The main topic examined is homosexuality and holy orders. This is a topic that was and remains interesting in the academic and ecclesiastical dialogue, since in the contemporary world and in the society of information and pluralism, many questions are born that concern the Church and its canonical tradition. In more detail, in his study there are five contributions and one debate. The first contribution is by Professor Rik Torfs and is entitled “Instruction or Intrusion?”. In this contribution the author begins with the the Vatican instruction that was published on 29.11.2005 regarding the homosexual priest candidates and discusses the instruction as a legal technique, which is based on the canon 34 par. 1 CIC. The instruction is characterized by two elements, the first is that emanates from who has executive power and the second one is that it is aimed at the responsible to implement laws persons, such as the bishops. After a technical and legal analysis of the term and its content, the author discusses the consequences of the instruction for the relations between religion and state. More analytically, he claims that the instruction influences any civil liability of bishops as well as it may be relevant for a legitimization of the Catholic worship. In general, the discussion on the relation between canon law and civil liability in the light of some main events, is very contemporary. Therefore, the instruction has also a secular legal meaning, since its consequences are as such. The article concludes with the statement that the instruction and the stigmatization of homosexuals is condemned and the instruction is actually a way of intrusion in the field of custom and law which has become the rule rather than the exception and contains civil consequences.
The author of the second contribution is Professor Ad van der Helm, with the title “Affective maturity: the juridical applicability of a psychological concept”. The article claims that regarding the instruction issued, it seems that sexuality, which is such a personal aspect of life, becomes the center of the dialogue. Sexuality and morality are strongly connected, while the Church seems to claim an authoritative way in this field. The question that arises is whether the canon law allows sexuality reasons to lead to exclusion of ordination. The whole topic is actually a part of the discussion on the forum internum. Thus, the Second Vatican Council was strict on its expectations from priests and after that the crisis of priesthood in the Western Latin Church affects the whole privacy and intimacy of the priest. Homosexuality, in addition, is considered in the instruction as a negative factor for the priest candidate. In the instruction homosexual and the support of the gay culture is distinguished from the personal characteristic and in the conclusion, it is not the candidate who judges whether he is capable of affective maturity. Then, the author deals with the concept of forum internum, which is a specific and separate area of law with regards to the church as an institution and to the member who shares his conscience with trust. The article concluded with the question “repressive or preventive?”. More specifically, the instruction meant to avoid ordination of unsuitable priest candidates, but probable is seems that will overreach itself and will not improve the situation.
The third contribution has the title “Homosexuality from a psychiatric point of view: ethical reflections” and the author is Dr. Arnold Beyne, who examines whether homosexuality is a disorder and what a disorder. Firstly, he defines homosexuality as a sexual inclination and identity. Then he notes that moral ethical elements are no core element in the medical diagnostic thinking, since the doctor is obliged to keep a distance from his ethical principles. In addition, the notion of disorder faces a problem of definition and conceptualization, since medicine is an applied science and notions and terminology probable are viewed differently. With regards to homosexuality and science, one tries to understand the different aspect of the human being from different perspectives. So, is homosexuality a psychical disorder? The author answers negatively and explains the principles of DMS, which is a classifying system for psychological disorders. So, since 1973 homosexuality has been removed from the DMS classification and is not considered as a disorder. Then the author explains the perspective and the intentionality of medicine and give the definition of a mental disorder according to DMS, as well as discuss the criteria that an ethical justified approach of therapy needs to comply with. Thus, there are some practical implications at judging homosexuality as a diagnostic judgment and as element in the therapeutic field. In conclusion the author summarizes his previous statements and concludes that homosexuality is not faced as a problem, but sexuality in general is an element of the whole framework of a human being. So, it is important to stop the stigmatization based on sexuality.
The author of the fourth contribution is Bernard De Cock O.P. and the title is “Over Homoseksualiteit”. First of all, the author defines the term and notes that Catholic homosexuals face a very difficult dilemma, while many have left the church. He then discusses the question of the emancipation of a believer who is at the same time homosexual, while several homosexual theologians have adapted the statement of the church to their own separate theory on whether there can be a good relationship between homosexuality and religion. He then analyzes the issue from a natural law perspective and through scholarly theories to arrive at an assessment of sexual difference thinking. More specifically, he places an exaggerated importance on sexual difference and questions the meaning of sexual identity, defined by authors as the fact of being male or female. However, the whole differentiation of homosexuals ends up being a non-Christian behavior. The author also tries to approach homosexuality from the visual knowledge of the spirituality of the body that Christianity gives through its teaching. So, the Christian appreciation for the body is great with the exception of pleasure, giving great weight to this concept. The author concludes by expressing the hope that we can recognize and appreciate the much-needed difference and otherness in same-sex relationships as traces of the mystery of the whole Other.
