thus ends its treatment on homosexuality saying:

The exacting examination conducted on the texts of the Old and New Testaments has revealed elements that must be considered for an evaluation of homosexuality, in its ethical implications. Certain formulations of 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, thus avoiding repeating to the letter what it carries with it, even cultural traits of that time. The contribution provided by the human sciences, together with the reflection of theologians and moral theologians, will be indispensable for an adequate exposition of the issue, which has only been sketched out in this document.

“Furthermore,” they conclude, “pastoral attention will be required, particularly with regard to individuals, in order to carry out that service of good which the Church has to assume in its mission for people.”

Pope Paul VI removed the magisterial role of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1971, and since then it has functioned as a consultative body or think-tank. The difficulty of reconciling its documents with the teaching of the Church on the inerrancy of Scripture has been evident for some time.


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