The author of the fifth contribution is Dr. Pieter Coertzen and the title is “The Dutch reformed Church (South Africa) and homosexuality”. More specifically, the author discusses the question of homosexuality within the Dutch Reformed Church, which at the moment of the article did not come to a clear decision on this issue. The first time that we can note homosexuality in the texts of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church was in 1986 in a report on this topic. Then in the year 2022 the Synod discussed again the issue of homosexuality and in October 2004 the General Synod mentioned that it is up to the Church to bring the Gospel to all people under all circumstances, as well as recognized that there are many different opinions on the interpretation of Scripture on homosexuality. The Synod also stated that only the union between a man and a woman can be considered as a marriage, while both heterosexual and homosexual promiscuity is condemned. Finally, all members of the Church are included in God’s love and since they are baptized, they should be accepted as members of the Church. Through the years and through the discussion on these decisions of the Synod, it seems that the Dutch Reformed Church is seriously dealing with issues of homosexuality and the author claimed that the decisions of the Synod of 2007 would be very interesting to wait for.
Before the public debate there is a short comment during it by R. G. W. Huysmans with the title “Over homoseksualiteit en wijding”, in which he addresses briefly two issues on the situation in Netherlands and in Rome, while the debate (24.2.2006, Faculty of Canon Law, Ku Leuven) was useful in order to set questions in the public dialogue on the issue of morality and sexuality regarding the internal forum of the Catholic Church.
The contributions and the whole discussion of the issue was at the time of the publication original, since it was published the period of the publication of the instruction “Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders”, which was something new to discuss and to problematize on. This instruction indeed deals with the issues of Affective Maturity and Spiritual Fatherhood, Homosexuality and the Ordained Ministry, and Discernment by the Church Concerning the Suitability of Candidates, which was fully analyzed in the contributions. The contributions also contain approached from many different perspectives (psychological, pastoral legal, etc.), which helps a scholar to have a clearer opinion on this difficult issue.
The gaps filled by the contributions are precisely a multidimensional approach to the subject at a time when not only the issue of sexuality in relation to the church was in intense debate, but also the whole issue of religious autonomy and the relationship between forum internum and forum externum had begun to develop in the light of human rights in relation to religions. The following years, there were published many articled on these issues with different approached, but most of them are examining the core of the implementation of human rights within religious communities. For example, one contribution is the article of Fr. Earl K. Fernandes, S.T.D. with the title “Seminary Formation and Homosexuality. Changing Sexual Morality and the Church’s Response” which was published in 2011 (he Linacre quarterly, 2011, Vol.78 (3), p.306-329) and examines the comments by Pope Benedict XVI regarding the Vatican instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, which deals with homosexuality and the priesthood. One other is the article of Pieter Strauss with the title “Homosexuality: the viewpoints of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (NRCA) in 2007” (HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 67(3), p.107-115), which examines the relevant decision framework. One more recent is the chapter wrote by Angele Deguara with the title “The Ambivalent Relationship of LGBT Catholics with the Church” (Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Brill 2021).
Moreover, on March 15, 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a responsum to a dubium ‘regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex’. The text concluded in many reactions at all levels of the church (Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, 15.03.2021, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2021/03/15/210315b.html, last accessed, 7.8.2022). The discussion is still open and there is still a gap which contains the need to regulate the internal forum of the Church as well as to understand the legal and canonical position of the members of the Church who are at the same time citizens of a secular state.
In conclusion, the whole discussion on this topic in actually a part of the general discussion on the connection between forum internum and forum externum. In other words, one can understand that the basis on the issue is an expression of religious autonomy, the right of the Church to regulate its own issues, one of which is the relationship of the community with its members. Characteristically, regarding the right to religious autonomy, issues of internal administration of the Catholic Church, such as the religious character of an institution, are in the responsibility of the church organization and not of the state. This fact deals with the case law of the ECHR. More specifically, the Court has developed in its case-law that the autonomy of religious communities implies the incompetence of the state in determining the faith followed by a community, as well as the dogmatic differences between different religious groups. The ECHR clarified that religious autonomy ("autonomy of religious communities") is complemented by the principle of state neutrality and ruled that there is no right to disagree with the religious community on dogmatic or organizational issues, while the state is not allowed to intervene for the sake of neutrality.